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.
Genesis 15:6 is not just central to Abram’s relationship with the Lord. The truth conveyed in this passage is central to the important role faith plays in the Bible to speak of the means of being in relationship with God. The New Testament highlights Genesis 15:6 in four instances to help make very crucial points about the centrality of faith in the life of each of God’s people (See: Romans 4:3, 22; Galatians 3:6; James 2:22). Abram was regarded as righteous in light of his trust upon the Lord. While Abram had yet proved himself to be consistently righteous in the actual way he lived, at this very moment in his life, through trusting—albeit a feeble faith—Abram was approved by God as morally fit. So, even before Abram was actually fit morally, he was considered morally fit in the presence of God by the agency of considering God to be capable and reliable of fulfilling His promises. Certainly, while that faith will continue growing and developing, even producing actual righteousness in his life; nevertheless, a standing before God construed upon Abram as righteous, was through reliance upon the Lord alone.
The bleak ending of Genesis 1-11 concerning the sinful condition of all peoples transitions to a fresh start with the narrative of Abram, who would become an instrument of blessing for all peoples. What mankind wanted to obtain apart from God—a great name for themselves—God promises to Abram. And yet, through the gracious blessing upon Abram, in contradistinction to the self-absorption of the Babelites, he will be an agent of blessing to others. While the structural marker of this sixth section pertains to the generations of Terah, the focus of Genesis 11:27-25:11 is Abram, who is Terah’s youngest son. Great promises are made to Abram—promises for which Abram will need to grow in trusting God. For, in addition to being given great promises, Abram will face great obstacles. The challenge for Abram will be growing in his confidence that the Lord can be trusted. Starting with the startling call to take his barren wife and leave his family, to the climax involving the scary requirement to offer his only son as a sacrifice to the Lord, Abram will face no less than twelve serious obstacles. He slowly learns to trust God.
While Genesis 11:1-9 depicts God’s judgment toward yet another expression of human rebellion; it also displays a measure of God’s grace. The Lord’s decision to scatter humanity had the effect of preventing them from working together and accomplishing even fuller portions of sinfulness. The language barrier brought sudden fear and prevented unification. Destroying the common bond that united sinful people was gracious. Frustrating the communication abilities and subsequently dispersing sinners, who wanted to live without God and make a name only for themselves, to the ends of the earth was a good thing.
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