Isaac

The Deceiver

I grew up watching sports. I do not believe I ever had the desire or the inclination to watch a musical, but love makes you do funny things. Ellen was once a part of the famed Troubadours of Northwestern High School. She grew up singing and going to musicals. As a couple, I have introduced Ellen to the NFL and rivalry weekend while she has introduced me to musicals. New Year’s Eve 2004, I got Ellen and me tickets to see Les Miserables in Washington D.C. I had no idea what to expect. The performance was absolutely incredible. I walked into the theater still skeptical of musicals only to leave deeply moved by the glorious redemption and the transforming love of the thief Jean Valjean.

In Victor Hugo’s classic Les Miserables, Jean Valjean was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s baby. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison. After his release, he landed at the home of a local bishop. In the middle of the night, Valjean wakes up and can’t sleep. All he can think of is the silver that was sitting on the table. He battled his conscience for an hour before deciding to steal the silver and leaving the bishop’s house in the dark of night. He stole the bread for his starving nephew, but this time, he stole the goods from an honest, faithful man who opened up his home to bless him. He stole from a man acting like a father. Valjean was arrested the next day and brought back to the Bishop. Hugo magnificently writes,

The door opened. A singular and violent group made its appearance on the threshold. Three men were holding a fourth man by the collar. The three men were gendarmes; the other was Jean Valjean. A brigadier of gendarmes, who seemed to be in command of the group, was standing near the door. He entered and advanced to the Bishop, making a military salute. "Monseigneur" said he. At this word, Jean Valjean, who was dejected and seemed overwhelmed, raised his head with an air of stupefaction… "Ah! here you are!" he exclaimed, looking at Jean Valjean. "I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?"

Jean Valjean opened his eyes wide, and stared at the venerable Bishop with an expression which no human tongue can render any account of… "In that case," replied the brigadier, "we can let him go?" "Certainly," replied the Bishop. The gendarmes released Jean Valjean, who recoiled. "Is it true that I am to be released?" he said, in an almost inarticulate voice, and as though he were talking in his sleep. "Yes, thou art released; dost thou not understand?" said one of the gendarmes. "My friend," resumed the Bishop, "before you go, here are your candlesticks. Take them…”

Jean Valjean was trembling in every limb. He took the two candlesticks mechanically, and with a bewildered air. Jean Valjean was like a man on the point of fainting. The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice: "Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man…

"Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and give it to God.

That one act kindness to a thief was the beginning of the redemption of Jean Valjean. Valjean cared for silver, but the Bishop cared for his soul. Valjean is redeemed, then becomes a tool of redemption.

            God saves thieves. God saves and uses deceivers to accomplish his purposes. If you are deceiver, God can save you. If you are one who has been deceived, God can use it to save others. God will use all kinds of peoples and all kinds of activities to bring about his purposes.

The Dying Wish of Blessing of a Father

            Last week, we saw how God appointed a wife, Rebekah, for Isaac. There was a mother in Israel who would carry the seed of the woman, but there was a problem. Rebekah, like Sarah, was barren. The problem does not take up much of the narrative for Isaac prayed to the Lord and the Lord answered his prayer and Rebekah conceived. It was a challenging pregnancy which began a challenging marriage. Genesis 25:22-28,

The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau's heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

There was a prophecy given to Rebekah that Jacob, whose name means ‘deceiver’ rule over his older brother Esau. In that day, the firstborn son would receive everything from his father. Isaac loved his strong, skillful, manly son Esau while Rebekah loved her thoughtful, pensive, quiet son Jacob. The home became divided as these parents put their children before their marriage. Parents, the best thing you can do for your children is to honor your marriage above your children.

            God reaffirmed his promise to Isaac saying, “I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give your offspring all these lands. In your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 26:3b-4) The promise of God is still the central theme of Genesis. Isaac knows that his offspring will carry on the promise. It must be his firstborn son, Esau, right? Genesis 27:1-4,

When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.”

The dying wish of Isaac is to bless his son Esau. Remember Isaac loved Esau, but Esau is not worthy of God’s promise.

