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“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.”  Gen. 24:62-67

Because I believe that Isaac is a picture of the Christ, and Rebekah is a picture of the church, it is difficult not to attempt to draw parallels between this portion of the narrative and end-times happenings.  Unfortunately to do so would probably raise more questions than it answered.  For instance, there is repeated instruction from Abraham not to take Isaac back to the land where he was from, but we know the Christ ultimately returns at the second advent, so it is difficult to draw such a parallel.

What the scene is about otherwise is the meeting of Rebekah and Isaac, and the consummation of their relationship.   There are a few items worth noting in these verses:

1 – Isaac was not living with Abraham, he was living in the Negev (v. 62).  Some speculate that Isaac parted ways with Abraham after his near-sacrifice in Genesis 22; that perhaps Isaac was disturbed by this, possibly being at an age where he did not have as full an understanding of God as Abraham did.  Also we note that it appears Isaac did not return with Abraham from Mount Moriah that fateful day (Gen. 22:19).

2 – The text notes where Isaac was coming from – Beer-lahai-roi – does this mean he was just arriving? If read that way it would appear to be divinely orchestrated; he would have had to leave his home at the right time to arrive while the caravan was arriving.  Such was the case with the servant, who arrived right when Rebekah was going out to draw water.

3 – It is also worth noting that the Targum Onkelos (the official Babylonian translation of the Torah), as well as some common translations render the place name where Hagar saw the Angel of the Lord at the well in Gen 16:14 and Beer-lahai-roi as the same place.  This was the place where Hagar fled to from Sarah after becoming pregnant with Ishmael.  The Lord told Hagar to go back and submit to her mistress.  It is believed by many Jewish scholars that this is in the text to allude to the fact that Isaac was actually looking for Hagar – to bring her back to Abraham now that Sarah has passed on – which I will discuss more in the next chapter’s postings.

4 – When Rebekah dismounts the camel (v. 64), according to Rashi she practically fell off.  It would appear that if she didn’t know the man was Isaac yet, she was certainly hoping it was.

5 – The servant refers to Isaac as his masters (v. 65).  Prior to this the servant referred several times to Abraham as his master.  In this case the servant likely considers both men as his master, though it draws an interesting parallel to the servant being a picture of the Holy Spirit, Isaac being a picture of the Christ, and Abraham being a picture of God.

6 – I find it fascinating that although the long awaited bride of Isaac finally arrives, it appears she waits patiently, with veil over her head, for Isaac to finish his conversation with the servant.  Before they enter the tent, the text tells us in verse 66 “The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done.”  The servant’s report to his master took precedence.

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The Mystery of Salvation as Seen in Genesis 24

The debate between the doctrines of free will and predestination still rage as they have for years.  Some believe God’s sovereignty overrules human free will in all regards; some only in the matter of salvation (i.e., man is inherently evil and unable to initiate the salvation process with God).  Yet others believe God has truly given us free will – including the ability to reject Him.  That argument is that if we do not come to God by our own free will, we are ‘robots’ and true love is not illustrated in the relationship. Many of us we struggle with this because somehow both predestination and free will appear to be at work simultaneously.

In the story of Rebkah’s betrothal, we see symbolic elements foreshadowing future events.  This betrothal scene is unique when compared to others in scripture, as the bridegroom is not physically present (as was the case with Jacob, Moses, etc.).  Here, Isaac is the bridegroom, who, as a type of substitute sacrifice, is a picture of the Christ. His bride-to-be, Rebekah, represents the church; in the New Testament scriptures the church is referred to as the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-33)

Isaac’s absence is fitting;  the church becomes engaged, so to speak, with Christ while we are still here on earth; He is to be our new master though we will not see His face until the marriage is consummated.  The question at hand is, was Rebekah given a choice to marry Isaac?

Abraham’s servant had concerns that she might not:

“Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?” (Gen. 24:5) 

This phrase was echoed again when re-telling the narrative to Laban in v. 39.  So Abraham made a provision just in case she would not:

“…if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath;”  (Gen. 24:8)

If everything was completely pre-ordained, did the oath the servant took mean anything?  That is to say, if it was all going to come to pass exactly as God planned, what was the point of an oath?  If there is no free will, no chance the potential bride may refuse the offer, then the oath is in vain; it’s importance greatly diminished.

But, what are the chances that the very first people the servant meets end up being the people he was seeking, after traveling hundreds of miles toward the city of Nahor?  The servant specifically acknowledges this in v. 48:

“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”

And so it is obvious that some elements of the story appear to be divinely arranged; and divine favor was given on the assistance for signs to the servant.  One thing that is fascinating is that the blessing given to Rebekah by her family (her offspring possessing the gates of their enemies) perfectly echoes the promises given to Abraham.  In this sense we see that the marriage appears pre-arranaged by God.

