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Tag Archives: Isaac

Lord, Will You Accept This?

“And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” (Genesis 17:18)

In Genesis 17, God confirms and clarifies His covenant with Abraham. In verse 3, we see Abraham fallen upon his face and quietly listening to what the Lord tells him. God spells out the details of what He is going to do in his life: He renames him Abraham (formerly Abram), He confirms that the land will belong to his offspring forever, He institutes circumcision as a sign of the covenant, and He renames Sarah (formerly Sarai).

Abraham listens to all that the Lord tells him. He laughs joyfully at the prospect of truly having a child with his beloved, Sarah. Then a thought enters his mind. What about Ishmael? What about the son that he already has, born to him by the servant girl of his wife? Moved by a genuine love and compassion for this young boy, Abraham cannot contain his emotion and exclaims to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!”

Do we not often react in this same manner when God announces a new blessing He is bringing into our own lives? We rejoice over what He is bringing to us, but what of the things that we must release in order to make room for it? Abraham had grown accustomed to having Ishmael around these 13 years and had doubtlessly been preparing him to inherit all that he had. He had been teaching him the family business, grooming him to become his heir. Now, God tells him that another, namely Isaac, shall be the one through whom God will bring about His purposes. What will become of Ishmael, Abraham wonders, Will You not accept him to fulfill Your covenant?

God is concerned with the destiny of Ishmael, and He will tell Abraham as much in verse 20. “But My covenant will I establish with Isaac“, says the Lord (v. 21). The problem with Ishmael was not that God was unable to fulfill His purposes through him, the problem with Ishmael was that he was not the son that God had planned for Abraham to have. Ishmael was born through a union that God had not approved of, by a plan that God had not endorsed, from a person that was acquired in a land that Abraham had no business going into in the first place! Ishmael was the product of Abraham’s actions apart from the will of God from start to finish. It wasn’t Ishmael’s fault, of course, and God would bless the young man in spite of this, but He simply could not accept him as the seed of promise through whom His perfect will would be carried out.

Do we not also offer the works of our own hands, produced through our own efforts, to be used by God in order to fulfill His perfect will in our lives? God simply will not accept these things. He wants to achieve his purposes for us, but He will do it in no other way than His own. Like Abraham, we too grow weary of the sometimes lengthy wait that we are called upon to endure and we begin to busy ourselves with the tasks of preparing those things by which we ourselves believe the will of God must rely on. When the Lord visits us in the time that He Himself has established, we are found having  Ishmaels of our own, produced by our self-reliance and rashness. When God is ready to bring about His best plan for our lives, may we not be found in need of displacing our second-best in order to accommodate it.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published January 11, 2010]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

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What’s In A Name?

No longer shall your name be called Abram,
But your name shall be Abraham;
For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.”  (Genesis 17:5)

Nowadays, people tend to give their children names because either they have a family member who bears that name or else simply because they like the sound of the name. In the culture of the Bible, we do see that the practice was sometimes made of naming children after family members (e.g., Luke 1:59-61), but more often it seems that children were given a name that would be descriptive of them, or would reflect the circumstances surrounding their birth (e.g., Genesis 25:25-26). In other words, names meant something. You could actually learn something about a person just by knowing their name.

We see at times in Scripture where God will change the name of an individual to show what He has done in that person’s life. Jacob (literally, he supplants or heel-catcher) is named by his parents because he is born holding onto his twin brother’s heel. Later, God will call him Israel (literally, God prevails) because he spent a night wrestling with God (unsuccessfully, we might add). As God confirms and clarifies His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17, He will give new names both to Abraham (heretofore called Abram) and to Sarah (Sarai before now). Why does God do so?

Abraham (Father of a multitude) is called so because God will bring from him a multitude of descendants. Sarah (Princess or Queen) is identified as such because these descendants will come through her. There is something very striking in this instance of God renaming them, however, and that is their situation at the time that God does it. Lest we forget the context, may we imagine for a moment a 99-year-old man whose only child is a young man born to him by a bond-servant, telling those around him that his name is now Father of a multitude. Not only so, but this man declares that his 90-year-old wife who is without a child of her own is now to be known as Queen, for she will be the mother of this great multitude. What was the reaction from those in his household? What did Hagar and Ishmael think of this? We can only imagine the sneering and ridicule that went on behind the backs of Sarah and Abraham because every time their names were spoken, it was a sharp reminder of the ledge of faith that they had stepped out onto.

