In Genesis 24 our story turns (briefly) to Isaac, the child of promise.
Abraham – we don’t know how old he is here exactly – but chapter 24 tells us in no uncertain terms that he is very old. He tells his most trusted servant to go back to his native land and find a wife for Isaac. We are told that God commanded Abraham not to take a wife for Isaac from the women of Canaan, but that He would send an angel before Abraham and he would, in fact, find a wife for Isaac from his own bloodline. God is gracious!
Let’s note three things. First, the Bible is here using Canaan as a symbol of the lost, and the bloodline of Abraham (and his father Terah) as a symbol of the elect. This is akin to the lines of Cain and Seth, and later, Ham and Shem (remember, the curse of sin was placed on Ham’s son Canaan). Second, we see that while everything Abraham has received is all of grace, and is all God’s work, that God does call His chosen people to purity. This is why Abraham is commanded not to intermarry with the Canaanites: it would corrupt the purity of the physical bloodline. This is pointing to the spiritual purity we are called to.
So the servant, who is never named, goes. In 24:12-14, we have this peculiar prayer by this man. He tells God what to do in order to signal him who He has chosen. What we should not do when reading such incidents in the Old Testament, like this one, Gideon putting out the fleece (Judges 6:36-40), or the multiple times lots are cast to determine God’s will, is believe that God will give us physical signs as to what His specific will is in a given situation. The point is that we should seek God’s will, and once we know what it is, obey His will. How God communicated His will in the Old Testament is different than what it is now. We are blessed enough to have His completed Word, but even more, His Spirit abiding in us (as an aside, we also need to be very careful about saying “the Spirit led me to <insert any very specific action particular to me and my situation>” as the New Testament does not speak about the leading of the Spirit this way).
We also have a contrast being drawn in this chapter. There is the faith shown by Abraham’s servant and the great faith shown by Rebekah on one side, and then the hemming and hawing of Laban. One minute, he says that this is of the Lord (v. 50-51), and the next he wants things done his way. As we will see, that is so Laban…
And let us not miss the blessing pronounced on Rebekah. She will, along with Isaac, become a multitude. Just like Abraham and Sarah. This is the spiritual promise of God! Though her and Isaac the promise of a multitude as of the stars and the sand of the sea will continue. And her offspring will possess the gate of those who hate him (see Genesis 22:17 where God reaffirms the covenant).
Let’s talk about the word “offspring” for a moment. The word in Hebrew is much like it is in English. It is a singular word, but it is also a collective word. Offspring is one thing, but it may mean one person, or one people, as in, a group of multiple individuals. And there is much debate and has always been over where in the Old Testament to understand the word singularly or collectively. Like in the promise, then the covenant, with Abraham. Or in God’s pronouncement of judgment on the serpent in Genesis 3:15. Or here and Genesis 22:17. And while the first readers of the book of Genesis may not have known, and while it is even possible that Moses himself did not know exactly what it meant, we have the witness of the New Testament. And we know that it refers to God’s spiritual people collectively, for a time to physical Israel collectively, and ultimately to Christ.
Here in Genesis 24:60, it is a reference to God’s spiritual people, yes. But the ultimate fulfillment is still Christ. And we have the promise fulfilled in Him of victory over His enemies, and His promise to us that the very gates of hell will not stand against us, His spiritual people.
In chapter 25, we red of the death of the father of our faith. Notice that the lifespans continue to reduce since the Fall, and in particular since the Flood. Death (the result of sin – see Gen 2:17) is a more and more present reality.
We are told that Abraham remarries after Sarah’s death, and has six more sons! Not only that, but we are told of other “sons of his concubines” in verse 6. Yet only Isaac is the son of promise – Abraham gives him all he has (v. 5). God is establishing what needs to be remembered for the next 38 books of the Old Testament: the promise does not pass to physical offspring!
Then we are told of Isaac’s sons. And other established patterns continue. God is making a few points. First, notice that Rebekah, like Sarah, lacks the physical ability to have children (we will see this again). God works outside of physical rules. Second, notice what God says to Rebekah in verse 23: the older shall serve the younger. The worldly, physical rules said that the firstborn is the heir. But the inheritance the Bible talks about does not come by physical descent, but by faith (see the whole book of Galatians). Third, we see the division between two types of people as Esau becomes the worldly seed and Jacob the godly. God has chosen yet again (as with Seth, Shem, Isaac, and now Jacob) who is included in the promise.
And this is played out almost allegorically in the exchange between the bothers in verses 29-34. Esau (born red like the color of blood) values the things of the world (like stew the color of blood) – including physical life – above all. And he freely gives away what matters to get it. One way or the other, God demands blood. Ours, or Christ’s. The world’s way, or God’s way.
Chapter 26, God gives the promise He gave to Abraham to Isaac. He will have offspring like the stars of heaven, God will give his offspring the land, and in them all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. But once again (and not for the last time!) shows us the plight of fallen man. Isaac has enough faith to heed God (v. 6) and stay in Gerar, but then lacks the faith to trust God (throw no stones at our brother Isaac!). And we see another pattern – man’s sin because of fear of the world – repeated.
So Isaac repeats the sins of his father. But didn’t God just call Abraham obedient (v. 5)? Yes. Though he fell into sin (multiple times, even into the same sin), he believed God, and God counted it as righteousness! Here, though Isaac stumbles, he has faith, and God preserves and even blesses him.
And we see more patterns repeated. Isaac has issues with Abimelech’s men over the digging of wells (only now multiple times – the results of sin continue to escalate), and Isaac worships God with the building of an altar. Also, note that, as with Abraham, peace with the world only comes when they heed God. It is never the other way around. We cannot give in to their ways, for our sake and theirs. We can only find peace doing things God’s way. And this is further established in verses 34-35.
Brothers and sisters, as we read the history of God’s people, we will not find anyone even close to perfect (well, not until Christ comes). God’s Word recounts the history of His people as they are, warts and all. And yet, even when we fail, God is good. And what we see is that what we do has very little to do with anything when it comes to who God chooses. But we see, more and more as the story unfolds, that being chosen has much to do with what we do.
What will we do?