Tag: nations

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 20: The Call of Abram

Genesis 12:1-9

Abram’s life was in shambles.  He was seventy-five years old when his father had died.  He was living in Haran, far from the land of Canaan, the place where his father Terah had hoped to go.  His beloved wife remained barren, which brought deep shame to her from everyone in their society.  Yet they faithfully bore the responsibility of caring for Lot, Abram’s orphaned nephew.    Then the LORD came to him.  What God said to him is one of the most significant things ever declared in history;

 

“‘Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’”

Genesis 12:1-3

 

Wow.  Read that again.  God told Abram to leave everything.  He was to abandon whatever life he had in Haran and go into a strange land.  But with that obedience would come overwhelming blessings.  God would lead him to Canaan, the land of his destiny.  And for his faith and obedience, the LORD promised to make Abram’s descendants into a mighty nation.

This promise was called a covenant.   If Abram obeyed, God would bind himself to Abram with a sacred promise that he would never break.  Now remember, when God speaks, things really happened.  That is how he made the whole universe.  God’s words also make things happen in the future.  Abram could be as certain that God would keep his covenant as he was that the sun would rise every morning.  And what a blessing this covenant would be.

Abram would be like Shem!  He would father an entire people group!  God also promised to make his name great.  God would curse anyone that tried to hurt him. And somehow, God was going to use him to bless all the nations of the world.  What a bright and wonderful hope!  But Abram had to choose to believe it.

When God promised to protect Cain after he murdered his brother, Cain chose not to believe.  He built a fortress city to protect himself.  He did it on his own.  When the children of Noah were wandering the earth, they were supposed to scatter to far off lands.  Instead, they stayed together.  They thought they could keep themselves safe apart from the help of God.  They tried to make a great name for themselves apart from God by building a temple.  They did it on their own.

Now Abram would have a chance to show where he put his hope.  He could follow in the ways of Cain and build a life on his own.  Or he could do it God’s way.  He would have to have faith to leave the land of safety and go out into dangerous regions of unknown people and their unknown ways.  He would have to trust God to protect him in ways his forefathers had refused to.  Abram would have to have faith that God could create something out of absolutely nothing.  It was impossible for his wife to have children, let alone give birth to a nation.  He would be staking his whole life on a miracle.  But in the end, he would have the highest honor.  He would not have to make his own name great.  It would be the gift of God for his righteous faith.  He would be rewarded for trusting in the LORD with abundant blessings. Those blessings would be poured out onto the nations of the whole world!

What would Abram do?  Would he rebel like so many had in the past, showing himself to be the offspring of God’s enemy?  Or would he stand in faith and see the blessings of God?

Abram proved to be a man of wondrous faith.  It was very simple.  He just did as God said.  The Bible tells it this way: “So Abram left, as the LORD had told him.”  He heard, and he obeyed.

How different was Abram’s pilgrimage from the writhing efforts of the people at Babel!   When Abram chose to step out in faith, the course of human history changed.  The rest of the Torah, which is the first five books of the Bible, will tell the story of how God kept His promise to Abraham.  He would raise up a nation through Abram, and He would take them to the Land of Promise.  The rest of the Old Testament, all the books after the Torah, is the story of God’s faithful relationship with Abraham’s children once they entered the Land of Promise.  It all began with God’s powerful, initiating promise and Abram’s first great steps of faith.

Abram’s nephew Lot went with Abram and Sarai, and they brought everything they owned with them.  Their servants came with them, too.  They threw everything they had into God’s plan!  They headed for the land of Canaan, and as they passed through, right into the heart of the land, God appeared to Abram again.  He said, “‘To your offspring I will give this land.’”  What a beautiful promise to a man who had spent so many years without children.  What a wonderful promise to see wide, vast lengths of lands stretching in all directions and know that God Himself had claimed it for him!  How do you think Abram felt as he looked out on the trees, the great river Jordan, and the mountains and valleys of Canaan?  Because God said so, the land was as good as Abram’s, even though all kinds of other mini nations and tribes, cities and villages of people were already living there.  The land was Abram’s because God gave it to him, and he is the Maker and Owner of it all.  Yet He also had a plan for how Abram’s descendants would take the land, and that time had not yet come.  For the two great blessings of God’s covenant promise, for a child and land, Abram was being called on to wait.

