Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Genesis 25:7-10 The Death of Abraham

Genesis 25:7-10: And these are all the years of Abraham's life that he lived, one hundred and seventy-five years. And Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, and the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth; there Abraham was buried with Sarah his wife.

According to scripture, Abraham lived 175 years. We last left off with our timeline study (moving forwards from Genesis 1) as follows:

• 3271 Abraham was 100 when Sarah bore Isaac to him (Gen. 21:5)
• 3308 Isaac was 37 years old when Sarah died (3308 minus 3271)

Now we can add the following:

• 3346 Abraham died at age 175 (Genesis 25:7,8)

The text says that this was a ripe old age even for those days. There is no record of his being seriously ill at the time of death; he simply breathed his last and died. But more importantly, we read that he was satisfied with life. I do not believe that he had no regrets, but simply that his regrets were well outnumbered by those areas of his life that brought him satisfaction. While Abraham may not have been keeping score, clearly satisfying times far outweighed those were not so. No matter what one’s age is, it is interesting to stop and reflect, “If I were to die today, would my life have been satisfying?” From there, we could go on to ask ourselves, “If not, why not and what can be done about it even now? If yes, to what do we primarily attribute this satisfaction?”

But let us take this one step further. Clearly there is no record of Abraham saying, “I am satisfied with life.” Instead, what we have is that those who lived on after his death were able to categorically state that Abraham was indeed satisfied with his life, so much so, that word got out through several generations to the human author of Genesis many years later. Perhaps, then, the hardest question we can ask ourselves with respect to being satisfied in life is this: “If I were to die today, would my family and friends say I was ‘satisfied with my life’?” As we draw our study of Abraham to an end, we are challenged to consider two ultimate goals for ourselves. The first is to have a strong relationship with God, to love Him, and serve Him in all areas of life. The second is to live life in such a way as to both be satisfied with it and to show our satisfaction. Abraham did that. We can do that.

Abraham was gathered to his people. This is an interesting phrase and little is written about it. Some like the famous commentator Matthew Henry believe Abraham “was gathered to the congregation of the dead, and his soul to the congregation of the blessed.” Henry, based on his knowledge of the entire Bible, divides the gathering of the body from the gathering of the soul in his interpretation of this ‘gathering’. My preference, based solely on what we have in this passage is that when we die, we go to wherever those that died before us go, without any mention of separation of body and soul. The simple points that can be made with some assurance though are that death for each of us does come and that it many have already experienced it before us.

It is also interesting to note that Isaac (the son of Sarah) and Ishmael (the son of Hagar) buried Abraham. The sons of Keturah had been sent eastward by Abraham before he died. But how is it that Ishmael was still in the picture? Back in Genesis 21:14, we read that at Sarah’s request Abraham reluctantly sent Hagar and Ishmael away, but now we see Ishmael here helping to bury his father. Perhaps Hagar and her son had not gone too far when they were sent away and ended up living somewhere nearby. When word got to them that Abraham had died, and with Sarah out of the way, the two parts of the family were re-united. Isaac, being the kind and gentle person that he was, welcomed his older former playmate with open arms and together they buried their father. This event also shows that Hagar’s child had a greater significance in the life of Abraham for you will remember that God had also promised Abraham that Ishmael would have his own special blessing.

Abraham gets buried in the field he had purchased for Sarah’s burial. The land was purchased after Sarah died. There is no suggestion here that we all need to purchase land prior to someone’s death, although there is nothing that says we should not. Sometimes, it makes good sense and saves a lot of poor decision during a time of great distress and sorrow. However, when land is purchased, there is some indication that it should be sufficient to bury both a husband and a wife. Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. That is the preferred choice and some argument therefore can be made for us today to do all we can to return the bodies of those that died to be buried with their spouses.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Genesis 25:1-6 Abraham Marries Keturah

Genesis 25:1-6: Now Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore to him Zimran and Jokshan and Medan and Midian and Ishbak and Shuah. Jokshan became the father of Sheba and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim and Letushim and Leummim. The sons of Midian were Ephah and Epher and Hanoch and Abida and Eldaah. All these were the sons of Keturah. Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac; but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the East.

