Genesis 23: Til death do us part

Considering the epidemic practice of polygamy in the ancient world and even among Israel’s patriarchs, Abrahams and Sarah’s marriage was remarkable both for its monogamy and longevity.  We don’t know how long they were married but it could have been as long as 80-some years.  Granted, Abraham took Hagar as a concubine, but there is no indication in Scripture that he continued the relationship after Ishmael’s conception.   Other than that “one-night stand” with Hagar, Abraham was faithful to Sarah, and the two enjoyed a long healthy committed partnership.

Isaac followed his father’s example with a monogamous marriage to Rebekah, but his sons chose polygamy and took multiple wives and concubines.  Why?  Because it was culturally prevalent, because it was convenient, because they wanted to.  Men can come up with a dozen reasons to do their own will rather than God’s.   Abraham’s grandsons and great grandsons knew the pattern God had established with Adam and Eve, about Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah.  But they wanted their own way.

When you look at the prevalent attitude toward marriage in our culture today, you can see this same selfishness and rebellion.  Why do so many marriages end in divorce?  Why do men and women cheat on each other?  Why do many skip marriage altogether and just move from one lover to the next?  Because modern man, much like ancient man, puts his own personal “happiness” first.  The ironic thing is, what we think is happiness often brings a lot of regret, guilt and sadness in the end.

In fact, the only way to experience true happiness (joy) is to embrace God’s way.  When a man chooses to obey God and follow his pattern for love and marriage and family, he steps into the path of optimal blessing.  What I mean by that is, the man who has submitted to God’s will in a matter has the greatest potential for blessing.  He might experience some blessings and moments of happiness on another path, but he will experience far more on the path of obedience to God.

When you look at it this way, I think the decision is a bit clearer.  Do you want to be truly happy?  Get in line with God’s design and stay there.  We can’t look ahead and see the outcome of our choices; but we can make a fool-proof bet on the choice to obey God.  It always results in blessing.

Reading: Genesis 23

 

Genesis 22: The Moriah Test

What do you value above all else in your life?  Excluding spiritual blessings like salvation, you might answer your significant other, your home, your parents, your career, maybe your health.  We all have something or someone that we “couldn’t live without”, right?  In Genesis 22, Abraham’s faith is put to the test in a way we cannot imagine.  After 25 years of waiting and praying, he finally had the son God had promised, Isaac.  Abraham must have cherished every minute of Isaac’s childhood.  The boy was the dearest thing in Abraham’s life.

So imagine the suffocating nausea and cold sweat he felt when God said: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering.”  The request to give up Isaac was itself shocking, but add to it the idea that Abraham himself was asked to kill his son.  At that time, child sacrifice was not unheard of.  Some of Abraham’s Canaanite neighbors practiced it.  How a parent could do such a thing is beyond my comprehension.  Yet here is Abraham, at the request of God Himself, climbing up a mountain to sacrifice Isaac.  Every step must have tested his resolve to obey God.  Doubts must have bombarded his mind:  Did God really say that?  Did I understand Him correctly–what if I misunderstood Him?  What will my son think?  What will SARAH think?

We often forget that Abraham also had a wife who loved Isaac.  Sacrificing Isaac would also mean sacrificing his relationship–a marriage of many decades–with Sarah.  That thought must have also weighed heavily on his mind.  What God had asked Abraham was essentially to give up everything in this world that he loved.

Now that we’ve attempted to understand the gravity of this situation and how Abraham must have felt about it, we can think about how he responded.  Abraham obeyed.  He chose to trust God.  He packed up and took Isaac to Moriah, where they climbed the mountain and prepared for the sacrifice.  And when Isaac asked where the lamb was, Abraham replied in faith, “God Himself will provide a lamb.”

Which, of course, is exactly what God did.  Abraham had learned in 25 years of waiting on God, that God keeps His promises and answers prayer.  So he knew that somehow, some way, God would preserve Isaac.  Because God had said, “through Isaac that your offspring[b] will be reckoned.”  Isaac was the heir God had promised.  Abraham would father a great nation through Isaac–God had promised it, and Abraham believed it.  He passed the test of a lifetime.  How?  By choosing to trust God in spite of everything.

