Category: Genesis

Story 42: Like Father Like Son: The Choices of Abraham and Isaac

Genesis 26

In the early days of Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage, long before they had their twin boys, they went through many trials and struggles.  At one point, a great famine came upon the land, and it grew more and more difficult for families to find enough to eat.  It was getting dangerous.  The lives of God’s chosen family was at risk.  What was Isaac going to do?

Well, he packed up his family and his servants, his tents and his livestock and all of their valuable treasures. They began a journey to Egypt, where the Nile River poured out an unending water supply.  It brought plentiful harvests to feed the Egyptian people and their animals.  Along the way, Isaac and Rebekah passed through the land of the Philistines.  While they were there, Isaac heard from God.

The LORD told Isaac not to go down to Egypt.  Isaac was to stay in the Land of Promise.

Wow.

That would take tremendous courage and faith.  It might mean hunger for his clan.  It would probably mean the death of many of their animals.  Yet Isaac was faithful.  He went to the region ruled by Abimelech, who live in the midst of the Promised Land.

Abimelech is a name we have already heard before.  Abraham and Sarah met a man of that name in their travels.  He was a king, and Abraham was afraid of him.  Sarah was so beautiful that Abraham feared the king would kill him if he learned that Abraham was her husband.  So he told the first Abimelech that Sarah was his sister, and Abimelech took her into his house to become his wife.  Wow!  Can you imagine what that was like for Sarah?  But God saved the day.  He came in a dream and told Abimelech that Sarah was Abraham’s wife, and Abimelech sent her back to her husband.

Now Isaac was face to face with another tribal leader.  Some scholars suggest that he was probably the grandson of the first Abimelech.  This king called himself the king of the Philistines in the land of Gerar.  God told Isaac not to journey any further, but to rest in Abimelech’s land with his family.

Then something amazing happened.  God appeared to Isaac in a grand theophany.  “Theophany” is a fancy word to describe when God appears to a human.  God showed himself to Abraham in a theophany three times, and each time it was a great marker in the life of his chosen servant.  God came to communicate his covenant promises to Abraham, which should tell us how incredibly important those promises were.  Now the LORD had come to Isaac to pass the covenant of Abraham on to him. The Lord said to Isaac;

 

“‘Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you.  For to you and your descendents I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.  I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.’  So Isaac stayed in Gerar.”

Genesis 26:2b-6

 

Wow. What an awesome moment.  For all those years, Isaac had learned about the promises of God from Abraham and Sarah.  Now God had appeared to him, and Isaac heard the words in person.  This was not just a gift to his parents, he was a critical part of the covenant himself.  His descendents would be as many as the stars, and every nation would be blessed through him.  The fate of all humanity was tied up in the fate of Isaac and Rebekah.

It is interesting that God said these promises were given to Isaac through Abraham.  There was a wealth of blessing stored up from Abraham’s obedience that was pouring out onto Isaac.  Abraham kept the whole of all that God desired from him.  His relationship with God was a righteous partnership so abundant that it flowed to the next generation!

God gave Isaac great and precious promises of abundance, but Isaac had to believe in them without seeing them.  God gave them in the middle of a great famine, and he would make Isaac and Rebekah wait for twenty years to have their twins!  Isaac was being called to live by the same faith that Abraham had.  He was called to live by the same righteous standard and the same immediate obedience, too!  He showed his immediate obedience by settling his vast clan down in Gerar!  He chose the hardship of famine and faithfulness to God over the abundance of bread and ease in a place that was outside of God’s will.

The men of Gerar were very quick to notice Rebekah.  She was a woman of remarkable beauty.  Isaac was afraid to admit she was his wife.  What if they wanted to kill him so they could have her?

And so he lied.  He told them that she was his sister.  Hm.

Who else does that remind you of?  Isaac was acting just like his father.

Now, these lies might seem a bit strange to us, but we need to remember that they lived in very different times.  There were no police officers to come and protect a family when others came to attack.  There was no court system to try a man if he murdered someone.  It was a dangerous and almost lawless land, and men were vicious and corrupt.  The most powerful men often determined the law of the land, and Abimelech was very powerful.  When Isaac weighed his options, the crisis of his own death might have seemed a lot less than facing the problem of a local man claiming Rebekah for his own while they were resting in Abimelech’s land.

There were good reasons for Isaac to be afraid if he was merely living according to the rules of this world.  But Isaac wasn’t meant to live as this world is all there is.  He was a man of God’s sacred covenant.  He had heard the stories of how God provided for his father.  He himself was one of God’s great provisions.

But God had a discipleship for Isaac just as surely as he had for Abraham, and Isaac was in the midst of one of the twisting points.  Isaac had already avoided one of Abraham’s mistakes…he didn’t go to Egypt.  Now he had another choice.  Did he believe more in the fear of the power of men, or in the promises of God?  Did he trust that God would protect his marriage, that Isaac could protect his wife and trust God with the results?  What would happen if one of the local men wanted to take Rebekah and marry her?  What would happen to the covenant if Rebekah’s children no longer belonged to Isaac?  Would Isaac let her go?  What would happen to the promises of God?

 

Story 41: The Battling Sons of Rebekah

Genesis 25

Abraham lost his beloved wife Sarah.  She had given him Isaac, the son of God’s promise, and through Isaac, God would keep His covenant with Abraham to raise up a priestly nation to the world.  Abraham married again to a woman named Keturah.  She gave Abraham six sons.  Yet God made it clear that the honor of being the father of God’s priestly nation belonged to Isaac.  Abraham left everything he owned to him, including the land.  Abraham loved his sons through Keturah, so while he was still alive, he gave them many lavish gifts.  Then he sent them away to a land far off in the east.  Those sons had their own children, and their children had even more children, so that after many years, whole tribes of nations came from her children through Abraham.  God surely kept his promise to make Abraham the father of many nations!

Abraham lived to be a hundred and seventy-five years old.  The Bible says:

 

“Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age,

an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.”

 

By that time, Abraham had lived in the promise land for a hundred years.  He had become a great leader of a powerful tribe.  At the news of his death, the whole region would have mourned the loss of this mighty, righteous prince.  His strength and honorable character had brought security and peace to the whole region, and his goodness was known by all.

Abraham’s honored sons, Isaac and Ishmael, took his body to the cave where Sarah had been buried.  So many years before, Abraham had bought it at great cost from the Hittites to bury his beloved wife.  Now his sons lay him down beside her, united at the death of their noble father.  And after Abraham’s death, God blessed Isaac.

Now, we know that Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, had come from Sarah’s maidservant Hagar.  She was an Egyptian.  Her son was not the one that God meant to grow into a priestly nation.  Still, God is compassionate, and he promised Hagar that Ishmael would also be the father of a great nation.  Curiously, he also promised that Ishmael’s descendents would be warlike and hostile.

What God said came true as it always does.  Ishmael had many sons.  They had many children also, and from their children came twelve tribal nations.  Ishmael lived to be a hundred and thirty-seven years, and then he, too died.  The descendents of Ishmael moved to an area near the border of Egypt to settle down, far from the land of promise.  And just as God said, they were a hostile group who in all of history could not get along with any of their neighbors.  If this was the way of Abraham’s first born son, what would happen to the son of the Promise?  Would he grow up to be warlike, too?  Would he have the violent, deceptive nature of the enemies of God, or would he stand in the beauty of Eve’s repentant transformation?  Would Isaac learn to live in dependence on God like his father?