Isaac is blind in his love for Esau. There are several reasons why Esau is not fit to be the bearer of the promise. First, he sold his birthright for some red stew. Genesis 25:29-34,

Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

(Remember years later when Israel heard this, they would have been arch enemies of Edom.) Esau did not think much of the promise if he sold it for a cup of stew.

Secondly, Esau was not worthy because he married women from Canaan. He would have known how and why his parents met. Abraham sent his servant to his homeland because he was adamant that Isaac could not take a wife for the Canaanites, for they were destined to disinherit the land.

When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. (Genesis 26:34-35)

Isaac and Rebekah both knew what these marriages meant. Their life was bitter because their son disregarded God’s promise. Isaac should have known better than to desire to bless Esau, but he was blinded by his love for his son. As one scholar notes,

He should have noticed Esau was not worthy of representing God’s special people. But Isaac pushes blindly ahead. Isaac, like Esau, is controlled by his appetite. In his chapter, the narrator repeats the word game eight times and tasty food 6 times. Before he dies, Isaac wishes to savor once more the delicious game…[1]

Isaac, like Adam and Eve before him, was governed by his appetite (fruit was good for food). His love for Esau made Isaac turn from the love of God.  How often do we choose our love for people, even with the best of intentions, over the love of God?

The Deceptive Ways for Blessing of a Family

            The dysfunction of Isaac and Rebekah’s home continues to be put on display. Rebekah hears Isaac’s plan and decides to use her son to deceive her husband.

Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the LORD before I die.’ Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.”

And Jacob hearing his mother’s plan does not object on the basis of his moral compass, but on whether he feels it will succeed.

But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me. So he went and took them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared delicious food, such as his father loved. Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. And she put the delicious food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob.” (Genesis 27:5-17)

This is an intricate, premeditated plan of deception. This was no momentary lie for passion or fear, but willful deception.

            Jacob had followed his mother’s command and was ready to deceive his father, but would he go through it? Could he walk into his blind, dying father’s tent and lie to him to steal his blessing from his brother?

So he went in to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.” (First lie.)

But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the LORD your God granted me success.” (Second lie, actually blaspheming the LORD)

Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau's hands. So he blessed him. He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” He answered, “I am.” (Third lie)

Then he said, “Bring it near to me, that I may eat of my son's game and bless you.” So he brought it near to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son. So he came near and kissed him.” (Genesis 27:18-27a)

Isaac tests Jacob three times and Jacob lies to him three times. He was so bold in his betrayal that he walked up and kissed his father. And his deception is rewarded,

So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said, “See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed! May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!” As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting. (Genesis 27:27-30)

As narrative progresses, it is apparent that Jacob is not worthy of the blessing just like Esau. Jacob is a deceiver. Does Jacob receiving God’s blessing mean that God approves of this deception? Jacob acted wickedly, but was blessed. Where are his consequences? And what of Rebekah, who masterminded the deception?

            Jacob and Rebekah would both pay for their deception. Rebekah is forced to send Jacob away to her brother Laban and never sees her beloved son again. Her death not even mentioned in the Bible, but only alluded to with the death of her nurse. Jacob, the deceiver, would be deceived. Laban would deceive Jacob into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. He also would be deceived by his sons, who told him his beloved son Joseph was killed. “Jacob deceived his father with two young goats; his sons deceive him with the blood of a goat.” Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-12) You reap what you sow. Never mistake delayed consequences as approval. God will not be mocked.

The Divine Will of Blessing of the Father

            When I first read this account, I felt so bad for Isaac and Esau. The raw emotion of the deception and loss is gripping. It is hard to read, but remember that Isaac and Esau were governed by their appetites. They both were blind to the promises of God. The pain and anguish you see here is only a glimpse of the pain caused by sin. It is a sad day when one experiences the harsh consequences of sin.

He also prepared delicious food and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son's game, that you may bless me.” His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept. (Genesis 27:31-38)

The day is bitter for all involved. And yet, God’s promise continues.

