Genesis 24: Prayer, Providence and…nose rings

“…the Lord has led me on the journey.”  Abraham’s servant Eliezer clearly embraced his master’s faith in the Creator God.  This story is a powerful demonstration of purposeful, specific prayer and faith in the Providence of God.  Eliezer had a mission: to find a wife for Isaac from among Abraham’s relatives.  So he headed in the direction of Abraham’s homeland, praying as he went: “Lord, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”  

Eliezer took his mission seriously, and he prayed very directly and specifically about it.  I think sometimes we are afraid to just say what we want.  We dance around the request with a lot of “if you will” and “if it is best”.  But if we are surrendered to God’s will and believe that He is good and always does what is best, do we need to sandwich our prayers between phrases like that?  Eliezer said plainly “make me successful” and he spelled out exactly what he wanted.  God knew that his heart was in the right place–that he was seeking God’s will and trusting in His Providence; so God honored his request and gave him exactly what he had asked for.

Today I suppose if you meet the girl of your dreams and immediately put a ring in her nose, well, you might not get a favorable reaction.  But Rebekah didn’t seem to have a problem with it.  We can assume her nose was already pierced!  Seriously, though, Rebekah’s response to all of this is equally as beautiful as Eliezer’s faith.  She recognizes God’s Providence in Eliezer’s story and agrees to leave with him, to journey to a far land and marry a man she has never met.  You might say her faith was greater even than Eliezer’s.

I can imagine a young man or woman today praying a similar prayer about their future mate: “God lead me to just the right person.  Please let it be than when we meet, she immediately identifies herself as a follower of Christ and that her life backs it up with godly character, biblical convictions and true Christlike compassion for others.”  That’s the kind of prayer God will answer!  It is right on target with His will and shows a desire to honor Him in your relationships.

I’m thankful for the Providence that led me to my wife, Kim.  I knew from the start that she loved God and lived the faith she professed.  And “lucky” for me, she saw the same Providence and agreed to marry me!  The marriages that God makes are always best.

Reading: Genesis 24

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

Genesis 18: Sacred separation

I just realized that I never published this one and so skipped Genesis 18.  Please forgive the oversight and the lack of posts over the holidays.

In Genesis 18, Abraham says to God: “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” And God answered: “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”  Hearing that the Lord planned to destroy Sodom and Gomorra, Abraham pleaded for mercy on behalf of the innocent there.  Surely Lot’s family and friends would constitute 10 people who feared God.  This conversation is a good example of intercessory prayer.  It gives a glimpse of the friendship between God and Abraham.  They’ve had several exchanges at this point, but this is the most familiar.  Abraham entertains a theophany, God in human form, with rest and refreshment.  Then God reveals His plan to Abraham.  By doing so, He gives Abraham a chance to intercede, to pray for the people of S & G.  He also prepares Abraham for an important lesson about the corrupting effects of embracing a sinful society.  In the end, it would be clear that S & G had corrupted even Lot’s family, and Lot had lost literally everything.  Abraham would understand the importance of separation and distinction, an important thing for God’s people then and now.  

I didn’t expect my meditation on this reading to go in this direction.  Separation is not the first thing that comes to mind here.  Yet it is an important concept which has a role in this passage.  What does biblical separation look like for the believer?  I have known Christians whose idea of separation is avoidance and even isolation.  They keep a careful distance between themselves and unbelievers.  Their society is sanitized and homogenous, populated solely by other “separated” believers.  They interact with the lost only in controlled situations–through what they call “ministries”.  I’ve also known Christians who live holy lives, who are separated from sin, but still make an effort to interact and befriend the lost.  They do not avoid but reach out to the unbelievers around them, not just through charity but in friendship, hoping to demonstrate the love of Christ.  Which approach is God’s desire for us?

It is good to have a healthy fear of the corrupting effects of sin and respect for the power of temptation.  Lot would have done well to practice both.  God clearly instructed Abraham and his descendants to be separate from the peoples around them–even forbidding intermarriage.  Israel’s gravest mistake was its failure to be separate from its pagan neighbors.  In the end, that is what destroyed Israel and led to its captivity.  Many “Christian” groups have tried to pattern themselves after Israel in a literal sense.  But I think they have missed the message or purpose behind God’s instructions for Israel.  But as Paul explains repeatedly in his epistles, “These things were written to teach us” (Rom.15:4) and “These things happened to them as examples” (1 Cor.10:11).

