Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands...  1 Timothy 2:8

Prayer Challenges

Thoughts from Doug Knox.

August 2020

Abraham's Faith Walk, Part 9
INTO THE SECRECY OF GOD'S PRESENCE
Genesis 18:1-8

 

Encountering God in Mystery

Genesis 18-19 features a series of events that take place around a visitation from God.  The two primary episodes involve God’s pronouncement to Abraham concerning Sarah's anticipated bearing of Isaac and his examination of Sodom and Gomorrah just prior to their destruction. God appears in physical form in this visit.  Theologically, God’s physical visitations in the Old Testament are called theophanies.  The theophany that extends over these two chapters is one that is truly mysterious. This challenge will engage in a flyover of the two chapters to examine the theophany.  Rather than trying to drive toward a practical application, I want to help us approach the incomprehensible so that we can leave with a sense of awe.  I want us to worship.  

Contrary to the contemporary Christian culture that has become obsessed with worship “experience”—as if worship were all about us—the God of the Bible drives us from ourselves.  When we become so dumbstruck in his presence that we shrink before him (see Exodus 3:1-6, for example), our spiritual compass has begun to point in the right direction.

 

Three Messengers…Or One God?

The opening of the passage drives us straight into God’s presence.  The passage opens with the LORD’s appearance to Abraham.

Genesis 18:1-5 (ESV)

1  And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day.

2  He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth

3  and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.

4  Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree,

5  while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”

 

 In Genesis 18 and 19, the LORD appears as “three men.”  When we try to discern the significance of the three in this appearance, we enter the realm of the mysterious.  Here is why. The text reveals from the beginning that it is the LORD who appears to Abraham (verse 1), but without a break goes on to mention “three men” (verse 2).  Who is whom?  Does the LORD constitute the three or only one of the three?  The Bible is silent on this point. When Abraham addresses them at the beginning of the chapter, he uses the title, Adonai, meaning “My Master,” as a singular noun.  The remainder of the section only adds to the mystery.  Verse 9 reverts to the plural, “They said to him…,” while verse 10 continues the thought with the words, “The LORD said….”  

We are still unsure whether they are all “the LORD” or the LORD is a singular being with two escorts.

 

Two Angels who Accompany God?

The mystery deepens as we follow the text.  In verse 22, two of the men “turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD.” There it is.  The LORD is one, while the other two are separate.  Further, the next chapter appears to reinforce this understanding when it uses a new term to describe the two.  “The two angels came to Sodom” to observe the situation and speak to Lot (Genesis 19:1). In the original language, the word angel means messenger and can refer to someone either human or divine.  This context appears to describe angelic beings who are subordinate to the LORD.  Mystery solved.  Or is it? When we drop down a few verses, the water becomes murky again.  When the residents of the town try to barge past Lot and attack his guests, “the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house” (Genesis 19:10).  Genesis 19:12 repeats the term men. Then in Genesis 19:15, the wording reverts to the original designation.  The angels urge Lot to flee Sodom. Perhaps we have found a resolution.  It seems that God has appeared with two of his angelic beings, each of whom presents himself in perfect human form.  To the residents, they are ordinary men.  As readers, we know they are angels.

 

And the Two Become One?

Then we come to Genesis 19:18-20.  When the two messengers warn Lot about the coming judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot asks them to spare a small nearby town so that he may flee there. Here is the response to Lot: “He said to him, ‘Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken.  Escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there’” (Genesis 19:21). We encounter the same singular/plural question that plagued us at the beginning, when the three men spoke to Abraham.  Suddenly, we face more questions.  Does the singular pronoun mean only one man spoke, or do both speak as one?  If they speak together, which one does the talking?  And if only one speaks, who is the now displaced third character?  The weight of the message poses an even deeper mystery.  This is no middle management person who says, “I’m authorized to make this counter-offer.”  He speaks on his own authority.  In fact, his words sound God-like.  How high does this authority reach?

 

Letting the Mystery be Mystery

Some have suggested that we have witnessed an appearance of the Trinity, but this conjecture raises problems.  The exact theological understanding of theophany is a physical appearance of God.  That is, God shows himself in person, in physical form. If we maintain the Trinity, we do so from a New Testament point of view.  The line of reasoning falters when we examine Moses’ body of theology.  He would write in Deuteronomy, for example, “The LORD our God, the LORD is one,” (Deuteronomy 6:4).  This becomes a hallmark stance in the Old Testament. Additionally, Moses is adamant about God’s refusal to reveal himself in ways that could be replicated by human beings.  We see this when he speaks to the second generation of Israelites in Deuteronomy.  Recalling his appearance on Mount Sinai, Moses tells the Israelites, “The LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice” (Deuteronomy 4:12). In that appearance on the mountain, the LORD insisted, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). If we were to make the three men an image of the Trinity, we are only a step away from saying that there are three Gods. Three quarters of the Bible was written for God’s people who lived prior to Jesus’ incarnation.  Their Bible guided them sufficiently.  When we study The Old Testament, we need to honor their perspective.  Genesis 18-19 speaks on its own, and the message carries a meaning on its own merit.  The events that take place in these chapters take place under a shroud of mystery.  Let us give God the wonder that is due him, and worship in the presence of the mysterious.