Rebekah and Isaac married when Isaac was forty years old.  Time went on as Isaac oversaw the vast wealth he had inherited from his father.  After twenty years of marraige, Rebekah still had no children.  But they were wise to the lessons that God had taught Abraham and Sarah.  They did not turn to Rebekah’s maidservants or anyone else to solve this terrible sadness.  Isaac went directly to the LORD and pleaded with him for his wife.  His first response was to turn to God.  In his perfect timing, the LORD answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant.  Can you imagine how happy they must have been after that long wait?

Just as with Abraham and Sarah, it must have been difficult and painful to wait so long, but in many ways, that made it far more special.  This pregnancy was something they had thought about and looked forward to, hoping and praying over long years.  All babies are a priceless gift from God, but because of their waiting, Isaac and Rebekah knew that this pregnancy was a very special answer to prayer.  God was going to honor his covenant promise to Abraham!

This was no ordinary pregnancy in more ways than one.  There were twins!  There were two babies inside Rebekah, and she really felt it.  They were always fighting each other!  Poor Rebekah, it must have been very uncomfortable to have a mini war going on right inside her belly!  “‘Why is this happening to me?’” she wondered.  She worried if all their moving and shaking was dangerous.  What if she lost them both?  What if all that fighting caused a miscarriage?  So just as Isaac had prayed to the LORD for his wife, Rebekah went to the LORD and cried out to understand what was going on.  Both Isaac and Rebekah had learned to take their lives to the LORD.  They were totally dependent on him.  And he was faithful to answer.

The LORD said to her:

 

“‘Two nations are in your womb,

and two peoples from within you

will be separated;

One people will be stronger than the other,

and the older will serve the younger’”

Genesis 25:23

 

Well, that sounds strange.  What does it mean that two whole nations were really living in Rebekah’s womb?  Is that possible?  No, of course not.  But there were two baby boys in there, growing and fighting against each other.  One day, they would be born into the world.  They would grow to be strong men, and they would have families of their own.  God, who knows everything, knew the future of Rebekah’s sons.  He had designed the future!   The descendents of each of Rebekah’s sons would grow to become great nations.

Now, God knows everything.  He understands everything that had ever happened perfectly, and he knows everything that is ever going to happen. He could have explained many things to Rebekah about her sons, but he didn’t.  He simply told her that they would both grow to be powerful, but that the older son would end up serving the younger son.  That wasn’t a lot of information, but it was a very, very big deal.  And because God made a point of telling Rebekah directly, it was something she was supposed to honor.

In the ancient days of Isaac and Rebekah, the firstborn son was given many responsibilities.  It was the oldest son that took the place of the father in the family when he died, and it was the oldest that inherited the most.  He would also take on the role of watching over the rest of the family.  It was his job to protect the family honor and help each member in their time of need.  The oldest son’s mother, his brothers and sisters and their spouses, and his nieces and nephews could all call on him and expect his care and concern throughout their lives.  It was a great burden and a great privilege.

The younger sons were supposed to honor their older brother and respect his commands.  This held together the systems of order and loyalty in the early family clans of human civilization, and it was often true in the family of God as well.  But God told Rebekah that it would not be the same for her sons.  The older son would serve the younger.  That was a radical idea, but God is totally sovereign and in control.  He chooses among the children on earth who he will use for his purposes.  Long before Rebekah ever held her sons in her arms, she knew that her second child would be the one who God used to raise up his holy nation.

When the boys were born, the first child came out and everyone was shocked.  All they could talk about was how red and hairy he was.  He was so hairy that it looked like he was wearing animal fur!  They decided to name him Esau.

Rebekah didn’t have a lot of time after Esau  came.  The other son was following quickly behind.  In fact, the hand of the second son was gripping Esau’s foot as he came out!  So they decided to name him Jacob, because it means “heel.”

As the boys grew up, Rebekah and Isaac learned how very different each son was from the other.  Esau liked to go out to the wilderness and hunt.  Jacob liked to spend time among the tents where the family lived.  He was quiet.  Isaac enjoyed the meat that Esau brought him.  He enjoyed his big, burly son the best.  But Rebekah loved Jacob more, and she carried in her heart the promise of God.  In the future, the older would serve the younger.

One day, Jacob was among the tents cooking stew.  Esau had been out in the open country, probably on a hunt.  It is hard work, and when he came home he was so hungry that he had begun to feel weak.  He smelled Jacob’s stew and that only made it worse!  “‘Quick’” he said to Jacob, “‘Let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!’”

Jacob knew he had a chance to use this to get something he wanted.  He had been thinking about this for a long time.  He also knew how hungry Esau was when he came in from a hunt.  He said to his brother, “‘First, sell me your birthright.’”  Wow.  Esau was the firstborn son, and that birthright belonged to him.  It was a very precious, valuable thing.  It was a high honor.

In those days, the first son would inherit twice what all the other sons would receive when their father died.   For every two goats that Esau was supposed to inherit, Jacob would only get one goat.  But if Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, that meant that Jacob would be the one who received more.  Their father Isaac had received all of Abraham’s many animals and servants.  They were a very rich, princely family.  Jacob was asking Esau to trade hundreds of animals and great wealth in gold and silver for a bowl of soup.   But you know what?  Esau made the trade.

“‘Look, I am about to die’” he said.  “‘What good is a birthright to me?’”

Jacob wanted to make sure that he would really receive all the extra inheritance, so before he let Esau eat, he made him take an oath.  “‘Swear to me first.’”  Esau swore an oath to Jacob, promising the birthright to him.

Finally, Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil soup.  Esau gobbled up the food.  When he left, his stomach was full, but his birthright was lost to his conniving brother.

 

Story 40: Rebekah Comes Home

Genesis 24:28-67

 

Abraham sent his chief servant to find a wife for Isaac. It was important that Isaac’s wife come from the same family… those who God had set apart in a covenant in order to bless the world.  The servant travelled back to the land that Abraham and Sarah had left behind so many years before.  The Lord guided him to a beautiful young virgin named Rebekah as she took water from the village well.  He knew she was the one for Isaac, and so he gave her bracelets of precious gold and asked to be taken back to her home.  She ran ahead and told her mother everything that had happened during her time at the well.

Rebekah’s brother, Laban, heard what happened, too.  He saw the expensive gold bracelets and the nose ring, and he knew that this stranger was a making a serious marriage offer for his sister.   He went out to meet Abraham’s servant at the well.  “‘Come, you are blessed by the Lord,’” he said.  “‘Why are you standing out here?  I have prepared the house and a place for your camels.’”

Nahor’s family treated Abraham’s chief servant very well.  They brought him into the house and washed his feet and the feet of his men.  As they set supper out for him to eat, he stopped them and said, “‘I will not eat until I have told you what I have to say.’”  The importance of this meeting was too great!  He did not want to wait another minute until he had settled everything.

