Promise & Providence (Genesis 23-24)
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Parentheses around the Pledged Promise (chapter 23)
Sarah had notable lapses in her faith, but she lived by faith and died in faith (v. 2; c.f. Hebrews 11:11, 13; 1 Peter 3:6). Her life is a good reminder to us that the only way to die “in faith” is to “live by faith.” It’s important to notice that Abraham “buried Sarah… in the land of Canaan,” i.e. the promised land (v. 20). The portion of the land that Abraham purchases for her burial site is only a minuscule part of the land, but it is, nonetheless, a drop of mercy and a tiny glimmer of hope as a pledge of the coming fulfillment of the promise. Though he continues as a mere “stranger and a sojourner” (v. 4), this burial plot is the first piece of the promise (c.f Gen 17:8). Ephron walked away with a pocket full of silver that he could not take with him when he died, but Abraham obtained a small pledge of the eternal inheritance that he would never lose (Eph 1:11ff). Sarah, and eventually Abraham and many others, laid silently in the grave, but the gravesite and burial plot itself shouted that even death would not be an obstacle to God’s people obtaining the promise.
- Just as Abraham received a “pledge” of the promise when he purchased Sarah’s burial site, so we have received “a pledge of our inheritance” having been “sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13-14). What does it mean that the Holy Spirit is “a pledge of our inheritance”? Who has received this pledge? What promised fulfillment does the pledge point to?
Providence Accomplishes God’s Purposes (chapter 24)
A pledge of the land has been obtained, but what good is land if there are no occupants? Isaac needs a wife! When Abraham sends his servant, the oldest of his household (v. 2), he gives him two non-negotiables: first, he must not take a wife for his son from the Canaanites (v. 3); second, he must not take his son back to the old home place (v. 6). Abraham was unwilling to take any shortcuts in finding Isaac a wife, even though time was of the essence. He believed that God would provide, and if the trip was not fruitful, he would trust Him still (vv. 7-8).
The servant asks for a sign from the Lord to guide him (vv. 13-14). He wasn’t seeking a miraculous sign—no flashing lights or inner voices—but rather he was seeking supernatural guidance through the ordinary events of life, the way God’s guidance often comes. When Rebekah approaches, she is revealed as beautiful, pure, generous, kind, hospitable, and industrious (vv. 15-21). When the servant realizes that God was giving him success in his assignment, he “bowed low and worshiped the Lord” (v. 26). Once again, the Lord provides, just as he provided for Adam by giving him Eve, and just as God promised them that He would provide the ultimate serpent crusher to bring salvation (Genesis 2-3).
In this chapter, we begin to get a glimpse of the greed and godlessness of Laban, but it will become more fully exposed in chapters 29-31 in his dealings with Jacob. The servant retells the account of God’s workings in Abraham’s life and how it is the servant had come to them, and finally makes his purpose known to them. At first, they are hesitant to let her leave, wanting to delay her departure, but Rebekah is willing to go. She foregoes the customary goodbye, and with simple, immediate, and full obedience, she leaves with the servant (c.f. Ruth 1:16). Traditions and customs take second place to the providence and plan of God. As she leaves, they bless her and unknowingly echo the promise of God (v. 60, c.f. 22:17).
Isaac gets married, and the promise of God continues. The plan of God continues to unfold exactly as He had intended. The seed, the promised son, eventually gave way to God’s only begotten Son coming into the world to save sinners. The burial plot eventually became the nation and will soon be the entire world—“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (Rev 5:10).
- The servant that Abraham sent on the mission to find Isaac a wife is not named, he serves in obscurity. His role, however, was one of crucial importance in the plan of God. Minor characters often play major roles in the providence of God. He is not dependent on all-stars, the popular, or the well-known. He uses ordinary sorts of people to accomplish good for His people, and those ordinary people often go unrecognized by others. Are you content to serve in such obscurity? Do you find yourself wanting to be praised as a main character, or are you satisfied with simple obedience to the Lord in whatever calling He has given?
- While Isaac was the immediate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, he was not the ultimate. He points forward to the true Seed of Abraham that would save His people from their sins. God’s faithfulness is seen in that He kept His promise by sending His Son to die in the place of sinners, and has raised Him from the dead to rule as the righteous King and Savior. Are you trusting in this promised Son? Have you bowed the knee to this King?