It had been at least 14 years since Jacob started working for Laban to “earn” his wife, Rachel. The agreement has been fulfilled, Joseph has been born, Jacob’s wife is happy, at least one of them, and he is ready to go. But I like the fact that Jacob just doesn’t just slip away in the night with his 4 wives and his 11 sons and 1 daughter. He goes to his father-in-law and asks him to release him. “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country…you know the service that I have given you.” It was a show of respect for his father-in-law even though it sounded like a demand. Laban then appeals to Jacob for a favor but notice how these two men acknowledge the truth and its source.
Laban says he has learned “in divination” that the reason he has been blessed by God is because of Jacob. Divination will be prohibited by God in Deuteronomy 18, because it was an attempt to find truth in ways that bypass God and his revelation. Consulting a medium, reading tea leaves, interpreting omens or dreams can sometimes reveal truth, but they are not the means by which God directs his people. They can also open worlds of danger. He alone is the source of truth and God has given us his Word. Laban came up with the right idea, that he was blessed only because God’s hand of blessing was on Jacob. But what Laban says he “divined” somehow, Jacob simply stated as fact. He said to Laban, “The Lord has blessed you wherever I have turned.” Emphasis mine. Hey, Laban, you are 100% correct that you have been blessed but don’t miss the connection between God and me to you. Jacob was a great employee because he had a great work ethic, no doubt. But Jacob was also blessed by God, and that blessing had benefitted others.
How should we acknowledge to a watching world that our work ethic and any blessing on us that spills over to others is because of God? We don’t need to say “I’m blessed” every time someone asks us how we are. You certainly may do that, but that’s not enough. We don’t need to put up a poster at work that says, “No God, no peace. Know God, know peace.” Again, not enough. We don’t need to wear a cross around our neck or put a bumper sticker on our car. Especially one that says, “In case of the rapture, this car will be unmanned.” Please don’t put that on your car, for lots of reasons. You may start seeing one on your neighbor’s truck that says, “In case of rapture, can I have your car?”
Ok, so what should we do, instead of trite sayings or posters or bumper stickers? We should speak about him. Use our words. Acknowledge God at every opportunity that is appropriate. Talk about God and God’s truth as the source of life. Be a witness in the fullest meaning of that word. You say, hold up! If I do that in my job or at the club or with the guys or at (fill in the location)…I will get nothing but grief! Maybe even persecution! You may be right, and Peter has a word for you:
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is God’s will, than for doing evil.” -1 Peter 3:13-17
The green-eyed envy monster entered stage left as Rachel, who desperately wanted children, envied her older sister Leah for having 4 already. She commanded Jacob to give her children or watch her die. Clearly, envy can twist our logic and provoke others to sin. Jacob rightly said that it is God who gives or withholds children, but he reacted to his wife with anger. One helpful hint heard in marriage counseling is that we should respond, not react when triggered. If Jacob had responded instead of reacting to Rachel, what would he have said? Maybe…he would have thought first about what she had said and why she had said it. Maybe…he would have seen Rachel’s accusation as coming from her grief and pain at being childless. Maybe…he would have acknowledged her pain as real and told her he loved her whether she was able to conceive or not. And maybe…he would have prayed with her that God would open her womb. Instead, he got angry and gave her a theology lesson. Theologically correct and relationally all wrong. Can anyone relate? Ouch.
Rachel then takes matters into her own hands, just like Sarah had done years earlier when she was not able to give Abraham a son. Instead of going to the Lord, Rachel goes to her servant. Rachel gives her servant to Jacob, and Bilhah becomes his third wife. As if he didn’t have enough trouble being a good husband to the TWO he already had. Three wives and later four wives were not God’s plan any more than two wives were, but once again we see the grace and mercy of God. He blesses his people, not because of their wrong efforts but in spite of them. God gives Rachel two sons through her servant, and she names the first one Dan, which sounds like “judged” in Hebrew because Rachel believes her barrenness is God’s judgment. The second she names Naphtali which sounds like “wrestling” in Hebrew. And incredibly she gloats after this birth, saying, “I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.” Bless Rachel’s heart. Her struggle was not with Leah but with God, and even if it were with Leah, she has not prevailed! Not unless her math is way different than the way we would normally count.
