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“These are all the years of Abraham’s life that he lived, one hundred and seventy-five years.  Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people.”  Gen. 25:7-8

Just as with Sarah, we see some redundancy in the language used mentioning their death, drawing us instead to their abundance of life.  In this case, it tells us of the “life” that Abraham “lived”, and goes on to inform us he was satisfied with life.  Jesus the Messiah told us He came that we might have life and have it abundantly, and I believe some of the patriarchs (and matriarchs) of the faith embodied this.

Although Abraham lived 175 years, we only know part of the story of his life;  the most significant of which happens within only a 25 year period.  Genesis chapter 12 introduces us to an already 75-year-old Abraham (Gen. 12:4), and the long awaited birth of Isaac happens at age 100 (Gen. 21:5).  Things like this should be a reminder that we do not know the whole story, it is not all recorded either in the bible or the Talmud.

These verses are likely not chronological, but rather the death of Abraham is probably mentioned earlier in the scriptures for sake of a concrete ending, allowing the narrative to move on.

Last we see that Abraham was ‘gathered to his people’.  This phrase is used multiple times in the scriptures, but what exactly does it mean here?

As Abraham just bought a family tomb (the Cave of Macpelah, where only Sarah is buried thus far), it cannot simply mean he will be buried with those who went on before him.  As for Abraham’s close family, we know of his nephew Lot, his father Terah, and his brothers Nahor and Haran.  If this is speaking of Abraham going to be with those who died before him, this may cause us to pause, as Abraham was obviously the one following God most closely; Terah was an idolator, and Lot picked up what he could from Abraham but it did not stop him from making bad decisions in his lifetime.  If we envision a spiritual afterlife, I would say many of us would not necessarily picture Abraham in the presence of these family members, yet it says ‘gathered to his people’.

Verses like this should challenge our understanding of what we think happens when people pass on, based on their beliefs and actions in this life.

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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.

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.

In a previous writing, I made a case for the unnamed servant of Genesis 24 being a picture of the Holy Spirit.   In similar fashion, I believe Rebekah is a picture of the church. My basic underlying logic to this, is that I believe Isaac to be a picture of Jesus, the Christ; and just as Rebekah becomes the bride of Isaac, the church is the bride of Christ.

From a spiritual standpoint, what we see in Genesis 24 is illumination into the interaction between the Holy Spirit and the church, with a culmination in the marriage to Christ.  This prophetically represents a very long time period – the entire “Church Age”, though it is contained in a single chapter in the Old Testament.  I do not believe that when drawing such spiritual parallels between testaments we are restricted to lining up on some sort of a timeline.

In Rebekah, we see character traits that the church should have.  Rebekah is a beautiful virgin, untainted with the world. (Gen. 24:16)  Our first impression is that of kindness and hospitality with eagerness (Gen. 24:18-19).

Additionally we see this element of repeated filling, and emptying (Gen. 24:20), to satisfy the thirsty.  That which we are filled with is to be poured back out for the benefit of others.  Rebekah shows us how to be a voluntary vessel; to be such may be tiring work at times, but it is of mighty use to God.

We see the repeated ascending and descending to obtain the water (Gen. 24:16, 20), perhaps showing how the church must go to the lowliest among us, and in turn ascends unto Christ, the highest apex of our spirituality.

In this case, camels are unclean animals by Jewish standards.  Although these standards have not been formally established in scripture yet, this knowledge was likely already common among the people of God, as Noah, for instance, was directed to bring seven pairs of ‘clean’ animals (Gen. 7:2-3), and Abraham had performed several offerings to God, although sacrifices are not established in the scriptures until the book of Leviticus.

We must learn to understand that just because it was not written yet, it does not mean it had not been revealed to people by God yet.

We see the servant/Spirit giving good gifts and Rebekah/the church receiving them.  Her pedigree is obvious by her actions.  The servant gives her the gifts even before asking if she is from Abraham’s family. (Gen. 24:22-23)  Her actions truly do speak louder than her words.

“The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.”  Gen. 1:2

In the first two verses of the book of Genesis, we see the presence of God Himself, the spirit of God (or the breath of God, depending on the translation), and we see mention of “the waters”.

In the original Hebrew, each of the three entities mentioned carry their own weight and significance.  God Himself as subject (grammatically), and author of all things in creation.  The spirit, or breath of God, is referred to as ‘hovering’ over the waters.  Rashi notes that the breath of God hovered ‘like a dove hovers over the nest’.  The word used for spirit, ‘ruach‘, implies a sense of power. (Plaut).

Rashi notes that the water was pre-existent – it had existed before the earth and the heavens, due to the definite article “the” (waters).  Thus the water used during creation was water that existed before the creation of earth and heaven.  In the New Testament writings, parallels are drawn between Jesus and water – namely that He is the source of the living water.  (see John 4:14, 7:38)

What emerges, then, is a picture of what is commonly referred to as the Christian doctrine of the ‘Trinity’.  The presence of God the Father, Christ, the Messiah as the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit.

