Servant – Genesis 24

Genesis 24 is a l-o-n-g love story. But instead of focusing on what is probably familiar to us, I’d like to focus on a more minor character, the servant.

This servant is probably Eliezer of Damascus, from Genesis 15:2, who would have been heir of Abraham’s house had the Lord not given him Isaac. Note his character: even after Abraham has his own son, he stays personally and professionally loyal to him.

 And Abraham said to his servant…
“Put your hand under my thigh,
that I may make you swear by the Lord,
the God of heaven and God of the earth,
that you will not take a wife for my son
from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell,
but will go to my country and to my kindred,
and take a wife for my son Isaac.”

Have you ever pictured where that hand must have been…in a culture where they don’t wear underwear? It demonstrates the kind of intimacy (and I don’t mean in a lustful way) these two men shared.

The servant replied on a practical level. What if the woman would not come back?

To which Abraham had an strong emotional response, “See to it that you do not take my son back there.” Abraham had spent years trusting God, leaving all he knew in his homeland. After the death of his wife, he could not bear the thought of his young son leaving, and maybe staying, undoing all Abraham had gone through to be in the promised land. That couldn’t happen!

Hearing his master’s passion, the servant made the oath (with his hand in the appropriate place). He faithfully journeyed 600 miles by camel to the homeland and then sat by a well.

Then reality hit – now what?

All of a sudden, living on his master’s faith wasn’t enough. He needed faith of his own. Like so many caught in that moment, he prayed.

“O Lord, God of my master Abraham, 
please grant me success today
and show steadfast love to my master Abraham.
Behold, I am standing by the spring of water,
and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water.
Let the young woman to whom I shall say,
‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, 
‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one   
whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac.
By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”

It’s usually in a moment of crisis, when we are alone, when we realize our own need for a  relationship with God. As the women were walking towards him, the time of truth had come…

For me, it was in a dorm room at Illinois State University my sophomore year. I had been raised in a Christian home but had doubted my faith. Someone shared with me “The Four Spiritual Laws” which begin with “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” It stopped me in my tracks. Did I believe God loves me? If so, what was I doing trying to run my own life?

Like Eliezer, I prayed. The God of my parents, and their parents, needed to show up in my life, showing me that he loved me. 

And like Eliezer, God did not fail.

The story goes on how God provided a wife for Isaac, but I love watching the servant as he gets more and more excited and animated about what God was doing in and through him. Then there was the miracle of Rebekah’s response, to leave immediately with him. Over and over again, God let Eliezer see his provision. 

I’m sure he was never the same.

Eliezer is one person I’m looking forward to meeting in heaven! We’ve got a lot to talk about…  

Death of Sara – Genesis 23

A whole chapter is given to the death of Sarah and her burial. In a culture where women are sometimes not even named, this is quite an honor. 

Honestly, we don’t know much about Sarah, although we know more about her than most women of the Bible. In many ways, she’s an average wife who for 127 years, made breakfast, fed the goats, mended the clothes, swept the tent floor. When Abraham said they were “moving on,” she packed up the tent and walked miles until they would settle again.

We do hear of her sin, like being jealous about Hagar, and not confronting Abraham when he asked her to lie about their relationship and be given to a ruler as his wife. What her feelings about that arrangement are not recorded.

And we don’t know her response when Abraham kept having crazy visions about someday being the father of a great nation while she continued to be barren. I’m sure she tried to get pregnant, doing whatever was the gossip of the day. And each month she was reminded of her failure until she was dried up with age. Even then, when visitors prophesied she would be pregnant, she laughed in unbelief. But she still went into her husband…and miraculously, conceived! 

She raised the child, probably telling him about all the promises, all the visions, all the provisions God had given them. After all, God had made it clear that Sarah was to be the “mother” of Abraham’s great nation, a nation which would bless the world. 

Isaac was not only Abraham’s son, but Sarah’s son.

One thing is clear, Abraham deeply loved Sarah. He mourned her death and wanted to make sure she was buried in what would be someday his nation’s land.

Sarah was more than beautiful; she was faithful. She was the daily kind of faithful, sharing hopes and dreams with Abraham. She didn’t doubt him, at least, not to his face. She kept his dream alive and shared her life with him.

