Isaac, Part 2 (The Covenant & the Cross #54)

Today’s passage of Scripture is Genesis 25:20-21 which reads: “And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the Syrian. And Isaac intreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren: and the Lord was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.”

Allow me to share with you some further commentary on this passage from the Reformation Study Bible by Dr. R.C. Sproul:

The next generation after Abraham also had to learn that the seed of promise is a gift of God’s grace, and sovereignly chosen by Him. Both Isaac’s wife and offspring were secured through prayer.

Today’s quote about the Bible is from C. S. Lewis. He said: “We must sometimes get away from the Authorized Version [of the Bible], if for no other reason, simply because it is so beautiful and so solemn. Beauty exalts, but beauty also lulls. Early associations endear, but they also confuse. Through that beautiful solemnity, the transporting or horrifying realities of which the Book tells may come to us blunted and disarmed, and we may only sigh with tranquil veneration when we ought to be burning with shame, or struck dumb with terror, or carried out of ourselves by ravishing hopes and adorations.”

Our topic for today is titled “Isaac” (Part 2) from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Dr. Michael A. Harbin.

As Yogi Berra is supposed to have remarked, “it was deja vu all over again.” Or, we could say, like father, like son. In his dealings with Abimelech, the Philistine king, Isaac attempted the same deception that Abraham had used twice with Sarah. The results were similar. Although Abimelech accepted Isaac’s word that Rebekah was his sister, Isaac was discovered behaving toward his wife in a manner appropriate only for married couples. Abimelech was irate, but he recognized that God was with isaac, so he invited him to stay in the land under his protection.

The three incidents of deception involving the wives of Abraham and Isaac have striking similarities, and some scholars argue that they all are variations of one story. The settings are dissimilar, however, and the resolution differs drastically in each.

We might make a correlation to Henry VIII (8th) and five of his six wives: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. A quick glance shows several parallels: These wives had only two names among them (Anne and Catherine). The first two wives were rejected because they did not produce sons. Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves were divorced. Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn were executed. All these similarities might suggest that Henry’s escapades really are different versions of the same story from different sources. Of course, we know from historical records that these events all happened and that Henry’s problem was even more complex than this summary suggests.

Later, Isaac and Rebekah had twins. There are several signs that Rebekah’s twins were significant. First, we learn that the mother was initially barren, a sign that almost always serves to emphasize the importance of the subsequent birth. Second, the pregnancy was an answer to Isaac’s prayer on behalf of his wife; after twenty years of marriage, she conceived. Third, the two fetuses struggled within the womb. What Rebekah felt was evidently far in excess of the normal movement for a fetus, for she specifically asked God what was happening. Notice the way her question was worded: “Why is this happening to me?” That is, if this pregnancy was of God, then why was it so hard? The answer was important and twofold: Rebekah was to have twins, and they both would father a nation; more significantly, the older would serve the younger. Fourth, this event seems to be reported out of chronological sequence. It is likely that the birth of the twins occurred after Isaac passed his wife off as his sister. As we read on, it soon becomes clear that most of this section under the name of Isaac is really about his son Jacob.

Isaac, Part 1 (The Covenant & the Cross #53)

Today’s passage of Scripture is Genesis 24:7 which reads: “The Lord God of heaven, which took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my kindred, and which spake unto me, and that sware unto me, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence.”

Allow me to share with you some further commentary on this passage from the Reformation Study Bible by Dr. R.C. Sproul:

Abraham assigned the important mission of finding a wife for his son to his most trusted manager, perhaps Eliezer of Damascus. He made him swear that he would not take a wife for his son from the Canaanites. The loins were viewed as the source of vital and procreative power. Such an oath was inviolable, even after the death of the one to whom it was sworn. Abraham sets an example for his descendants to secure wives from the blessed Semites, not the cursed Canaanites. Claiming God’s covenant promise, Abraham looks forward to God’s continuing guidance and provision. Abraham had learned from his experience with Hagar not to trust the flesh to secure the promise but to rely on God’s supernatural provision.

Today’s quote about the Bible is from William P. White. He said: “The Bible is a harp with a thousand strings. Play on one to the exclusion of its relationship to the others, and you will develop discord. Play on all of them, keeping them in their places in the divine scale, and you will hear heavenly music all the time.”

Our topic for today is titled “Isaac” (Part 1) from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Dr. Michael A. Harbin.

Rebekah and Eliezer at the well.

Rebekah and Eliezer at the well.

