Abraham Isaac Jacob
It amazes us to discover that God is a master storyteller. Instead of giving us only rules to follow, He has taken pains to paint for us real stories from which we can learn. This learning is not only about heroes of faith but also about ourselves. It is not only about their great exploits that we learn but also about their failures as well. We, by looking closely at their lives, learn how God deals with us.
The lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are a powerful demonstration of God working in the lives of people far from perfect to create a family and through them a nation to bring the Messiah into this world. The purpose of God in all this can be summed up in God’s promise to Abram: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). This promise was repeated to Isaac and Jacob later (not said to anyone else!). And it is fulfilled in Jesus Christ who came through the family of Abraham (see Matthew 1). Halley comments: “This promise is the foundation thought of which the whole Bible is a development!”
[Read also Hebrews 11:8—21. Advanced Reading: Romans 4:21—31. It would also be good to read Genesis 11:10—32 to understand the family background of Abram better.]
The Call of Abram
Abram lived in a land called Ur. There people were idol worshippers. But Abram was not an idol worshipper. God called him and asked him to leave that country and his people to a land that God was going to show him. In that land, Abraham built many altars to worship the living God. A few key words would help us understand the call of Abram better.
Leaving: There was a leaving behind of things dear to Abram. He had to leave his father’s household and all things that were familiar and comfortable. God’s call on your life demands a leaving behind of the past.
Journeying: The destination was not specified. It was unknown. The writer to the Hebrews comments that Abraham went “even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). This journeying was done by faith. It does not matter whether or not you know where you’re going as long as you’re sure of God’s call to journey. A classic statement from David Livingstone the missionary-explorer to Africa is in context here: “Without Christ, not one step; with Him, anywhere!”
Obedience: Abraham responded to God’s call by obeying it. Obedience is characteristic of faith. Those who have faith in God obey Him. Jesus Christ also has left us a great example of obedience to God. The lesson is very clear: When God calls, obey!
Promise: The call of Abram was unique in the sense that it was accompanied by a seven fold promise as you read in Genesis 12:2. The highlight of it, of course, was the promise that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” The call of God on your life will also be accompanied by promises of God that He will bring to pass in your life.
Abram Puts Sarai’s Honour At Risk
There was a famine in the land. Abram went down to Egypt. Many Bible scholars think that Abram never was asked by God to go down there. Instead he might have decided on his own to go to Egypt. In this journey he put his wife Sarai’s modesty in danger by asking her to say that she was his sister since she was beautiful. Abram here tried to protect his life instead of thinking to protect his wife’s life. But God intervened (see v. 17) and saved their lives.
It seems that Abram did not learn a lesson here because we find him later repeating the same mistake (see Genesis 20). Again God intervened (see 20:3) and saved Abraham and Sarah.
Note: Abram’s bad example was followed by his son Isaac (Genesis 26:1—11) in later years. It should make us think how powerfully the example of parents influence children. Another thing to note is the fact that both Pharaoh and the Abimelech king of the Philistines show understanding of the fact that lying with another man’s wife is sin. This is perhaps around 2250 B. C., 700 years before the Ten Commandments was given through Moses. See also Romans 2:14, 15. So also it is clear from the text itself in Genesis 19:30—38 that Lot’s daughters knew that they were doing wrong; otherwise they would not have made their father drunk with wine.
Abram Leaves His Choice to God
Many are of the opinion that Abram taking his nephew Lot with him (see 12:5) was not God’s plan since God had asked him to leave his father’s household. Instead Abram made that decision on his own. Whatever be the case, soon it was obvious that both of them could not stay together. So Abram called Lot and asked him to choose the land he wanted to live in (v. 9). Lot chose well watered plain of the Jordan and they separated. Lot’s choice turned out to be a bad choice because he “pitched his tents near Sodom.” The people there were wicked and they were sinning greatly against the Lord (v. 13).
After Lot left, God spoke to Abram and asked him to do two things: Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.
Life Lesson: Dear friend, God wants you to lift up your eyes and look. He wants you to have eyes of faith to see what is not yet yours. God said to Abram, “All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.” Unless you look and see, unless you have faith to see beyond what meets the eye, you cannot get God’s blessing. Great men and women of God have dreamed of reaching the ends of the earth with the gospel and they did so because they saw first with their eyes of faith that they will reach those places with the gospel. Therefore lift up your eyes and look.
Even when the first condition is met there remains work to be done. You ought not to stop after just looking. God told Abram, “Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” Abram could not get the land if he only looked. He was asked to take action; to walk through the length and breadth of the land. Dear friend, once God gives you eyes of faith to see, the next step is to act out what God has put in your heart. Go, walk!