“(As it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.”  (Romans 4:17)

But we learn in this encounter between God and Abraham that, from God’s perspective, all things are past tense. God tells Abraham that He will make him a father of nations, but from where God is standing, it’s a “done deal.” Abraham would not appear to have earned his name until long after he is dead and gone, but God renames him at this time because what the Lord has said shall most surely come to pass. Abraham and Sarah exhibited their faith by bearing these new names even when it must have appeared to others that such titles were nothing more than an ironic joke. They may have tried to bring about the promise of children through their own efforts before, but now they would simply believe that God was able to bring it to pass in His own time and in His own way. God Almighty had declared that they were the parents of a multitude of descendants, and that was all that mattered.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published January 8, 2010]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

The Death Of Isaac

"And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him." (Genesis 35:29)

The Book of Genesis is a book of beginnings. It is actually a book all about the beginning of God’s Creation. The story of man’s origins here on Earth unfolds through the accounts of individuals. As one person takes center stage, those preceding them fade into the background and are eventually taken by death. From Adam to Abel, to Seth, to Noah, to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, and finally to Joseph; as one person comes to prominence, another fades into the background. Eventually, that person fades away and dies and someone else comes along with whom God will deal and work through.

As much as Genesis is a book of beginnings and new life, it is also about endings and death. The words of the Lord to Adam saying, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 3:17b) come to a complete and horrific realization with the passing of each personage from the narrative; just as they come to an horrific realization every time we ourselves lose one who is dear to us. Death spares no one, as we all know, regardless of that person’s position, importance, wealth, fame, and even their standing with God Almighty. Death is the final enemy that remains to be crushed under the feet of our precious Savior (1 Cor. 15:26), and until it is none of us shall escape its reach — save that our Lord returns beforehand.

Issac, whose life was offered up by Abraham so many years before, has finally reached the end of his days and is laid to rest beside his father in the Cave of Machpelah. Genesis 35 opens up with the revival of Jacob and his family and the fullness of their coming to God, but it proceeds and concludes with the deaths of Deborah, Rachel, and Isaac. What a solemn reminder to us all that even our justification and right standing with God will in no way shelter us from the potential loss of our loved ones. Temporal tragedies will yet visit us even after our souls have found new life in God. Rachel looks down upon her newborn son and calls his name Ben-oni, son of my sorrow. The baby takes his first breath even as his mother takes her last. Jacob grieves his beloved Rachel, but the boy will not forever bear the testimony of his mother’s death; for his father shall call his name Benjamin, son of my right hand. After the loss of Rachel and the later loss of his favorite son, Joseph, Jacob will lean his right hand upon this boy and his love for the child will seem to be all that sustains him (Gen. 42:38).

One of the most intriguing aspects of this entire chapter is the fact that it is at this time that Isaac passes away, and that he has survived to this point. We were told back in Chapter 27 that Isaac was old at that time and that his vision was failing him (Gen. 27:1). “Behold now, I am old“, he stated, “I know not the day of my death” (Gen. 27:2). However, no less than 43 years have transpired between that statement and his death! Since we are told very little about Isaac between his sendoff of Jacob in Chapter 28 and his death in Chapter 35, we are left to wonder if he accomplished anything at all during that period of nearly half a century.

So many of us reach a point in our own lives when we conclude that our hour has passed, our time of usefulness has ended, and the days where the Lord can work through us are no more. We retire from service to God and settle down to live out the balance of our days in quiet repose. But is God ever truly done with us while life remains in us? Is our work here on Earth ever really done before we go on to be with the Lord? Not that any of us should attempt to keep up the grueling and demanding schedules of our younger days as we reach our twilight years — the time comes to pass the torch for our most challenging tasks to a younger person whom God is leading to take over — but I seriously doubt that the Lord really intends any of us to simply “close up shop” entirely and retreat to a peaceful corner to await our death.

My own grandfather was a preacher for some 40 years before he suffered a debilitating stroke in his seventies. After he began to regain his faculties and could communicate again, one of the first things he had brought to him in the nursing home was his Bible. Lying in a weakened state and struggling to “relearn” how to do even the most basic of tasks, who could have blamed this man for wanting to live in undisturbed peace and quiet for the few remaining years he had left? Nevertheless, he continued to do what he had spent the prime of his life doing: serving God and preaching His Word. Though his legs would not support him to stand in a pulpit, though the stroke had left his speech slurred and his hands shaky, he continued to do what God had called him to do. He preached. The church pews filled with worshipers dressed in their Sunday best had been replaced by feeble octogenarians adorned in pajamas and bath robes, but it did not matter who the audience was. He preached to them just as he had to the parishioners. By the time my grandfather went to be with the Lord at the age of 80, no fewer than 15 persons at the twilight of their own lives had come to know Christ by the testimony of this man who refused to retire.