After Abraham loses his wife Sarah and then marries his son Isaac off to Rebekah, he finds himself alone as far as having someone special to share life with. It is also possible, as we may deduce from Genesis 24:1 that he was in poor health given his advanced age. Hear in this passage, the text records that Abraham took another woman named Keturah to be his wife. While her nationality is not given, the Hebrew translation of her name is ‘incense’, and she did indeed provide a sweet aroma for Abraham in his old age. She bore him six sons, at least three of which also provided Abraham with grandsons. From Genesis 23:1 we know that Sarah was 127 years old when she died and from Genesis 17:17 that Abraham was ten years older. So, we can deduce that he was at least 137 years old when he married Keturah.

We do not know how old Keturah was but in all probability given that she bore Abraham at least six children, she was younger. Remarriage under these circumstances was and continues to be an acceptable practice for a believer, even at a very old age.

Keturah never became a “full-status” wife and was more in line with Abraham’s concubines. Later scripture (I Chronicles 1:32) will confirm this. Perhaps Abraham realized that no one could really replace Sarah, the mother of his chosen son, Isaac. He did not want anyone after her to be considered as having been given the same status or dignity as he had shown towards Sarah. Keturah at least, unlike his other concubines, was important enough to be named in scripture.

The text also records that he indeed officially gave all that he had to Isaac. It is possible, given the next phrase of this sentence, that the word ‘left’ (upon his death) would have been preferable. This too was evidence of how special Sarah and her offspring were to him. It is also most likely that God’s covenant with him continued to be foremost in his mind and in his wishes for the legacy he would leave behind. God’s blessing would come ultimately through Isaac. He was the son of promise. So he gets the wealth and the land.

Finally, it is possible that this promise of God caused him to simply allot to each of the sons of his concubines gifts while he was still living rather than through an inheritance. I have observed in various families how sometimes older parents or grandparents tend to give some children or grandchildren numerous possessions while they are still alive, but save things that are very dear to them for one or two special descendants to be received after their death. This may include a family home or investments, etc. The idea being that the others were taken care of earlier while those closer to the deceased person would be recognized with more significant giving’s after one is gone.

The other point of interest is that Abraham continued to have more than one concubine right up to his death. Certainly that was a custom of those days for those that could afford it. Concubines were not mistresses per se, but were viewed as “lesser wives” with fewer privileges. A concubine lived in a lawful marriage arrangement with a man, but her status was regarded as being less than a wife. Concubines were respected, had legal rights, and their children were regarded as legitimate, although the children of the wife (or wives) were most often given preference in matters of inheritance.

As a wise patriarch, who remembers his own experience with his nephew Lot, Abraham decides, while he is still living, to separate the sons of his concubines from Isaac. To that end, he sends them all of them away from where Isaac would remain and eastward to a very different part of the land and at some distance. He wanted to make sure that he did all he could to avoid future conflicts between Isaac, the child of promise, and his half-brothers. As the six sons of Keturah left, they settled in various parts to the south and east of what became known as Palestine and each one represented an Arab tribe. It is through these sons of Keturah’s, as well as through the descendants of Hagar’s son Ishmael (whom she bore to Abraham when Sarah gave her to him), that Abraham became “the father of many nations” as promised in Genesis 17:4. But it is through Isaac that the chosen people would come.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Genesis 24:61-67 Respect At First Sight

Genesis 24:61-67: Then Rebekah arose with her maids, and they mounted the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and departed. Now Isaac had come from going to Beer-lahai-roi; for he was living in the Negev. Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, camels were coming. Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from the camel. She said to the servant, "Who is that man walking in the field to meet us?" And the servant said, "He is my master." Then she took her veil and covered herself. The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.

So Rebekah stands up, along with those maids that were attending to her and they get on the camels, presumably brought by Abraham’s servant for this purpose, and they followed the servant.

Meanwhile back in Abraham’s part of the world, Isaac was living in the Negev. The King James Version of the Scripture translates this Hebrew word as simply the direction south, while the New American Standard and some others translate it as the desert region of Southern Israel. The Hebrews used it to mean both. The text also says that Isaac had just come back from going to Beer-lahai-roi. This you will remember was the “well of Him that lives and sees me," or, as some refer to it as "the well of the vision of life". This is the well where the Lord had met with Hagar (Gen. 16:7-14). The young man would have been aware, we could assume, of what had transpired there and how it was related to his own family.