Another important thing to remember is that the competition in this world, often called a “rat race,” need not trouble you. Let people choose (compare 13:11) and fight for what they want. You instead trust in God. Allow Him to choose for you. His choice will bring you joy in the end even though your competitor’s choice seem to be “well watered” at the moment.
Abram the Rescuer and Abraham the Intercessor
Genesis 14 and 18:16—33; 19:29.
We find Lot becoming an innocent prisoner of war. Abram goes into action as he hears the report of Lot’s capture. We find Abram calling up his team of allies and 318 trained men born in his household and defeated four kings. That was no small achievement. And he recovered all the goods that was carried away and brought back his relative Lot and his relatives and possessions.
In the second instance, it was God Himself who was against the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. So instead of fighting a physical battle to rescue Lot, Abraham this time fights a spiritual battle. He pleads with great earnestness for the cities that God planned to destroy. All this was done with Lot and his family in mind. Dear friend, your prayer for others matters much. See what has been written regarding Abraham’s prayer for Lot: “So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived” (Genesis 19:29 NIV).
Note: “Abraham’s intercession for Lot contains the ingredients that are common to all great intercessors: (1) boldness (18:23); (2) pleading (18:24); (3) argument (18:25); (4) humility (18:27); and (5) perseverance (18:32).” Taken from Character by Character by Selwyn Hughes and Trevor J. Partridge. Read these two verses together: “But Abraham remained standing before the Lord” (18:22) and “Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord” (19:27) showing Abraham’s eager expectation of God answering his prayer. And God did answer his prayer (19:29)!
For further reading: Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 5:6—10; 6:20—7:28. Melchizedek was “PriestKing of Salem (Jerusalem). Hebrew tradition says that he was Shem, survivor of the Flood, who was still alive, earth’s oldest man living man, priest, in the patriarchal age, of the whole race. If so, it is a hint that, thus early, right after the Flood, God chose Jerusalem to be the scene of Human Redemption. Whoever he was, he was a picture and type of Christ.” Taken from Halley’s Bible Handbook. Melchizedek was a picture of the Messiah in the sense that Jesus the Christ (Messiah) would be both Priest and King at the same time.
Genesis 14:20b; 28:22b. For further reading, Malachi 3:8—12; Matthew 23:23, 24.
Many Christians even today feel uncomfortable about tithing. Some think that it was part of the Law that was given to the Jews. So it is applicable to them only. But here, some 700 years before the Law was given, we find Abram giving a tenth to the “priest of God Most High,” even without God giving him any specific instruction to do so. Later we find Jacob promising God to give a tenth of all that God gave him.
Life Lesson: Dear friend, all that is yours is given to you by God and all of it belongs to Him (see Psalm 24:1). Jesus taught us through His parables that we are called to be good stewards of all that God gave us and we are accountable to God (see Matthew 25:14—30). So start giving one-tenth of your income to God, however small or big it is. God will bless you. But also learn to give more to God, at times giving even 100% of what you get.
Warning Note: God’s blessing comes to you not always in the form of money but as peace and joy and timely help through others. Do not think of God as a kind of ATM or a blessing machine giving you 1000/ rupees when you give 100/ rupees. That kind of teaching is a lie and is not Biblical.
God’s Covenant with Abram
We have to appreciate the beginning of this chapter in the light of the end of the previous chapter. There we found Abram refusing the offer of the king of Sodom to take all the goods taken in war for himself. Abram refused because he did not want the king of Sodom to say that he had made Abram rich. What a blessed example is this! Dear friend, do you trust in people to make you rich or is your trust in God alone? Think about it.
God honoured that decision of Abram by telling him in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (15:1b NIV). Abram refused earthly wealth to honour God and God honoured him by saying that He Himself was Abram’s “very great reward!”
Abram used this opportunity to tell God of his need of an heir. God then corrected Abram’s limited understanding of the purposes of God. God told him that his servant will not be his heir but instead a son coming from his own body would be his heir (15:4). Abram was asked to, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” God promised that his offspring will be countless like the stars of the heavens.
The Bible says, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (15:6). Abram took God at His word. He simply believed that God would do as He said. That is a quality dear friend that you can learn from the life of Abram. Remember Abram believed God when he had yet no son to carry on his name!