Abram believed the LORD and built an altar to Him.  Once again, Abram showed himself to be totally different from the other people and nations of the world.  Where they built massive cities and empires for their own glory, Abram left the city to become a nomadic wanderer, unknown and far away from the places where the powerful built their fame and their palaces.  Where the people of the world plotted to build idols and temples to false gods, Abram faithfully built an altar to the true and living God.  Just as Noah had proven himself to be righteous and faithful in all he did, Abram was showing that he was a man that God could trust to honor and obey his commands.  He was proving to be the right man to be the father of God’s priestly nation.

The family traveled on to a place near Bethel, where Abraham built another altar to the LORD.  Building these altars was a way of claiming the land for God.  The local people, called the Canaanites, worshiped demonic idols.  They polluted the land with their devotion to false gods and sinful lives.  But Abram had come as an act of worship to the God of the universe.  He stood against the religious deception and declared in a physical way that he was not given over to the fear and power of Satan’s idols.  Each altar showed Abram’s faith that one day his descendants would rule there.  And at each stage, Abram continued to turn to God in dependence and praise.

Story 17: The Blessed Line of Shem

Genesis 10

Shem was the son of Noah’s greatest blessings.  His children and their descendants were chosen by God in a special way.  He had five sons whose families grew to become great nations.  Their names were Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram.  From them more sons were born.  The Bible lists twenty-six nations that came through his line.  Each would have their own language and their own territory, their own cities, and their own cultures.  For example, the sons of Elam settled in what would now be Southern Iran.  Aram’s clan was probably somewhere near where Syria is now.

Shem’ son Eber had a son named Peleg.  The Bible points this out especially because it was through Peleg’s line that God would one day bring a man into the world named Abram.  God would rename him Abraham, and he would be the father of God’s chosen, priestly nation.  An Israelite would read this and know with pride that these were the men of his ancestry, the noble ones with a sacred blessing from Noah, the father of all humanity, and the favored ones of God.

Altogether, the Bible lists seventy different nations that are the fruit of the marriage of Noah and his wife.  If we looked at the nations that rise from Japheth, Shem, and Ham, it would seem that the most powerful and successful came from the line of Ham.  Nimrod was the great builder of the early cities.  His empires were the most powerful and wealthy in the world.  During Nimrod’s lifetime, it probably seemed the ways of evil and cruel men would have total victory.

It is interesting for us to look back now, thousands of years later, at what God has done.  The empires of Assyria and Babylon rose and fell.  Their bright, cruel lights went out over 2,500 years ago, and they have never been heard from since.  Nobody alive today can be sure if their ancestors are from Babylon or if they came from the line of Ham.  That has been lost and forgotten.

But there is an ancient nation that still stands.  Israel and its people are alive and well in the land that God promised them. They can still trace their ancestry back to Abram and even further back to Shem, the blessed son of Noah.  The Lord of all Creation taught the people of the world how to seek Him and find Him through them, the Jewish people.  And through the Jewish people, God would send the Savior of the world in Jesus Christ.  All of us who believe in Jesus are a part of God’s blessing on Shem.  While few remember the name of Nimrod or think about long dead nations called Assyria and Babylon, the name of Jesus Christ is proclaimed all over the world every day by those who are totally devoted to Him.  And that has been the case for over two thousand years.  When we see the evil nations and tyrants of the world today, we must remember that while the forces of evil may seem strong and powerful, God is constantly at work, preparing the way and raising up His own people to transform the world.  In the end, He wins.  And the amazing thing is we get to join Him and be a part of His great and mighty victories.

Seventy nations are listed in the Table of Nations.  That number is important. In the Bible, the number ten is a symbol that something is whole and complete.  The number seven is a special, sacred number that is a sign of divine completion.  So when seven and ten are multiplied to make the number seventy, it is a signal to the reader of the Bible that this was something perfected, complete, and divinely whole.  It bears the special marks of God’s sovereign plan.  Whether the people of the world followed the Lord like the descendants of Shem or whether they rebelled like the descendants of Ham, they were all still moving forward into history according to God’s will.  The Lord has a plan, and He is completely able to accomplish it in His exact time and way.  The descendants of Noah scattered out, filling the map of the earth, just as the Lord had said.  Each nation was given its time and place by God.  He is Lord of all.

It isn’t understood why they moved so far away from each other.  Was it because of their faithful obedience to the Lord, or was there something else at work?  And where did they all learn to speak different languages?

%d bloggers like this: