Genesis 23 & 24
Not quite the beginning ...
This morning we come back to our teaching series in the book of Genesis, which we’ve been working through on and off over the last 7 years.
We’ve called this teaching series “Beginnings”, which is what the word “Genesis” means.
But here in chapter 23, we’re not really at the beginning, are we? We’re 23 chapters after the beginning, and a lot has happened!
Already we’ve seen the beginnings of our world,
The beginning of humanity’s relationship with God,
The beginning of our problem with sin,
The beginning of God making known his solution to the problem of sin,
The beginning of human relationships, so last Saturday at Chad and Carolay’s wedding, I preached from Genesis chapter 2 and the beginnings of marriage.
But we’ve also seen the beginning of the unfolding plan of God, to bless all of humanity, through one man, Abraham, and his descendants.
Back in chapter 12 God had called Abraham, or Abram as he was known then, to leave his home, and his father’s family, and move to the land of Canaan.
God promised that land to Abraham, which is why sometimes Christians talk about the “Promised Land.” And because of the wickedness of the people already living there, God would drive them out.
So you can see on your outline the first 3 verses of Genesis 12. This is really the beginning of the story that takes the whole of the rest of the Bible to unfold,
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing. i
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
Genesis 12:1 - 3
God was going to use Abraham and his descendants to be a demonstration, of what it’s like to live under God’s rule and blessing.
This family, who would become the nation of Israel, were supposed to demonstrate to people how wonderful it was to live with God as your king,
How living according to God’s pattern for life is best,
And the blessing of God would spread from this family to all families.
Obviously Abraham personally isn’t going to bless all people on earth, he’s only around for one lifetime, but the blessings of God will come to other people, through his family, particularly through his son, Isaac.
And so we come to chapter 23.
Abraham’s wife Sarah has died, Isaac is a grown man, but still Abraham doesn’t actually possess any of the land of Canaan that God promised him.
He’s still towing his caravan from one campsite to the next.
And so those few verses we read out of chapter 23, they tell us how Abraham bought a burial plot, but they also show us Abraham’s great trust in the Word of God.
Abraham models obedient trust in the Word of God (even with the hard stuff) (23: 1 – 9)
Look at verse 4 of chapter 23, Abraham goes to where the locals are hanging out, sort of the Gawler Street of Kiriath Arba and he says 4 “I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.”
And he eventually buys not just the cave that he was after, but a whole field that had belonged to a bloke called Ephron.
Now it’s, it’s just part of the reality of family life, isn’t it?
Except in this incident, Abraham shows us his trust in God, by buying a burial plot in the land that God had promised to his descendants, even though, he doesn’t yet own any of the rest of it!
So imagine, without too much glee, please, that I die today, let’s imagine it to be this evening, so as not to cut short the sermon. But imagine that my wife Kathy and I had got on a plane after church today, we go to Darwin for a little holiday, and I walk off the plane and drop dead. Not too much glee, remember?!
Probably, Kathy’s not going to bury me in Darwin, just because we’re there,
Most likely she’d ship me back here and bury me in Mount Barker or somewhere, that’s where my family is.
You generally bury people where they come, or where their family is.
But that’s not what Abraham does, is it?
He’s in Canaan, in this town of Kiriath Arba, Hebron, and buys a field so he can bury Sarah.
Why does he do the opposite of what we’d normally expect?
Because, although his family doesn’t yet own any of this land,
He knows his descendants will.
I reckon when it comes to family, that’s when it can be most difficult, to trust in the promises of God.
Do you think?
When it’s our family,
When it comes to finding a husband or a wife,
When it comes to entrusting my family, and their future, and their well-being to God,
That’s when I find, it’s most hard to trust,
To believe that God has it all in hand,
That he can be trusted to do right,
And that his Word can be relied upon.
That’s when it hardest to hear his promise and cling to it,
Hardest to resist the temptation to take things into my own hands, because I’m pretty sure that I know better than God, when it comes to my family, and what’s good for them.
Does that ring a bell for any of us?
I know it’s true of me,
And I see it around me, all the time.
A few here know what it’s like to bury your spouse.
And even in that moment of grief and sadness, Abraham clings to God’s promise, absolutely confident that what God says; “this is where your family will live”, he believes that will come to pass.