God also told Abram that He is the LORD who brought him out of Ur to that land to take possession of it. So Abram asked how he would know that he would gain possession of it. God Himself, in the form of smoking firepot with a blazing torch, walked between the pieces of the animal sacrifices prepared. Walking between the cut pieces of the animal sacrifices was an ancient custom of showing that the person making the agreement was in full earnest in making the promise and that he would allow himself to be cut into pieces rather than break his word (see mention of this custom in Jeremiah 34:18—20). So God was telling Abram that He would not break His word no matter what. With such certainty the land of Israel was deeded to Abram and it shall not pass into other hands. Read the newspapers and know why Israel is being targeted by other nations. It is to take away what God had given to Abram! Note: God also spoke about Abram’s descendants being slaves in Egypt for four hundred years and also about their Exodus.
Abram’s Mistake: Hagar and Ishmael
Genesis 16; 17:18 21; 21:8—21
Abram did not wait for God. He went ahead to have a child by Sarai’s Egyptian maidservant Hagar. Having children by a maidservant was a common custom in that era, but Abram failed in trusting God’s promise for a child through his wife Sarai. When Hagar became pregnant it caused strife in the family. Mistreated by Sarai, Hagar flees. The angel of the Lord met her and asked her to go back and submit to Sarai. The name of the son to be born is given as Ishmael (meaning “God hears”) and his nature described: “He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers” (Genesis 16:12 NIV). Note: Even today the Middle East is witnessing the strife between the brothers. Note the conflict between the Arab world and Israel that has been happening down through the centuries. All this began because Abram did not wait for God. Later we find Abraham asking God to bless Ishmael (17:18). But God clearly told Abraham that He will establish His covenant with Isaac the promised child (17:21). Though God blessed Ishmael for Abraham’s sake (17:20; 21:13), it was through Isaac that Abraham’s “offspring will be reckoned” (21:13). Ishmael is sent away because Sarah insisted that the “slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac” (21:10). Even though Abraham was distressed over the matter, God asked him not to be “so distressed about the boy and your maidservant” (21:12).
Life Lesson: Dear friend, waiting for God is not popular today. Everybody is after instant success. That is not God’s way. He does not want you to act in human wisdom and produce your own plans. Instead wait for God and His time even when it seems long. Abraham found the waiting too long and he fathered Ishmael who was not the child that God had promised him. Abraham, in the process of waiting, made a mistake of having a child by the maidservant instead of waiting for a son to be given through Sarah. That mistake is still creating conflicts and war in the Middle East. Therefore be careful not to try to run ahead of God with your own plans.
Change of Names and The Covenant (Agreement) of Circumcision
When Abram was ninetynine years old God appeared to him and revealed Himself by a new name, “I am God Almighty.” “God Almighty” in Hebrew is “ElShaddai” the nourisher of His people. The command to Abram was, “Walk before me and be blameless.” God promised that He would confirm His covenant with Abram and greatly increase his numbers. Then Abram fell facedown!
Life Lesson: The command to Abram is to be noted. We are called to walk before God blamelessly. Why not decide to keep this command of God and have His blessing upon your life in your journey of life?
God changed the name of Abram meaning “exalted father” to Abraham meaning “father of many.” Remember that this was before Isaac was born. God, when He is about to do something in your life, first causes you to believe fully in what He is going to do; then only He performs it for you. God here caused Abram to be called Abraham thus making Abraham fully believe that he will be the father of many. Sarai’s name (meaning “my princess”) is also changed to Sarah (“a princess”—namely, of many).
Read God’s covenant with Abraham in full in Genesis 17:4—8. By this covenant God made Abraham a father of many nations. He was made very fruitful and nations and kings were promised to come from him. This covenant is also an everlasting covenant that God will be the God not only of Abraham but also of his descendants as well. And all the land of Caanan was given to Abraham and his descendants as an everlasting possession.
God wanted Abraham and his descendants to keep this covenant by circumcising all males who were eight days old. [Circumcision refers to the cutting off of the foreskin of the male sexual organ.] It involved some blood being shed. And those who were not circumcised would face death penalty. Even Moses faced possible death because he had not circumcised his son (see Exodus 4:24—28). Note: Since Jesus shed His blood for us, now circumcision is done by the Spirit of God in our hearts and not in our flesh (Romans 2:29; Ezekiel 36:26).
After Abraham circumcised everybody in his household, three visitors come to him. One was the Lord Himself, the other two were angels (19:1). The Lord told Abraham that Sarah would bear a child about that time next year and Sarah laughed to herself thinking of the impossibility of having a child at the age of ninety and when her husband would be hundred. The Lord responded by asking, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (18:14). And the child was again promised to come at the appointed time!