            The purpose of the narrative is to show how God’s promise continues even in the midst of people of a sinful people. God will use the worst of people to bring about his pre-determined plan. Israel needed the reminder as they stared into Canaan that God’s plan cannot be thwarted. We know that God can use evil to bring about his purposes. God would use the greatest act of evil the world has even seen in the slaying of the sinless son of God to save his people from their sins. Isaiah prophesied how the Messiah was going to die by the will of God. He said, “It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.” During the Last Supper, Jesus said speaking of his coming death, says, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.” God would use Judas’s appetite for silver to betray his friend with a kiss. Isaac betrayed his father with kiss as Jesus was betrayed by his friend with a kiss. And yet, it was all part of the plan of God. Peter preached at Pentecost,

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22-24)

God used a deceiver to extend his promise to Jacob, a deceiver. God used a deceiver, Judas, to extend his promise to deceivers, like you and I. We all have deceptive hearts. Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” No one can understand it. We all have a heart problem. We need new hearts. We need redemption. God promised his people in Ezekiel 36:26a, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” God sent Jesus to the cross to solve our heart problem. He died, but God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death. The resurrection of Jesus is the verification that if anyone calls upon the name of the Lord they will be saved. Have you experienced a new heart? Have you confessed your deception to God? Confess today and receive a new heart by the Holy Spirit.

We are not saved by our birthright or by our works, but on God’s mercy. When Paul taught on Jacob and Esau, he used it as an illustration on the immense mercy of God. Romans 9:10-16,

And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:10-16)

Salvation depends on God.

            Jean Valjean was a deceiver, but the bishop showed him mercy. He responded to that mercy, by asking, “Is it true?” When we, fellow deceivers, hear of God’s mercy, and ask, “Could it be true?” Beloved, remember the great hymn of the faith,

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

 

His mercy all, immense and free, for O my God has found out me. God’s promise cannot be stopped, for salvation is all of mercy. Have you fallen on God’s mercy? Do it today.

 

[1] Sydney Griedanus. 273.

The Bride

The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln said, “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Men are what their mothers made them.” A Jewish Proverb states, “God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.” Oliver Wendell Holmes also wrote, “Youth fades; love droops, the leaves of friendship fall; A mother’s secret hope outlives them all.” The history of the world is told through great books, great wars, and great leaders, but it could be told through the labor and love of mothers. The impact of mothers cannot be overestimated. As the impact of a mother is staggering in the world, the loss of a mother is just as powerful. The loss of a mother is devastating and the effects ripple throughout someone’s life.

Abraham just buried his wife Sarah and Isaac was left without his mother. There was now no mother in Israel. Sarah’s tent was empty. Sarah had the secret hope for her child, Isaac, that he was the promised seed that through him would come the blessing of all the families of the earth. Abraham was well advanced in years and Isaac was still without a wife. The promise could not continue without a mother. Isaac needed a wife and Israel needed a mother. Abraham has already learned that God will provide when he was on the mountain with Isaac. The question is not if God will provide, but how?

I pray that as you see God’s hand you will grow in your trust of the Lord and providential care for his people.

The Lord Goes Before

            The narrator sets up the problem at the outset of this chapter. Genesis 24:1, “Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.” Abraham was old and he was wealthy and he was blessed with an heir Isaac. Although he had a son, he was yet without the blessing of grandchildren. Grandchildren were essential if his family would grow into a great nation. As Genesis unfolds, we have to keep Genesis 12:1-3 at the forefront of our minds. Genesis 12:1-3 is the great promise of God and the rests of the Bible is the unfolding of how God is going to fulfill that promise. After God has given Abraham his miracle Son of Laughter in his old age and then provided a lamb in the thicket, Abraham trusts that God will go before and appoint and/or preordain circumstances to meet the needs to fulfill the promise first uttered in Genesis 12. Genesis 24:2-4,

And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”

Abraham makes his servant take an oath that he will not take a daughter from the Canaanites, but go back to his kindred.

            If you read the narrative of Abraham in one sitting, you would anticipate this request. After God provided the lamb for the sacrifice in Genesis 22:20-24,

Now after these things it was told to Abraham, “Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.” (Bethuel fathered Rebekah.) These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham's brother. Moreover, his concubine, whose name was Reumah, bore Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah.”

If you are just focusing on Chapter 22 this ending seems out of place. What do Abraham’s relatives have to do with the sacrifice of Isaac? The narrative turns to the death of Sarah in the next chapter leaving Israel without a mother and leaving Sarah’s tent empty.