These first few verses in Genesis also strongly parallel the scene of Jesus’ baptism,  in which the same three elements are present (the voice of God from heaven, Jesus standing in the water, and the Holy Spirit descending ‘like a dove’ upon Him.  (see Matthew 3:16-17, Mark 1:10-11, Luke 3:22, and John 1:32)

Another New Testament passage which parallels the first few verses of Genesis, with an emphasis on Christ, is John 1:1-5:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.  In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.  The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did 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 >

“Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.”  Gen. 22:7-8

Isaac inquires of his father Abraham where the animal for the sacrifice is, since they brought all the other provisions with them from Gerar.  Even the wood was brought, as they did not know if Moriah would have any wood to use. (Plaut) If Abraham would have brought a lamb however, it would have shown such a lack of faith that there would be no point in making the trip.  Surely Abraham was hoping God would somehow relent from His request, but armed with incomplete information he simply had to move forward.  This is not unlike our own Christian walk at times.

Abraham’s answer that “God will provide for Himself the lamb” (v. 8 ) was unknowingly prophetic, though not specifically in the current circumstance.  God did provide a substitute animal for Abraham’s offering, but it was a ram, not a lamb.  The lamb that God would ultimately provide as an offering for Himself would be Jesus the Messiah, the pure and spotless lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

The modern translations of this portion of the verse may be lacking in scope however.  Here are a few other translations of this section of the text from various Hebrew sources (emphasis mine):

“The lamb is known to the LORD”

“God will seek out for Himself the lamb for the offering”

“God will see to the lamb for the burnt offering”

It appears what reads in our modern English translations simply as provision really involves this idea of knowing or seeing. Consider the same Hebrew word, ra’ah, is used four times in this chapter alone, but is translated differently two of those times:

  • v. 4 – On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance
  • v. 8 – “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
  • v. 13 – Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns
  • v. 14 – Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide

According to Strong’s, to provide, or provision, isn’t one of the definitions of the word.  So what does this mean for this verse?  Robert Alter in his commentary believes it has to do with the scope of what we are reading – And so we need to ‘see’ past a short sighted view of child slaughter to the grander scope of the promise of true vision.” This could be the case.  It could also be implying that God knows the Lamb, Christ, who will ultimately be the sacrifice, personally.

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.

“Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father.  The firstborn bore a son, and called his name Moab; he is the father of the Moabites to this day.  As for the younger, she also bore a son, and called his name Ben-ammi; he is the father of the sons of Ammon to this day.” Gen. 19:36-38

First we must realize it would not at all be impossible for the two sisters to get pregnant at nearly the same time.  It is quite common knowledge that when a woman spends a good amount of time around another woman, their monthly cycles often align.

As for the meanings of the names, Moab is likely a wordplay on “from my father” (Plaut) and Ben-ammi means “son of my people” or “son of my kinsmen” which is a little less obvious.  This incestuous origin would affect how the peoples of Moab and Ammon were viewed by the Israelites with regard to their sexual morality.

The Moabites and the Ammonites became somewhat a thorn in the side of Israel, though not quite to the same degree of some of their neighbors.   In Judges 3 we see that the Moabites gathered with the Ammonites and fought against Israel and defeated them, and Israel served the king of Moab 18 years.  However, Israel later defeated the Moabites.  In Ezra 9 we see that the Moabites intermarry with the Israelites, of which God did not approve.

Interestingly, God allowed the Moabites and Ammonites to keep their land rather than give it to the Israelites.  This may well be due to God’s promise to Abraham concerning the land, then, by extension, to Lot.  We know God promised the land to Abraham; then in Genesis 13:9-11, Abraham suggests he and Lot separate due to the land required by their herds, and implies that Lot should go and take whatever land he sees fit as his own, which he does.  As we see in these verses, Lot’s daughters sleep with him, and this ultimately gives rise to the peoples of Moab and Ammon.  In Deuteronomy 2:9 God says to Moses “Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the sons of Lot for a possession.” and in Deut. 2:19 “…when you approach the frontier of the sons of Ammon, do not harass them or contend with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the sons of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot for a possession.”

Ultimately things do not end well for the Moabites and Ammonites however, according to Zephaniah 2:9:

“Therefore, as I live,” declares the LORD of hosts, The God of Israel, “Surely Moab will be like Sodom And the sons of Ammon like Gomorrah– A place possessed by nettles and salt pits, And a perpetual desolation. The remnant of My people will plunder them And the remainder of My nation will inherit them.”

The Moabites get an honorable mention however, as Ruth was a Moabitess and was ultimately an ancestor of Jesus the Messiah.

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