Remember Lot’s Wife
Genesis 19 and Luke 17:32, 33.
Jesus referred to the days of Lot to warn us about the times just preceding His Second Coming. He asked us to remember Lot’s wife. Because she instead of obeying God’s command turned to look back and became a pillar of salt.
Life Lesson: Lot’s wife looked back because the life of those cities had made a strong hold in her heart and life. Dear friend, when God is giving you an opportunity to escape from the corruption of this world, do so gladly. Do not look back. You are a new creation in Christ, the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
YahwehYireh (The LORD Will Provide)
The birth of Isaac is described in Genesis 21:1—7. After Isaac had grown up God asked Abraham to sacrifice him. (Commentators believe that Isaac might have been between 25 and 35 years when God asked Abraham to sacrifice him). God thus tested Abraham (22:1).
This incident foreshadowed the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross centuries later. Here are some thoughts to meditate on:
- Isaac was Abraham’s son born as a result of God’s promise. God, sacrificed His One and Only Son Jesus.
- Isaac even though grown up, meekly submitted himself to the sacrifice. Jesus Christ became obedient to the Father to the point of dying on the cross (Philippians 2:8).
- Isaac had a question: “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” The answer Abraham gave was, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” That became true in Jesus Christ for this was how John the Baptist introduced Him: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NIV).
- God asked Abraham to make the sacrifice on one of the mountains that God would show him in the region of Moriah. That place was just one mile away from Calvary where Jesus was crucified centuries later. Thus truly on the mountain of the Lord, the Lord provided the once for all sacrifice (Hebrews 9:26) of Jesus Christ. “Yahweh—Yireh” (22:14)!
- It is amazing to note the language of faith of Abraham who said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” [emphasis added] (22:5). Abraham was here thinking about resurrection from the dead. The New Testament comments, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death” (Hebrews 11:19 NIV). In this sense the sacrifice of Isaac also prefigured the resurrection of Christ.
The obedience of Abraham is rewarded. God told him again, “Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (22:18). No wonder God said of Abraham, “My Friend!” (see Isaiah 41:8/see also 2 Chronicles 20:7, James 2:23).
Halley Comments: “The Offering of Isaac was a Picture-Prophecy of the Death of Christ. A Father offering his Son. The Son Dead for Three Days (in Abraham’s mind, v. 4). A Substitution. An Actual Sacrifice. And it was on Mt. Moriah, the very same place where, 2000 years later God’s Own Son was offered. Thus, it was a Shadow, in the birth of the Hebrew nation, of the Grand Event the nation was born to bring about.” — Taken from Halley’s Bible Handbook.
A Note on Substitution: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) (see also 1 Peter 2:24, Isaiah 53:4—6, 2 Corinthians 5:21). He died in our place! Like instead of Isaac dying a ram was provided; instead of us dying Christ was provided to die for us! Amazing Grace!
We here find the death of Sarah, and Abraham buying a burial place for her. It is noteworthy that this spot of ground is the only place that Abraham owned in Canaan during his lifetime. Sarah along with Abraham had been a sojourner for sixty years when she died. And both of them were “longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).
This burial place had special significance because it made the Israelite people in Egypt remember that they had a promised land. That is why Jacob instructed his sons to bury him in this particular cave (see Genesis 49:29—32). That was his last instruction to them. “The Cave of Machpelah, where Sarah was buried, is on the west slope of Hebron, in a mosque, under Mohammadean control, who permit no Christian to enter. In 1862 the Prince of Wales, by special permit of the Sultan, entered. He saw stone tombs of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah; and a circular opening into a cavern below, which was supposed to be the real cave of Machpelah, and which was said to have been unentered for 600 years.” Taken from Halley’s Bible Handbook.
A Romantic Wedding
Genesis 24 This chapter teaches us very important lessons. 1. God honours good desires. Abraham did not want his son Isaac to marry a Canaanite girl.