 

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Abraham's Faith Walk, Part 10
SARRAH'S SUMMONS
Genesis
18:9-15

 

Drawing Sarah into the Narrative

The last segment, a broad overview of Genesis 18-19, looked at the mystery of God’s presence when he spoke to Abraham.  The text also contains important narrative points.  One occurs in Genesis 18:1-15.  There, the LORD issues Sarah a summons that elevates her part in in the drama to the same level as her husband’s.  The summons unfolds in two sections. The first takes place in Genesis 18:1-8.  There the three men appear before Abraham.  He recognizes them as a visitation from God and requests their indulgence while he prepares a ceremonial meal for them.  Then he hurries into the tent and tells Sarah, “Quick!  Three seahs of fine flour!  Knead it and make cakes” (Genesis 18:6). The remainder of the scene describes how Abraham prepared the meal and presented it to the men.  Sarah is absent from the scene, except for her appearance in verse 6. In a Middle Eastern cultural context, this scene is perfectly normal.  Women do not stand before dignitaries.  Sarah serves in anonymity. The second section blasts the reader out of the normal world like a rocket off a launching pad.

 Laughter

After Abraham serves the three men their ceremonial meal, (Genesis 18:1-8), the LORD asks him, “Where is Sarah you wife?” (Genesis 18:9). Abraham answers, “She is in the tent” (Genesis 18:10). The reason for the question is not to make sure that Sarah remains out of earshot.  No Middle Eastern woman would dare eavesdrop on such a delegation, so such a precaution is unnecessary.  The dialogue that follows shows that God wishes to bring her into the heart of Abraham’s story.

 Genesis 18:10-15 (ESV)

10  The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him.

11  Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.

12  So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?”

13  The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?”

14  Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”

15  But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

 

Notice how the dialogue progresses.  We begin in Abraham’s point of view when the LORD tells him that he and Sarah will bear a child of their own within a year (Genesis 18:10).  Following that, the author informs us again that both Abraham and Sarah are beyond childbearing age (verse 11). In verse 12, we jump into Sarah’s mind when she laughs to herself inside the apparent safety of the tent.  The change in character focus is deliberate.  The text is about to move Sarah from her apparent anonymity in the tent to center stage.

 Secret Thoughts

Sarah’s reaction to the LORD’s words is spontaneous.  “After I am worn out…shall I have pleasure?” This thought is unfiltered.  It is the gut-level reaction that enters one’s mind before the person can turn on her internal controls.  Because of the raw quality of her reaction, I believe that this thought was in her head. Psalm 102 gives us an expanded description of the term worn out.  The heavens and earth “will all wear out like a garment. / You will change them like a robe, / and they will pass away” (Psalm 102:26). The word for pleasure is eden, the same as the Garden in Genesis 2-3.  When we read these two thoughts together, we see into Sarah’s heart.  She has passed her time for physical pleasure in marriage.  The only significant milestone remaining for her is her passing.

 Terror

The information that emerges, however, is more important.  At the beginning of the dialogue, the LORD tells Abraham, “I will surely return to you about this time next year.” In verses 13-15, God draws Sarah into the dialogue through the back door.  “The LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?”’” (verse 13).  (The paraphrase “now that I am old” takes the edge from Sarah’s words and lets her save face before her husband.)  The LORD continues to speak to Abraham.  “At the appointed time I will return to you [Abraham], about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” Then the narrative moves directly to Sarah, who cannot deny that she is listening.  “But Sarah denied it, saying, ‘I did not laugh,’ for she was afraid.  He [God] said, ‘No, but you did laugh’” (verse 15).