At some point after his return from this well, Isaac also goes out to his family’s fields as evening approached, in order to meditate. The Hebrew word is ‘suwach’. It is unclear whether this refers to simply thinking, or chanting, or praying. It may involve walking. We do know its aim tends to be religious in nature. It is also possible that Isaac went out there with his men, or friends, and not alone. On the other hand, he may have been going to meet those working in his fields as they were returning home for the night. Clearly, Isaac was a thoughtful young man who took time to think and reflect on God, life, and the world, as well as those that were part of his life, no matter what the role.

In the course of his meditation, he looks up and notices that a caravan of camels was approaching. As the camels got closer to Isaac, Rebekah also looks up and sees Isaac (although we know from the next phrase that she did not know for sure who he was, though she well may have suspected), and she immediately gets off her camel. If at all there was any possibility that this was Isaac, then she did not want to be found seated above him in any way, but rather to get to get to a common level (as he was walking) in an act of symbolic submission to his headship in their forthcoming relationship as husband and wife. Isaac must also have made a striking image in the field that caught Rebekah’s eye and interest as she asked Abraham’s servant (and now her temporary guardian on this trip) “Who is the man that is walking towards us?” The servant simply states the obvious, “He is my master.” While the servant worked for and served Abraham, Isaac as the heir was also the servant’s master.

Learning who the figure approaching them was, Rebekah immediately takes her veil, perhaps a wrap or a shawl) and covers her face and head for the specific purpose of hiding or concealing herself. According to tradition, the veil is an essential part of female dress. While out in the countryside, it can and was often thrown aside, but on the appearance of a stranger, it is drawn over the face, as to conceal all but the eyes. In a bride, such as Rebekah was about to become, it was a token of her reverence and subjection to her husband.

The servant then takes the necessary time to bring Isaac fully up-to-date on all that had transpired between him, Rebekah, and Rebekah’s family. And without further questioning, Isaac takes Rebekah, the one that God has chosen for him as a wife, into what had been his mother’s dwelling, Sarah having recently passed away. The text simply states that he then took Rebekah as a wife and he loved her.

There was no courtship to speak of. Both Rebekah and now Isaac simply accepted what God had brought together in this unique way – working through Abraham, the servant, and through Rebekah’s family. Both simply accepted God’s choice as the very best for them. They respected each other as the one that God had given to the other and they accepted their roles willfully. Love entered the picture only after they had become husband and wife. This may not the way we may do things today, but clearly it is no less wonderful or effective, and perhaps even more lasting.

This section of scripture ends with the phrase, “thus Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” Isaac was Sarah’s very special and only son. She had loved him dearly while he was growing into a man. With her passing, an incredible void appeared in Isaac’s life and only God’s chosen one for him as a wife, could begin to fill it. God’s plan for many of his children is just that. This past Christmas I heard my three year old grandson Elijah, when he had lost track of where in the house his mother was at that given moment, say “Where’s my mommy; I always need my mommy.” I am sure there will come a day when he realizes that mommy’s love will always be there, but that he would then have another woman to be comforted by as Isaac was comforted by his wife, Rebekah.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Genesis 24:54b-60 Dealing with the Hesitations of Others

Genesis 24:54b-60: When they arose in the morning, he said, "Send me away to my master." But her brother and her mother said, "Let the girl stay with us a few days, say ten; afterward she may go." He said to them, "Do not delay me, since the Lord has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master." And they said, "We will call the girl and consult her wishes." Then they called Rebekah and said to her, "Will you go with this man?" And she said, "I will go." Thus they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse with Abraham's servant and his men. They blessed Rebekah and said to her, "May you, our sister, Become thousands of ten thousands, And may your descendants possess The gate of those who hate them."

The next morning, Abraham’s servant and his team arise early to commence their journey, along with Rebekah, back to Abraham and Isaac as agreed to the night before with Rebekah’s family. And out of courtesy, but more as a “bid me well” request, he asks permission to be sent on his way to his master, expecting everything to be a go.