 

“‘The LORD has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy.  He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, menservants and maidservants, and camels and donkeys.  My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns.  And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’”

“‘Then I asked my master, ‘What if the woman will not come back with me?’

“‘He replied, The Lord,  before whom I have walked, will send His angel with you and make your journey a success, so that you can get a wife for my son from  my own clan, you will be released from my oath even if they refuse to give her to you-you will be released from my oath.’

 

Then the servant told them how he had come into their town.  He told how he had prayed that God would show him who the right girl was by having her offer not only to give him a drink of water, but by offering to water his camels.  He explained how that was exactly what Rebekah did.  God had answered his prayer very clearly.  And after journeying for days over many miles, the girl the LORD had brought him was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother!

Abraham’s servant told the whole story, making sure they understood how God had guided him to Rebekah.  Then he said, “‘Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn.’”

Laban and Rebekah’s mother Bethuel said, “‘This is from the LORD, we can say nothing to you one way or the other.  Here is Rebekah, take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has directed.’”

When the servant heard that he would be allowed to bring this beautiful, chosen daughter to be Isaac’s wife, he bowed down before the LORD, rejoicing at His goodness.  This was all the work of God, who designed everything with such care for His chosen ones.

The servant got up from his praise to the LORD and began to celebrate by bringing out the great riches given to him by Abraham to pour out on Rebekah, the bride, and her family.  Rebekah was given treasures of gold and silver jewelry and beautiful clothes to wear as the wife of Isaac.  Her family received lavish and beautiful gifts as well as they prepared to say goodbye to their beloved child and sister.

The next morning, Abraham’s servant asked to leave and return to Abraham with Isaac’s new bride.  But they did not want to see her go so soon.  They knew they would probably never see her again.  “‘Let the girl remain with us ten days or so; then you may go,’” they said.

But the servant was ready to return.  “‘Do not detain me, now that the LORD has granted success to my journey.  Send me on my way so I may go to my master.’”

They said, “‘Let’s call the girl and ask her about it.’”  They called for Rebekah and asked her if she would go with Abraham’s servant right away or not.

Rebekah said, “‘I will go.’”  Wow.  What stunning faith!  While her family was reluctant, she was bold.  And so they sent her on her way.  The nurse that had raised her since she was a little girl went along with her, as did several other maidservants from the house.  She was not alone as she journeyed towards the home of Abraham and Isaac.  As she left, her family said;

 

“‘Our sister, may you increase

to thousands upon thousands;

may your offspring possess

the gates of their enemies.’”

 

Consider the courage of Rebekah!  She left everything she knew to go with a host of strange men to marry a groom she had never met!  On and on they journeyed across wilderness and desert through regions Rebekah had never seen before.  One evening, as the caravan of Abraham’s servant was getting close to home, Isaac was sitting out in the middle of a field.  It was evening, and he was meditating.  Out in the distance, he saw camels coming towards him.  It was a caravan.  He got up and started walking towards it.  Rebekah was on one of those camels, and as they crossed the field, she looked up and saw a man standing there.  It was Isaac.  She climbed down from her camel and said, “‘Who is that man in the field coming the field.’”

The servant answered, “‘He is my master.’”

Rebekah  realized that this was the man she was about to marry.  She covered her face with a veil.

The servant told Isaac all that had happened.  Isaac took her into his tent.  He married Rebekah and lifted her veil to look upon the girl that God had prepared just for him.  The Bible says: “‘She became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.’”

 

Story 38: For the Love of Sarah

Genesis 26

Abraham and his entire tribe continued to move as nomads through the land, waiting on and trusting in the promises of God.  Someday, God would fulfill his covenant and give all the land to Abraham’s descendants, and they would fill the land like the stars fill the sky.

While they were staying in the region of Hebron, which is a part of Canaan, Abraham’s beloved wife died.  She was one hundred and twenty seven years old.

Sarah had stood by Abraham in faith, venturing out into unknown and dangerous lands with him as they waited on the promises of God together.   When Abraham asked her to protect him by telling kings that she was his sister, she submitted to her husband, and she saw God protect her from her husband’s mistakes.

Sarah was a woman of great beauty, not only with her outward feminine grace that so beguiled kings, but through the dignity and strength of how she carried herself through life.  She waited in patient faith as she bore the disgrace and pain of being childless for twenty five years.  All the while, she trusted God’s promise for the heir that her body had not provided.   Mistake though it was, she was willing to give another woman to her husband in hopes of seeing God’s promise fulfilled.  But God had his own plan to provide, in just the time and way he said he would: through Sarah, the wife of Abraham’s own flesh.  Sarah lived to see her one and only son grow to the age of thirty seven.

The impact of Sarah’s faith on history is something so great that we can’t measure it.  Two thousand years after she died, Peter, the disciple of Jesus, wrote about her.  Here is what he said:

“Wives, in the same way submit to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.  Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.  For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.   They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master.  You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”

1 Peter 3:1-6

Peter described Sarah’s faithful life as his prime example of what is truly beautiful.  Those who have faith and do not fear, doing what is right, are Sarah’s spiritual daughters.  They become part of her family and her heritage of beauty to the world.  That was true during the time of Sarah and when Peter wrote those words two thousand years later.  Two thousand more years have passed and they are still true today.  God’s image of womanly beauty through the life of Sarah has stood true for four thousand years and counting.

In our story, the life of Sarah, Abraham’s great love, had come to an end.  Abraham went to her body and bowed over it in grief.  He wept and wept with sorrow.  He wanted to provide a secure and honored place to bury her in the Land of Promise, where they had journeyed so many years together.  The land was not his yet, but he had faith that it would be…it was the relentless, underlying belief that decided every choice he made.

Abraham rose from his place beside his wife and ventured out to visit the Hittites.  At the time, they were among the people who owned the Land of Promise, which they called Canaan.  Abraham went to see if he could purchase a piece of the land from them so he could lay his wife to rest.

God had blessed Abraham over many years of faithfulness.  He had great herds of animals and hundreds of servants that made up one of the most powerful, well trained armies in the region.    God had blessed him with great wealth through gifts from kings and the plunders of war.  Many of the wells for precious water throughout the region had been dug by Abraham and his servants over decades as they roamed the land.   Abraham and Sarah and all the people of their travelling clan had lived among the other nations for over fifty years.  The Hittite people of the region saw Abraham as a great prince, and Sarah was his queenly wife.  The death of this great man’s spouse was a very big deal to the Hittites.

When Abraham went to the gate of the Hittite village where business was done, the Hittite people gathered, eager to hear the famed man speak.  Abraham gave his request,  “‘I am an alien and a stranger among you,’”  he said.  “‘Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.’”

The Hittites replied, “‘Sir, listen to us.  You are a mighty prince among us.  Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs.  None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.’”

The Hittites gave Abraham, the princely foreigner, the right to bury his wife within the boundaries of their land.  That was a major victory for Abraham.  The people of each of these cities and clans held on tightly to their territory. Yet they graciously offered Abraham the right to choose from any of the tombs of their own families to take as his own.  They considered it an honor that this great man would have the grave of his family among them.

Abraham was deeply respectful of their offer.  He bowed down before the Hittite people who had gathered and said, “‘If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field.  Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.’”

