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“Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines.  The LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you.”  Gen. 26:1-2

The famine and the encounter with Abimelech are just the first two of many parallels between the Isaac and Abraham narratives.  And just as with Abraham, Isaac was going to head to Egypt due to the famine, by way of Gerar.

We may make the assumption that God did not want Isaac to go to Egypt due to what transpired between Abraham and Pharaoh regarding Sarah, that perhaps the people of Egypt are more wicked than Gerar.  However The second time that Abraham was not honest about Sarah being his wife, the same thing happened here, in Gerar, with king Abimelech, in very similar fashion.

Despite this, it appears God was alright with Isaac going to Gerar.  Gerar is still within the land of Canaan, the area that would become known as the Promised Land.

Previously in Genesis 24, Abraham calls upon his oldest servant to go and find a wife for Isaac.  The servant then asks “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)

 Abraham’s response explains much:

Then Abraham said to him, “Beware that you do not take my son back there!  “The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there.  “But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there.”  (Gen. 24:6-8)

Abraham was so adamant about Isaac not going, that he would rather his son be without a wife, despite having a great promise from God concerning the number of his descendants.  This appears to be less about preventing Isaac from going to Egypt and more about Isaac staying in Canaan.   Abraham’s point is that his journey led up to this: he is now in Canaan, the land promised to him and his descendants; thus he wants Isaac to establish himself here thoroughly, and does not want him to leave.

The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 64:3) explains that an offering to God must stay in the temple courtyard, and thus, because Isaac was an offering to God, he must stay within the bounds of the Promised Land.

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“The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. “But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there.” – Gen. 24:7-8

First we note the echo of Genesis 12 as Abraham recounts God’s calling and promise:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you;”  Gen. 12:1

“The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him.”  Gen. 12:7

Abraham had confidence that God would protect his servant with an angel.  The journey back to Mesopotamia was many miles and was potentially perilous.  As important as Abraham considers a wife for Isaac, it is amazingly, outweighed by Abraham’s desire to keep Isaac in the Promised Land – that is, he felt the threat of Isaac potentially wanting to settle in his homeland was more important than Isaac marrying in the family.  The general opinion of scholars is that Abraham simply did not want Isaac to ever leave the Promised Land, even though there is no biblical explanation.

There is some speculation that Abraham’s servant himself had one or more daughters, and desired to marry in to Abraham’s family through Isaac, though we do not know this for certain.


“…but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”  The servant said to him, “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?”  Then Abraham said to him, “Beware that you do not take my son back there!”  Gen. 24:4-6

We note here Abraham’s specific desires to A) take a bride for Isaac from among his own family, and B) not allow Isaac to travel to Abraham’s homeland.

Concerning Not Taking A Bride From the Canaanites

Abraham has been living in different areas of Canaan for many years now, so it is safe to say he has experience with the general moral condition of the Canaanites (including his dealings with king Abimelech and his servants).  Thus far God has not specifically told Abraham not to marry from among certain peoples.

We must remember that Abraham was not simply given a promise of many descendants and abundant land without anything to uphold on his part.  Back in Genesis 17, the Covenant of the Circumcision, Abraham isn’t just charged with keeping the covenant himself, but “you and your descendants after you throughout their generations” (Gen. 17:9).  This covenant was not just about keeping the circumcision – that was merely the outward sign of a people set apart.  The covenant itself included “walk before me and be blameless”,   Also in Genesis 18 when God is mulling over revealing the destruction of Sodom to Abraham, God says concerning Abraham “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice…” (Gen. 18:19, emphasis mine)

And so one of the main reasons Abraham is so vehement about choosing a bride for Isaac from his own family, and keeping Isaac on the godly path as much as he can within his lifetime is that God charged him with doing so – part of the covenant is to pass down the art of righteousness to the next generation and beyond.  Abraham apparently felt this task would be much easier with someone from his family line rather than that of the Canaanites.

And we note that as with many such things, Abraham prefigures the Israelites about the prohibition of marrying the Canaanites (see Deut. 7:1-4).  I believe this also is a parallel to followers of Christ in that they are called not to be “unequally yoked to unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14).

Concerning Isaac Not Returning to Mesopotamia:

The distance from Canaan to Mesopotamia would have been between 400-600 miles, so it was not a quick journey. Matthew Henry notes that Abraham didn’t want Isaac going back to his homeland so he would not be tempted to settle there.  Josephus notes the perils of traveling to Mesopotamia – the depth of clay in winter; lack of water in summer; and frequent robberies committed (we note that the servant was carrying valuable gifts for the would-be bride.)

Radak tells us that Abraham did not want Isaac to leave the land because it was given to him and his descendants as part of the covenant.  We also note that that Abraham just officially acquired a small plot of land in Canaan (the family burial site) which is all he will have to cling to in his lifetime.  Thus Abraham is likely being overly cautious about losing any stake in the land, considering his wells have previously been stolen.