Unfotunately, Rebekah’s brother and mother have a different idea not being so quick to part with their sister and daughter, respectfully. They want her to stay with the family another ten days before she goes to Isaac. Maybe Abraham’s servant had wisely surmised that these two could have presented some obstacles to his plan and thus had given them the gifts the night before.

If you are a little like me, someone who likes to make things happen, you may well, during your life or service to God, have found yourself in a circumstance just like Abraham’s servant found himself that morning. He had gone to bed thinking everything had been worked and that God had blessed his task and he wakes up in the morning only to be told (or in today’s terms, he gets an email or a phone call) that there is hesitation on the part of others involved in the decision. What a letdown. What does one do in this particular case? How could God be allowing this to happen one may ask? It is in these most frustrating and disappointing moments in our life that God is more interested in our reaction and our steadfastness in trusting Him to see the matter through in His time and His way. It is also in these circumstances that God wants us to realize that there is a spiritual Enemy against whom we must do battle in times like this. The Enemy’s role is to convince us that there is no God and that indeed we were foolish to think He was with us even up to this point and he makes the going real hard. In the meantime, our heavenly Father is only interested in our own spiritual growth and development through all of this.

Before we see how the servant did react, let’s consider for a moment Rebekah’s father. There was no suggestion from him with respect to any delay in the plans that had been agreed to. Why was that? I like to think it is something that Tim and Darcy Kimmel, in their book Extreme Grandparenting (Tyndale House, 2007) refer to as the wisdom and experience of those that had lived longer and seen more in life. Bethuel was the older and wiser patriarch of the home. Through his many years of life, he saw God at work and he had learned not to interfere with what God wanted because that only made matters worse. He was more than willing to let Rebekah go as had been agreed, although here he remains silent, allowing the servant, the objectors, and God, to work it out.

When you or I are the older and the wiser in any given situation, we need to be able to reflect on how God has worked throughout our lives and to encourage others to just let God be God. We need to facilitate God’s will in our lives and in the lives of others, especially those that are younger.

So what indeed did the servant do when faced with Laban and Milcah’s hesitation? He pleads that they do not delay him because indeed God had already blessed his way. But not only that, he again asks them to send him on his way. He very wisely asked that they not interfere with what was clearly the plan of the Lord. Who were they (who is anybody) to interfere with what God had intended, especially as believers? And as such, that left them very little real choice. Secondly, the wise servant also wanted to make sure that he just did not take the girl and leave; instead, he wanted the family to endorse his going with Rebekah.

When dealing with others, especially God’s people, we need to engage their cooperation. We are not to use force but instead use the words, the wisdom and the rational that God has laid on our hearts and lips to convince them to be partners in God’s will for any given situation. And once we have done our best in attempting that, to leave the rest to God. That is exactly what Abraham’s servant had to do as Laban and Milcah replied to his plea.

Realizing that they could not go against God’s own will, Rebekah’s brother and mother try to involve Rebekah herself in the decision, hoping she has changed her mind about going right away as the servant had planned or perhaps not going at all. Were Laban and Milcah really that ahead of their times that they would actually allow their younger sister and daughter, respectfully, to make such a decision? I don’t think so. In fact, turning this kind of matter over to her in those days was most unusual. I believe it was a last desperate attempt to find a way out without them going against God’s will but willing that someone else might. It is amazing how the Enemy can hide himself in each of us, even as believers. He has this well-honed ability to find out what our own personal desire is and then works on us to pursue it, especially where it goes contrary to what God wants. They tell the servant that they would call the girl in and consult her wishes.

Rebekah, however, was resolved to fit right into the plan of God no matter what her family may have wanted. To the question “Will you go with this man?” that her mother and brother asked, she responds, “I will go.” Nothing elaborate, just a simple commitment to do God’s will and to keep her word. This was simply bonus evidence that she was indeed the woman that God would use to fulfill His covenant with Abraham.