Abraham would not let them give him a tomb for free.  If it came freely, they might take it back one day!  For Abraham, this tomb was a way of claiming the promises of God.  He wanted to establish a place in the Land of Promise that was the permanent resting place for his descendants, starting with the mother of the nation God had promised.  Abraham told the townspeople that he had found a piece of land he liked, and it belonged to a man named Ephron.  Ephron said to Abraham, “‘Listen to me, my lord, the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between me and you?  Bury your dead.’”

Wow.  Four hundred shekels was a lot of money.  In those days, a normal farm laborer might

make ten shekels of silver a year for his work.  He could work his whole life and never make four hundred shekels!  This was very valuable land, and Ephron had given a very high price.   Yet Abraham agreed to pay it.  He bowed low before the people to show his respect and thankfulness.  Then he weighed out four hundred shekels of silver so he could bury his Sarah in a place of honor and dignity.  Abraham had not only purchased the tomb, but all the land around it with a field of grass and tall trees.  Then he took the body of his beloved wife into the cave and laid her there.

God had promised Abraham the land, but the Lord had not given it yet.  Abraham had waited in faith all of those years, depending on God.  The first piece of the Land of Promise that belonged to Abraham was purchased for the love of Sarah.  By faith, he believed that one day, her burial site would be surrounded by the towns and fields of their offspring.

Story 39: Isaac’s Beloved

Genesis 24:1-27

Abraham was getting older, and he had lost his beloved wife.  Yet he had been greatly blessed by God in every way.  His mind turned to thoughts of Isaac, his son, and the future that lay ahead of him.  Isaac would inherit all of the vast wealth that Abraham had received from God’s hand over the years.  He would inherit his father’s power and reputation.  Most importantly, he had inherited the promises of God.  As Isaac moved into these high privileges and responsibilities, he needed a wife of his own.  Who would God choose for him to carry on the promises?

Think about how important it was to find a good wife for Isaac.  She would be the mother of all of Abraham’s descendants, the nation that God had promised.  Abraham had hundreds of servants, but for this job, he went to the one whose wisdom and decisions he trusted most.  This was his chief servant, the man whom Abraham had put in charge of everything he had.

Abraham said to him, “‘Put your hand under my thigh.  I want you to swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac’” (Genesis 24:2c-4).

This might seem like a strange thing to ask for, but that is simply because we don’t understand the culture of the Ancient Near East.   Abraham was having his most trusted servant take an oath.  They didn’t have cheap pens and paper or computers to create contracts with. There was no overarching governments to enforce the law in Canaan.  Things like spoken oaths and covenants took on an importance that is hard for us to imagine.  A sign of the seriousness of this oath was that the servant made his promise while laying his hands on the very body of Abraham himself.  This oath was binding.  It was a huge responsibility.  If the servant did not carry it out, it was not only a violation against Abraham, the great prince.  It was a violation against God.

Abraham knew the customs and lifestyles of the Canaanite people.  The women of Canaan would bring false worship that violated his sacred faith.  They had ways of living that would bring trouble and strife to their home.  Marrying a Canaanite would bring the family of Abraham and Isaac into allegiance with people who were idolatrous and corrupt…and their wickedness was stubborn.  They sacrificed their children to the gods as a trade to receive blessings from them.  Prostitution was often an integral part their worship practices.  The deeply imbedded habits, cultural customs, and beliefs would not go away because a woman married his son.  In times of pressure, these practices were seen as the answer to the problem.  But Abraham’s answer was to trust his God, to wait on him and pray.  Abraham wanted a woman who was part of the same clan as he and Sarah had been a part of, whose deeply felt beliefs and ways of life would honor their God and bring Isaac honor and peace.

You may remember that Abraham had a brother named Nahor.  He had married Milcah, the daughter of Abraham’s other brother.  In those days, marrying widows who had been married to a brother was common.  It was protection for the family.  It insured that the women in the family were taken care of in a vulnerable land.  Over the years, Milcah had given birth to seven boys, and those boys had grown and begun to have children of their own.  Perhaps a good wife could be found for Isaac from among the grandchildren of Nahor.

Abraham and his great tribal clan were many miles from the family he had left behind.  His servant would have to travel long days on camels to reach there.  He would have to bring a magnificent dowry with him that would display the wealth of Abraham and please the family of the girl.  But he would not bring Isaac.  The family was going to have to decide to give their daughter to Isaac without ever having met him.  The girl would have to leave her family far behind before she ever met her husband.  Abraham’s chief servant was worried that once he had found a wife for Isaac, she wouldn’t want to come with him!  He asked, “‘What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land?  Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?’”

“‘Make sure that you do not take my son back there,’” Abraham said.  “‘The LORD, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me an oath, saying, “To your offspring I will give this land”-He will send His angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there.  If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine.  Only do not take my son back there.’”

Genesis 24:6-8

 It is interesting that Abraham defined his life by the promises of God.  He understood the meaning of the events of his life according to God’s leading…and through his acts of obedience and response to God.  It was the LORD who brought him out of his father’s land and into the land of promise.  Not because of some psychological tweak in Abraham’s makeup.  Not because circumstances drove him there.  It was because of the hand of God on his life.  And now he saw that hand on Isaac’s life as well.

Abraham had great faith that God truly had prepared a woman to be the wife of Isaac.  The servant put his hand on Abraham’s thigh and swore to bring her back without the presence of Isaac.  Abraham had left that land long before.  It would not do for the family of God to return.

The servant swore an oath on Abraham’s thigh and ventured out for his task.  Some of Abraham’s other servants went along with him.  He took large amounts of gold and silver to bestow on the future bride of Isaac and her family.  He took ten of Abraham’s camels with him.  Camels were very expensive and a sign of great wealth.  If a family were to give their daughter to this servant, they would want to know they were sending her to a life of prosperity.  It was dangerous to travel through the wilderness with so many valuable treasures, but just as Abraham believed, the angel of the LORD was with them.

Abraham’s chief servant journeyed over the miles for many days.  He crossed back through all the lands that Abraham and Sarah had left behind.  It was evening when he arrived at the well of the town where the sons of Nahor lived.  He had the camels kneel down nearby.  As the sun lowered and the heated earth began to cool, the women began to come out to the well with their jugs.  They filled them up with water to use for washing and for cooking food for their families. As they each waited their turn, they chatted with the other women and discussed the day.

It was the perfect time for the servant to see the women of the town.  But there were so many of them!  Abraham’s servant prayed to God for help.  He believed that this task was an important part of God’s plan and that the Lord would guide him in it;

 

“‘O LORD, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham.  See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water.  May it be that I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too-let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac.  By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.’”

 

The servant gave the LORD a way to show which girl was the one that God had specially chosen to marry Isaac.  Now, it was very normal for a member of a town to offer to give a stranger a drink from the town well.  But offering to draw water for camels was a totally different story.  Especially if those camels had just come in from a long journey.  A camel can drink up to twenty-five gallons at a time.  The largest clay pots in that time would have held three gallons of water.  The girl would have to fill her heavy clay jug up eight times for each camel.  There were ten camels!  That means the right woman would have to offer to lift three gallons of water and carry it to the animals eighty times!

That was a very generous thing for Abraham’s servant to hope for! But the servant wanted to be sure that the one he chose for Isaac was truly the will of the Lord.  Any woman who would offer such help was not only kind and generous, but hard working.  God could work through the character of the right girl so that she would do this lavishly generous work for a total stranger.

And sure enough, before God’s servant had even finished praying his prayer, a young woman came out to the well with a jar on her shoulder.  Her name was Rebekah, and she was the daughter of Nahor, Abraham’s brother.  But the servant had no way of knowing that.  She was also very beautiful, and she was a virgin, a pure young woman at just the right age for marriage.  She let her jar down into the water and brought it back up again.

The servant saw her as his prayer ended and rushed over to her, asking for some water. She gave him her jug and said “Drink.”  She must have seen all of his camels, because then she said, “‘I’ll draw waters for your camels, too, until they have finished drinking.’”  Then this beautiful girl set to work, filling up her jugs in the well and pouring out the precious water into the trough for the thirsty camels.  Abraham’s servant watched her as she worked to see if she would truly do as she had said.  If she did, then his trip was abundantly successful.  She was the one that God had prepared for Isaac!

Rebekah filled the trough with water over and over until all ten camels were done drinking.  When she finished, she must have been tired!   But she was rewarded for her humble service to the visitor.  Abraham’s servant went to her and gave her a golden nose ring.  He took two golden bracelets and slid them on her arm.  Each bracelet weighed ten shekels each.  They were worth far more in gold than many farm workers could earn in a year.  They were valuable treasures indeed.    This was an act of great faith by the servant.  He didn’t even know who she was!  He just knew that God had answered his prayer!

“‘Whose daughter are you?’”  He asked her.  “‘Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?’”

“‘I am the daughter of Betheul, the son that Milcah bore to Nahor.  We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.’”

Wow!  The LORD had guided Abraham’s servant right to Nahor’s beautiful granddaughter!

The servant was overwhelmed at how perfectly God had answered his prayer.  He bowed down and worshipped the LORD, saying, “‘Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned His kindness and faithfulness to my master.  As for me, the LORD has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.’”

 

Story 37: The Faith of Abraham

Genesis 22

For three days, Abraham did not waver in his faith.  God had commanded him to do the unthinkable…to offer his own son as a sacrifice…the very son that God had promised him as a gift so many years before (see Story 36).

And so Abraham journeyed on through the desert with Isaac to the place of sacrifice, determined to honor his God with obedience.  And then he looked up.  Far off he could see the place God was bringing them to.  It was Mount Moriah.  One day, a great city would be built there by a mighty king, and it would be called Jerusalem.  But now it was a barren land with a high hill, and God was calling Abraham there.

He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you” (Genesis 22:5).  Did you notice that Abraham said, “we”?  The author made sure to record that for a reason.  Though Abraham had every plan to sacrifice Isaac, he was somehow sure that his son would be coming back home with him.

They left the donkey with the servants and walked up together to Moriah.  Abraham carried with him the fire and the knife.  Isaac carried the wood.  Did he understand it was for his own sacrifice?  Was he growing suspicious?  As they drew towards the hill, Isaac asked Abraham:

 “‘Father?’”

“‘Yes, my son’” said the man carrying the tremendous burden of faith.

“‘The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’” asked the son of his love.

“God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,’” Abraham answered. “And the two of them went on together.’” 

Genesis 22:6-8

 

They finally came to the place God was calling them.  Abraham took the wood from the hands of his boy and built an altar.  In silence, he took ropes and tied Isaac’s hands and feet, binding him and laying him across the wood.  What must Abraham’s heart have felt?  What were the thoughts that must have flown to God?  And what heavy anguish and agony must have moved between father and son as Abraham obeyed his LORD.

And what of Isaac?  What choices did he have?  He was a young man.  He could have fought…argued, cried.  Yet he, like his father, was quiet…surrendered.  Not weak, but powerfully meek, full of trust.

What a remarkable moment in the history of humanity.

Abraham picked up his knife and raised it into the air to sacrifice.  The blade was ready to plunge down,   but at that very last moment, the angel of the LORD called out from heaven. “‘Abraham!  Abraham!’”

Abraham stayed his hand.  Once again, he said to God, “‘Here I am.’’  He was ready to obey to the last.

“‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ He said.  ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from Me your son, your only son.’”

Can you hear the passion in God’s voice…the intensity we can see in His repetition: “your son, your only son”?  It moved God to see the faith of Abraham, to have captured so much of his trust, to have Abraham move on this earth with such utter obedience.  How God longs to be trusted to the uttermost.

God had radically tested Abraham all the way to the most extreme limit.  The powerful inner faith of Abraham was proven true through his outward actions.

The problem of this testing by God was never that Abraham would lose Isaac.  The problem was whether Abraham would rise to faith.  God watched His servant walk for three days, persevering in obedience, willing and determined to do exactly as the Lord commanded.  He watched as Abraham arranged the wood took the very knife in his hand.  There was nothing false about Abraham’s faith, he had followed it all the way to the worst kind of death-the death of his own son.  He was willing to give the LORD what was most precious to him on earth.  He absolutely trusted God with His Promises.

And then God moved on Abraham’s behalf.  This is what the Bible says:

“Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.  He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called the place The Lord Will Provide.  And to this day it is said, ‘On the mount of the LORD it will be provided.’” 

Genesis 22:13-14

How deep, and powerful those words were to Abraham.  How profound his gratitude when he spoke them!  Then the angel of the LORD spoke to Abraham:

“‘I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.  Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me.’”

Genesis 22:16-18

 

With Abraham’s radical obedience, God gave His most extreme promise.  All the nations would be blessed through his descendants…they would be as numerous as the sand on the seashore.

The faith of Abraham, the father of all who follow after the living God, has been celebrated for over four thousand years by millions upon millions of people.  It is good to remember that it was not a perfect faith.  Abraham made many mistakes along the way.  He gave his own wife away to two different kings!  But in the end, his radical, complete trust in God was the great model of faith held up by the rest of the Bible.  Read Isaiah 51:1-2,  Hebrews 11:17-19, and Romans 4:16-25 to see how the writers of the Old Testament and New held up Abraham as one of our great heroes for all time.

Just as Abraham had said, he and his son returned to where his servants and the donkey were waiting.  And they journeyed back to their home in Beersheba together.

God did not require that Abraham give up his son…his only son.  He simply required Abraham’s faith.  But two thousand years after the life of Abraham, God did require the life of His own Son.  It was on the very same hill where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac–Mount Moriah.

Jesus Christ was a descendant of Abraham, and while Abraham knew that his offspring would bring blessings to all the nations, he was not given the details about how.  It has been two thousand years since the death and resurrection of Christ, and so we can now look back on the lives of both men and see the unfolding of God’s plan.  God gave up the Son of His love…His only son…to pay the price for our ransom.  He watched His son in agony on the cross as He bore the sins of the world.  He did not withhold His wrath or spare Jesus…He did not spare Himself the pain of watching the suffering of His Child.   And all we must do in response is to receive this breathtaking gift from the Lord by the same faith that was modeled to us by Abraham, knowing there was no price God did not pay, and no request that He will make where He has not already claimed the victory.