At times it can be amazing, at other times it can be amusing, but we have all heard the complaints of those bemoaning their own advancing years. It seems that what we each consider old is relative and ever-changing as we get older ourselves. The teenager looks at anyone over 30 as ancient while the 60 year old says that they would give anything to be 40 again. The milestones of life that we once looked forward at with trepidation will one day be looked back upon with fondness, nostalgia, and perhaps a tinge of regret. What might I accomplish today if the strength and vigor I possessed then remained with me! If only I had not wasted that time with the notion that I was too old and too weak to do anything worthwhile then.

The truth is, it is never too late to serve God and work for Him. Even if you have never done so before, there is no better time to begin than now. After all, Moses was 80 years old when God first called him (Exodus 3:2). If we have a willing heart and a humble spirit, if we pray for God to show us how we may serve Him, He will show us what He wants us to do, regardless of our age. May we all make the best use of the years that God has given us so that we may bring glory to Him.

Acting Like A True Believer

"Then went Esau unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham's son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife." (Genesis 28:9)

After deceiving Isaac into passing his blessing of the first-born onto Jacob rather than Esau (Genesis 27), Rebekah learns that Esau intends to kill Jacob as soon as their father is dead (Verse 41). Under the pretense that Jacob must not marry from amongst the “daughters of Heth”, that is, the local peoples among whom the family is living, Rebekah plants the idea into her husband’s mind that Jacob must be sent away, back to her own people in Padan-Aram to find a suitable bride from among them.

A successful con artist will tell you that the most effective tool of their craft is to persuade others to do what you want them to do and make them think the idea to do so is their own. Rebekah does just that. Genesis 27:43 tells us that she intended Jacob to go to her hometown of Haran and stay with her brother Laban until Esau’s wrath subsides. Yet she makes no specific mention of this to Isaac, but merely laments their family’s prospects if their son is left to wed one of these Canaanite girls. Her cunning is demonstrated in this maneuver just as it was when she instructed Jacob to deceive his father; for Isaac gives heed to her distress and makes the “suggestion” that the young man ought to go to his Uncle Laban and find a bride from his household (Gen. 28:2).

“And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people; And give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham.” (Genesis 28:3-4)

As if the magniloquent blessing bestowed upon Jacob back in Genesis 27:28-29 were not enough, Isaac again pours out upon his son beautiful words of adulation before his departure. Still humiliated and seething in quiet anger, Esau witnesses this conversation between his father and brother and carefully notes the instructions that Jacob is given.

Esau’s response is quite interesting, for he does what so many who have felt the sting of self-inflicted rejection have done before and since. He seeks to precisely emulate the behavior which seems to carry the promise of approval. If God shall require an offering, then Cain will bring one (Gen. 4:3), if God is pleased with sacrifice, then King Saul shall offer it (1 Sam. 15:15), and if God’s blessing shall rest upon the son who marries daughters from the lineage of Abraham, then Esau will do likewise. But the hearts of each of these men were far from the Lord! The carnal man has ever sought to secure the approval of God through careful attention to the deeds and acts which God has prescribed, all the while withholding the one thing which God cherishes above all else: a love for Him. They perform in a way that they believe will endear them to the Lord, but they inwardly despise all that God is.

Just as Cain and Saul, Esau’s “obedience” to the expectations of the Lord was perverse and deficient at that. Genesis 28:9 tells us that Esau married a descendant of Ishmael (Mahalath), but he had already married two Hittite women, much to the dismay of his parents (Gen. 26:34-35). What a tragic portrait of the worldly man who desperately seeks to fool God into applauding his piety, but in the end has only deluded himself. For Esau is like those who will not “divorce” their own commitments to the things of this world, nor sever their ties to the deeds of their own flesh; but rather they will merely attempt to add some sort of righteous observance atop their lifestyle of sinfulness. “I will go to Church”, they say, “But I will not cease to go to the bars and taverns.” “I will read the Bible, I will pray, I will be baptized”, they declare, “But I will not stop reading pornography, cursing, nor will I change the lifestyle to which I am accustomed.” Let me add these things to my daily practice, let me take on these new habits, but do not ask me to forsake any of the old.