The goal of the narrative never breaks from the overarching promise of how God is going to fulfill his promise. The overarching narrative is key for us to interpret the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. How is God going to make Abraham a father of many nations to bless all the families of the earth; a nation as innumerable as the stars in the heaven and the sand on the seashore? If you are not regularly asking that question as you read the Bible, you are going to get lost in the interpretation. It is vital to approach the Bible as one story and approach each section a part in that one story.

For example, if we are focusing on that one story of God making Abraham a great nation and giving his descendants a land, we will see why it is so important to Abraham that Isaac take a wife from his kindred and not from the Canaanites. “The descendants of Canaan live under a curse while the descendants of Shem (and of Abraham) live under God’s blessing.[1]” God promised to give the land of the Canaanites to Abraham and his offspring and remove the land from the Canaanites. Genesis 15:15-16, “As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites (Canaanites) is not yet complete.” As one scholar notes, “If Isaac is to inherit the land, he must not marry among those who are destined to disinherit the land.[2]” The story of Isaac finding a wife from his kindred only makes sense if place it in the context of overarching narrative.

The servant responds to Abraham with a potential problem he sees in the plan. The servant is going to travel 400 miles and a month’s journey to meet a stranger and invite her to travel 400 miles away from family to marry a man she has never met. “Um…Abraham…what if she doesn’t want to go?”

The servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father's house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter. (Genesis 24:5-9)

Abraham replies, “God’s got this.” The Lord, the God of heaven, will go before to give success to the journey. Two important things to note: First, Abraham trusts in the covenant that God has made to him. Every time you see LORD (all caps) in the Bible is a reference to God being the covenant making and keeping God of Israel. Abraham trusts in God’s promise to him and his offspring. Secondly, he notes God is the creator of the earth. The Creator has both the power and sovereign control to orchestrate his world. God will do whatever He wills and there is nothing that can stop Him. (c.f. Romans 9:19-26)

            We may bristle and/or debate the idea of God’s orchestration and sovereign control of the world, but the Scripture does not leave it to debate. The Bible rejoices and celebrates God’s ultimate control. When we bristle at the idea that God is in complete control of this world, it reveals that we do not fully understand our role as creatures in God’s world. We are creatures and God is the Creator. Do you trust God’s sovereign control of your life?

            During the first battle of Bull Run, General Tom “Stonewall” Jackson earned his nickname for as the bullets and shells were flying around him, Jackson stayed on his house, calm and peaceful as if nothing was going on. General Bernard Bee saw Jackson and told his men, “There stands Jackson like a Stonewall. Men, let’s determine to die here with him.” Jackson had an unwavering trust in the sovereignty of God. Someone asked Jackson how he could remain calm in face of war, he answered, “My religious belief teaches me that I’m just as safe on the battlefield as I am in my bed. The Lord has already appointed the day of my death so I need not worry about that. I live my life and prepare myself so I will always be ready to meet my Lord, when death does overtake me.” Abraham, like Stonewall Jackson, trusted in God’s sovereignty. Will you?

The Lord Gives the Bride

            The narrative continues as the servant heads towards his master’s homeland. He travels 400 miles and arrives at a well and prays to LORD to show steadfast faithfulness to fulfill his promise,

Then the servant took ten of his master's camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor. And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water. And he said, “O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.” (Genesis 24:10-14)

The servant prays for a sign to confirm God’s will for he wants to know the one God has appointed for Isaac. God is in charge of these events.

            The test would show two things. First, it would show that the woman would be kind to strangers by offering them a drink. Second, it would show her persistence and work ethic for providing water for the 10 camels would have been difficult task. As one scholar notes, “A camel that has gone a few days without water usually can drink as much as 25 gallons. Ancient jars used for drawing water usually held no more than three gallons, in other words, this offer involves perhaps 80-100 drawings from the well.[3]” The servant wanted to affirm God’s will rather than test his will. He wanted to see who God appointed. And of course, as promised, God gives a bride, Genesis, 24:15, “Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder.” This is no random meeting, but the orchestration of the God of heaven.