Story 36: God’s Unthinkable Command

Genesis 22

 

The life and times of Sarah and Abraham rolled on as they raised the son that had caused them so much waiting…and then so much laughter.  The usual frustrations and tensions of life in the wilderness came and went.  Abraham continued to live a life of righteous faith in the land for all to see. Treaties were made over water wells, animals were born and raised, the seasons came and went, and Isaac grew to become a young man.

Then, once again, God came to Abraham.  This time, He came with the greatest test of all.  He said, “‘Abraham!’”  Abraham said, “‘I am here!’”

And then God gave him the most unimaginable instructions in history: “‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah.  Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.’”

What?  Read that again!  What could God mean?  This was the God of life, the God of the great and precious promises!  Did He really want Abraham to kill his own son?   Could it be possible?  How could He be so cruel?

Now, the sacrifice of a child was nothing new to the people of the Ancient Near East, which is the time and place Abraham lived.  Many of the gods of that region demanded the sacrifice of offspring.  But this God, the God of Abraham, was different.  He was righteous and generous, the God of creation who made the world to be good…a world without sin or death or sorrow.  It took the mutiny of humans against this good God to bring all that is sad and destructive.  So this command by God seems strange, barbaric…out of character.  And not only that, but this God had promised Abraham this very son.  It was from Isaac that He promised to raise up a mighty nation.  Did He really mean what He said?

God made it clear that He knew exactly what He was demanding of His servant.  He pointed out how precious Isaac was to Abraham all along the way.  He repeated,  “‘This is your only son…this is the son of your great love,’”  and then said, “‘Now sacrifice him to Me.’”  Abraham had waited twenty-five years for this child.  He had loved him for seventeen more.  It was an impossible request.  It was radical obedience, the most extreme imaginable.  In all likelihood, it would have been easier for Abraham to take his own life than to bring an end to Isaac’s.

When we read this story, we are supposed to gasp.  We are meant to be shocked!  For anyone else to command this of Abraham would have been a horrific sin!  Through this story, God is pushing us…He is demanding more.  He wants us to be disturbed…to fight through our understanding of Him and His ways.  Just as Abraham had a response to give, so do we.

Faithfulness to the Most High God is the highest good.  Trusting Him is more important than anything.  Every other loyalty, even to the life of a son…even to a promise of God…must fall away, so that the Lord of all Creation Himself is our one true devotion.  And God, the Maker of all things, has the right to command life or death as He pleases.  He is not bound by the rules that humanity is bound by…the value we place on every human life is because of the value He places on every human life.  It is His right to bring life and end it.  It is the truth of every single day for every person in our world.  Our role as His trusting servants is to stand before Him with humbled reverence and awe, and to obey.  In this extreme command, God was requiring that Abraham surrender the depths of everything, even this deepest, most precious gift from God, even the most critical moral code, even the covenant…the his purpose in life…back to God.

It might have looked to Abraham like all was lost.  If he obeyed his mighty, worthy Lord, he would be without the heir of the Promise.  But he didn’t.  Abraham had already learned through many trials that his Lord was the God of the impossible.  Through each stage of his journey, God was training him and preparing his faith, stretching him and disciplining him to be his resilient, steadfast servant.  Abraham grew in endurance and power to hold on to God’s promises even when he could not understand God’s plan.

Through it all, Abraham did not weaken in faith, but became stronger.  He knew that God would keep His promises no matter what.  With this new command, he did not argue and he did not complain.  He did not even question God.  He would not fail to step out in obedience now to this great and mighty Lord, even when His directions were horrifying.

Abraham’s loyalties belonged completely and utterly to God.  His obedience was immediate. Early the very next morning, he prepared to go.  He put a saddle on his donkey.  He had two servants gather their things to come along.  He cut the wood for the sacrificial offering of his son, fully preparing to carry out God’s strange and unimaginable command.  And then they began their trek.  It was to be a journey of almost fifty miles.  What a lonely time it must have been for Abraham as they walked along through the heart of the Land of Promise.

The Bible doesn’t tell us anything about the journey.  We don’t learn how Abraham felt, what he dreaded or imagined.  We don’t know what he talked about with Isaac and their servants.  The silence in the text is a piece of literary mastery, forcing us to wonder, to be uncomfortable with both God and Abraham…to ask, “How could they?”  It is meant to provoke you and I to consider our own faith…to disciple us with the discipleship of Abraham.  To measure our own lack of faith, our own judgment of God, against the maturity and trust of Abraham.  Where we, in our lack of faith, might see a small and petty God, a cruel deity and a subservient and immoral Abraham…willing to kill his own child…the Bible casts a much grander possibility for life in relationship with God.  Abraham’s vision went beyond the limits of this natural world and put faith in His supernatural power to accomplish His covenant.  Abraham did not doubt that God could keep His covenant even now…that He could even raise Isaac from the dead.

It the process, Abraham demonstrated that his loyalty was to God himself, not to the promise of what he would gain from God…and not from the evidence of what could be seen, but from faith in that which is not seen.

 

 

Story 35: Hagar’s Tears

Genesis 21:8-21

Years of joy went by for Abraham and Sarah.  Isaac learned to crawl and toddle around on his little feet.  When he was two or three, they weaned him from his mother.  To celebrate, Abraham threw a great feast.

At the banquet, Sarah watched on as Ishmael made fun of her beloved son with contempt.  This was no innocent play.  Sarah could hear malice in Ishmael’s voice, and she was overcome with fear.   It seemed to reveal his desire to dominate and demean her boy…he was a real threat to her child.

This was not just about the normal conflicts that arise between brothers.  This was about the status of these boys and their future.  Ismael was showing contempt for the true heir of Abraham.

She was filled with anger.  How dare he treat her child this way?   The same disrespect that Hagar had shown Sarah was now showing up in her son.

Did Sarah consider the pain of Hagar…to be the unwed mother of Abraham’s first born?  Did the vulnerability of Ishmael occur to her…now that this new son had come along?  Did she see what this situation…a situation of her own making…was doing to others who had so little power?

Sarah went to Abraham and said, “‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.’”

Sarah wasn’t merely asking for Hagar and her son to be sent away.  In order to do so, they would have to relinquish their service.   As long as they stayed with Abraham’s household, the boy would have the right to claim inheritance from his father.   Abraham had raised Ishmael and made it clear that this was his son.  But if Hagar and Ishmael were freed, they would never be able to claim Abraham’s wealth against Isaac. Sarah was asking Abraham to grant them their freedom, but it was for her own selfish gain.

Rather than trust the Lord to bring about his promise…to raise up her son as the heir to God’s covenant with Abraham…Sarah panicked and acted out of fear and spite.

Imagine the despair of Abraham.  He loved his first born son.  They had spent thirteen years living among the their tents together.  How could he thrust them out into the desert alone?  Years ago Abraham and Sarah lacked the faith to believe that God would provide a child through Sarah.  Now Hagar and Ishmael would have to go through a terrible trial for their mistake.  Abraham took his deep grief to the LORD.