Given all of the issues leading up to his birth, we expect to find Isaac a very special person. Instead, we get the impression that his only importance was as the son of Abraham and the father of Jacob.

The first thing we are told about Isaac is how Abraham procured a wife for him. He sent his servant back to Haran to arrange a marriage with a relative. Why go all this way for a wife? This decision may be a sign of the downward spiral of the local inhabitants. Approximately sixty years had passed since the rescue of Lot, and Melchizedek may well have been dead. As is often the case after the death of a great spiritual leader, the Jebusite community may have begun moving away from God.

The account of Abraham’s servant finding Rebekah is remarkable. He asked for a sign from Abraham’s God to show him the woman he had chosen for Isaac. The sign was to be that the right woman would volunteer to water his ten camels. Rebekah, the granddaughter of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, showed up, and the servant asked her for a drink. After Rebekah volunteered and had watered the camels, the servant learned that she was a relative of Abraham—just the people he had been sent to find. When he arrived at their house, he quickly related his quest and the sign that had been given to him. Rebekah’s father and brother, recognizing that Yahweh was in control, agreed that she should marry Isaac. Rebekah not only agreed to go but left the next day without a prolonged farewell. When they arrived in Canaan, she and Isaac were married.

Abraham, Part 6 (The Covenant & the Cross #52)

Today’s passage of Scripture is Genesis 21:1-2 which reads: “And the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken. For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.”

Allow me to share with you some further commentary on this passage from the Reformation Study Bible by Dr. R.C. Sproul:

The report of Isaac’s birth concludes the story of Sarah’s barrenness begun in Genesis 11. The covenantal arrangement is underscored: God keeps His promise to give Abraham a son by Sarah, and Abraham responds in obedience by naming him Isaac and circumcising him, while Sarah responds with praise.

Today’s quote about the Bible is from A.W. Tozer. He said: “The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”

Our topic for today is titled “Abraham” (Part 6) from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Dr. Michael A. Harbin.

A painting of Abraham's departure by József Molnár.

A painting of Abraham’s departure by József Molnár.

The Birth of Isaac

Finally, after decades of waiting, the heir was born. Because God had told Sarah that despite her laughter at His promises she would bear a son, she said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” Thus, the son was named Isaac (“he laughs”).

With the change in Sarah’s maternal status, relations between her and Hagar deteriorated. The antagonism came to a climax when Ishmael began to ridicule his little brother on the day Isaac was weaned. Sarah was livid and demanded that Hagar and Ishmael be driven out into the desert. This time Abraham did pray about it. God told him to listen to his wife, so Hagar and Ishmael were sent out the next day. While God accommodated Sarah, however, He did not abandon Abraham’s mistress and son. They were protected by an angel, and Ishmael became a patriarch in his own right. This status is shown to us by the inclusion of a to-le-dot section devoted to Ishmael tucked between the lives of Abraham and Isaac.

It is generally accepted that the Arabs are descendants of Ishmael. The names of his sons are reflected in the names of various Arabian tribes and regions. Islamic tradition claims that the well where Hagar and Ishmael were revived was located in what is now Mecca, but this city is more than 700 miles (as the crow flies) from Beersheba, where Abraham lived when the incident took place.

Abraham’s Test

From here we jump to the supreme test given to Abraham when he was well over a hundred years old (the exact age is not given). God told him to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering.” The point of the sacrifice was to bring out whether Abraham really trusted God. Earlier he had attempted to find substitutes for God’s promises—first, Eliezer, his lifelong servant; then Ishmael, his illegitimate son. Twice over the years, Abraham had argued with God that Ishmael should be the heir. Now it is clear that Isaac is to be the heir, and in Abraham’s mind, at this point there does not seem to be any consideration of an alternative. But how could that be possible if he killed the lad? The writer to the Hebrews
states that Abraham figured that God could resurrect the boy after the sacrifice. Of course, we learn that after Abraham showed faith and obedience, God provided a substitute.

Final Events in the Life of Abraham

After Sarah died, Abraham bought a cave near Hebron in which to bury her. Today, if you go to Hebron, you may still visit the site where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and Jacob were buried. It is a Muslim mosque situated over a cave that was last entered by the Crusaders in 1119. Since then (after the city was retaken by the Arabs), entrance has been forbidden to all. Sometime after Isaac grew up, Abraham arranged a marriage for him, which we will discuss later. Abraham then took another wife, whose name was Keturah. Through her, he had six more sons, and he also had other sons through concubines. These sons too became the ancestors of nations, but Isaac was the line of the blessing.

