As Rachel finally has a son, who was named Joseph, Jacob begins sensing the need to return home. We already know that Jacob loved Rachel; we will soon learn that Joseph will be Jacob’s favorite. Even though Jacob has had ten sons already, perhaps it was in Joseph, that Jacob felt that his true heir has arrived. Therefore, Jacob wants to go back home with his entire family–especially his heir apparent. It was time for Jacob to return home and make amends. So Jacob approaches his father-in-law Laban: “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, that I may go, for you know the service that I have given you” (30:25-26).
While Leah obtains children but not Jacob’s love, Rachel, on the other hand, has Jacob’s love but no children to love. Neither wife seems truly satisfied, but for different reasons. Rachel feels not only envious toward her sister but also slighted by her husband and demands: “Give me children, or I shall die!” (30:1). Jacob angrily passes the blame: “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” (30:2). When Jacob’s parents, Isaac and Rebekah, were barren for twenty years, it was noted that Isaac prayed (25:21). There is no mention of prayer in this case. Instead, Rachel goes with the option that Jacob’s grandmother chose–provide a maid servant. Even though Genesis 16 records God’s displeasure with the concubine route; nevertheless, Rachel tells Jacob “Here is my servant Bilhah; go in to her, so that she may give birth on my behalf, that even I may have children through her” (30:3). Rachel wants what she wants when she wants it, taking matters into her own hands.
As we have seen in Abraham, such faith in the Lord triggered worship in Isaac’s heart, as Isaac, like his father, travels to Beersheba to worship. Also like his father’s, God initiates Isaac’s worship in response to God’s Word: “the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake” (26:24). At the outset of this chapter, the Lord promised Isaac, “I will be with you” (26:3) and now he switches from the future tense to the present: “I am with you” (26:24). Isaac is stirred to build “an altar,” and call “upon the name of the Lord” (26:24).
The Lord’s oracle to Rebekah reveals that she was carrying two nations of people who were already at battle with each other. Heightening the nature of the conflict, the two brothers will emerge with the older and stronger brother nevertheless serving the younger (and weaker) brother. While that is not how conflicts between either nations or brothers normally end, it is the outcome that God was ordaining. God was reversing both the normal social constructions of that time (the first born gets the preferred blessings) as well as just common sense predictions (the strong win out over the weak). But Jacob would be given the place of supremacy, not by virtue of natural order or by human effort, but by divine decree. Jacob would have done well to rest in the promises from God’s oracle and Esau should have submitted to the will of God, but neither seems willing or able to do so at this point. From the womb and for years to come, each brother will contend against the will of God. All of Jacob’s subsequent scheming and striving will be to obtain through deceit, what has already become his by divine promise. He will be the heir of Isaac who is in line for the Abrahamic blessings; his people will become the dominant nation.
The main emphasis in Genesis 24 is the attention given to securing a wife for Isaac. While we were subtly introduced to Rebekah in chapter 22, we do not discover why she was mentioned until now. Abraham is described as well advanced in years, but also blessed by the Lord in all things (24:1). After a long and eventful life, the need for another generation of promise to be raised up is the burden of Genesis 24. By the time this chapter is complete, there will be a shift from Abraham being noted as master of the servant (24:9) to Isaac being called master by the servant (24:65).
After the dramatic events of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, taking up most of Genesis 22, the chapter ends with what seems like some very mundane genealogical notes. There are at least two significant observations from this brief genealogy. First, Abraham’s brother, Nahor, is mentioned in regard to the number of sons that he produces. Nahor and his wife, Milcah (and her concubine), have twelve sons. While Abraham, the covenantal recipient of God’s robust promises and blessings, waited twenty-five years for the arrival of one heir through his wife Sarah, Nahor is the recipient of a massive influx of heirs. The irony shouldn’t be lost: Abraham, the focus of the global out-working of God’s covenant plans and purposes, has one heir of promise who almost got sacrificed, while Nahor, who will soon be all but forgotten in the total scheme of God’s international agenda, is impressively fertile. The line of promise looks weak and fragile while the non-promise line looks vigorous and strong.
Fear of God starts with a conviction about God’s faithfulness. God confirmed that inner persuasion in Abraham’s heart: “And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son” (22:13). God provided. Abraham knew He would. In fact, the location of Abraham’s test becomes a place to be memorialized. But what would be perpetually memorialized is not Abraham’s obedience (or even Abraham’s fear of God), but appropriately God’s faithful provision: “So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided” (22:14). Abraham not only obeys the Lord because he properly fears Him; but he recognizes that his obedience and proper fear are rooted in God’s provision to him. Abraham realizes that he has passed his test because he had help from the Lord—a lot of help.
Abraham’s conduct is hard to fathom in Genesis 20, not only since Abraham has already seen the Lord protect him in the very similar Genesis 12 episode, but also due to the fact that Sarah’s impending pregnancy had just been announced (18:10-14). Abraham acted reckless with God’s covenant promises. But Abraham’s faltering faithfulness would not undo God’s faithfulness. While growing into full confidence in God’s Word is a slow process, the Lord displays His patience and power to nurture such a confidence. God not only confronted Abimelech on what he was about to do: “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife” (20:3), He actually prevented Abimelech from knowing Sarah (20:6) and also temporarily shut down any possibility of anyone getting pregnant at that moment (20:18). Sarah would only have a child at the right time and that child’s father would be no one else’s but Abraham. God faithfully protects His people amid their faltering faithfulness.
As Abraham was seeing his guests off, they begin discussing among themselves: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?” (18:18). God is now in covenant with Abraham. Such a close friendship (see 2 Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23) warranted God being open and frank with Abraham: “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him” (18:19). Abraham was to be a blessing to the nations. As he and his family walked before the Lord as a godly community so were they a faithful witness to the nations. Therefore, as one of the nations was about to be removed, the Lord revealed those plans to Abraham.
Abram is now ninety-nine. With every year that goes by, the likelihood of the Lord’s promises coming to fulfillment seem less and less likely. But most of Genesis 17 is the Lord speaking to Abram. And the Lord begins His speech with a first-time disclosure of a divine name: “I am God Almighty” (17:1). The reminder that the Lord is the God who powerfully intervenes was timely. It was meant to strengthen Abram’s confidence in the Lord as the expanding time gap between the promises and the fulfillment of those promises would otherwise undercut the believability of God. But the Lord is the Almighty God who is able to bring something out of nothing, just by the sheer power of His Word. Therefore, nothing is impossible for the Lord God Almighty. In fact, the thirteen (or twenty-four) year lapse should make it clear that God’s promises would not come to fulfillment in Abram’s strength and plans, but only as he grasps his own powerlessness and realizes that the Lord is God Almighty.
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