The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the LORD had prospered his journey or not. When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, and said, “Please tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father's house for us to spend the night?” She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” She added, “We have plenty of both straw and fodder, and room to spend the night.” The man bowed his head and worshiped the LORD and said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master's kinsmen.” Then the young woman ran and told her mother's household about these things. (Genesis 24:16-28)

The servant gives all the credit to the LORD (all caps). The covenant-making God of Israel continues to show he is the covenant-keeping God of Israel. The LORD has appointed a bride.

            The church should not be surprised that God has appointed a bride for Isaac for we know that God continues to appoint a Bride. The church is the bride of Christ and God is the one who appoints or elects or chooses people to be part of the Bride. God’s sovereign and appointing hand is woven throughout the New Testament, but let me draw attention to a few verses to explicitly show God electing love.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:16)

And when the Gentiles heard this (the gospel), they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

There is no controversy here. God is in complete sovereign control. He appointed a bride for Isaac and he appoints a Bride for the Messiah. The LORD shows steadfast love and faithfulness to his people, because of his promise which is why when the Bible speaks of God’s sovereign control it elicits praise to God, not controversy.

            We were dead in our trespasses and sins and were made alive in Christ (Eph. 2:3-4). We were alienated and hostile in mind and we were reconciled through the body of Jesus on the cross. We were slaves to sin and were made slaves to righteousness. God would have been right to leave us in our sin, but he appointed his Son to redeem us from our sin and to bring us into his family. Galatians 4:3-5,

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:3-5)

The reason the doctrine of election elicits praise is because we know what we deserve. We know where we would be without God. We deserve hell, but God sent Jesus to experience hell for us on the cross. After bearing the wrath of God, Jesus was raised from the dead ascended to heaven to the right hand of God receiving the name that is above all names. He sent his Holy Spirit from heaven to call us to God so that we would be called the Bride of Christ. We were appointed by grace to believe. We did not earn it, but we received it. God appoints His Bride.

Non-Christian, God invites you to be part of his family. He invites you to be united or wedded with Christ. God invites all sinners to repent or turn from their sins and trust in Jesus death and resurrection for your salvation. Jesus is the perfect bridegroom who laid down his life for His bride. He pursues us with his love. The Christian life is an intimate relationship with God so much it is pictured as a Husband and Wife. Do not resist his call, turn from your sin and trust in his death on your behalf. He is the Redeemer and the Bridgegroom.

Rebekah ran home and told her family. The servant recounts Abraham’s story to Rebekah’s father, Bethuel and he brother Laban (who we will see later) of God’s covenant faithfulness. After retelling the story of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, the servant turns to the family and asks, will you do likewise? Genesis 24:47-49,

Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master's kinsman for his son. Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.”

Will they see God’s hand? Will the accept or reject it?

Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing has come from the LORD; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before you; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master's son, as the LORD has spoken.” When Abraham's servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the earth before the LORD. (Genesis 24:50-52)

It is clear to all involved that God appointed a bride for Isaac. After the family accepts God’s will, will the bride?

The Lord Guides the Bride

            God has prospered the journey of the servant, but Rebekah still has not chosen to leave. Rebekah’s brother and mother ask for her to remain for 10 days before the journey, but the servant is adamant that they must not delay. “And they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” Remember how difficult this decision would have been. She was being asked to leave her entire family and home and her life to go with a stranger. Will she leave it all for the promise of God? Will we? We know the end of the story, but in that moment, Rebekah is faced with the question, “Will you leave all for the LORD?” It’s a question that Rebekah had to answer, but it’s a question we all have to answer. Will you leave all for the LORD?

Rebekah responds, “I will go.” Rebekah trusted God’s promise as she left they blessed her saying, “Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate him!” (Genesis 24:60) Rebekah was leaving all for the promise of God to become the mother in Israel.

            God guided Rebekah. He enabled her to trust Him. God will always guide his people. Genesis 24:62-67,

Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel and said to the servant, “Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.

There was now a mother in Israel to continue the promised seed of the woman. Rebekah came into the tent of Sarah to continue the line of mothers who would bear offspring all the way to a young Jewish teenager, Mary. When God told her she was going to bear the promised seed, Mary, like Rebekah, before her, said, “I am your servant. (I will go) …let it be according to your word.” (Luke 1:38).