Rebekah’s response was the final deal clincher. There was no turning back or any further objections that could be made by anyone. The family agreed to send Rebekah’s nurse or maid with her and Abraham’s servant. They all blessed her in the role she was to play in being available to fulfill God’s covenant, that she would through her offspring literally multiply into thousands of ten thousand and that her descendants would possess the gate of those who hate them. We referred to this phrase in discussing Genesis 22:17. To repeat, I believe it means that Rebekah’s descendants, since they would be Abraham’s descendants, would achieve both physical and spiritual victories. They will be able to defeat their political enemies as well as their spiritual ‘enemy’. And because that will be the case, through now Rebekah’s offspring, all the nations of the earth will be blessed.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Genesis 24:50-54a The Family's Response

Genesis 24:50-54a: Then Laban and Bethuel replied, "The matter comes from the Lord; so we cannot speak to you bad or good. Here is Rebekah before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master's son, as the Lord has spoken." When Abraham's servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the ground before the Lord. The servant brought out articles of silver and articles of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother. Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night.

Abraham’s servant has presented Rebekah’s family with a serious question to which he must have an immediate answer: Will they agree to Rebekah coming back with him to be the wife of Isaac, the son of his master? Both the brother and the father reply in a most interesting way. They set aside any personal decision that they may make in favor of the fact that “this whole thing comes from God”. Their opinion does not matter. Since this is from the Lord, than what we have to say is not the issue here. These men had the desirable ability to consider what is presented to them, determine whether it is from God or not, and if so, to lay aside all their own personal desires or wishes, and then to be able to get fully involved in facilitating God’s will. What a wonderful attitude with which to face life as a believer in the Almighty. When life throws us surprises and even curves, we need to step back, assess the situation, and determine the source. If indeed it is from God, then we set aside our plans, our own way of pursuing things, and join God is His plans for us as we totally accept His providence and will on our life. Laban and Bethuel did just that.

The servant is told he can take Rebekah back to Abraham and Isaac, “as the Lord has spoken”. Are we prepared to agree to things “as the Lord has spoken”? What is interesting to note here is that God, as far as scripture records, did not actually say to anyone, “Take Rebekah back”. So what exactly does that phrase, “as the Lord has spoken” mean? What God did do was simply bless what Abraham wanted and what his servant did on behalf of Abraham. That’s important because sometimes we need to discern between what God has said directly in His word to us and what He may be telling us to do through the advice and counsel of others who are committed to serving Him. The latter requires more due diligence as well as having a feeling of peace about it that comes directly from God. We need to know who the messengers are and about their own relationship with God. Does what is evident in their word and their life match what we believe a servant of God should be like? If so, we have more reason to accept their advice and be willing to share in their goals. In the final analysis, however, it still needs to sit well with us theologically and spiritually before we agree to participate.

And of course, further evidence in favor of this messenger being indeed a servant of the Lord’s is that once again, having received Laban and Bethuel’s response, bows down and worships God, giving Him thanks for what He has accomplished.

The servant than gives more gifts to Rebekah, Laban, and Rebekah’s mother but poor old dad, Bethuel, gets left out. The lot of a father, I guess. Clearly Abraham’s servant knew that Rebekah had to be happy, Laban could have been trouble if he wasn’t pleased with the idea, and of course, this whole thing would have cost Rebekah’s mother the most as she would miss her dearly. With all that out of the way, it was time to celebrate what God had done.

This whole account is an incredible story with God as the central character. It was He who made the covenant with Abraham that Abraham’s seed would be multiplied through a child that Sarah bore him in her old age. It was He who put it in Abraham’s head to seek a wife for Isaac from his own people. It was He who was with the servant as he planned how he would discern God’s will. It was He who moved Rebekah and her family to behave as they did. It was He to whom both the servant and Rebekah’s family gave the glory and praise. In fact, is not all of the life of a believer about Him? Do we always recognize it as such? Sometimes, even when we do, we do not celebrate enough so that others may know about His part in it.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Genesis 24:33-49 Abraham's Servant Presents His Cause