If God were writing the Bible today, I don’t know if many of us would have our names mentioned, much less a chapter.. We’re like Sarah, trying to be faithful in daily life, believing God. We may never do anything spectacular. But God still sees us and knows of our daily faithfulness. We have our ups and downs, but he’s with us, sharing his promises.

Faithfulness counts.  

Sacrifice – Genesis 22

If Abraham thought giving sheep and oxen to Abimelech was a sacrifice, God had news for him! Just like money out of abundance is easy to give, time and affection are much harder.

God asked Abraham to sacrifice what was most dear to him, to demonstrate he believed God would be faithful to his promise “no matter what.”

Despite numerous visons and visits from God, Abraham had wandered in his faith so often, giving Sarah to rulers as a wife, taking a servant to bed with him, and so on. Now he had his son.

Was his faith in his son, or the God who gave him a son?

God wanted to know, although I’m sure he knew what the outcome would be. More importantly, he wanted Abraham to know where his faith lay. In order to do it, he asked for the ultimate sacrifice.

Most of us know the story, how Abraham took Isaac to the mountain, laid him on the altar, raised his hand to kill him when God provided an ox. Abraham proved to himself where his faith lay.

And Isaac also proved where his faith lay. He was the one on the altar, starring wide-eyed at his father as the knife was raised. I’m sure he never forgot that moment, his father was ready to kill him to demonstrate his faith.

Have you ever wondered about the conversation as they came down the mountain? Or do you think they walked in silence, each deep in their own soul, finding meaning in what just happened.

We know God was pleased. He reinforced his promise to Abraham through an angel. Abraham had been faithful.

“By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord,
because you have done this
and have not withheld your son, your only son,
I will surely bless you,
and I will surely multiply your offspring 
as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.
And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies,
and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,
because you have obeyed my voice.”      

We are blessed because Abraham was faithful.

And God was and will be faithful in his promises.

Making Peace – Genesis 21

I’ve struggled with including this story, because I feel as if we are creeping along in Genesis, but the Lord has reminded me that he put it here for a purpose. It seems so not a part of the story of the nation, and yet, isn’t that how our lives are? We’re in the middle of one challenge, when another one comes our way.

Abraham finally has his son and the promises of God feel like they are about to happen. Even the ruler Abimelech recognizes it, saying. “God is with you in all that you do.” And he wants to get in on a good thing.

But there is an issue between them. Abimelech’s servants had seized Abraham’s well. Abimelech didn’t even know it had happened. Instead of Abimelech making amends, Abraham was the one to give Abimelech sheep and oxen so that they could have peace.

I see two principles. First, God wants us to tell others when they have hurt us, especially if they seem unaware of it. It something stands between us, we can’t get past it until it is acknowledged. Honesty is a good thing.

Recently, Roger and I had a good, hard, conversation. As a woman, there have been times when I have felt “less than.” We grew up and served in cultures which reinforced the leadership of the man in marriage, of which I don’t disagree. But there have been times when Roger’s leadership left me feeling as if I shouldn’t enter into a conversation as an equal but needed to defer. Like Abimelech, Roger was totally unaware.

Secondly, sometimes God wants us to make the first move to give sacrificially to the other person in order to have peace. In this case, Abraham gave to Abimelech in a way that the truth about the well could never doubted.

This is harder than being honest. Usually, we want our wrong to be righted, to have the other person apologize, to make retribution to us. But sometimes, God is asking us to go over and beyond forgiveness, to blessing, blessing those who have wronged us.

God wants us to live in peace. Abraham planted a tree at the spot where they made peace. And he “called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God.” He knew that someday all the land would be the land of his people. But they needed peace to get to that time and place. 

Who does God want me to go beyond forgiveness and bless today?

Giving Up – Genesis 21

Sometimes it seems when things go right in one direction, they goes very wrong in another. 

Poor Hagar, who has just been hanging in there with Abraham and Sarah, raising her boy Ishmael who is about 14 at this point. I’m sure she stayed “under the radar,” not wanting to antagonize her mistress, each year hoping that maybe Abraham would recognize her and accept her son. She probably helped Sarah entertain those visitors who said barren Sarah would have a child, even at her age! She saw Sodom go up in smoke, learning a lesson about sin. She traveled with Abraham and Sarah, having little say in comings and goings, even when she saw Sarah given to Abimelech to be his wife.