“So Ephron’s field, which was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field, that were within all the confines of its border, were deeded over to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city.  After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field at Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.  So the field and the cave that is in it, were deeded over to Abraham for a burial site by the sons of Heth.”  Gen. 23:17-20

The final verses of Genesis 23 serve to confirm the legality of this real estate transaction, yet there is more significance than this.  Abraham is beginning to see the second part of his grand promises from God coming to pass, albeit in a small way;  he first saw the birth of Isaac to count toward his descendants, and now he acquires a piece, no matter how small, of the land God promised him.

Although Abraham knows this promise concerning the land in his heart, he can only hold to the promise that one day it will in fact be fulfilled, at a time beyond his own death.  This brings to mind Jesus’ teaching that ‘the meek will inherit the earth’  and the New Testament concept that as followers of Christ, there is a wonderful promise waiting for us – being in the presence of God in the world to come, which most would refer to as heaven – but this cannot happen until our life here on earth ends.  This is our irony as followers of Christ as well, that we know what is in store for us, but to those who do not know God, they say “show me the proof!” Here, Abraham has no proof that all the land is his, he only has the promise.

The Oxford Jewish Study Bible points out the theme of the next few chapters as Abraham getting his affairs in order.  Here we see him secure the family burial ground, next he plans finding a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24), and lastly deals with his estate (Gen. 25).

“Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.  Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying…“  Gen. 23:2-3

Joshua 14:15 tells us that Hebron was formerly named Kiriath-arba, and that Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim.  The name therefore probably means “City of Arba”, though some commentators believe it means “City of Four”.

Abraham came to the Sons of Heth to entreat them to sell him a burial plot for Sarah.  Heth was the great grandson of Noah (Noah, Ham, Canaan, Heth).  The Sons of Heth were also known as the Hittites.   Other Hittites are mentioned throughout scripture, including Uriah the Hittite whom King David sent to the front lines to ensure his death;  additionally Esau married two Hittite women.

Ultimately, the Hittites were one of the inhabitants of the Promised Land to be defeated by the Israelites.  We must remember that all people came from Adam and Eve (and for that matter, Noah and his wife, since the flood) and dispersed to live in different lands, and that scripture closely follows the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob because they were the individuals that chose to follow God.  The lives of other peoples are happening in the distance, and their stories will cross paths many times with the descendants of Abraham.

 

“So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” 10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. 12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” 17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates”  Gen. 15:9-18

Abram had just asked God “how may I know that I will possess [the land]?  Rather than a straightforward answer from God, He instead issues instructions to perform a sacrifice (v. 9).  This may seem like God is changing the subject at first, but in reality God is setting everything up to form and seal a covenant with Abram.  God will tell him about the future of his people, and calm his concerns by making a covenant concerning the giving of the land to his descendants.  Like the covenant God made with Noah (as well as with the earth and all living things) in Genesis 9, it is important to note that this covenant is one-sided; it obligates God but not man, and is not based on any specific performance or duties of man.

In verse 10 we see Abram does not split the birds he is offering.  Later in Leviticus 1:17, the law of burnt offerings is being explained, which in part reads: “Then he shall tear it by its wings, but shall not sever it.”  And so the method later prescribed for offering birds does not differ from what Abram does here.  God may have previously told Abram this was the preferred method, or God may have allowed Abram to set the method here, and then later ensured his method became law; we do not know.

In verse 11 birds of prey are descending upon the carcasses Abram is trying to offer to God, and he drives them away.  Some translations seem to indicate that Abram had to retrieve some pieces from the birds.  In any case this is generally meant to be taken symbolically – that there are things which try to distract and prevent us from making our offering to God, and that we will do well to drive whatever these things are away so we can complete what we have begun.  This does not take away from a literal interpretation of the verse, which I hold to be true as well.  Many verses in scripture have several levels of understanding.

In verse 15, God tells Abram that he will go to his fathers in peace at a good old age.  This is a stark contrast of the fate to befall the Israelites in Egypt, but what a relief to Abram!  To know one’s end will be peaceful would empower us not to fear death – if we have so great a promise we need not fear dying prematurely, nor dying due to violence or some form of disease.

In verse 17 we see a manifestation of the LORD passing between the pieces of the sacrifice.  Again note this covenant obligates God but not man.  We can contrast this to a covenant formed between God and the Israelites after they were rescued from Egypt, partially explained in Exodus 21:2 where Hebrew slaves were to be freed after six years of service, then released in the seventh year.  Jeremiah 34:18-19 recalls this event, where all the Israelites “passed between the parts of the calf…”  Abram’s offering here is before the law is instituted and does not place the burden of keeping the law as part of the covenant.