Genesis 24:33-49: But when food was set before him to eat, he said, "I will not eat until I have told my business." And he said, "Speak on." So he said, "I am Abraham's servant. The Lord has greatly blessed my master, so that he has become rich; and He has given him flocks and herds, and silver and gold, and servants and maids, and camels and donkeys. Now Sarah my master's wife bore a son to my master in her old age, and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, 'You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father's house and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son.' I said to my master, 'Suppose the woman does not follow me.' He said to me, 'The Lord, before whom I have walked, will send His angel with you to make your journey successful, and you will take a wife for my son from my relatives and from my father's house; then you will be free from my oath, when you come to my relatives; and if they do not give her to you, you will be free from my oath.' So I came today to the spring, and said, 'O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now You will make my journey on which I go successful; behold, I am standing by the spring, and may it be that the maiden who comes out to draw, and to whom I say, "Please let me drink a little water from your jar"; and she will say to me, "You drink, and I will draw for your camels also"; let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master's son.' Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder, and went down to the spring and drew, and I said to her, 'Please let me drink.' She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder, and said, 'Drink, and I will water your camels also'; so I drank, and she watered the camels also. Then I asked her, and said, 'Whose daughter are you?' And she said, 'The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son, whom Milcah bore to him'; and I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her wrists. And I bowed low and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had guided me in the right way to take the daughter of my master's kinsman for his son. So now if you are going to deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, let me know, that I may turn to the right hand or the left."

Abraham’s servant was certainly not a procrastinator when it came to the hard things that had to be done. So when all those wonderful dishes were placed before him, he did not dig right in even though he may have been hungry from his journey. Instead, he informed his hosts that he would not eat until he shared with them his mission. As humans, most of us find it so easy to procrastinate, to put off doing the difficult things we know we must do. It is much easier to get involved in things of lesser importance than what really matters. If we were honest with ourselves, we too would admit that we have some of those things we do not often rush to do. For me, these include writing an article or preparing a presentation I know is due soon. For some crazy reason, I usually wait until the last minute. Some people may treat exercising in the same way or worse, they may skip doing it altogether. Most business people find it very difficult to pass on unpleasant news to employees. Instead, we let it slide and ending up doing neither the employee nor the company any good. Others may find that prayer or personal devotions are difficult to get into. It always amazes me how when we go to pray in a group, prayer is often the last thing we do after spending most of the time just talking about what we will pray for. Small group Bible studies, unless well managed by the leader, spend very little time actually studying the Bible. We need to take a lesson from Abraham’s servant and deal with the important and difficult things we must do first.

So the servant explains to Rebekah’s family how it is that he came to accept this mission and how it is that he feels Rebekah is indeed the chosen one of God for Isaac. He repeats the whole story. He includes reference to Abraham’s wealth and blessing from God, with all the details about herds, money, and servants. There is also an appeal to Abraham’s desire to have his son, to whom all this inheritance belongs, marry someone from his own people and relatives rather than the Canaanites. Both of these statements and the facts they convey would also serve to endear Rebekah’s family to the success of his mission.

The servant shares Abraham’s faith as to what God wants to do with respect to his mission, as well as for Abraham, Isaac and the woman God has chosen. He then goes on to tell how he himself prayed to God to make him successful for the sake of his master, Abraham. He shares how he asked God to help him know who the right young woman would be and how Rebekah did indeed meet all the criteria. And finally, he explained how he worshipped and thanked God for guiding him to them as a family.

Imagine the situation that Rebekah and her family found themselves in. One moment they had a daughter in their midst and the next moment they were listening to a man explain how it was God’s will in every respect, as evidenced by the mission, the signs required, and the action of the young woman, that Rebekah should leave them and go to Isaac to get married. I am not sure how my wife and I would have responded in similar circumstances. Would we have accepted this from God or would we have wanted more evidence and certainly more time to investigate the whole thing? I wonder what was going through the head of Rebekah as she heard all of this?

And the servant, eager to finalize the deal, leaves Rebekah’s family and her very little time to think things over. He wants to make his goal perfectly clear and wants to leave no room for misunderstanding. He basically asked them outright, “Will you agree with my master’s wishes, yes or no? If not, I need to know so I can decide what I will need to do next -- whether to go back or to pursue the arrangements for what my master desires.” When one deals honestly and fairly with another, he or she has the right to expect that they will be treated honestly and fairly in return. This was the case with Abraham’s servant. He did not want any pretenses. He spoke his business clearly and appealed to them to respond in kind. If we handle our business and interactions in a similar manner, than we can expect that others treat us likewise.