I once found myself in a “Moriah” test–a mountain-sized test of my faith.  My eldest child lay in an ICU unit, victim of a tragic accident, with life threatening injuries.  On the long drive from our home to the hospital 9 hours away and over the next 2 weeks she was there in the ICU, three thoughts kept running through my mind, truths I clung to like a lifeline: God is good, His mercy is new every morning, Great is His faithfulness.  They were bits of Scripture I had read many times before.  But they never had so much meaning as they did then.  I didn’t know how we would live if God took our daughter, if our family would survive the loss, but I knew I could trust Him somehow to see us through it.  For me, that dark time was a test–not of God’s faithfulness but of my faith in it.  What did I learn? I learned that my faith was real and it could lead me through dark valleys where only eyes of faith can see.

You see, I don’t think God tests us for His benefit–to satisfy Himself that we really believe in Him.   He tests us for OUR benefit–to show us whether or not our faith is real and to demonstrate to us His faithfulness.  I wouldn’t choose to go through that test again, but I am thankful for it because through it I was assured of the power of God’s Word, of the power of prayer, and of the power of God’s love channeled through His people.  If you haven’t faced your “Moriah test” yet, make sure you’re ready.  Anchor your faith in the Word, dig deep into the truth about Who God is and hold on to it.  Because God IS good, He IS merciful and He IS faithful.  And best of all, He loves you and will carry you through every dark valley you may face.

Reading: Genesis 22

Genesis 21: God keeps His Word

The holidays hit and though I’ve kept reading I’ve fallen behind in my writing.  Today I pick it back up with a long-awaited answer to prayer, the birth of Isaac. “Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.” (Gen 21:1-2)  It had been 25 years since God first called Abraham and promised him offspring.  Imagine waiting that long for a prayer request.  How many of us would still expect God to answer it?  But true to His character, God kept His word.  I like that Sarah called the baby “Isaac”, which means laughter.  It’s appropriate given that she laughed once at the idea of giving birth as an old woman.  But the literal meaning is “he laughs”, which makes me wonder if she was thinking of God or Abraham.  No doubt both were laughing that day.

In the middle of this happy story, however, there is a heartbreaking scene: the departure of Hagar and Ishmael.  What grief Abraham must have felt sending his son away.  Ishmael would have been about 14 when Isaac was born.  He had watched the boy grow up and loved him.  He did not want to send him away.  But God told him to do so, and promised to watch over him (inherent in the promise that Ishmael would father a nation of his own).  The separation of a father and son like this seems so cruel.  Yet we have to remember that our decisions have consequences.  Abraham’s choice to sleep with Hagar the slave girl in attempt to fulfill God’s promise in his own way and time was wrong.  God had allowed Abraham to enjoy Ishmael’s childhood but the arrival of Isaac changed everything.

Even in this tragic moment we can see God’s mercy.  He assures Abraham that Ishmael will live and prosper (“ I will make the son of the slave into a nation also”).  And as Hagar and Ishmael journey, we see how God protects and provides for them.  God loved Ishmael as well as Isaac.  But He had chosen Isaac.  We can argue all day about why.  In 1 Peter 2:9, God calls us (believers) a chosen people.  Why did God choose us?  If He loves everyone, why only choose some?

I think the answer has to do with God’s foreknowledge of OUR choice to accept Jesus as Savior.  In other words, God’s choice is rooted in His knowledge of who will choose Him, who will accept His free offer of salvation.  That is the only way I see to reconcile the seemingly contradictory facts that 1) “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16) and 2) “Even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ,” (Eph 1:4-5).  Romans 8:29 helps explain the concept pretty well: “For those whom He foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. ” (Rom 8:29)

Another equally valid answer is that God as sovereign Lord and Creator can do what He wants!  Knowing that God is good, loving, just, righteous, etc., we can trust His choices.  I’m content with that answer as well.

Reading: Genesis 21