And then, Hagar saw Sarah’s belly grow. As unbelievable as it was, she knew what that meant. She may have even been there when Sarah gave birth, seeing the child…seeing Abraham’s joy…seeing Sarah’s delight.

Yet Hagar knew in her heart, the good news for them was bad news for her.

And the child grew and was weaned.
And Abraham made a great feast on the day
that Isaac was weaned.
But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, 
whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing.[b] 1
So she said to Abraham, 
“Cast out this slave woman with her son,
for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” 

Who knows what Hagar was laughing about? It might have had nothing to do with Sarah or her son. She could have been laughing about a joke a fellow slave told. Whatever it was, it drew Sarah’s attention towards her. She couldn’t bear to Hagar happy, laughing. Once again, in a moment of weakness, Sarah’s jealously got the best of her.

Hagar may have heard the arguing between Sarah and Abraham, hoping Abraham would stick up for her. Instead, he was the one who brought the bad news with bread and a skin of water, sending her into the wilderness. Could this be the man who lay with her? 

In distress, she wandered, just like we do when we are in distress. The water is gone. She can’t bear to see her son die, leaving him under a tree, weeping.

She gives up.

 And God heard the voice of the boy,
and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven
and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar?
Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 
Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand,   
for I will make him into a great nation.”  
Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. 
And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. 

Interesting…God heard the voice of the boy. When his mother gave up, Ishmael must have remember her stories, who she once prayed to, who made promises to her. 

But God spoke to Hagar, telling her he had seen her boy. He is still the God who sees, and he sees that Hagar has given up. He needs to open her eyes, so that she sees – so that she sees that he is the God to provides and keeps his promises.

I remember times when I’ve given up, every opportunity around me had dried up, and I didn’t have anywhere to go. God opened my eyes, refreshed me and reminded me of his love and promises. He gave me the strength to go on.

And God was with the boy, and he grew up.
He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow.
He lived in the wilderness of Paran,  
and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt

“And God was with the boy.” He doesn’t forget and is true to his promises.

And his mother was refreshed with a sense of purpose. 

Finally, a Birth! – Genesis 21

The story of Abraham and Sarah is long and detailed, because God wants to embed in us the beginning of his people, a nation we have been grafted into as believers of Jesus Christ. After all their wanderings, in the midst of protection from sin, God answers their prayers with a new beginning.

Not much is said of the actual birth. In some ways, it was quite ordinary, just like the birth of a baby in a stable, placed in a manger.

But it signaled a new beginning. 

It signaled the potential for the promise, all those visions, to come true. 

We don’t hear about Abraham’s emotions, although they must have been plentiful. But we hear Sarah’s –

God has made laughter for me;
everyone who hears will laugh over me… 
Who would have said to Abraham
that Sarah would nurse children?
Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.

Sarah’s laughing again, but not in scorn. She’s laughing in fulfillment. Her doubting has turned to joy.

There are times when I doubt and God surprises me. Just recently I gave up hope, resigned myself, on ever being able to walk normal again, to not have to use a wheelchair when going out for the day with family. And then, after consulting several doctors, one gave me hope. And now I’m walking…and laughing!

A new beginning…

So Human – Genesis 20

So lot has escaped from Sodom and the city is destroyed because of sin. God has just taught Abraham about justice and mercy. Don’t you think Abraham would have learned about sin and its consequences?

But, just like us, he falls back on human patterns of sin.

Moving to a new place, Abraham gave his wife to the local ruler, repeating the same lie he told Pharaoh, “She is my sister.” 

Once again, in what seems like endless patience, God speaks to the uncircumcised ruler to cause him to reprimand Abraham. And Sarah has an active part in all this, saying “He is my brother.”

But nothing can get in the way of God’s promise.

God needed to keep Sarah’s womb pure so that there would be no question of who the father of her child would be. His desire to complete his work in Abraham and Sarah’s lives was stronger than their faith.

Sometimes we get this backward. We believe that if we have faith, then God can work through us. But God reminds us once again that his work is not limited by our faith.

Do you ever wondered when you miss a witnessing opportunity if that person will ever know Christ? Let me assure you, if he desires to know God, God will reveal himself to him. He is a just and merciful God. He will not punish the person for your lack of faith. He is not limited by your abilities.