Sometimes we wonder why things go wrong in our relationships and we only need to look as far as the way we treated others to find the answer. The ‘golden rule’ of doing to others what we would want done to us needs to be applied in all our relationships, including those involving business, either for ourselves or for our employers. Only then can we expect God’s blessing.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Genesis 24:28-32 Rebekah's Brother, Laban

Genesis 24:28-32: Then the girl ran and told her mother’s household about these things. Now Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban; and Laban ran outside to the man at the spring. And it came about that when he saw the ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s wrists, and when he heard the words of Rebekah his sister, saying, “This is what the man said to me,” he went to the man; and behold, he was standing by the camels at the spring. And he said, “Come in, blessed of the Lord! Why do you stand outside since I have prepared the house, and a place for the camels?” So the man entered the house. Then Laban unloaded the camels, and he gave straw and feed to the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him.

Between the previous verses and these ones, Abraham’s servant must have given Rebekah the ring and bracelets he had brought for this purpose for later in this portion of scripture we read that her brother had noticed them. So Rebekah, filled with excitement, runs to her house and tells them about all that had happened. If she were like any other young lady, we can assume that her excitement stemmed primarily from the gifts that she had received from the servant. What young woman would not rejoice when given such jewelry? Being married, having two married daughters and two young granddaughters I can assure you the reaction is innate in women, mastered early in life and maintained well right up into ones senior years. However, it is also possible that Rebekah was excited about having had an opportunity to serve a stranger and his entourage the way she did. After all, that is what she had been taught to do and she now had an opportunity to practice what she had learned. Finally, Rebekah’s joy could have been partially due to the opportunity of having this stranger and those traveling with him stay at her house.

It is appropriate to stop and ask a question here. Were the gifts that Rebekah received a bribe or simply a gift of appreciation? She had already given the servant and his company the drink they needed which would indicate appreciation. However, the gifts were given to her before he asked for accommodation for himself and those that were with him, which could indicate a bribe. We also know that she knew nothing of the servant’s purpose for his trip at this point. I believe the gifts had a dual purpose being given both as in appreciation of her kindness but also in hope of her being open later on to joining Abraham’s family in marriage to Isaac. Certainly there was no expectation that they would be returned if she decided not to do so.

Listening to her tell her story excitedly is her brother Laban. Although we are not given his age relative to hers, it is possible to assume that he either was older or at least played the role that a protective older brother would play. Immediately Laban runs outside to the spring to see who this man was and check matters out for himself.

Rebekah had shown her family including Laban the ring and the bracelets and told them what Abraham’s servant had said to her. In a situation like this, there is absolutely nothing wrong with another member of the family wanting to get involved as Laban did. Family members today are much more independent than they were in those days and perhaps much more independent than is appropriate or wise. Today, we often hear of family members at a very young age telling their siblings or even their parents to “mind their own business”. I am not convinced that is how God intended it.

As Laban greets Abraham’s servant, he points towards his house and invites him in, calling him “blessed of the Lord”. Whether Laban is sincere in using this salutation for the servant or not is not known. If so, however, it is proof that he was indeed a fellow believer and worshipper of the God of Abraham.

What is more problematic to me is that he told the servant that he had “prepared the house, and a place for the camels”. Was that indeed the truth? Did he have time to do so? While cynics may argue that he did not and had not, the issue could be explained as follows: Rebekah runs in and tells her story; Laban as perhaps the older brother decides to go and see the man and reinforce her invitation to him; as he is leaving the house he gives orders to the servants to get the house ready and to make room for the camels. [This is an excellent example of a report in scripture that may be questioned if one is so inclined. But, for the believer, it can easily be accepted as truth because there are possible feasible explanations.]