This was to keep Isaac from turning to idolatry. Abraham was sure that God would sent His angel before the servant so that he could get a wife for his son from his own relatives (v. 7). Read Psalm 37:4 to know how to get your desires fulfilled. 2. Abraham’s concern teaches us that he valued Sarah very much. The supportive influence of a godly woman (see description of a godly wife in 1 Peter 3:1 to 5 and Proverbs 31:10— 31) cannot be measured. It is no wonder therefore that Abraham desired a godly wife for his son. He did not definitely want Isaac to be unequally yoked with an unbeliever (see 2 Corinthians 6:14—7:1). More than that Abraham was honouring the memory of Sarah. No wonder Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death when he married Rebekah (Genesis 24:67). 3. The servant’s prayer is answered immediately for the answer in the form of Rebekah came
“Before he had finished praying” (v. 15). That is how sometimes God surprises us with joy in prayer. Even when the conditions for which he had prayed for were met, the servant did not act at once. Instead, “Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful” (24:21 NIV). That is a remarkable quality remarkably absent in many Christians today—the quality of quietly waiting for the Lord. 4. Worship and praise characterized the servant (24:26, 27, 52) and he did not rest until he had accomplished the task for which he set out (24:33, 56). He did not rest until he had brought Rebekah safely to his master, Isaac. This is a quality we later find in Boaz (Ruth 3:18). You would do well to show such commitment to finish the tasks that you undertake.
The Servant as a Symbol of the Holy Spirit
“So he said, `I am Abraham’s servant’ ” (Genesis 24:34 NIV).
“A quick scan of Genesis 24 reveals that the Holy Spirit is mentioned nowhere. What we find instead is a delightful story of the aged Abraham sending his servant five hundred miles to find a bride for his son Isaac. Where is the Holy Spirit in this story? Many Bible students see the servant as a beautiful illustration of the Holy Spirit’s work in salvation. In a general sense, we know that Abraham’s offering of his son Isaac on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22), is a picture of the Father offering His Son at the cross. A similar symbolism may be seen in Genesis 24.
Just as Abraham sought a bride for Isaac, even so our Heavenly Father seeks a bride for His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:26, 27). Furthermore, the servant was sent on a particular mission—to find a bride. He travels a great distance with but one goal in mind—to find a bride for his master’s son. In the same way, the Holy Spirit moves across the earth wooing and winning men and women for Jesus Christ. The servant says nothing on his own behalf but takes every opportunity to speak well of Isaac. Even so, the Holy Spirit speaks not of Himself but glorifies Christ (John 16:14). When the servant found Rebekah, he gave her gifts just as the Spirit gives gifts to those who are in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:11). Finally, the servant personally accompanied Rebekah on the journey to meet Isaac. In the same way, the Holy Spirit draws us into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the very length of Genesis 24 (67 verses) shows us something of God’s heart for sinners. It was not an easy thing for the servant to find a bride for Isaac. It entailed a long and dangerous journey into unfamiliar territory. But the servant would not be turned away. Neither will the Holy Spirit be turned aside from His holy calling to find a bride for the Son of God.” Taken from Names of the Holy Spirit by Ray Pritchard.
- Isaac loved Rebekah, his wife (24:67).
- He prayed [Hebrew: “agonised”] to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. God answered that prayer (Genesis 25:21).
- He showed favouritism to Esau because Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the open country which suited Isaac well because he had a taste for wild game. [Later we find Isaac’s son Jacob showing favouritism to his son Joseph (see Genesis 37:3, 4).
- Even though Isaac knew that “the older would serve the younger” (25:23), he tried to give his blessings to Esau (27:4) but is deceived by Jacob.
- Isaac followed his father’s footsteps in putting his wife Rebekah’s modesty in danger (26:1— 11).
- God blessed Isaac repeating what He had said to Abraham saying, “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (26:4). God makes special mention of Abraham’s obedience in this context (26:5). Isaac planted crops in the land of the Philistines and in the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord had blessed him (26:12). Remember that this happened at the time of famine!
- Isaac was industrious. He reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died and gave them the same names that his father had given them (26:18). In a spiritual sense, wells symbolize nourishment. Are you keen to continue the good practices of our Christian parents like learning the Bible, family prayer, regularly attending worship services etc.? In reopening the wells Isaac not only honoured his father’s memory but also was showing that he was the true heir of all that was his.
- Isaac not only reopened old wells but also dug new ones. It teaches that in your walk with God, you should not rely on yesterday’s experiences alone. Instead you have to have new experiences of walking with God. When you’re trying to do so, you might face opposition like how Isaac faced (26:20, Esek meaning dispute and 26:21, Sitnah meaning opposition). But Isaac persisted with his efforts and dug another well which he named Rehoboth which means room. Likewise renew your efforts to know God and He will give you room to grow in Him.
- Certificate of Merit: Dear friend, what is the best certificate that you can get? Listen to what Abimelech and his officers (who did not have any close relationship with God) said. They said, “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you” (26:28). Earlier, Abraham too was commended in the same fashion (21:22). Later Laban said something similar of Jacob (30:27). See the life of Joseph too (39:3, 23). May others who know not God see, recognize, and acknowledge the hand of God in your success!
- Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau (Hebrews 11:20). The blessing was prophetic and was fulfilled in subsequent history (Genesis 27:29, 40). The blessing of a godly parent carries immense power in it!
She was very beautiful (24:16) and hard working; evident from the fact that she had to go down the spring, fill her jar and come up again (24:16). She showed hospitality (24:18) and was willing to meet the need that came before her. She showed initiative (i.e. she did not wait to be asked) to draw water for the camels too (24:19). Well, consider drawing water from a spring by climbing down the steps and coming back again for 10 camels; all of them tired from the journey through the desert. If you can imagine how much water they can store . . . ! She was more than willing to go the second mile. And God rewarded her. Dear friend, be willing to joyously do more than what you’re asked to do. And someday God will cause you to be rewarded for it.
We understand that not only was Rebekah beautiful but also she was strong because she kept running to and fro until she accomplished the task of drawing water for all the camels (24:20). We also find Rebekah taking positive decisions on her own in response to the servant’s question whether there was room in their father’s home for them to spend the night (24:25). She, like most girls, seemed to have liked ornaments because she accepted the gold nose ring and two gold bracelets that the servant gave her (24:22, 30).
We see Rebekah eager to join Isaac as she had understood that “This is from the Lord” (24:50). That meant she had the gift of discernment to see God arranging the circumstances of her life. So she was not willing to delay but said, “I will go” (24:58). We also find her respectful to Isaac when she was about to meet him (24:65). She is seen to have had a praying husband. At the same time she also took matters to God in prayer and was answered (25:22, 23). Like Isaac, she also showed favouritism. She favoured Jacob and she was instrumental in making Jacob deceive Isaac and getting the blessing (27:5—17). So we find her seizing the opportunity, though we find it difficult to approve of her method. We also find Rebekah a disgusted mother-in-law because Esau had married Hittite women (27:46). She used this reason with typical womanly insight to make Isaac ask Jacob to go to Rebekah’s brother to find a wife for himself.
Rebekah remained attractive to Isaac even in their old age (26:8) and mention is made of the death of Rebekah’s nurse (35:8), and Rebekah’s burial is mentioned by Jacob (49:31).
Jacob and Esau and Birthright
He came to this world with his hand grasping his brother Esau’s heel (25:26). So he was named Jacob which means “deceiver.” His name is also understood as “supplanter” which means “one who takes the place of another.” He was a quiet man but the very first thing recorded about him is how he deceived his brother into selling his birthright (25:29—34). So Esau despised his birthright and sold his birthright to Jacob. [A birthright ensured that the blessings and the best part of the inheritance (a double portion) would pass on to the firstborn. Read also Deuteronomy 21:15—17.]
Comment on Esau: He is described as “godless,” “who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears” (Hebrews 12:16b, 17 NIV). Warning: Dear friend, have you realized what your birthright is? It is your freedom to call God, “Abba, Father” (see Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6, 7). Do not go around selling this birthright to this preacher and that preacher who promise you earthly blessings (Esau’s single meal)! Why should you fear to go to your Father’s Presence and talk to Him? Think about it.
Isaac, acting on a suggestion by Rebekah (27:46) sends Jacob to his mother’s brother Laban to marry one of his daughters. At sunset on the first day of his journey he stopped to rest. He had a stone pillow to sleep on. But in that unlikely circumstance he had a dream (Jacob is thought to have been 77 when he had this dream) which has since then become the theme of many songs and paintings.
The Ladder or the Stairway that Jacob saw “was a hint that the Promises would culminate in something that would bridge Heaven and Earth. Jesus said that He was the Ladder, John 1:51.” — Halley’s Bible Handbook.
The highlight of this dream is that Jacob saw the Lord and his eyes were focussed on God and not on angels ascending and descending on the ladder (28:16, 17). More than that the Lord repeated the promises earlier made to Abraham and Isaac. God told him that the land where he was lying then would be his and his descendants’. Also the Messianic promise is repeated: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.” It is this note of universal blessing that was sounded by an angel that first Christmas night: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10, 11 NIV).
Jacob sets up the stone he had placed under his head as a pillar and pours oil on it and called the place Bethel meaning house of God. And God while He spoke to Jacob later said, “I am the God of Bethel” (31:13) and referred to this act of Jacob. So it was a very significant encounter with God that Jacob had. It was significant because even though he had got the birthright by trickery, he never knew whether God was going to bless him. But this encounter with God removed all doubts from his mind; he knew now for certain that God was with him (28:15)!