In summary, what do we know about Abraham? He was an ordinary man with a very human nature. He was called of God, and he struggled in his faith. More important, God finally did give him the son He had promised, who was the next link in the family line. At a minimum, this narrative showed the Israelites at Mount Sinai that God had long had an interest in them.

Abraham, Part 5 (The Covenant & the Cross #51)

Today’s passage of Scripture is Genesis 17:9-11 which reads: “And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.”

Allow me to share with you some further commentary on this passage from the Reformation Study Bible by Dr. R.C. Sproul:

Some ancient Near Eastern cultures circumcised their children at puberty as a rite of passage from childhood to manhood. God employed the sign for infants to show that the children of believing parents are “holy” (they are separated from the profane world and belong to the covenant community). God continues to use the family institution. The initiation rite into the covenant community today is baptism. In Christ there is no longer male or female, Jew or Gentile, so all may come.

The covenant promises were extended to all within the household of faith. Even in the Old Testament, the scope of the covenant community was not exclusively determined by ancestry—a foreshadowing of the expansion of the covenant to a multitude from every tribe and nation.

The covenant of grace between God and His people is indeed an eternal covenant, although the mode of administration changes with the transition from Israel to the church (for example, circumcision is replaced by baptism).

Today’s quote about the Bible is from J.I. Packer. He said: “We approach Scripture with minds already formed by the mass of accepted opinions and viewpoints with which we have come into contact, in both the Church and the world.…It is easy to be unaware that it has happened; it is hard even to begin to realize how profoundly tradition, in this sense, has molded us.”

Our topic for today is titled “Abraham” (Part 5) from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Dr. Michael A. Harbin.

First, let us consider the question, Was Melchizedek a man or a theophany?

The letter to the Hebrews, in comparing Melchizedek’s priesthood with that of Jesus, describes Melchizedek as follows: “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.” These words have suggested to some that Melchizedek was not a real human being but a theophany. Since the writer is drawing an analogy between the two, however, it is more likely that he regards both as historical figures. Theophanies are generally understood to be preincarnate appearances of the second person of the Trinity, the Son. Thus, if Melchizedek was a theophany, we would have the writer of Hebrews comparing the Son with the Son, which would not really be an analogy.

THE REITERATION OF THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT

A painting of Abraham's departure by József Molnár.

A painting of Abraham’s departure by József Molnár.

Thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael, God reiterated the promises He had made to Abram. Genesis 17 contains what is often called the Abrahamic covenant. In reality, this passage is merely the fullest expression of that covenant. The distinctive element of this reiteration is that not only does it involve land, blessing, and seed but there is also an emphasis that the seed is to be from Sarai. The word seed is later seen to be ambiguous, for it can have either a singular or a plural reference. In the context of Abram, the focus is immediately upon a multitude. However, Paul picks up on the ambiguity in Galatians 3:16, where he applies the promise to Jesus as the Messiah, the singular seed who will fulfill the promise. Abram had at this time reached the point of totally giving up. It was then that God changed his name from Abram (meaning “exalted father”) to Abraham (“father of a multitude”). God reiterated the promise of land and gave Abraham the sign of circumcision. God also verified that the offspring would come from barren Sarai, whose name was now changed to Sarah (“princess”).

THE DEMISE OF SODOM AND GOMORRAH

The beautiful, fertile land that Lot had chosen had turned rotten and was ready for judgment. God appeared to Abraham beforehand and told him what would happen to Sodom and Gomorrah. In the account, however, this announcement seems secondary. The fast order of business was for God to assure Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child. By this time, the idea had apparently become a joke to the elderly couple, for Sarah laughed.

After this interchange, as God was about to leave, He informed Abraham that Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed. There seem to be two reasons for this announcement. First, it assured Abraham that he was correct in allowing Lot to choose what, on the surface at least, seemed to be the choicer location. Second, it allowed Abraham the opportunity to intercede for his nephew. Abraham virtually bartered with God, as with a local merchant, until finally they agreed that if there were ten righteous people in the city Sodom would not be destroyed.” For the audience at Mount Sinai, hearing the announcement regarding Sodom’s destruction together with this promise of mercy would have helped solidify that the God who graciously gave gifts was also the same God who judged vile behavior. It would also explain features of the land they were getting ready to possess.