“After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.”  Gen. 15:1

We do not know how much time passes between Abram’s meeting with Melchizedek in Genesis 14 and this vision God gives him here in Chapter 15, and as such we do not know exactly what is on Abram’s mind that he may be fearful of to the extent that God consoles him.  If we take the position that not much time has passed, one would think the obvious concern of Abram stem from the fact that he and his men just attacked four armies in their sleep and made off with the prisoners of war and the spoils, thus he may be concerned about revenge being plotted against him. However valid a concern this would be to someone in Abram’s position, based on what follows in the narrative such revenge by the kings does not seem to be his primary worry.

God fully knows our hearts and Abram is no different.  And so God, in this conversation with Abram addresses what is most pressing on Abram’s mind:  he has no heir.  This is compounded by the fact that he is getting old, and his wife appears to be barren.  So on one hand, Abram has the promises of God that he will be made into a great nation (Gen. 12:2) and that he will inherit the Promised Land (Gen. 12:7), but as anyone in Abram’s circumstances would, he is having difficulty believing that these things will come to pass because he cannot conceive of how God can make this happen.  We are guilty of this quite often ourselves – God may give us a promise but with our simple human perception and understanding, we fail to see how things will manifest .  Further, Abram does not see fit that his heir would not be a natural child as opposed to a servant such as Eliezer of Damascus.

God then allays Abram’s fear by showing him the stars and likening that to the amount of descendants Abram will have, however Abram already has a second concern: “O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it?” (speaking of the Promised Land). And so Abram is not so different from us; we have concern on top of concern, and even with God Himself reassuring us in one area, that causes questions about another area we are worried about – but God again gives Abram assurance through a vision.  This vision is not a pleasant one, as terror and great darkness fell upon Abram, (Gen. 15:12) however God is God, and as such knows the future, and reassures Abram that though his descendants will suffer enslavement they will ultimately possess the land.  This is done in true prophetic fashion, as the opening verse to the chapter could be translated as “The word of the Eternal came to Abram” which is a phrase that is not used again until we get to the books of the prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah.

The chapter ends with God accepting Abram’s sacrifice, declaring a covenant with Abram of what has been promised concerning the land, and listing the ten peoples who will ultimately be defeated or displaced as the Israelites possess the Promised Land.

How strange and beautiful must the first words of the LORD to Abram have sounded.  Strange in that he did not yet know God, and this God was asking him to obey Him;  Beautiful in that amazing promises were made for that obedience.  Though he had been exposed to idols under his father Terah, he had not been swayed.  After God’s calling, he faltered a bit in his sojourn to Egypt, but then returned the way he came, and God reminded him of the promises again and again.

In a spiritual sense, God’s requests of Abram can be read like this: “Go forth from your country,” [Go forth from the place you are familiar with] “and from your relatives” [and from the people you know] “and from your father’s house” [and from the accepted ways and principles of the world].  This is, in essence, the same calling Jesus the Messiah places on us to be followers of Him.

And in return for obedience, wonderful promises are granted.  Spiritually speaking, the parallel to God promising Abram ‘all the land his eyes could see’ is a picture of God’s desire to give us all good things.  This is not necessarily physical land, or even physical gifts, since we are speaking spiritually.  God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit, through Whom we can do all things. And the promise of that land is a promise of the future.  This is represented by the fact that Abram will not see the fulfillment of that promise in his lifetime.  But that promise of the future carries Abram through his life.

However this promise is fulfilled within the life of a follower of Christ.  With the coming of the Messiah 2,000 years ago the Kingdom of God crossed into the kingdom of this world: The Kingdom of God is among us; the Kingdom of God is within us.  And still a greater promise lies on our horizon, beyond this life.  Faith in God, and faithfulness to God, are greatly rewarded.

“Now Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents.  And the land could not sustain them while dwelling together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to remain together.  Genesis 13:5-6

The scriptures point out two reasons why Abram and Lot part ways:  1) their material possessions were of such great abundance that it was difficult to ‘share’ the same space, and 2) their shepherds were not getting along.  Abram specifically said to Lot “Let there be no strife between you and me” so it appears there was some discord in their relationship as well.

It is indeed unfortunate when money or material goods becomes a source of division in relationships, even that of blood relatives. We know that Abram brought his possessions with him when he left Haran (Gen. 12:5) and he obtained even more from Pharaoh (Gen. 12:16), and Lot had his own possessions too (Gen 13:5).  So plentiful were their camps (including livestock, goods and even people) that despite the vast amount of land before them, it was not enough.  It was an issue of resource consumption on one hand, but it seems their camps were not getting along in general. Proverbs 25:25 reads “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.”  At some point just having more elbow room is not enough when people aren’t getting along.