But Jacob’s response to the blessing of God was more of an earthly response. God was speaking of heavenly things to him (All peoples on earth will be blessed through you) and Jacob was talking more of daily needs (If God will . . . give me food to eat and clothes to wear). Dear friend, when God is speaking to you about your divine calling in life, are you talking to Him about lesser things of life? [Note: Here we find Jacob telling God that he will give a tenth of all that God gave him. Another example of tithing. v. 22].
Jacob the Lover
Jacob arrived at the land of the eastern peoples where Laban his mother’s brother lived. Rachel, Laban’s daughter arrived at the same time. Jacob helped to water her flock as she was a shepherdess. And he is led to Laban’s home. Now Jacob was in love with Rachel who “was lovely in form, and beautiful.” Jacob agreed to work for Laban seven years to win Rachel. “So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her” (Genesis 29:20 NIV).
Food for Thought: “Love has a way of taking drudgery out of work, making long and hard service short and easy. How deep is your love for the Lord? Are you truly in love with Him? An age of work will seem as nothing if love, and not merely a sense of duty, burns at the centre of your soul” Taken from Character by Character by Selwyn Hughes and Trevor J. Partridge.
Jacob Reaps What He Sowed
Jacob’s life was characterized by deception. He got both his brother’s birthright and his father’s blessing by deception. Now the tables are turned. Laban tricks Jacob into marrying Leah, the elder sister of Rachel, whom Jacob had no love for. Soon follows a difficult family life with Rachel the wife he loved remaining barren while Leah bears him many children. As we look at Genesis 29:31 to 34, 30:1420 we find Leah, though a mother of Jacob’s children, still unloved and longing for her husband’s affection. No wonder Proverbs 30:21—23 says that the earth cannot bear up under “an unloved woman who is married.” Not only did Laban trick Jacob into marrying Leah but also he made Jacob work another 7 years to get Rachel.
Jacob’s life with Rachel also saw strife as Rachel cried out to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” (30:1). Jacob in anger replied, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” (30:2). Nevertheless, later “God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb” (30:22). That meant that Rachel had changed her earlier focus on her husband to get children and turned to the Lord in prayer. And God answered her.
Jacob now longs to go back to his homeland but Laban pleads with him to stay and agrees to pay him wages (30:28). But Laban deceives him again because Jacob said later that Laban had cheated him by changing his wages ten times. Even though Jacob uses an unusual method to gain flocks for himself (30:37—43), he later said to Rachel and Leah that “God has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me” (31:9). So Jacob acknowledged that God had made it possible. [Note: Many Positive Thinking books quote Jacob’s technique and teach it as a success method called visualization. Though all successful people visualize themselves being successful, our success in life does not depend on the method, but God. It was not Jacob’s manipulations and schemes that ensured blessing, but God’s promise and God’s faithfulness.]
The God of Bethel
“I am the God of Bethel,” is an unusual statement in the Bible. God reminded Jacob of that moment when he had the dream and he anointed a pillar and made a vow. God was reminding Jacob that it was time to move on to fulfil the purposes of God. Jacob, for the last twenty years, had been busy toiling to build his family. But God was gently reminding him to go back to the Promised Land, Caanan. Surprisingly, his wives, Rachel and Leah, unanimously told him, “Do whatever God has told you” (31:16b).
Life Lesson: Dear friend, God remembers the moments of consecration and decision in your life. Even when you become too busy with life’s needs and duties, God gently reminds you of that time when you had made an agreement with Him to obey His call. His call on your life has to get highest priority. See Jesus’ reply in Luke 9:59, 60.
Jacob and Laban—Mizpah
Genesis 31:20 to 55
Jacob deceived Laban by not telling him that he was running away (31:20). Laban pursues Jacob, but is prevented from harming Jacob because God intervened to protect Jacob. Jacob said to Laban that “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away emptyhanded. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you” (31:42 NIV). They come to a lovely agreement known as the Mizpah Benediction: “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other” (31:49).
Jacob Prays and Wrestles with God
Jacob had vision of angels when he left Caanan. Now he is welcomed back by angels (32:1). And he prepares to meet Esau who had vowed to kill him (27:41). When Jacob heard that Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred men, be became terribly afraid; he was in great fear and distress. And Jacob, perhaps for the first time in his life, felt that his smartness in deception was not going to help him at all. So he prayed that God would save him and fulfil the promises made earlier. In this prayer he acknowledges his own unworthiness and God’s goodness towards him (32:9—12).
