Saturday, March 07, 2009

Genesis 23:1-25:18: Securing the future of the Seed

105 verses to finish the story of the coming of the promised seed..  
Unanswered questions (as posed by Stephen Dempster): what about the land and what about Isaac’s future in the land?!

Of death and securing the land.
This part of the story begins and ends with death, the generation of Abraham goes to the grave (ch23, ch25). First Sarah dies, and we find Abraham acquiring a grave, and then latterly we’re told of the death of Abraham, buried by Isaac and Ishmael in the same grave. Death is a problem for a nomadic people like the ‘house’ of Abraham – where can you bury your dead if you have no land? God has come good on the promise of a seed, but the land is further off – generations and centuries away. Can any stake in the land be secured?

The grave of Abraham and Sarah is in Canaan. Abraham goes to the Hittites, the people of the land (x3), near the oaks of Mamre where he has lived. He asks to be allowed to buy a plot for a grave, they say that they would want to give this Prince of God a plot. He refuses and insists upon paying. Abraham refused to receive wealth from the King of Sodom, and now he refuses to receive the land God promised him from the Hittites (ch15).  Eventually, with the wealth God has prospered him with he buys the plot and a cave in which to bury his wife. Abraham’s family now have a very small foothold on the land that God has promised them.

The story of The Man and his bride is not just a story of the search for a seed but also for land. This is the story of genealogy and geography. A seed to take them into God’s place, and the place into which the seed will take them. Both threads can be pursued to find the fulfillment in the one who is truly God’s people and God’s place.

Of life, and a bride for the promised seed.
In between these we find a deeply repetitive story concerning the future of the Seed, Isaac. Abraham’s servant goes to find a wife from the country he had come from. Abraham insists against a Canaanite wife. Could this be again to ensure that the land comes by promise not inheritance? Could this be instructive to the original readers Israel who will enter the land and then tragically intermarry with Canaanites and follow their gods (Judges 3v5-6)?

The servant, perhaps Eliazer of Damascus, (Genesis 15) goes under oath. At a well he prays, for like his master, he believes in the LORD - trusting his steadfast love (grace). The LORD answers and identifies the attractive young Rebekah to be the prospective wife of Isaac. He goes with her to her brothers house and re-tells the whole story. This feels a bit tedious in the reading, why tell it twice? The repetition highlights the importance of God's gracious provision of the bride of the promised seed. Earlier in Genesis 10 generations pass quicker than the telling of this story. Pay attention! It's emphatic: How did the Seed get a bride? The LORD graciously spoke.

On hearing Rebekah's brother and father identify the hand of the LORD in the situation and consent, as she does. It’s worth asking whether Nahor’s house would be believers. We know that Christ appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia before his family journeyed to Haran and on to Canaan (See Stephen in Acts 7). This led to his repentance from moon-worship to call on the LORD. Perhaps his brothers did the same? Perhaps they are converted here through Eliazer? On his arrival they recognise the LORD's blessing on him (24v31) and by his conclusion they have heard the LORD speak (24v51)

As Rebekah departs she is blessed by her family (24v60) to be come thousands and told that her seed will possess the gates of those who hate him. ESV and Holman translations keep or offer this singular, while others read it in plural. The Hebrew is the same as that in Genesis 1 (the third day of seed bearing plants), of Eve’s seed, of Abraham’s seed (whom Paul makes such a point in Galatians 3 as being singular) The promise holds for the people who represent the seed if it’s plural but look more directly not just to Isaac, seed of Abraham, but to the ultimate seed who will come from Abraham and from Isaac, namely Christ against whose people the gates of hell will not prevail!!

Rebekah arrives and Isaac lifted his eyes in faith (as Lot did to Sodom, as Abraham did to the dusty Canaan) and sees his beautiful bride approach. He sees his future. She sees her future.  His mother is dead, his father will soon die, Isaac has a foothold on the land through the grave his father owns, and now he looks to the future, for comfort, for salvation, with his bride from whom will come the serpent-crushing seed who will take his people into the land. The man and his bride become one flesh. He takes her into the tent. Isaac's story is almost done, his long awaited birth passed almost unnoticed, his figurative death and resurrection and the acquiring of a bride for him dominate his story... as you might expect from Abraham's seed.

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