It is the rankest of hypocrisy to suppose that sanctimonious behavior actually sanctifies. To presume that marching abreast of God’s people will indeed make someone one of God’s people is to deceive only one’s self. It was not the marrying into the Semitic line that gained the approval of God, it was the grace of God that gained Jacob His approval. Esau made the error that so many who know nothing about the things of God make: he believed that God looks upon the outward appearance, just as  man does. He was fully willing to go through a particular ritual, to marry a new wife if that meant that he might gain God’s (and Isaac’s) blessing. But he was not willing to surrender himself to the Lord and accept His grace. He was willing to act like a true believer, so long as that did not mean that he must become a true believer.

The Stolen Blessing

"And Isaac answered and said unto Esau, Behold, I have made him thy lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; and with corn and wine have I sustained him: and what shall I do now unto thee, my son?" (Genesis 27:37)

Last time, we spoke of Isaac’s commendable devotion to the Lord and his steadfast dedication in pursuing the things of God. It is good that we were shown such a wonderful picture of Isaac’s faithfulness in Genesis 26, because if we were left with only the account of the events of Genesis 27, we might have come to quite a different conclusion about his character. In fact, the whole sordid affair of the “stolen blessing” casts such a despicable shadow across this entire family that it gives us pause when we reflect upon the fact that they were the lineage through whom our Lord Jesus would ultimately arise. Yet we know that we serve a perfect God Who is in no way dependent upon “perfect” people, and thus we are reminded that even the Patriarchs of old were not without their faults.

“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

As we read through the details of this incident, the treachery and deception of Jacob’s ruse, carefully rehearsed to him by Rebekah, his mother, makes it readily apparent that neither the woman nor her son are blameless. Rebekah is guilty of conspiring to defraud Isaac, while Jacob perpetrates what is perhaps the world’s first case of “identity theft.” We know that they are in no way innocent. But Isaac and even Esau are no less blameworthy of wrong-doing in the eyes of God.  Let us consider the role of each player in this very sad and deplorable scene:

Isaac

As is so often the case, the head-of-the-household is where the occasion of familial folly can be traced. Isaac calls his favorite son (Gen. 25:28), Esau, to his side and tells him that he is old and will soon be dead; therefore, the time has come to pass on the mantle of blessing in order that Esau might assume the role of his father (Gen. 27:1-2). But why does he do so? Has the Lord appeared to him again as He did previously (Gen. 26:2, 26:24), instructing Isaac to do this? No. It seems that this notion has arisen solely from the heart and mind of Isaac. He tells Esau that he fears that the days of his life are at an end, but God has certainly not given him this idea. No less than 43 years will transpire before we read his “obituary” in Genesis 35:29!

Isaac reacts out of fear and panic that his time is short and that those things which must be done can wait no longer. So he decides that he shall take it upon himself to pass the blessing on to Esau at once. But we can be certain that Isaac was not ignorant of the oracle which the Lord had told Rebekah those many years before: that Jacob would be the blessed son (Gen. 25:23). How is it, then, that he should seek to circumvent the will of God in order to accomplish his own purposes?

“And make me savoury meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless thee before I die.” (Genesis 27:4)

Like so many parents throughout history, Isaac seems to have intertwined the value of Esau with Esau’s meeting his expectations. How many fathers have we known who withhold their love and approval save that their own sons fulfill the desires which they have for them? Genesis 25:28 tells us plainly that Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his son’s venison. As Esau had been willing to sacrifice the blessing of his father in order to satisfy his own fleshly appetites, so is Isaac willing to “sell” the birthright to the son which will satisfy his. What a picture of two men being led about by their own appetites, preferring to serve the god of their own bellies (Phil. 3:19), if but for a season, rather than remaining mindful of the things of the living God.

“And Isaac trembled very exceedingly, and said, Who? where is he that hath taken venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and have blessed him? yea, and he shall be blessed.” (Genesis 27:33)

Isaac’s response when he realizes that he has been duped is very interesting. He does not become angry. He does not recant the blessing which was extracted from him under false pretenses. He trembles. Is this not the response of any of us when we are reminded that we are powerless to override the plans of God? So often we know the will and desire of God, yet we try to supersede it with our own. And when the sovereignty of the Lord of Heaven moves upon our own lives in those instances, trumping our actions with His own, we, too, are left with no response but fear and trembling. Ashamed that we have even tried to superimpose our own will over that of our precious Lord’s, we are left with no viable recourse but to throw ourselves on His mercy and accept the course of action that He has set in motion.