Despite his current circumstances,
Despite everything that he sees right now,
Despite, and perhaps this is significant for us, despite cultural norms, and probably also his family’s expectations, “his in-laws are on the phone, saying, “you’re going to bring her body back here, aren’t you?”,
But Abraham chooses to demonstrate his trust in God’s promise.
“Why are we burying mum here?”
“God keeps his word.”
“Why buy a burial plot when we don’t even have a house near here?”
“God keeps his word. This is where our family will be.”
In the book of Hebrews in the New Testament, Abraham is commended for exactly this trust in the promise of God.
The writer there says he made his home in the promised land, like a stranger in a foreign country.
And then goes on to say of Abraham and other men and women like him, They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth,
they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God,
How are we called to demonstrate our trust in God’s Word?
So it raises the question of what does it look like for us?
We’re called to trust God’s Word when we don’t see the end point. That’s the point of Abraham being included in Hebrews 11, so that he can be an example for us, so that we too might believe that God’s Word can be trusted,
That his pattern for life is best, and that he keeps his promises.
For us it’s unlikely to be about where we bury our loved ones;, God’s promises to us aren’t about a particular patch of land in the Middle East somewhere.
And yet there are any number of situations where we are called to exercise this kind of trust in the promises of God,
To live by the conviction that God’s Word can be trusted,
To make decisions, believing that God’s pattern for life is always best, even if we can’t see how that could be true right this minute.
So, for example, God’s Word calls us to a particular way of conducting our relationships,
Of expressing our sexuality.
Do we trust God’s promise in the Bible, that this is the way he would have us live, when perhaps every message we hear from all around us, would lead us in a different direction.
There pressure is to do what’s “normal”, what’s expected.
Or, do we trust God’s promises to provide for us?,
Do we hear his call to invest in heavenly things?,
Or do we what’s normal and “expected”, and invest primarily in ourselves and those closest to us?
This is a question for us as a church right now, isn’t it? When we’re cutting staff hours and shutting down our offices in order to stay afloat.
Do we trust God?
Do we hear his Word?
Do we respond to his call?
And as I said, I think this is hardest for many of us, when it comes to our family.
Does getting our kids to church, or Youth Group, or Bible study seem important to us, because we’ve heard God’s command to make disciples of our children, to teach and instruct them in his ways,
Or do we disagree with God, and think, actually, what my child needs is every opportunity.
And so every sporting event,
Or special occasion,
Or new experience,
We think is going to our kid more good in the long run,
Than being with God’s people week after week,
Sitting under God’s word,
Taking their place in the body of Christ,
And learning by example, what it is to live out their Christian life in the community of God’s people.
Do you hear God’s Word?
Do you take it seriously?
Do we cling to God’s promises?
Or do we think we know better than God, Or even that God can’t be trusted to keep his promises?
Abraham, even in mourning, is a great example of obedient trust in the Word of God.
How to find a wife? (Genesis 24)
Abraham too though, is getting to the end of his life. 24 verse 1, Abraham is now very old, and so the time comes to find a wife for Isaac, which, on the surface, is what chapter 24 seems to be all about.
He sends his servant back to his homeland, to find a woman for Isaac to marry.
Now, some of you know I grew up at Longwood, not far from here. That was where my family came from. So when the time comes for my son Jamie to get married, when he’s, well, however old your kids are when you let them get married, it’s about 35 or something isn’t it?! So in 28 years do I need to send one of the TMB staff to Longwood in order to find a wife for him, in my home town?
Is that the point of Genesis 24?
Well, you’ll be pleased to know it’s not!
This isn’t about how to marry off your kids.
Notice how the author goes out of his way to direct our attention back to the promises of God that drive all of the story of Genesis, and the rest of the Bible. See there at the end of verse 1, the Lord had blessed him, Abraham, in every way.
Those promises from Genesis 12 that Abraham clung to so firmly in deciding where to bury Sarah, where to put his family’s roots down?”
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
Well the author’s telling us that we’re on the way to seeing these promises fulfilled.
It’s only partial, but it’s unmistakable;, the Lord had blessed him in every way.
So we’ve thought about the promise of land in chapter 23, and now we’re told that the promise of blessing is being fulfilled, so where does our attention turn?
To the one promise that doesn’t really seem to be going anywhere;, verse 2 of chapter 12, “I will make you into a great nation.
As I said, we know that that promise will come through Isaac, but he doesn’t even have a wife yet, which is how come this story isn’t just an episode of The Farmer Wants a Wife or something;, Isaac needs to get married and have kids, for the promises of God to be fulfilled.
So, you know, those of you who are parents, perhaps you have high hopes for your children to get married, well the anticipation in this case is even higher.
Abraham has a decision to make, is he just going to find a wife for Isaac anywhere, or let Isaac choose his own wife from anywhere, or do the promises of God about being a blessing,
And inheriting the land,
And being a distinct nation, will those promises shape the way that Abraham seeks to find a wife for Isaac?
Well, we saw what he does. And this is the longest chapter in the whole of Genesis, which in itself tells us that the author thinks what happens here tells us a lot about the unfolding story of God’s plans and purposes.
Abraham chooses faithfulness to God (v 1 – 9)
So Abraham calls his servant, and says to him, verse 3, I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, 4 but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.”
And so the servant heads off from Canaan, to Aram, where Abram’s family came from.
The simple solution would have been to find a local girl, and to do it quickly before Abraham dies,
But Abraham demonstrates, “I trust God,
I believe it’s better to get a wife who’s not from among the pagan Canaanites,
I believe God’s pattern is right”, and so he sends his servant back to the land of his family, to see if there’s a woman there, willing to become Isaac’s wife.
But this approach is not without its risks!
There’s a chance that Abraham might die before this is all settled,
It’s a long journey to the town of Nahor, verse 10,
Something might happen to the servant, especially as he’s carrying all sorts of gold and silver jewellery and articles of clothing, verse 53,
And as the servant points out in verse 5, there’s a reasonable chance that the woman he finds might not want to leave her homeland and travel to Canaan to marry Isaac,
There are any number of human elements, that could threaten this plan. Abraham knows that.
And yet still he trusts God,
That God’s pattern for life is best,
And he’s finally learnt that God will work his purposes out, without Abraham needing to take any shortcuts.
I reckon sometimes we’re willing to go along with God’s plan and according to God’s pattern, as long as it looks to us like that’s working. But when it looks like the wheels have fallen off God’s plan, or it seems like maybe he doesn’t actually know what he talking about, or what’s best for us, that’s when we decide to go our own way.
I remember a few years ago, a Christian family where the daughter’s marriage had broken down, and her mother, saying to her “because your marriage didn’t work out, even though you, kind of did everything God’s way, no sex before marriage, all that, when you meet another bloke who you like, you should just sleep with him right away.”
It looks like God’s plan doesn’t work, let’s take a shortcut, rather than believing that what God says about marriage and sexual relationships can be believed, and trusted.
But Abraham makes the choice that is obedient and trusting, doesn’t take matters into his own hands. He is utterly convinced that God’s got it under control. Verse 7, he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there.
But then see verse 8, If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Actually, it may be that you do come back empty handed. This might not be the way by which God is going to fulfil his promise. But even then he says, don’t take shortcuts.
do not take my son back there, the end of verse 8.
This is the place where my family is supposed to be.
God’s called us here.
Abraham doesn’t know what the outcome is going to be.
You know that old quote, attributed to everyone from physicist Neils Bohr to baseball legend Yogi Berra, “making predictions is difficult, especially about the future!”
We could say trusting God can be difficult, especially with the future. Abraham doesn’t know, what the outcome is going to be.
Abraham lived by faith, in the same sense that we do at times, having God’s Word of promise,
And a confidence in God’s goodness and power,
But not knowing, what the outcome is going to be.
That’s how we live, isn’t it?
God calls us to honour him, and he promises us that obedience and faithfulness on our part, will work out for our good.
But we don’t know the exact outcome, do we? In, shall we say, the short term, in this life.
Of course we know the outcome in eternal terms;, faithfulness and holding firm to the promises of God are how we take hold of the free gift of forgiveness and relationship with God that Jesus offers us in his death.