So all of this leads up in anticipation of what Rebekah’s answer will be directly from her mouth when the question is asked.  Unfortunately this never actually happens.  Instead, the family willingly gives her away without even asking her:

““Here is Rebekah before you, take her and go” (v. 51)

The answer eludes us as to whether or not Rebekah actually had any choice in the matter!

After this, the servant blesses the Lord and the exchange is made, gifts are given and the marriage is now on.  In those days, once a marriage was arranged, it was customary for the woman to spend approximately one final year with her family before going off to marry her new husband.  Though the translation is not completely obvious, the family suggests that Rebekah stay for “ten days”, however given the context and what we know of the time, we ascertain this actually means ten months – hence, slightly less than the standard yearlong wait.  The servant will have none of it; it appears it is either now or never, as he replies:

“Do not delay me, since the LORD has prospered my way.  Send me away that I may go to my master.” (v. 56)

Laban then decides to consult Rebekah to make or break the deal.  Will she go so suddenly, leaving her family and home behind to marry a man she’s only heard about and never met?  Now we see the element of free will appear to come into play, as they ask Rebekah her choice.  In the original Hebrew, her answer is more telling than the standard translations.  Her response isn’t just “I will go”, but rather defiantly, such as “I will go whether you like it or not, you can’t stop me!”

So is this free will manifesting itself?  Or is the spirit inside of Rebekah pulling her along to her pre-ordained fate – to marry Isaac, to become one of the progenitors of the Israelites and ultimately a prophetic picture of the church?

Perhaps it is not so much mystery as it is paradox.  The reason that the arguments are just as heated today as ever between free will and predestination is because depending on how you read the narrative, you can effectively make the case for either one.  Yet both are present, simultaneously and without conflict.

“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.”” – Gen. 24:33

Abraham’s servant has just traveled quite a distance, and is likely tired and hungry. But, rather than readily accept the food offered, he states that the business at hand is more important.  The issue of whether or not Rebekah would be allowed to leave this place and become the wife of Isaac – was regarded more highly than his own physical sustenance.  Clarke’s Commentary says it quite aptly:   “Here is a servant who had his master’s interest more at heart than his own.”

In the Gospel of John, the words of the Messiah make a markedly similar statement after His disciples were urging Him to eat:

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.”  (John 4:34)

If Laban and family would have refused, would the servant have eaten?  Would he have accepted any hospitality?   It was quite a long journey back and they may not have been able to even carry enough provisions for the return, we simply do not know.

Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, “I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.”  Gen. 23:3-4

Abraham is about 137 years old now, and he left his homeland when he was 75 years old.  This means he has lived in various areas of Canaan for approximately 62 years at this point; he has even had children here and watched them grow. But God gave this land to him and his descendants – so why does Abraham still refer to himself as a stranger and sojourner when speaking to the Sons of Heth?

The truth is that even the Sons of Heth (the Hittites), and everyone else on earth are strangers and sojourners as well; they just do not understand that “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” (Psalm 24:1).

We are all but tenants on God’s earth (Lev 25:23).

Abraham, on the other hand, acknowledges that all belongs to God (see Gen. 14:17-24).  God asked Abraham to leave his father’s house, and he has had a nomadic lifestyle for many years since.  And as with many such things, this prefigures the lives of the Israelites, as God even refers to them as strangers and sojourners;

According to R’ Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, this dual role (of both resident and alien) applied to the Jews because they must exist in this world, but their allegiance is to God and His goals set forth by the Torah.

Further this applies to followers of Christ – we are called to be in the world, but not of the world (John 17) and not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).  If we openly accept the ways of this world, we falsely feel we are at home in it.

“Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the LORD it will be provided.”  Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba.”  Gen. 22:14-19

After Abraham completes the sacrifice of the substitute ram and names the place “Jehovah Jireh”, or “The LORD will provide” (or perhaps “The LORD will see our need” – see my previous posting God Will Provide), God reminds Abraham of the promises He previously gave him, and adds an additional blessing as well.

When Abraham was first called by God in Genesis 12:2-3, God gave several promises to Abraham, some of which are repeated here, including making him into a great nation, and that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed.  In 12:7 God adds the blessing of the Promised Land, which is also repeated in Gen. 13:14-15, and v. 16 Abraham’s future descendants are likened to the dust of the earth.  In Gen. 15:5 they are likened to the stars of the heavens. A few of these promises are reaffirmed yet again between Genesis 16 and 21.

So what does this mean?  Does it mean that Abraham really only needed to follow God’s initial calling to leave his family and travel to Canaan and the same promises would still be in effect?  Did Abraham have to go through the other ordeals such as circumcising himself and all his household, sending away his son Ishmael, and the near-death of his son Isaac, if the promises in the end were largely the same?  Or were the promises contingent upon Abraham’s continued obedience?  If Abraham had failed here, would the promises still hold true?