Rebekah

If we could have asked Rebekah the day that this happened, she very likely would have told us that she had really done nothing wrong. After all, she had already been told that God had chosen Jacob to receive Isaac’s blessing, what was the harm in making sure that this happened? As she overheard Isaac and Esau discussing the giving of the blessing to occur after Esau returned from his hunt (Gen. 27:5), Rebekah must have surely been gripped with desperation. She must have felt compelled to do something to prevent this from happening. But what to do? There is an age-old philosophical question that asks: “Is an evil deed truly evil if the end result is good?” Or, “Does the end justify the means?” In the eyes of God, we know the answer to this question. We are never justified in resorting to trickery, deception, lies, or any other sinful behavior in order to bring about any perceived “greater good.” We serve an all-powerful God in Whose hands all things are upheld. We must trust that He will bring about all things according to His will.

Rebekah had heard the Word of God which clearly told her that Jacob would be the son of blessing, not Esau. It was not up to her to ensure that this would happen; God would cause it to come to pass. Yet how often do we do likewise? We have the promises in God’s Word to us (the Bible) and we still resort to all sorts of measures that conflict with His holiness in order to ensure our own “success.” We must trust in the One Who has made the promises to bring them to pass. Any suggestion as to what would have happened that day had Rebekah not intervened would be pure speculation. I do know one thing, though: the blessing most definitely would not have been passed on to Esau.

Jacob

Like his mother, Jacob’s greatest fault is believing that he is personally responsible for making sure that God’s will is carried out in his life, regardless of the method. We already saw Jacob behave less than honorably when he took advantage of Esau’s low regard for the blessing back in Genesis 25:27-34. So, really, his despicable actions here do not come as any surprise. But there can be little doubt that he has definitely taken things quite a bit farther by moving from extortion to out-and-out deception. He lies repeatedly to his father with a coolness that leaves little doubt that he was one with much practice in lying and manipulating others. Two aspects of this make things particularly heinous: that he is deceiving his own father, and that he is doing so in the name of God.

“And Isaac said unto his son, How is it that thou hast found it so quickly, my son? And he said, Because the LORD thy God brought it to me.” (Genesis 27:20)

Few things are more distressing than when a person attempts to validate their own misdeeds by applying the endorsement of God to them. They equate the success of their own endeavors, no matter how deplorable, with the approval of the Lord. Or else they seek to elevate their own wicked agenda to a level of unwarranted respectability by fabricating the confirmation of Heaven behind it. “God has told me to do this”, or “The Lord wants me to do that”, they will claim. They do things in the name of God which God has nothing to do with. Perhaps Jacob really believed that the blessing of God was with him during this tragic event, but we can be certain that this was no plan of His. How the will of God comes to pass is every bit as important as whether or not it comes to pass at all.

Esau

“For ye know how that afterward, when [Esau] would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” (Hebrews 12:17)

Esau blames Jacob for stealing his birthright (Gen. 27:36), though he had willfully given it to him for the price of a bowl of soup. That thing which had previously been of absolutely no value whatsoever to Esau now was something he was exceedingly bitter and angry over. Why the change of mind? Sadly, it is not that Esau now has a higher regard for the things of God; he has not acquired a higher level of spirituality. But he is now standing face-to-face with the consequences of his decisions, and that is what disturbs him. Many people when faced with the consequences of their sinful behavior will cry out in despair, but it is not because they have suddenly realized that they have offended the holiness of God. It is for no other reason than they sincerely desire that the results of their bad decisions be abated. Esau has no more interest in serving in the priestly role of the family than he did before, but he is interested in the “corn, wine, the dew of heaven and the fatness of the earth.” Oh, to enjoy the blessings of God without having to yield one’s will to Him! To eat of the delicious red pottage and receive the blessings of Heaven! To sing with the drunkards on Saturday night and with the church choir on Sunday morning! This is what Esau is so bitter about.

Conclusion

Finally, it must be noted that, although each of the four members of this family were selfishly going about to pursue their own desires, the will of God is not frustrated. Though they were all in error, though they all were guilty of trying to do things their own way rather than God’s, the end result was exactly what God said it would be. This was not how God planned for it to come about, but His purposes were realized, nonetheless. Rebekah would never again see Jacob after she sent him away (Gen. 27:43), Esau would end up living away from his homeland in the land of Edom (Gen. 32:3), and, ironically, Jacob, who had just received such a magnificent blessing from Isaac, being the heir to all of Isaac’s wealth, would flee from his home and the wrath of Esau with no more than the clothes on his back and the staff in his hand! What a price they paid for their sins. We do well to be certain that we do things the way that God would have us do them.

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