In this age of grace, we are called to be agents of redemption, and that is a mission we cannot achieve in isolation.  God called Abraham and Israel to be physically separate for a reason: to give us a physical illustration of the spiritual separation we are to practice.   Our challenge is to learn the spiritual truths of Israel’s experience and live them out as God intended.  What does spiritual separation look like?  Jesus gave us a good example.  He spent time with sinners, talked to them, ate with them, served them, taught them.  Yet he never accepted or approved of their sin.  He was spiritually separate but physically present and a part of the society around him.  He did not isolate Himself but intentionally injected Himself into society, not just among the “upright and respectable” but among those whose lives were messy.   We are called to do the same.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt.5:13-16)

Reading: Genesis 18

Genesis 15: Promises

“Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.”  It’s interesting that God didn’t always speak to Abram in the same way.  Sometimes He came in bodily form, as a theophany, sometimes He spoke from heaven and here He speaks through a vision.  God knows exactly what we need to hear and how we need to hear it.  Here in Genesis 15, Abram was doubting his call.  He had followed it from Ur to this wild, pagan land, because God had said He would make of Abram a great nation.  Yet Abram had no children, and the land God had promised him was occupied by kingdoms now more or less against him since he had defeated the kings who captured his nephew Lot.  At this point of uncertainty, God speaks in a way that is memorable and clear.  He not only affirms His promises to Abram, but he expands upon them, foretelling the sojourn of Israel in Egypt and their redemption from slavery.  “On that day God made a covenant with Abram.”  It wasn’t just a promise anymore; God sealed the deal with a contract.  I’ve always loved verse 1; it’s a promise that all of God’s children can claim.  All of us at times need to hear that: Don’t be afraid.  I AM both your defense and your reward.  He is our refuge in this troubled world, in dark times, in times of doubt and fear; we can run to Him in dark times and find comfort and security.  Yet He is more than that: God, Himself, is our “reward”–not just our Rewarder but the reward itself.  In Him, we find riches this world cannot offer, such as love, joy and peace; strength and courage; power for living here and now; the Word of truth; salvation and eternal life.   More than just these things He gives us, we have the reward of WHO he is.  I think of friends who are a blessing just by virtue of their personality or gifts; the one who is just always encouraging, the one who is positive and upbeat, the one who is wise in counsel, the one who just loves you thoroughly.  Through Jesus Christ, we can experience God in that way.  HE IS our reward!   

Reading: Genesis 15

Genesis 14: Abram the Brave

When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan.  During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus.  He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.” This is where Abram surprises you.  Up until chapter 14, Abram seems like just a wealthy businessman.  But here you find out he was much more.  Notice he had 318 TRAINED men in his household– nice little private army.  Also note his strategic offensive.  Abram knew what he was doing and had a bit of the Braveheart in him.  One takeaway here is that Abram was prepared for battle.  In the last chapter, we read about how he humbly let Lot choose the land and left the outcome to God.  But here we see that He could also take initiative and act swiftly to an immediate need.  I think there is both a practical and spiritual lesson here.  We should be this way spiritually too: prepared to do battle.  Of course in the end we see Abram giving God the credit for his victory–and seeing that his allies and his men are rewarded, even when he himself refuses reward.  Abram was a true hero in every way.

Reading: Genesis 14

Genesis 13: Divine intervention

So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.”  When Abram surrendered his rights (he was the elder, after all) and let Lot choose, he probably knew that Lot would choose the better land.  He must have known Lot’s character and temperament well enough to guess his choice.  But Abram left the outcome to God.  It seems like Lot got the better end of the bargain here in chapter 13, but if you know the end of the story, you know Abram was actually the winner.  The well watered plains of Jordan came with a wicked pair of cities whose moral corruption would infect Lot’s family.  Abram didn’t know this, or I think he may have cautioned Lot.  But God knew and by divine intervention Lot chose what was best–for Abram.

Reading: Genesis 13