Perhaps God’s continued testing of Abraham was precisely to bring about one of His promises about Abraham:  “I will make your name great” (Gen. 12:2, paraphrased)

One new promise is in v. 17: “your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.” This promise is echoed in Gen. 24:60 when Rebekah’s family blesses her before she departs to marry Isaac.

It may well be that this new promise is directly linked to Abraham’s latest trial. After all, in this story the offering of Isaac is a picture of the sacrifice of Christ.  As such, Isaac’s soon-to-be wife Rebekah becomes a picture of the church, as the church is the bride of Christ.  Isaac mysteriously disappears after the offering (see v. 19) and we do not see him again until he meets Rebekah.  Both Isaac (Abraham’s seed) and Rebekah receive the same blessing – to possess the gate of their enemies.  This is very similar to what Christ said in Matthew 16:18:

“…upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

“Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son.”  Gen. 22:13

Matthew Henry, in his Commentary, notes that just as Abraham was tested to ensure he loved God more than his father (Gen. 12), now God wanted to ensure Abraham loved him more than his own son Isaac.  Now that Abraham has proven this, the sacrifice of Isaac can be called off, and the ram offered instead.

Abraham’s story embodies here what Jesus said about being willing to hate our families (by comparison of our love for Him).  That is the necessary level to strive for, and Abraham was able to prove that to God.

God ultimately provides a substitute sacrifice as Abraham sees a ram caught in a thicket.  Gesenius’s Lexicon (Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testamament Scriptures) defines the word ‘thicket’ here as “branches, interwoven1.  The late pastor Adrian Rogers noted that this scene prefigured the crown of thorns upon the head of Jesus the Messiah, the ultimate substitutionary sacrifice, prior to His crucifixion.

I believe God introduced the concept of the substitutionary sacrifice here to guide His people, the Jews, into understanding what He would do with the Christ. Another similar example would be in Genesis 41 – how Joseph was somehow both under Pharaoh, but was in full power, just as Pharaoh was.  This is a picture of how Jesus can be considered co-equal with God as the Christian faith believes.  After all, it was written of Joseph that he was paraded around Egypt with shouts of “bow the knee!”, and of Christ it is written in Philippians 2:10 “every knee will bow”.

The rams horn (the shofar) in Jewish tradition is related to this story.  Additionally, the liturgy for the second day of Rosh Hashanah includes the reading of Genesis 22, the Binding of Isaac, as this story is known.

Blue Letter Bible. “Dictionary and Word Search for cĕbak (Strong’s 5442)”. Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 2 Oct 2010. < http:// www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H5442&t=KJV >

“Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.”  Gen. 22:6

Genesis 22:6 is yet another verse that gets glossed over in an effort to move the story along, causing us to miss a significant detail.  To the Jewish reader, we have the dramatic irony that Isaac is carrying the very wood that he himself is to be sacrificed upon.  To the Christian, this is a foreshadowing of Christ carrying His own cross to His crucifixion.

Surprisingly, there is a midrash (Jewish rabbincal writing) from after the time of Christ that points out this very parallel, first quoting from this verse, it then reads “like one bearing his own cross.” (Gen. Rabbah. 56:3)

The phrase “So the two of them walked on together.” appears twice to build the tension leading up to the event (v. 6 and 8).   In verse 7, Isaac will ask Abraham where the sacrifice is, since they have all the other provisions.  He can probably deduce from Abraham’s answer that he will be the offering.  The phrase is then repeated – “the two of them walked on together.”

According to Rashi, the implication is that Abraham and Isaac were together ‘in one purpose’.  Isaac went willingly, even though he was aware of what was coming.   The general belief is that Isaac is between 25 and 37 years  of age a this point, and Abraham is 100 years older than Isaac.  Isaac could have easily overpowered Abraham, or simply ran away if he wished to.  Instead, Isaac is a willing participant.

In the New Testament writings, we see that Christ also willingly laid down His own life (John 10:18, 1 John 3:16).  There are many more parallels between Isaac and Jesus.

The story of the offering of Isaac in Genesis 22 is one of the most well-known passages in scripture, and among the most influential in Jewish tradition.   The shofar (ram’s horn) has as its root the substitute ram from this story.  Jewish morning prayers, as well as the liturgy for Rosh Hashanah concerning mercy has this story as its basis.  Mt. Moriah, the location of the story, was the future location of the temple Solomon built (2 Chronicles 3:1).  There is no shortage of history or references to this.

Judaism and Christianity, for all they have in common, often seem worlds apart. The lack of willingness for one to bridge the gap in understanding to the other doesn’t help matters.  We must remember that Abraham is the father of both religions – Judaism and Christianity – as well as the ‘Father of Faith’ as we like to call him.