            God used a long line of obedient mothers to bring forth the one and only Son of God who would save his people from their sins. And God will continue to use mothers to shape men and women to trust in the providential care of God. God has always guided his Bride and will always guide his Bride. Sarah’s hope for Isaac far exceeded her wildest imagination as Mary’s hope for her Son, Jesus, far exceeded the things she treasured and pondered in her heart. The world was saved through the seed of a woman. Let us always be reminded of the precious gift of mothers and the precious gift of life that comes through them. Mothers are an ever-present reminded not only of the gift of life we possess, but the gift of eternal life we can possess by trusting in the One born of woman and born of God. As God has provided a mother for us so also God has always provided a mother in Israel to bring forth the Son. Beloved, let the gift of mothers provide you a window to see the hand of God’s providential appointing gracious love.

 

[1] Greidanus, Sydney. 237.

[2] Hamilton, Genesis 18-50, 140.

[3] Walton, Genesis 530.

The Birth

What do you see when you look upon the world? In 249 AD, Cyprian of Carthage wrote to his friend Donatus,

Donatus, this is a cheerful world indeed as I see it from my fair garden, under the shadow of my vines. But if I could ascend some high mountain, and look out over the wide lands, you know very well that I should see: brigands on the highways, pirates on the seas, armies fighting, cities burning, in the amphitheaters men murdered to please applauding crowds, selfishness and cruelty and misery and despair under all roofs. It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world.

Cyprian saw the atrocities of this world. If he saw the evil in the world in his day, how much more can we see the evil in ours? The growth of global news coverage and instant information to worldwide events compound the reality of evil our world.

We can stand in our backyard and watch our children playing with the neighbors and see joy and happiness, but as soon as we open our newspapers, computers, and phones, cruelty, misery and despair fly towards us as airplane toward the runway. “It is a bad world, an incredibly bad world.” Cyprian continued his letter to Donatus,

But I have discovered in the midst of it a company of quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not: they are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians, —and I am one of them.

It was the joy of Christians that softened Cyprian’s heart to believe the gospel and turn to Christ. He said that they are, “masters of their souls.” He saw their joy in the midst of persecution. It makes no rational sense for Cyprian to become a Christian. Christians were despised and rejected by society. They were outcasts and marginalized. Cyprian lived a comfortable life. He had received an inheritance from his family and after pursuing law had become a senator. At 45, when most people are indisposed to change, he left his comfort and wealth to follow Christ. He left his worldly riches because he desired eternal joy. He wanted the joy he saw in Christians.

            Beloved, do you have joy? Do people see joy in our community? Would people say of us that we have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of a sinful life? Would our joy attract people to Christ? Of course, I am assuming that Christians should have joy. Christians should be joyful people. US Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., one of the most influential judges in our nation’s history, remarked of his choice of career, “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers." I pray we would be a people of joy who would draw others to the Lord.

            In Genesis 21, we see the birth of Isaac. The birth of a child is a great reason for joy, but the birth of Isaac is especially a reason for joy. In order to understand Abraham and Sarah’s incredible joy in the birth of Isaac, we first must understand their grief.

The Joyless Laugh of Present Grief

            Abraham was 75 years old when God called him to leave his father and journey the land of Canaan. God promised to make him a great nation through his own body, but there was a problem. Genesis 11:30, “Sarai (Abraham’s wife) was barren, she had no child.” Abraham and Sarah waited and waited for a child and began to complain and question God’s faithfulness. Genesis 15:2-3, “But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And God reassured Abraham and reminded him of his promise to give him a child of his very own. And Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. And yet, time went on and he was still childless.

            Have you ever wanted to something so bad and waited for something so long that each passing day you felt more and more hopeless? Genesis 16:1, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had born him no children.” Now in that culture it was customary if a woman could not bear children, the husband was to produce children with a slave-girl. Sarai gave Hagar to Abram and Genesis 16:15, “And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.” Problem solved, right? Abram now has a son.