God came to his faithful servant as he agonized into the night.  He said, “‘Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant.  Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’”

These words reveal something interesting about the thoughts of God.  When God called Abraham, the call was not on Abraham alone.  The call was on his wife as well.  As husband and wife, they were one.  Sarah was an important part of God’s plan, and no other woman could stand in her place.  It was her child that would become the nation of God’s great promise to the world.  Her role as mother had tremendous value in the eyes of God…she was as irreplaceable as Abraham to God’s plan.  God told Abraham to honor her words in spite of the fact that they were marked by her brokenness and sin.

Then God spoke to Abraham about Ishmael and Hagar, “‘I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.’”

Wow.  That was a tremendous promise!  The Lord reigns in power over all, and he cared for Hagar, too.  He had made a promise to Abraham about his descendents, and it would be true for both his sons.  Ishmael’s descendents would grow into a mighty nation just as surely as Isaac’s would.  Abraham could trust that God would watch over and protect Hagar and Ishmael just as he had watched over Abraham for twenty five years.  They had a great hope that was grounded in the character of God…a great future lay before them.

Abraham listened to his LORD and trusted him to keep his promise.  He obeyed immediately.  Early the very next morning, Abraham brought Hagar and Ishmael out of their tents.  He loaded Hagar’s shoulders with food and water and sent them on their way.  Imagine the tearing on Abraham’s heart as he watched the two, small figures walking off into the vast wilderness.  A woman alone with her teenage son in a wild land of tribal nations who often lived in unspeakable sin.  Imagine his faith as he prayed for them and trusted them in the hands of God.  Imagine Ishmael’s confusion as his loving father sent him away with such sadness.  Why did he have to go?  Imagine Hagar’s fear as she stepped out onto the lonely sands.

She had nothing, but she brought with her the responsibility of a child.  Had she asked for this?

Hagar wandered out into the desert of Beersheba on her way back to Egypt, the land of her birth.  Along the way, she got lost.  She spent days moving in the wrong directions, not knowing how to find her way home.  She had been given plenty of food and water for the trip, but as the time stretched on, they began to run out.

How thirsty they became, and how her son suffered.  The days were long and the nights were cold, and there was no help.  Her son became weaker and weaker.   They weren’t able to go on.  Finally she set him under a bush. She walked away and sat down.  She was far enough away to so that she would not have to watch him die, but near enough to protect him and come to his body once he was gone.  Her heart tore in two with grief and despair.  Her body shook with the sobs of her overwhelming loss and sorrow.  And Ishmael lay there, near death, crying out to the God of his father.

God heard Ishmael’s cries.  The angel of the Lord came from Heaven.  The Lord heard, and he came.  He came to Hagar in the wilderness and spoke tenderly to her; “‘What is the matter, Hagar?  Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.  Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’  Then the LORD opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.  So she went and filled the skin with water and gave it to her boy to drink” (Genesis 21:17-19).

This wasn’t the first time the angel of the Lord had come to Hagar.  She had run away once before when Sarah’s treatment had grown so cruel she could no longer bear it.  She called out to the Lord, then, too.  After he came, she declared him to be “the One who sees me…” Utterly alone in the desert, a rejected servant sitting by a stream of water, she was seen by the God of the universe.

Now he had come again, and revealed a well of water that she could not find on her own.

The arrogance of Ishmael and the fearful selfishness of Sarah had caused this dark time for him and his mother, but his cry to God brought their salvation.  Once again, God came gently down to Hagar with great promises.

The LORD watched over Ishmael as he grew.  And God kept his promise to Abraham.  Hagar raised him in the desert and he learned to become a skilled archer.  And eventually, she found him a wife from the land of Egypt.

 

Story 34: Sarah’s Laughter

Genesis 21-22

Abraham and Sarah had waited on the LORD for twenty-five years.   All during those years, Abraham believed in a message he had heard from God.  This was not just any deity or idol, it was the God of the universe…and the promise of the message was great.  So they packed up everything and journeyed out into the wilderness.  They wandered as nomads to strange lands with foreign people.Their former life of refined wealth was over.  They would no longer have solid walls around them and a door to lock.  They would roam around with tents.  The floor would be the earthy ground, and their walls would be made of leather or cloth…too thin to keep out the dust and cold.  There would be a constant need to search for sources of water, and because water was precious, others would want to take it from them.

As they traveled, Abraham’s family would have been an easy targets for bandits.  Other nomadic people would have felt threatened by them.  It would have been hard…if not foolish…to trust anyone along the way.  The new cities and nations around them were often places of violence and corruption.  The kings and rulers would have threatened their family, and the foolishness of Lot would drag Abraham and Sarah into even bigger problems.  Through it all, Abraham was imperfect yet faithful, constantly depending on the LORD and leading his wife and their household on into God’s promises.

Along the way, God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness.  He blessed Abraham with great flocks and military victory and vast wealth.  Yet those were not the limit to the dreams that God had put before Abraham and Sarah.  His vision was much greater!  God had promised them a nation.  But that nation would have to come from the birth of a son, and that was the great blessing they had yet to receive.

Month after month, Sarah would hope that the time had come for a child, and month after month, he did not come.  Imagine the pain and confusion they must have felt.  They had believed God’s promises and they had obeyed, and yet God had deprived them of life’s most basic and natural blessing.

It is stunning to consider how God formed his wide, epic plan of salvation for the human race in a way that would be so profoundly personal for this couple.  He designed the story of the covenant family to be birthed out of the kind of faith that is forged out of long waiting…over time…as a continual and deepening re-decision.  God’s salvation plan did not bypass the hearts of those He came to save by bringing in some outside, alternate route…it was forged through the depths of their very hearts.

Finally there came a time when it became humanly impossible for Sarah to have children at all.  Yet God was firm.  He insisted that they stand in faith.  They had to believe in an answer that they could not imagine.  They had to hope for something they could not see.

Abraham did not allow the pain and wear of the passing of time to destroy his faith.   Instead, he was strengthened in his faith and grew in his confidence that God richly rewards those who believe in His promises (see Romans 4).

And then…the time finally came.  Abraham was a hundred years old, and Sarah was ninety.  By this time, the entire region knew this couple.  Abraham was extravagantly wealthy and a famous warrior.  He was a foreigner who had come and saved five nations from the tyranny of their enemies.

The people of the region must have wondered at Abraham’s devotion to his barren wife.  Why didn’t he take another wife?  He was a wealthy man, why didn’t he build a harem for himself?  He could have had a dozen wives and a hundred children!  All the world watched, and all knew without a doubt that it was too late for Sarah.  At just the point where everyone would be sure it was a miracle, God gave His greatest blessing of all:

“‘Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what He had promised.  Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God has promised him.  Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.  When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him.  Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.’”

Genesis 21:1-5

Wow.  Imagine the joy of Abraham and Sarah as they held that little baby!  Imagine the wonder!  Those tiny feet and that perfect, soft skin was all their very own.  Has a couple ever waited longer for a child?  Each year of waiting intensified their desire for this little one.  How deeply they understood what a precious gift, what an absolute miracle, this boy was.  He was from the very hands of the Lord.