In Christian tradition, this is a story about Abraham’s faith, as well as a picture of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the Messiah.  For Jews, it is a story about Abraham’s obedience to his final trial, and an illustration of the mercy of God.

Though what is gleaned from the story may be different, there are unifying themes between the faiths. The willingness of Isaac for instance, shows an obedience on his part which can be likened to that of Christ going to Golgotha.  And though likely unknown to Christians, the idea of atonement by human sacrifice is not altogether foreign to Jewish thought:  There are even some versions of this story (non-biblical) in which the sacrifice is completed, and the sins of Israel are atoned for and Isaac is miraculously resurrected from the dead.

It is a vivid and haunting story to be certain, but one that is meant to offer hope in God’s promises.

Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek gives us a picture of several long-standing institutions yet to come.  In my previous posting we covered the priesthood, illustrating the contrast between the priesthood set up by God (an eternal priesthood according to the Order of Melchizedek) with Christ as the high priest, and the Aaronic priesthood under the Mosaic law.

One verse that gets easily glossed over is Genesis 14:18: “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine;” This appears to prefigure communion in the church today.  Christ offered bread and wine to his disciples during the last supper. (Matthew 26:20-29; Mark 14:17-25; Luke 22:14-23) Melchizedek offers Abram bread and wine, presumably to celebrate Abram’s victory.  Abram here acknowledges Melchizedek as being worthy (he gives Melchizedek a tenth of all, indicating he is greater than Abram).  Just so, we acknowledge Christ as being worthy, and greater than ourselves.

“…and he gave him a tenth of all.”  Gen. 14:20

Plaut tells us in his modern Torah commentary: “Abram was thought to prefigure his people, who in the centuries to come would  pay their tithes to the Temple on the very spot where Abram made his first covenant.”  The tithe is more formally instituted in the levitical laws (see Exodus 22:29-30; Leviticus 27:30).

The New Testament mentions tithing as well. Jesus tells a parable in Luke 18:10 in which a Pharisee boasts about his religious rituals in that he fasts and tithes from all he gets.  In Matthew 23:23 Jesus rebukes some scribes and Pharisees for holding tithing in importance over mercy and justice, and tells them that these “weightier matters of the law” should have been at the forefront “without neglecting the others” (That is the other elements of the law, which I presume includes tithing.)

And so the institution of tithing was first recorded in the scriptures between Abram and Melchizedek, which was later practiced formally under the Levitical law, and in a less formal way today is still practiced in Judaism and by followers of Christ.

“You shall make the altar of acacia wood…you shall make its horns on its four corners;” Exodus 27:1-2

We may not think much about the altar in today’s modern world where sacrifices are no longer taking place.  We may not even recall the description given to build an altar having “horns” on it.  What were the “horns” of the altar for?

“The priest shall also put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense which is before the LORD in the tent of meeting; and all the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering which is at the doorway of the tent of meeting.”  Leviticus 4:7

The horns may have been used to tie down the sacrifice.  They were also smeared with blood as part of the sacrificial rite.  Additionally, the horns of the altar became known as a place of temporary refuge for a criminal based on the text from Exodus 21:13-14.

How important was the altar?  Judaism revolved around it.  Without the altar, there can be no sacrifice.  Without sacrifice, there can be no atonement.  Without atonement there can be no reconciliation with God.  The portable altar was part of the tabernacle that traveled with the Israelites while they were semi-nomadic, and later altars were made more permanent when the temple was erected.  Since the last temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Roman army, no atoning sacrifice can be made by a high priest on behalf of the Jews.  And since the Jews would insist upon any new temple being rebuilt in the same place as the previous temples, a logistical problem presents itself;  modern Israel harbors a litany of holy sites for all three Abrahamic and monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity/Catholicism and Islam.  As Islam recognizes Abraham as well, they have since laid claim to the temple mount, which was the original location where Abraham was prepared to offer his son to God (many Moslems believe Ishmael was the son offered, whereas the Jews and Christians believe it was Isaac.)  Today this holy site is known as the Dome of the Rock, and it is the prominent golden dome you see in most pictures of Jerusalem.

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Viewing several pictures of ancient altars quickly evoked imagery in my mind of two things; a king’s crown, as well as the crown of thorns placed on Jesus prior to His crucifixion.  As a Christian I truly believe Jesus was the ultimate atoning sacrifice, and as He is known to me as both Jesus and God incarnate, it would only be fitting for Him alone to be able to fulfill the role of both altar and sacrifice.  Was not the sacrificial blood upon those thorns on His head?  Was His blood not poured out at his feet, at the base of the cross?  Is Jesus not where we bring our spiritual sacrifices and offerings?  Is Jesus not the one we come to for refuge when we know we are guilty?  Does He not provide it?

And just as the altar and sacrifice were critical to Judaism, Jesus, the Christ, is both our altar and sacrifice today and forever.

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