We know what that bit looks like,
But next week,
Next stage of my life,
Well, being faithful to God in my relationships, in who I date or marry, might mean, I don’t marry.
Being obedient to God’s Word in how I use my money might mean I don’t get to buy that thing I’ve been hanging out for.
Faithfully raising my children as disciples of Jesus might mean they don’t get into the As sporting team,
Or they don’t get that scholarship to the good school,
Or they’re not the most popular kid in their class.
Being a faithful follower of Jesus might mean the kind of conduct that stops me getting promoted at work.
If I trust in God’s word,
That God’s pattern is best,
That I won’t cheat, or lie, or exaggerate,
I won’t sacrifice my family for my career,
It might mean I’m the first one to be let go, when the company needs to downsize.
We don’t know the outcome, in the next weeks, months and years, of faithful obedience to God.
Trusting God can be difficult, especially with the future.
But Abraham is convinced of God’s faithfulness, his ability to bring his word to fruition, and so he trusts despite not knowing the outcome.
The prayer of a righteous servant depends on God’s faithfulness (v10 – 14)
So off the servant goes, taking with him ten of his master’s camels loaded with all kinds of good things from his master., He set out for Aram Naharaim and made his way to the town of Nahor.
Nahor was Abraham’s brother. This town is probably named after him.
You live around Mount Barker long enough and you’ll get a road named after you.
There’s a Watts road out Harrogate/Brukunga way, isn’t there? So Sue and her family have been here forever!
But once the servant arrives, the first thing that he does, after parking the camels, is pray.
“Lord, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham.
You know how if someone’s lost something, and they go looking and they find it, they often say, “It’s always in the last place you look.”
But of course it’s in the last place you look, because once you find it, you don’t keep looking in other places, do you?!
But often to pray, is the last thing we think of. And in fact often, it’s so last, we don’t even think of it at all.
And yet this servant, has barely got the handbrake on his camels when he prays.
We might initially think that his beginning, Lord, God of my master Abraham, is a bit arm’s length from God. “You’re not my God, you’re Abraham’s God”, but it’s really a way of highlighting the covenant that God had entered into with Abraham.”
God had called Abraham, God had made those promises,
Now the servant is saying, “I’m standing here in this country in response to your promise, and this is only going to be a fruitful exercise, if you act, in fulfilment of your covenant promises to Abraham.
Do you see that?
He knows he’s not going to have success if he just goes picking girls at random, swipe left, or whatever it is you do on the app these days to find a wife.
This is a prayer, founded on the promises of God, and utterly dependent on God’s faithfulness, for an answer.
And so if you’re a Christian, today, that is, if you trust that Jesus’ life and death and resurrection are enough for your rebellion against God, your rejection of God to be cancelled,
The punishment for them paid,
If that’s you this morning, is this how you pray?
Are your prayers founded on the promises of God,
And utterly dependent on the faithfulness of God for an answer?
This week I thought I’d read through the prayers of the Apostle Paul that are written in his letters in the New Testament.
And I was struck as I read them, by the extant to which Paul prays, like this.
He prays for his Christian friends, and for people he’s never met, in the light of the promises of God, that is he prays for things that God promises his people in his Word,
And he prays for things, and prays in such a way, that shows he knows any answer can only come from God.
So for the Christians in Colosse, he prays that they’ll be filled with the knowledge of God’s will,
growing in the knowledge of God,
being strengthened with all power, etc etc
Founded on the promises of God,
Utterly dependent on the faithfulness of God for an answer.
Now, it’s OK to pray for things that God hasn’t promised us.
At our Prayer Gathering on Wednesday night we prayed for healing and for employment for different people. God doesn’t promise us either of those, but it’s fine to pray for them.
Although I wonder if those things make up a much greater proportion of our prayers, than they ought.
What would happen instead, if we prayed for things that God promises his people? And for things that, when we see them, we know unequivocally, that God has heard us and answered?
Suffering, in order to further the cause of the gospel of Jesus.
Are our prayers founded on the gracious promises of God,
And are they utterly dependent on the faithfulness of God for an answer?
God answers the prayer that’s prayed according to his promises (v15 – 25)
So our faithful servant prays, “Please God, If I say, ‘can I have a drink?’ And she says, “sure, and I’ll get you some water for your camels, too”, then can she be the one?