To be fair, Laban did a lot of work himself once the servant accepted his invitation. He unloaded the camels, gave them straw and feed, and then got water to wash the servant’s feet and the feet of those with the servant. While perhaps these were all customs of the day that needed to be followed, it is reassuring to know that Rebekah’s brother followed them willingly. Hospitality continues to be a major theme in the story of Abraham. As I write these words today, Christians are preparing to celebrate Christmas, the birth of Christ, in less than two weeks. And as I reflect on the world scene, I realize society seems devoid of love (what Jesus was all about) even though a few years back the song What the World Needs Now is Love was a big hit. Perhaps as Christians we need to start with hospitality and spending time with people. Love will be a natural outflow of that.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Genesis 24:22-27 "Success Confirmed"

Genesis 24:22-27: Then it came about, when the camels had finished drinking, that the man took a gold ring weighing a half-shekel in gold, and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels in gold, and said, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room for us to lodge in your father’s house?” And she said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” Again she said to him, “We have plenty of both straw and feed, and room to lodge in.” Then the man bowed low and worshipped the Lord. He said, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His truth toward my master; as for me, the Lord has guided me in the way to the house of my master's brothers."

Abraham’s servant watches as all the camels are given water to drink. When they were fully satisfied, he took out the gifts he had wisely brought along – a gold ring and two bracelets. These were gifts of Abraham to be used just for this purpose. The two must have discussed this need for gifts and what was to be given should the need arise as Abraham was sure it would. It is not clear whether or not he had actually given them to Rebekah at this point in time when he asked her two questions -- “Whose daughter are you?” and “Is there room for us in your father’s house?”

These two questions were meant to serve as extra insurance that this indeed was the woman that God had intended for Isaac. The correct answer to the first question would confirm the appropriate lineage of the woman and the correct answer to the second question would confirm the type of home in which she was raised and thus reflect the type of woman she was. The servant asked for lodging not only for himself, but also for his entire party (later we will learn that there were others with him) and for his camels. A positive answer would reflect how Rebekah and her family viewed the blessings (human and otherwise) that God provides and how well they took care of such.

Rebekah responds most favorably in all aspects of the questioning. What is particularly noteworthy is how a young woman could commit her family to what many of us today would consider an imposition on the household. It reminds of a time when our eldest daughter was a teenager and one of her friends needed a place to stay. On her own, she told Jeannie that she could stay at our house – and Jeannie did, for many months. Our daughter was confident enough to know that this was the right thing to do and that her parents would agree. We did for to have done anything else would have indicated a high level of hypocrisy in what we were trying to teach our children and how we were trying to live our Christian lives. Many years later, as we prepared to jointly occupy a house with our younger daughter and her family, there was a possibility that someone we both knew might need a place to stay due to her own family’s circumstances. Because we were older now, our younger daughter first sought confirmation from us out of courtesy, but ultimately expected that the answer would be the same as it was for her older sister many years earlier. Children have a way of sensing what their parents would accept and what they would not. Rebekah was no different and all her answers served as a total confirmation that the servant’s mission was indeed blessed by God and he was successful.

Abraham’s servant did not hesitate. Right there and then he bowed down and worshiped the Lord who gave him this success and blessed his master. He recognized that God indeed had continued his loving kindness towards his master and furthermore that He had guided him to his master’s family.

There is phrase in this verse that is worthy of mention and that is “God…has not forsaken…His truth toward my master”. What is that truth referred to here? You will remember that God had promised to build up Abraham’s family. Yet, as Abraham got older, many in the household including this servant may well have started to wonder whether God was going to remain faithful to that truth that He had promised. Isaac’s future role in carrying out this promise of God’s was a central question in everybody’s mind. But now the servant realizes that God has not forgotten his master in this matter and is indeed providing a wife for his son so that God’s promise to Abraham can become a reality. We must always be on the lookout for how God is keeping His promises to us in our lives. Ravi Zacharias, in his book, Grand Weaver, instructs us to be constantly and pleasantly surprised by how beautifully God weaves the grand design of our life for His glory. What has God done for you lately as part of that special design He has for you? You need only to open your spiritual eyes to see it.

Finally, we must note the phrase “the Lord has guided me in the way to the house…”. The servant agreed to do the right thing but He needed God’s guidance to help him succeed. He did not really know how things would work out or whether he could even find what he was looking for when he set out from Abraham’s household. But God guided him “on the way”. If we want God to direct us, we need to start moving – start the action. It has always been much easier to steer a moving vessel than one standing still. There is a time to “be still” and hear God’s instructions, but then there is a time to move out in faith and obedience.

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