 A Date Set in Eternity

The segment closes abruptly with these words, leaving us to wonder what was supposed to happen with the he-said-she-said argument.  Have we missed something? We have not.  The closing accomplishes three tasks.  One goes to the large drama.  For all the apparent delays, God has never lost control of his plan and Sarah.  His appointed time answers the rhetorical question, “Is anything too hard for God?” in verse 14.  Obviously not. Two, through his speaking directly with Sarah, God gives her a voice in the covenant.  Not only will the couple experience renewed life and pleasure, but Sarah ultimately will have a say in her relationship with her family that is unheard of in her culture. Three, the account ultimately gives Sarah the freedom to laugh out loud with her husband, who also laughed (Genesis 17:17).  One Bible scholar observes, “[Sarah’s] laughter becomes the occasion to draw an important theological point from the narrative, namely, that what the Lord was about to do to fulfill his promise to Abraham was  a matter ‘too wonderful’ (v. 14) even for his own people to imagine.”  (John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 165.) In the end, Sarah’s laughter will turn to joyful wonder.  When Isaac is born, she will say, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me” (Genesis 21:6).

 Conclusion

With this scene, Sarah acquires an active role beside her husband in God’s redemptive drama.  From this point on, her faith walk beside her husband will be just as critical as his in every way.

 

 

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Abraham's Faith Walk, Part 11
ABRAHAM'S PURPOSE
Genesis
18:16-33

 

A New Task for Abraham

Genesis 18 declares Abraham’s purpose in one of the profoundest statements in the Bible.  After the LORD declares Sarah’s inclusion in his covenant with Abraham (verses 1-15), he directs his attention to Abraham alone.  The three men who had come to visit him move toward their second task, which is to see if Sodom’s sin is worthy of the judgment he plans for the city.

 Genesis 18:16-18 (ESV)

16  Then the men set out from there [Abraham and Sarah’s tent], and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way.

17  The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do,

18  seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?”

 This is only the introduction to the full statement of Abraham’s purpose, but even here, we have a lot of material. First, Abraham shows himself to be a man who is concerned about a larger purpose than his own success.  Instead of simply dismissing the three men when they leave, he accompanies them as they leave (verse 16).   He engages in an active relationship with his God. Second, we see that the LORD is equally concerned over his involvement with Abraham.  “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do…?” (verse 17). Finally, God works with him uniquely, “seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him” (verse 18).

 

 Abraham’s Purpose

Still speaking to himself, the LORD proclaims his purpose for Abraham.

 Genesis 18:19 (ESV)

19  “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

 Notice that God’s design shapes Abraham’s purpose.  “I have chosen him…”  This truth is universal   We will never achieve satisfaction in trying to find ourselves.  If our life is to have meaning, it must begin in recognition of God’s direction for us. God’s purpose is also specific.  It is “that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice.” And we see how Abraham will guide his children and household.  He will accomplish his task by “doing righteousness and justice.” When we read this statement, we are tempted to connect God’s declaration for Abraham to his household life.  Genesis takes it in a different direction, however.  The righteousness and justice that Abraham is to practice is directed toward Sodom and Gomorrah.

 The Meaning of Righteous and Justice

Two factors that are not immediately apparent determine this meaning.  The first is the combination of righteousness and justice in this context. As modern Westerners, we understand righteousness and justice as distinct, separately definable attributes.  Righteousness implies inward character qualities.  Justice looks outwardly to legal or societal affairs. The Old Testament treats the two as characteristics of God by which he blesses mankind.  The word pair occurs several times in the Psalms, and the meanings are always synonymous.  Here is one example:

 Psalm 89:14 (ESV)

 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;

steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.

 In the psalm, righteousness-justice is a single entity characterizes foundation for God’s throne.  Further, the quality pairs with steadfast love-faithfulness that goes before the LORD.  God is not dispassionate in his judgment.  He is as zealous to exercise his preserving love as he is to condemn. This is exactly what we see in Genesis when God comes to evaluate Sodom and Gomorrah.  God chooses Abraham to stand between himself and his administration of judgment on the cities.

 Abraham as Mediator

Verses 20-21 begin with the words, “Then the LORD said…”  If we read the account straight through, the verses appear to be a continuation of his monologue in verses 17-19. They make more sense if we understand them as a new section in which the LORD engages in dialogue with Abraham.  Here is the opening of the dialogue with explanatory notes added:

 Genesis 18:20-26 emphasis and editorial notes added (ESV)

20  Then the LORD said [to Abraham], “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21  I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”

22  So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD [who had spoken to him].  23  Then [in response,] Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  24  Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?  

25  Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!  Far be that from you!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

26  And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

 Abraham speaks as one spoken to, not as one who initiates a new dialogue.  He can speak so boldly to his God because God has invited him. For both Abraham and for God, “what is just” includes judgment tempered with mercy.  If the LORD were to destroy the city dispassionately, he would be acting out of character. Abraham calls on his God to remember compassion.  His extended act of mediation in Genesis 18:27-33 draws God from a promise to spare the cities if he can find fifty righteous down to a mere ten. When he intercedes for the cities, he is “doing righteousness and justice” as God describes the task in verse 19.