 God waits thirteen more years until Abraham is 99 years old and reminds him of his promise to make him a multitude of nations by giving him offspring through Sarah. Abraham and Sarah have been waiting for 24 years for God to fulfill his promise. They have been waiting for over 60 years for a child. At this point, they did not have a lot of hope of ever have a child. Their present grief constrained their joy. God has not changed his mind. He has not shifted from his promise. God is the same yesterday, today and forever, but Abraham laughed at God. Genesis 17:15-18, 

And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”

Abraham laughed at God. It is the laughter of disbelief. He begged that Ishmael would be the heir. Abraham loved Ishmael. He had watched him grow into a young man who was 13 years old at this point. God replayed to Abraham, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” (Gen. 17:19)

            God visits Abraham and Sarah again in the next chapter and we see further disbelief, this time in Sarah, Genesis 18:9-15,

They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

Abraham laughs in disbelief. Sarah laughs in disbelief. Oh, how many times have we laughed in disbelief?

They were longing for a child and they waited for years, but nothing had changed. When we look at our present grief it is easy for it to create a joyless, disbelieving laugh. The joyless laugh of a wife waiting for a husband would change. The joyless laugh of a mother waiting for a child to come back to God. The joyless laugh of a man waiting for a job to provide for his family. The joyless laugh of a young woman waiting for relationship and to start a family. The joyless laugh of chronic pain to cease. The joyless laugh of depression to lift. The joyless laugh of overcoming sin. The joyless laugh of disbelief comes for many reasons, but its root is exposed with a question from God, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Remember that this book would have been written to Israel as they were in the desert about to enter the promise land. They had been wandering for 40 years waiting. Waiting to enter a land of giants. Waiting to enter a land of strong armies. Waiting to enter a land of pagan gods. Waiting and waiting. And God tells them as he tells us, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Is God able to save? Is God able to deliver his people? That question would have resonated with Israel as that question should resonate with us. After the rich young ruler turned away from Jesus because he did not want to give up his wealth, Jesus said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” Is it possible for God to give a child to old man and a “worn-out” woman? Is it possible for God to save a sinner? “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

      I believe that God has given this long story of waiting and disbelief to teach us of our inability to solve our greatest need. The greatest problem of man is their separation from God. Man is dispelled from the garden in Genesis 3. They were cut off from God unable to enter His presence. And we know why. It is their sin. We know sin. We know how our hearts condemn us and convict us of how unrighteous we are before God. We want to justify ourselves before God, but we know in our heart of hearts, the depth of our depravity. We are depraved. The question of the disciples, “Then who can be saved?” If God will not accept the rich and powerful, then there must be no hope for the rest of us. Have you ever been there? How could God save me? I am an unrighteous, unworthy, desperate sinner. And God says, “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?” He wants to turn our joyless laugh of disbelief to a joyful laugh as we trust in his promised grace.

The Joyful Laugh of Promised Grace

            The Lord always keeps his word. He had promised Abram a child at 75, and now, 25 years later, God fulfills His Word. Genesis 21:1-2 says, “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.” Notice the repetition, “as he had said,” “as he had promised,” and “at the time of which God had spoken to him.” God keeps his Word. John Sailhammer notes, “The plan not only came about, but, more importantly, it happened as it was announced. Thus the narrative calls attention to God’s faithfulness to his word and to his careful attention to the details of his plan.” God will keep His Word.

            How do we need to be reminded that keeps His Word? The entire story of God’s people rests on His Word. Will we trust him? Again and again he has shown Himself faithful to his people throughout history and throughout our own lives. He causes the sun to rise each day. He will never leave us nor forsake us. The promise of God is a true as the completion of that promise. The Old Testament is full of promises made to God’s people while the New Testament is full of promises kept. God was faithful to Abraham and Sarah. God was faithful to Israel entering the promised land. God was faithful to David. God was faithful to Nehemiah. God was faithful in sending forth his Son.

            The name of Isaac, the son of the promise, means laughter. Isaac would forever be a reminder of Abraham and Sarah’s disbelieving laughter as well as the joyful laughter of promised grace. “And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” (Genesis 21:4-6) Israel would have been reminded to laugh with Sarah at God’s faithfulness. They would have been reminded to trust God in the days ahead. Psalm 126:1-3,

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.

Israel was called to be a joyful people as they lived in trust of God. As Israel has been called to live in joy, how much more are we?