When the angels arrived in Sodom, it was soon evident even to Lot that things were much worse than he had expected. In spite of that, the angels had to practically drag him out to safety. The effect of the city on his family was even more evident; Lot’s wife looked back and was lost (transformed into a pillar of salt). Then, Lot’s two daughters got him drunk on consecutive nights and slept with him so that they could become pregnant. The offspring of the sons who were born, the Ammonites and the Moabites, would become obstacles that the Israelites at Mount Sinai would ultimately encounter. Meanwhile, Abraham, off in the distance, saw the smoke of the destruction of the cities. There is no record that Abraham ever saw his nephew again.

Not long after this event, Abraham moved to a different region of the land. While in Gerar, he lied about his relationship with Sarah again. This time, God directly intervened before the king of Gerar had an opportunity to become intimate with her. Thus, God ensured that there would be no question regarding the parentage of the coming son.

Abraham, Part 4 (The Covenant & the Cross #50)

Today’s passage of Scripture is Genesis 14:18-20 which reads: “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.”

Allow me to share with you some further commentary on this passage from the Reformation Study Bible by Dr. R.C. Sproul:

The introduction of Melchizedek emphasizes that he was a king as well as a priest. As such he is a type of Christ, who is our Prophet, Priest, and King. Salem was apparently an ancient name for Jerusalem.

That Melchizedek blessed Abraham is understood by the author of Hebrews to indicate that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham.

El, the supreme god in the Canaanite pantheon at the time of Abraham, had similar titles. The patriarchs used these titles for the Lord, the true God, Creator of heaven and earth. Abraham interpreted Melchizedek’s praise in this way, repeating the same titles but adding the covenantal divine name Lord (Yahweh). Though a Canaanite, Melchizedek had come to know the true God—a pagan priest could not meaningfully have “blessed” Abraham, nor would Abraham, who was consecrating the land to the Lord, have given “a tithe” to the priest of the depraved Canaanite god El.

The practice of paying a tenth to a king or to a god was widespread in the ancient Near East, and predates the Mosaic law. Abraham’s gift to Melchizedek was probably not the payment of the “king’s tithe”, but rather was an offering that reflected Abraham’s regard for Melchizedek as a priest of the true God.

Today’s quote about the Bible is from C.S. Lewis. He said: “In most parts of the Bible, everything is implicitly or explicitly introduced with “Thus saith the Lord”. It is not merely a sacred book but a book so remorselessly and continuously sacred that it does not invite — it excludes or repels — the merely aesthetic approach. You can read it as literature only by a tour de force… It demands incessantly to be taken on its own terms: it will not continue to give literary delight very long, except to those who go to it for something quite different. I predict that it will in the future be read, as it always has been read, almost exclusively by Christians.”

Our topic for today is titled “Abraham” (Part 4) from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Dr. Michael A. Harbin.

A painting of Abraham's departure by József Molnár.

A painting of Abraham’s departure by József Molnár.

Melchizedek, whose name means “king of righteousness”, was king of Salem (an earlier name for what is now known as Jerusalem). He was a Jebusite, that is, from one of the tribes that had moved into the land. He was also a priest of El Elyon, the Most High God, another title for the same God that Abram worshiped. Abram had sworn not to keep for himself any of the goods that he recovered, a reward he was certainly entitled to; however, he was more than willing to give a tithe (one-tenth) of the entire bounty to Melchizedek as God’s representative. This act shows that Abram had high regard for Melchizedek’s role as priest and his spiritual state. It also gives us a little insight into the relationship between Abram and the inhabitants of the Promised Land.

After the heady victory, Abram evidently felt somewhat depressed. Perhaps he was starting to have second thoughts about Lot’s spiritual state. He was certainly struggling with the fact that he had no children. He then receives a second promise, and this promise relates specifically to the children, although the issue of the land is also involved. At the end of chapter 15, we see a ceremony where God validates his promise. This ceremony correlates with what we see in other documents from this period regarding treaties. Normally, the two parties to the treaty would walk between the split animals, indicating their willingness to be destroyed if they should violate the agreement. In this case, God alone passed through to show the promise to be unilateral.

The next event recorded after this tremendous promise is another failure on Abram’s part. Sarai got frustrated in her childlessness and offered her maid Hagar as a surrogate mother. We have legal documents from Mari (an ancient city in the Euphrates Valley) that reflect a similar situation, for they contain the provision that the child of a main belonging to a barren wife would become the legal heir of the husband fathering the child. Despite the apparent legality and social acceptability of the act, however, it clearly represents another slip in Abram’s faith. Key to our understanding of the incident is the fact that we have no record of him asking God about the matter — he merely took action.