That doesn’t mean you were right to not share your faith, just as it was not right for Abraham and Sarah to lie. But God goes beyond our abilities to show his justice and mercy.

God is not limited by our unbelief.

Consequences of Sin – Genesis 17-19

In Chapter 16, we looked at Hagar, who identified God as “the one who sees.” But God doesn’t only see an abused woman in the desert, crying desperately. He also sees the sin of the masses. Genesis 6-8 shows us a time when God saw communal sin and destroyed them with a great flood. Genesis 11 showed God causing confusion amongst the people when, in their pride, they tried to make their own way to God.

Sin has consequences. God does not ignore sin.

Then the men set out from there,
and they looked down toward Sodom.

God saw the sin the people of Sodom. He wanted to include Adam in his thought process to learn about justice and mercy.

The Lord said, 
“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do,
seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation,
and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
For I have chosen him, that he may command his children 
and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord
by doing righteousness and justice, 
so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

God knew Sodom’s sin. But he wanted to have the conversation with Adam to show him his just judgements. He had incrediable patience with Abraham in this duel, but the message was that God will not allow sin to go unchecked.

God also wanted to show Abraham his mercy, through providing a way of escape for Lot and his family. But even then, there was judgement for Lot’s wife, who still could not separate herself from her love of the sin of the city. And even after Lot and his daughters relocated, sin learned in that city continued.

Why do we think that we can get away with sin? Why do we question the justice of God? And even when God is in the midst of saving us, offering us redemption, why are we tempted to look back?

God is a just and merciful god. 

Let’s Review – Genesis 17

Since Abram blew it so badly with Hagar, taking matters into his own hands (or arms) to make God’s promise become reality, God needed another “review lesson” with Abram. He wanted Abram to understand that no matter how impossible his promises may seem, they are “His” promises, and he needs no help.

Abram’s response: to fall “on his face.”

God made his point clear. 

And to make it even clearer, he renamed Abram to Abraham, giving him a new beginning.

And he asked for a sign of obedience: circumcision. I’ve often wondered where that creative thought came from but putting it in the context of Hagar/sex outside of marriage, I think it may have been appropriate.

And God knew Sarai needed a new beginning also, renaming her Sarah, to make her the mother of his people. 

This is when Abraham laughed. 

And he and God had a dialogue. Abraham is still trying to fix things with Ishmael. God patiently repeated Sarah, not Hagar, would be the mother of the nation, even naming her son Isaac.

The discussion was over; now faith steps needed to be taken. Have you ever wondered what the men in his household said when he told them about circumcision? “You want to do what?” But it looks like everyone followed their leader.

And Abraham, once again, was leading…

Simple Faith – Genesis 16

A great injustice was done to Hagar. She didn’t ask to be a slave in Egypt. She didn’t ask to be given to a foreigner and then taken to another land. And after ten years, I doubt if she asked to be given sexually to Abram.

But when she conceived, “She looked with contempt on her mistress.”

And she probably had good reason. Remember Sarai had allowed herself to be given to Pharoah who almost took her sexually. That deceit caused Hagar to lose all she had known. 

And Abram didn’t want to get in the middle of two women. He’d already tried to please his wife by “embracing” Hagar and lost. So he punted again, afraid to lose with Sarai, but knowing he could lose his child, the only heir he might ever have.

Sarai was wrong to treat Hagar harshly. Only God can judge if Hagar was wrong to run.

But what we learn as Hagar weeps at the spring in the wilderness is that God sees EVERYTHING. He saw all of Abram’s sin, Sarai’s sin, and Hagar’s sin. 

He seeks us out and finds us, just as he sought out Adam and Eve, Cain, and so many others. He wants to dialogue with us, not because he doesn’t know the situation, but because it is healing, clarifying, for us to talk out loud. Dialogue builds relationship. And Hagar needs relationship if she is going to have the strength to return.

She also needed a vision, not of the reality that Sarai is really mad, but that she has a purpose before God. She was to have a son, and even though he would cause conflict, he would, and she would, survive.

Her response: “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” 

She trusted God would “look after me.” She couldn’t trust that Abram would, even though he slept with her. And she couldn’t trust that Sarai would, even though she was her master.

But she knew God would take care of her.

Simple faith.

What do I need simple faith in that God will take care of me?