 Abraham’s Role as Prophet-mediator

Abraham becomes a defense attorney who challenges the Judge.  In modern jurisprudence, he would be out of line.  Why does God not rebuke him? In a later in passage in Genesis, God will tell Abimelech, king of Gerar, “Now then, return [Abraham’s] wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and  you shall live” (Genesis 20:7 emphasis added). The Old Testament prophets carried on active roles as dual advocates.  Sometimes they defended God’s ways before his people, but they equally defended the people’s cause before their God.  This is exactly what Abraham does in this narrative.  Abraham’s actions are not presumptuous.  He may not know fully what God has done, but he steps into his calling as a prophet and pleads for the people.

 A Modern Prophetic Call?

The New Testament is clear that the Old Testament “Thus says the LORD” prophetic declaration ended with Jesus.  Since the incarnate Word has spoken once for all, we no longer need prophets to speak for him.  Intercession, however, remains to fill the role of God’s righteousness-justice.  In a small way, our prayers become prophetic acts.  When we intercede for others, we remind God of his divine mandate the same way that the prophets did.

 

Abraham's Faith Walk, Part 12
WALKING TOGETHER IN COVENANT
Genesis
21:1-14

 

He Said/She Said

I have become a fan of some of the content on YouTube.  Not all—some.  Beneath the surface lies a trove of well-thought-out discussions on history, philosophy, psychology, politics, science, theology, and other subjects that interest me. A couple days ago, I made what is to me an interesting discovery.  After months of encountering report after report in the media telling about feminism is in our faces, I began to see male responses come up on the queue.  I noticed two things. One, the men are much quieter when they speak.  This is partly due to circumstances.  The women featured on YouTube generally are college students or graduates from liberal arts colleges who have been taught nothing but leftist propaganda regarding gender and privilege.  Having been whipped into frenzy, they join protests in the streets.  Their only recourse is to scream. The men that I have seen, on the other hand, are at least a generation older and speak from their homes or studios.  They have time to script their material.  They compose their words and build an often-powerful rhetorical case. The other factor that I noticed is that, with few exceptions, both men and women hunker in their respective positions.  They garner followers from their respective sides but do little to encourage empathy or dialogue between the sides.  The gender wars continue.

  A Covenant Traveled Together

In an earlier segment (Abraham’s Faith Walk, No. 10), I mentioned that God’s direct dialogue with Sarah, without Abraham acting as a mediator, brought Sarah into the covenant on equal footing with Abraham.  In this segment, we will see that God’s inclusion not only gives her equal footing, but an equal voice as well.

Genesis 21 introduces the promised son:

  Genesis 21:1-4 (ESV)

1  The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised.

2  And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.

3  Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac.

4  And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.

5 And Abraham was a hundred years old when

  Notice the first verse.  “And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said….”  Twenty-five years have elapsed since God called Abram from Ur of the Chaldees.  During most of that time, he has stood at the epicenter of the covenant.  Here, however, the text recalls God’s words to Sarah from Genesis 18.  The four verses depicted above reemphasize the equal status of Abraham and Sarah in their depiction of covenant fulfillment. Notice also that the fulfillment of promise takes place, God gives Sarah the opportunity to speak for herself and her husband.

Genesis 21:6-7 (ESV)

6  And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.”

7  And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?  Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.

 

Authority Behind the Voice

Sarah’s voice in the covenant is more than just a bit part.  Her portrayal lays the groundwork for a decision that will define her husband’s trajectory.

Genesis 21:8-12 (ESV)

8  And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.

9  But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing.

10  So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.”

11  And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son.

12  But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.

Ishmael would have been around seventeen years old at Isaac’s weaning, and Genesis has shown already that Abraham has become deeply attached to the young man.  Apparently, Hagar’s derision toward Isaac in verse 9 belies a confidence on her part.  Ishmael has been his father’s only son for long enough that she expects him to be a shoo-in for first-born status. She is right about Abraham’s emotional attachment to Ishmael, but she misses the significance of Sarah’s standing in the covenant.  When s Sarah tells her husband, “Cast out this slave woman with her son,” she reminds her husband about her inviolable status.  Sarah, not Hagar, stands in the line of promise. God himself reiterates Sarah’s words and calls Abraham to do what she says.  I doubt that he would have been able to carry out the act without his wife’s pronouncement.

Conclusion

God’s command to Abraham to listen to his wife’s voice is more than a bare command.  It also carries a promise.  “And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring” (Genesis 21:13).  With that reassurance, Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away the next morning.