The first thing we learn about the child is how Abraham dedicated him back to God.  He circumcised his boy with his old and aged hands, delighting in this little baby who would one day be the father of nations.  If God could provide this child, the rest of the promises were also sure.

The utter happiness of the couple showed on their faces.  How they laughed now!  How different the world felt now that the promise was in their arms.  They named the boy Isaac, which means “he laughs.”  For Sarah said, “‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me…who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?  Yet I have born him a son in his old age’” (Genesis 21:6-7).

 

Story 33: Abraham and Abimelech and the Power of Repentance

Genesis 20

After the mighty hand of God came in judgment on the plains of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham moved his clan to a place called Negev.  While he was there, he explained to the people that Sarah was his sister.  Once again, as he had in Egypt, Abraham feared that men would treat him badly when they saw the beauty of his wife (see Story 21).  Once again, he put her at risk.  Though Abraham was unfaithful, God would stand in resolute faithfulness to His covenant promises.  The chaos created by humanity because of our weakness cannot thwart the strength of God in our history.

Abraham’s fears were not without reason.  Sarah was a woman of great beauty.  When the king of the city of Gerar saw Sarah, he wanted her to be his own.  And why not?  She was the sister of the wealthy traveler who had come to his region to live.  He did not understand that he was in danger of committing a great sin.

The Lord came to King Abimelech and warned him in a dream.  He said, “‘You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.’”

Abimelech hadn’t touched Sarah, so he asked God, “‘Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation?  Did he not say to me, “She is my sister,” and didn’t she also say, “He is my brother”?  I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.’”

God replied, “‘Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience.  That is why I did not let you touch her.  Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live.  But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die.’”

Wow.  Isn’t it interesting that God protected Abimelech from sin?  Isn’t it fascinating that it was because he knew Abimelech was innocent in his heart?  God understands the complexities of life in a very messed up and complex human world.  He gets the confusion of life around us.  We don’t see a harsh, legalist God here.  He stakes his judgment on the condition of our hearts and the nature of our intentions.

What would Abimelech do now?

The Bible makes sure we know that the very next morning, bright and early, Abimelech brought together all of his officials and told them about his dream.  He didn’t wait a few days.  He didn’t forget or disregard the voice of God because it came in the form of the dream.  And when he told his officials, he explained in in a way that made them take it seriously, too.  It filled them with fear.  They each had a reverence for this God who had come to their king.  Their counsel led Abimelech to take action.

Abimelech called for Abraham and asked, “‘What have you done to us?  How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom?  You have done things to me that should not be done.’”

Abimelech and his people had a high and godly view of marriage.  The thought of violating the marriage covenant between Abraham and Sarah was horrifying.  How could Abraham have been so quick to give his wife away?

When we look at the role Abraham plays in human history, it is stunning.  Abraham was the great patriarch, the first man with whom God made His mighty covenant to change the world.  He would be described in the word of God as the great man of faith.  He would be famous for his faith for thousands of years across three of the world’s major religions.  In fact, he could be said to be the first founder of all three.  He was father of Judaism, which is the parent faith of Christianity, and Islam.  Yet in this story, as a normal man facing peril, he is righteously rebuked by a common tribal king for his lack of faith.

Abraham explained to Abimelech that he didn’t think Abimelech’s people feared the LORD.  He said that he was afraid that they would kill him so they could get to Sarah.  He told how he asked Sarah to show her love to him by telling everyone that he was her brother.

This was partly true.   Sarah was the daughter of Abraham’s father, but they had different mothers.  In those days, marriage within a family was a way of protecting and providing for their children.

In a way, Abraham was admitting that he had lacked faith.  He didn’t trust that God would watch over and protect him.  He tried to find his own way to save his life…even though it might cost Sarah greatly.  Once again, he had put the covenant at risk.  Sarah was to be the mother of God’s priestly nation, but here she was, living in the home of a foreign king.

Abimelech returned Sarah to Abraham.  In some ways, he was more protective of Sarah than Abraham had been.  Then he gave Abraham sheep and cattle, male and female slaves, and he offered Abraham his first choice of his lands.  He could live wherever he wanted in Gerah.  And for Sarah, he gave a thousand shekels of silver to Abraham for the offense of taking his wife into his harem.  That was an extravagant amount of wealth.    It would pay a hundred laborers to work for an entire year.  Sarah was well vindicated for this terrible violation of her safety and dignity.

How greatly Abraham had misjudged Abimelech, as well as God.  Abimelech and his men feared the LORD and listened when God came in a dream.   They responded immediately with repentant obedience and went out of their way to lavishly make things right.

It interesting to compare how different these people were from the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Story 23 and Story 32).  There is a reason that these stories are put right next to each other in scripture.  We are meant to compare them and look at the way God responded to each.  The comparison is meant to highlight important things about what draws God’s judgment or favor…it is meant to display the goodness of His ways when dealing with a wayward race and to teach us how we are to come to Him for right relationship.

The nation of Sodom (which was probably more like what we would consider a large village in our time) had become so corrupt that when two strangers came to visit their city, the men of the city laid siege to the home where they were staying and demanded their right to rape them.  Imagine the horrors…the violence, abuse, and toxic immorality…of such a place.  What these men did not understand was that these two visitors were actually the angels of God.  They had come to warn Abraham’s nephew to leave the city before they brought God’s fiery and cleansing judgment against the despicable culture that had plunged the entire community in utter, irreversible bondage.

But this wasn’t Abraham’s first encounter with the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  In fact, he had already saved their lives.  When Abraham rescued the people of Sodom and Gomorrah after they had been defeated by a foreign army, they tried to demand that he give them the booty from the war.  According to the rules of that time, the booty belonged to Abraham.  Though he was in no danger of captivity himself, he risked his life and the life of his men to rescue these ungrateful people, and the booty was proper reward.  It was a form of despicable ungratefulness to try to get it back.

The hardness of their hearts was already so complete that when God brought them a savior, they had no vision for repentance.  They could have seen the higher ways of Abraham and the strength it gave him to conquer kings.  They could have witnessed the honorable and godly relationship between Abraham and Melchizedek, the great priest of Salem, and been humbled by their dignity.  When God intervened, they could have been changed, but they weren’t, and it led to their total destruction.

Abilmelech and his officials did not make that mistake.  When God showed up, they repented.  They honored the God of Abraham, altered their behavior, and were saved from judgment.

Just as the Lord said, Abraham prayed for Abimelech and his household.  God had placed some form of curse on them, and his wife and the women of his slave girls could not have children.  God heard Abraham’s pray and the household of Abimelech was healed.  In the process, God restored not only Abimelech’s people, but the dignity and position of Abraham as the man of God’s choosing.

The faith of Abraham had failed.  When we see the heart of this godly man in the middle of his fears, it is easier to understand that he was very much a normal human.  All of the great, courageous acts and steadfast, ongoing faithfulness was done by a man who feared death and longed for peace.  His failure in this story highlights the fact that in all of the other stories, Abraham was having to make decisions in the quietness of his heart…he was having to choose faith instead of fear.

God knew about all of those hundreds of silent decisions to choose to trust Him, and He had grace and protection for Abraham when he failed.

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