            Beloved, we live after the coming of the promised Messiah. God promised to send another child to a virgin whose name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God and Prince of Peace. If the birth of Isaac was a miracle, how much more the birth of Jesus Christ to the virgin Mary. Mary exclaimed,

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation…He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-50; 54-55)

God gave a Son to Israel, a Savior in whom we can now rejoice. Jesus is the Savior of the world. He was born of God so that he is without sin. He was born of woman so that he could become sin. Jesus died on the cross bearing the sin of the world. He was crucified, dead and buried, but God raised him from the dead. He now sits at the right hand of the majesty on high to ever live to make intercession for his people. God did the impossible by sending the promised Son to be the Savior of the world. Isaac was the first fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham and Jesus Christ was the final fulfillment of that promise.

            Christians should live in joy because of the redemption that has been purchased through the death of Christ. We have been bought with a price. We are redeemed. We are saved, not because of anything we have done, but only of his mercy. Christians live in joy. Christians should want to bring that joy to the world. Listen to the description of Philip in the city of Samaria in Acts 8:4-8,

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.

I love that last line. “There was much joy in that city.” As Christians live and share the glory of God, the city should experience joy. Heaven will experience joy as sinners repent and are filled with the joyful promise of grace.

The Joyful Laugh of a Powerful God

            God asked, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” We can almost hear that question being answered in Genesis 21:7, “And Sarah said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” Who would have said it? And yet, God did it. There is nothing that was too hard for the Lord. The Lord is a God of power. The birth of Isaac is just an example of the power of God. The ultimate display of his power is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the power that conquered the grave and left an empty tomb. His resurrection power is displayed throughout all eternity as scores of Christians have trusted Christ even in the face of execution and martyrdom. Christians can live in joy because, regardless, of our circumstances here, we know that we are but are strangers and exiles on earth. Our hearts long for a better country, a heavenly one. We are looking forward to that great city whose designer and builder is God.

Cyprian of Carthage saw the joy of the early Christians and turned from his sins and followed Christ. He believed in the promised grace of God because he believed in the power of God displayed in the resurrection of Christ. The joy he saw in Christians became his joy. On the 14th of September, 258 AD, he was sentenced to death. As he was led to the execution, no pagan was shouting, for he had won their respect with the grace of his life. He lived with joy in the midst of despair. Here is the account of his death.

Cyprian took off his cloak and knelt silently in prayer. After a few moments he got back on his feet and took off his tunic, handing it to his friend (Pontius). “Bring out the executioner.” A tall, muscular soldier stepped forward with a heavy sword and guided Cyprian, clad only in his linen garments, to his last seat as bishop. Cyprian turned to the crowd of supporters. “Please show some kindness to this man and pay him for his services,” he cried. The assembly murmured, but several hands came forward. Pontius collected the money and gave the executioner twenty-five gold pieces. Then he embraced the bishop and tied a bandage over Cyprian’s eyes.

The executioner guided his victim to position…The experienced hands that held the sword began to tremble. Never had the executioner seen such resoluteness in a condemned man, or such generosity of the witnesses. He aligned his sword with the outstretched neck before him, but he couldn’t swing. Instead he nudged the blade into the dirt and drew back to steady himself. “Executioner!” shouted the centurion. “You will follow through.” “Yes sir,” was the reply. But he didn’t move. The centurion grabbed the sword and glared at the executioner and said, “It is an honor to serve the emperor.” Cyprian whispered, “It is an honor to serve the king.” With a single decisive swing, the bishop’s head fell from his body, preaching his last sermon.[1]

Cyprian died for Christ and experienced the joyful laughter of the resurrection as he entered the Lord’s presence. Cyprian’s martyrdom, reminds me of the words of another martyr, Philippians 1:19-21, “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:18-21).

            Beloved, I pray you would find joy in the resurrection of Christ. God has promised grace and he has the power to give it. We can rejoice in life and in death. Rejoice in Christ in the trials of today for you know you will rejoice in Christ in triumph of eternal tomorrow.

 

[1] Mindy and Brandon Withrow. Perils and Peace: Chronicles of the Early Church. Scotland, Christian Focus; 2015 85-86