Several applications rise from the text.

  • We see God’s faithfulness to fulfill his purposes.
  • We witness God’s grace to continue working among his people even when they mess up.  (And how we need that realization!)
  • We see God’s zeal to perform the work that he has ordained.
  • Not least, we hear a reminder of how vital our wives are to the work that God has ordained for us.  We must not cause their voice to be silent.

One more observation on this passage will become clear when we look at the next major episode in Abraham’s life.  It will be breathtaking.

 

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Abraham's Faith Walk, Part 13
Cherishing the Present; Preparing for the Future
Genesis
24

A Completed Task and the Continuation of Life

Sometimes the Lord gives us the chance to enjoy our victories, and when he does, it is a beautiful thing.  But the celebrations are not final.  Other tasks lie before us. After Abraham’s successful test of faith at Jehovah-yierah (“The LORD will Provide,” Gen. 22:14), Abraham doubtless basked in God’s words, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore” (Gen. 22:17).  At the same time, he knew that more work lay ahead.  Genesis records three more events in Abraham’s life after his testing—Sarah’s death at 127 years old, Abraham’s instructions to his servant to find a bride for Isaac, and Abraham’s second marriage to Keturah.  This final segment on Abraham will touch on all three, because in each instance, he keeps his eyes on his lifetime goal.

 

Burying Sarah in a Land Not his Own

Genesis 23:1-20 records Sarah’s death and Abraham’s efforts to secure a burial place for her.  If we compare Abraham’s negotiations for a burial site for his wife with his test of faith in the previous chapter, the negotiations for Sarah’s burial place occupy more space than Isaac’s attempted sacrifice.  Why does the text go into such detail? I believe the answer reflects Abraham’s understanding of God’s promise to hold the land as a future promise rather than give it to him a present reality.  For example, when God separated Lot from Abram in Genesis 13, the LORD said,

“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever…. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.”

--Genesis 13:14-15, 17

The LORD never implies that Abram himself will own the land, and Abram remains fully aware of the fact throughout his life. Not long after Abram and Lot separate, Abram joins in a regional battle to rescue his nephew who has been kidnapped.  When the king of Sodom offers booty to Abram, he makes his faith commitment clear.  “I have lifted my hand to the LORD God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’” (Genesis 14:22-23).  Abram forsakes immediate gratification from the king of Sodom so that he can stay secure in God’s future promise. The process surrounding Sarah’s burial appears to follow this pattern.  Abraham purchases the only land he will own legally in Canaan so that he can bury his wife in the land that God promised his descendants.  The grave, a perpetual reminder of the finality of life, becomes a symbol of God’s abiding promise.

 

Preparing for the Future

The second event involves the well-known story of Abraham’s instructions to his servant to procure a bride for Isaac.  Here again, Abraham continues to look to the future.  His instructions show how strongly he holds to his commitment when he tells his servant,

Genesis 24:2-7 (ESV)

3  “You will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell,

4  but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”

5  The servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?”

6  Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there.

7  The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.”

This is the only example among the patriarchs of a prearranged marriage.  While the story of Isaac sending Jacob back to his family for a wife parallels Abraham’s account, it shows that Isaac lacks his father’s zeal.  None of the three generations following Abraham match his diligence in pursuing God’s revealed plan.

 

Continuing to Live

The final event involves a less frequented stop in Abraham’s life.  Before his passing, Abraham marries another woman named Keturah (Genesis 25:1).  Three observations rise from this brief episode. First, Abraham remains virile.  The miraculous restoration of his manhood stands as a testament to God’s creative power. The second observation regards marriage relationships in general.  A man’s deepest satisfaction in marriage arises from the love that he can give to his wife.  Men are not created to be passive.  We are commanded to love our wives actively. Permit me to insert an autobiographical note here.  After my first wife Marie died and I began to court Patty, I realized—quite suddenly—that my driving need was not to be loved as much as it was to love.  The realization helped me understand why widowers are so much more likely than widows to seek to remarry.  Loneliness when a wife has died is an emotional hole that few men can tolerate. No matter where we are, our most profound act of service as husbands is to learn to love our wives.  We become most fulfilled when we recognize that we are unfulfilled without a deep relationship with our wives. The final observation on this passage deals with Abraham’s recognition of his covenant with God.  He sired six children by Keturah.  He gave an inheritance, before he died, but he kept them separate from Isaac.

 Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac.  But to the son sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country.

 --Genesis 25:5-6

When he dies, he leaves his son of promise in the most secure position possible.  No wonder the Apostle Paul could testify, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in the faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  That is why his faith was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:20-21).

 

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