Even today where there is wealth, there is separation.  Famous and wealthy people often sequester themselves away  from others in large homes with a large area of property, or even on a yacht perhaps.  In the case of Lot and Abram, both men had abundance, so if their friendship was lacking, they had no reason to be near one another.  If Lot were poor and Abram rich, one can’t help but think Lot would have done whatever was necessary to keep the relationship close.  But, as neither was in need perhaps some true colors were shown.

We can develop two types of attitudes toward wealth:  We can manage it with an attitude of stewardship, or we can let it drive our desires and consume us.  Abram is the embodiment of the former, and Lot illustrates the latter.  Here we are only seeing the beginnings of it;  two men with abundance quarreling and in need of their own space.  When they part ways, Abram is indifferent to the land he gets and lets Lot have his pick, and he takes the fertile land.  Lot moves closer and closer to Sodom, a large city center in that time which attracted him, whereas Abram stayed in the less populated Canaan.  Ultimately Lot’s choice of where to live resulted in him being taken into captivity as Sodom and Gomorrah, along with other cities were in subjection to some of the surrounding nations, and when they rebelled, the resistance was crushed and captives taken (Gen. 14)

This can be a lesson for us spiritually speaking, that a love for wealth can sever relationships and ultimately cause us to become enslaved.  With Abram we see quite the opposite; even after he rescues Lot and is offered payment by the king of Sodom, he does not accept it on sheer principle.  In addition we see Abram acknowledging that God is the actual owner of everything (Gen. 14:19), and giving Melchizedek, who was both a king (of Salem, believed to be Jerusalem) and a priest of God, a tenth of all – the first tithe in the scriptures.

God calls Abram, and by faith he goes to Canaan.  Upon arrival he builds altars there, but then what?  Now that he is in Canaan, he has these great promises from God, but does he know if he is going to see any fruit himself?  It is as if Abram was saying “Now what God?  I followed you here, but what I see is a famine.  I hear things are good in Egypt (a humanistic representation of the world) so I will go there for a time (just until this famine is over!)”  Then on the way, Abram makes a compromise; he realizes the danger of having a very beautiful (though 65 year old) wife, and he makes the decision to lie, potentially putting his wife in great danger to spare his own life.

Then what unfolds shows the mysterious nature and unexpected grace from God.  Though Abraham lied, God saw fit that he was blessed abundantly, despite his sin.  This probably made him feel quite guilty about lying in the first place.  Also, God seemed to have protected Sarai as well, bringing great plagues upon Pharoah and his house on her account.  How do you think Abram will feel when he finds out that some calamity came upon Pharaoh ultimately because of his lie?  God had a fervent jealousy for Abram and his wife, and their marriage.  And so God delivers Abram out of the situation, out of Egypt, and back on his way to Canaan, safely and with many goods in hand.

How would Abram feel at this point?  There may be a telling silence and a chance to repent, or speak up, during his encounter with Pharaoh: “What is this you have done to me?” No answer.  “Why did you not tell me she was your wife?”  No answer.  “Why did you say “She is my sister,” so that I took her for my wife?  Again, no answer.  Abram cannot speak because he is probably embarrassed, ashamed, and confused, though glad to be alive and glad to be getting his wife back.

This can be a picture of a new believer coming to Christ, only to step into the Promised Land and fail to see the bigger picture. God calls us, in essence, away from our earthly family (those who do not believe in God,) because conversion sets you apart and can make you feel alone from your own flesh and blood.  This is why we seek the church as our new family.  Then during a famine, be it spiritual, financial or otherwise, we turn back to the worldly way of doing things again, the path to which is filled with danger and compromise.

But God’s grace is more than sufficient here.  Instead of allowing Abraham to sojourn in the world a while, or danger to befall him or his wife, he ends up escorted back out of Egypt bearing even more property and servants.  Do you think God was trying to show him something?  Not that he would be rewarded for lying, but instead Abram is left to consider that he should have simply trusted God in the first place which would have avoided this whole ordeal.  Abram would also be understanding the mercy of God, that God Himself would intervene on his behalf, and strike with plagues the most powerful man in Egypt on account of keeping him and his wife safe, and to get them out of Egypt, where he did not want them.

This is not the first time Egypt will be sought as a refuge during a time of famine, and also not the last time Egypt would be left with spoils in hand.  And Even Egypt is not immune to famine as we see later in Genesis.  This whole event prefigures what is to come with the Israelites.  Likewise, spiritually speaking, this event prefigures what happens quite commonly to us as Christians.

And where does Abram go as he sheepishly leaves Egypt?  Gen 13:4 “to the place of the altar which he had made there formerly; and there Abram called on the name of the LORD.”  And so with God’s kindness and mercy, He calls us back to Himself.

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