Well, look at verse 15 with me.
Here is God’s response to a prayer prayed upon the foundation of his Word, and in utter dependence upon him.
Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder
It’s like God is just busting to answer this prayer,
To honour Abraham’s faithfulness,
To fulfil his promises,
And to begin to unfold the next stage of salvation.
You know when you were in a prayer meeting in your youth, and you just couldn’t wait for the person praying to finish?! You’re ready with your “amen!”
That’s almost what God’s like! Almost!
God’s not even going to let the servant finish his prayer, before he answers.
Maybe you’ve felt that praying is like trying to extract things out of God?
Like asking your child, “how was school today?”, you need to ask the same question over and over, and in 5 different ways, to get out just 10 percent of the answer!
That’s absolutely not how we ought to think about prayer.
This is how prayer works. God is eager, to act in fulfilment of his promises, according to the timing that is best for us.
How do you think of God? Holding something good back from you? Or longing to pour out the blessings that he’s promised you in Christ Jesus?
Eager, to fulfil his promises?
Well, verse 15 continues, Rebekah was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milkah, who was the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor
Sometimes we’re tempted, I know, to skip over names that we come across in the Bible, especially if they’re long, or a bit odd, or not a common, ordinary name like, Clayton!
But don’t skip over these ones, because these ones tell us that Rebekah is exactly the kind of woman Abraham is looking for.
The servant’s prayer,
And God’s faithful sovereignty, have come together; Rebekah is part of Abraham’s family, a possible wife for Isaac.
God is fulfilling his promises and unfolding his plans (v 26 – 27)
So see how the servant responds in verse 26, Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, 27 saying, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.
There’s a whole lot of talking in the last part of the chapter, before Rebekah is asked if she wants to be Isaac’s wife and she says, yes. B
But already it’s clear to the servant that God has answered his prayer
In verse 22, he gives Rebekah a gold nose ring weighing a beka and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels
That’s a bit over 6 and a half thousand dollars worth of jewellery, according to this week’s gold price! Not bad for someone you just met at the well!
And further down, past where we read, in verse 53, the servant brought out gold and silver jewelry and articles of clothing and gave them to Rebekah;
he also gave costly gifts to her brother and to her mother.
Those 10 camels are going home a lot lighter than they were when they came out.
God has answered the prayer of this servant, and honoured Abraham’s faithful choice.
But of course this has been more than just a story about a man finding a wife. As I said, we had Chad and Carolay’s wedding last week, is the point of this story that it was wrong for Chad to marry someone from Colombia, when his family comes from Pinaroo?
Sure, it’s a story about a family,
But even more it’s an account of God’s faithfulness to his promises,
How he keeps his Word,
How he can be trusted.
It’s a call on us to trust in God’s promises.
In chapter 23, Abraham makes decisions in the light of the promise that his family will inherit the land.
From chapter 24 the promise of a great nation can now move into the next stage of its fulfilment because Isaac has a wife,
And the promise of blessing, which we saw in verse 1 was already true of Abraham, well, in verse 31 Rebekah’s brother Laban calls the servant blessed by the LORD,
And Rebekah got showered in all that gold jewellery, and her family got given the 10 camel loads of loot in verse 53.
Do you see what’s happening?
Hang around with Abraham, good stuff happens to you.
Or let’s put it in Genesis 12 language, all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
Yes, it’s just a taste. A camel-load of jewellery, although nice, is not the ultimate in blessing is it?
But this is the step by step unfolding of God’s plans to bless all the world though Abraham’s family.
There’s a lot more to unfold before we get to the ultimate blessing, but in the very first line of the New Testament, Matthew 1 verse 1, Jesus is called “the son of Abraham.”
Ultimately it’s through Jesus that all peoples on earth can be blessed, as he stands in our place, and offers himself as our substitute so we can be reconciled to God,
Here in Genesis 24, nearly 4000 years ago, God was working on his plan, to offer you, salvation;, forgiveness, reconciliation.
It’s a whole lot more than The Farmer Wants a Wife.
Finding a wife was a big step for this man, Isaac, but a giant leap for mankind.