Hosea 12:3, 4 is a comment on Jacob wrestling with God in prayer while he was left alone at night. He struggled with the angel, wept and begged for his blessing. Jacob the man who had trusted in his own methods now finally realized that he cannot go on in his own strength. He cried out for God’s blessing. In the process, the man who wrestled with him found that he could not overpower Jacob. So he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched.
Life Lesson: There is no doubt that it was God Himself who fought with Jacob. God wanted Jacob to realize that he needed to become helpless and weak to be mighty in God’s eyes. Therefore Jacob’s hip was touched not to destroy him but to make him come to a point of realization that he needed God’s blessing upon his life. Similarly dear friend, you might feel that you can conquer the world in your own strength and wisdom. But there will come a day when you will know that God’s grace is sufficient for you and that His power is made perfect in weakness (ref. 2 Corinthians 12:9). Sometimes our pride, our selfrighteousness, our good deeds and our “I am better than you,” attitude prevents us from seeing our need for God. It is then that God breaks us by touching our strength to make it weak that we may cry out to God like Jacob, “I will not let you go unless you bless me!” (Genesis 32:26).
As Paul said: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12;9b, 10 NIV).
Jacob’s pleading for God’s blessing was met with a question: “What is your name?” In Hebrew culture, names stood for character. By this question God was making Jacob confront his own deceptive character for his name meant deceiver. Perhaps that was his moment of realization that it was his deceptive character that was preventing God from blessing his life. But God in His mercy changed Jacob’s name to Israel giving him a new identity. Israel can mean “Prince with God” (KJV) or it can mean “he struggles with God.” At the same time, Jacob’s question as to the name of the man who struggled with him is not entertained because it was God Himself who struggled with Jacob.
Life Lesson: Have you ever had a struggle with God? Have you ever wept for His favour and blessing upon your life? If so God would grant you a new vision of yourself as promised through Prophet Isaiah, “Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you . . . See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp, with many teeth” (Isaiah 41:14, 15 NIV).
The Journey to Bethel
Genesis 33, 34, 35
Jacob meets Esau. He bowed down seven times before his elder brother. But Esau, in one moment of graciousness in his life, “ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept” (Genesis 33: 4 NIV). Jacob said that to have seen Esau’s face was like seeing the face of God (33:10)! Then they parted and Jacob bought a plot of ground at Shechem. And for the first time on the soil of Canaan the Promised Land he erected an altar calling it El Elohe Israel meaning, God, the God of Israel or Mighty is the God of Israel. It is interesting to note that he used his new name in naming the altar; an evidence that Jacob was now fully sure that it was through him that “all peoples on earth will be blessed.”
Then follows the sad incident of his daughter being violated by Shechem. Simeon and Levi take revenge by putting the people of city to the sword. Jacob is afraid that the Canaanites would join forces and attack him (35:30). But God said to Jacob to “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau” (Genesis 35:1 NIV) [emphasis added]. Why did God say this? It was perhaps some seven or eight years since he had come to Shechem. But God had earlier asked Jacob to go to Bethel (31:13). That original command was not obeyed. But God does not forget. That is why He clearly reminded Jacob to go to Bethel.
Jacob makes a very important and decisive move now. He gets rid of all the foreign gods that had found a place in the life of his family. He buried them under the oak at Shechem. Now look at what happened: “Then they set out, and the terror of God fell upon the towns all around them so that no one pursued them” (Genesis 35:5 NIV).
Life Lesson: Put away the strange gods that you’ve allowed to reign in your heart. Then others won’t be a terror to you. But God will cause His terror to fall upon others. It does not matter if you are few in number (34:30).
Food for Thought: “How far have you wandered away from your “Bethel”—the place where you first met with God? Have you allowed the things of the world to disrupt your relationship with the Lord? Then today God is calling you back to “Bethel.” Don’t wait until tomorrow— respond now. Taken from Character by Character by Selwyn Hughes and Trevor J. Partridge.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were ordinary human beings. They had faith in God. But they also had human weaknesses. God made a claim on their lives by saying, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
This is unique in human history as God was preparing a family and a nation to bring the Messiah and thus be a blessing to this world. Through this family came David the beloved King of Israel and the Son of David, Jesus Christ.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived as pilgrims and strangers on earth. They by living in tents proclaimed to the world that they were looking forward to a heavenly city whose architect and builder is God.
The Bible says, “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:16).
The challenge to you today dear friend is this: Does your lifestyle reflect to others the fact that you are a citizen of heaven? Or is there no difference between the way you live and people who do not know Jesus Christ live?
Old Testament Walk Through Series Index
John’s Gospel Easy Notes Entire Series List