The soap opera plot continues when Leah says in effect, “Oh yeah? Two can play this game,” and she gives her servant to Jacob as his 4th wife! In that culture, if a woman gave a servant as a substitute to her husband and that servant conceives, that child belongs to the woman, not to the substitute or surrogate. So count two more boys for Leah, Gad and Asher, because she considers herself to have good fortune and because she is happy. Or at least, she says that is what other women say of her. Hey, you must be happy! But is she, really?
After a brief commercial break, the soap opera takes a really strange turn, as soaps often do, I am told. Leah’s oldest son Reuben finds mandrakes in the field and brings them to his mom. It was a flower considered to have fertility-inducing qualities. That was and is superstition, not science. So a trade takes place with Rachel giving Leah permission to spend time with her husband in exchange for the mandrakes. Seems like Rachel, the favorite wife, had authority over who got to bunk with Jacob. The irony is that Rachel was hoping the mandrakes would help her conceive and win the birthing war, but they did nothing for her, but the “man-date” Rachel traded to Leah ended up in older sister having baby boy number 5. And on it went. Read Genesis 29-30 for the complete saga.
What do we learn from this story that is filled with strife and envy, sadness and joy? Mainly this: the blessing of God is given by his divine will. Leah did not have what she wanted, the affection of her husband, but was a woman of strong faith who was blessed by God in childbirth. God even exalted her as the mother of the kingly tribe of Judah. Rachel had the affection of her husband but did not have what she wanted, children. Weaker in faith than Leah it seems, Rachel tried to get what she desired by human means, sacrificing the spiritual for the worldly and the temporal. But God intervened for the favorite wife who seemed at first to be haughty and impatient and gave her a son. She then blessed God, perhaps having learned that God’s gifts are not gained by bargaining or scheming, and instead prayed for another. Finally? These two women, with the help of their servants, produced the 12 sons who would become the twelve tribes of Israel.
God can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick. He still does, with you and me!
Way before Linda Ronstadt sang “Just one look, that’s all it took, yeah,” Jacob belted it out. He took one look at Rachel and jumped up to move the stone away from the well by himself, a stone that would normally take more than one man to move. He not only moved away the stone, but he watered Rachel’s flock. A sure way to a woman’s heart, guys, is to water her flock of sheep if she happens to have one. Keep a sharp eye out for those. Allen Ross writes, “Jacob must be contrasted with the lazy shepherds. (The ones who did not jump up to water her flock. Or even their own.) He was generous, zealous, and industrious—spurred on to a magnanimous act. He had a mission, a quest.” Jacob understood that the Lord was with him and when believers know that God is at work in their lives, they will work hard and give generously in service to others.
Not recommended on a first meeting, guys, but Jacob then kissed Rachel and cried like a baby. The kiss was probably a middle eastern greeting, on the cheek not the lips, the same kind of smooch Jacob will get from Uncle Laban later in the story. The tears? Well, they must have come from joy that the Lord had indeed led him to this place and to this woman. It is the only time in the Bible when an unmarried man kissed a woman who was not his mother. When Jacob told “Cousin Rachel” who he was, she ran to tell Laban her father, who dropped everything and ran to the well. A family of runners. I like that. Next thing we know, Jacob has lived with his Mesopotamian family for a month, apparently working for Uncle Laban the whole time.
“Tell me,” Laban says to Jacob after he had been serving his uncle for a month for free, helping out on the farm, “What shall your wages be?” You know why Laban said that? Because he had seen Jacob’s work ethic and solid character of diligence and punctuality and thoroughness for 30 days now, and he did not want to lose him from the company. Jacob did what every person should do who is working for another: he made himself indispensable to the point that he could almost command his own salary. But in this case, Jacob wasn’t as interested in wages as he was in a certain young woman. So he tells Laban he will serve him for seven years for his younger daughter Rachel. It was a high bride price, and you wonder why Jacob didn’t lower it some, but he was letting Laban know how much he valued his daughter. There were two daughters, but Jacob only had eyes for Rachel. (This is when he wrote a song for The Flamingos).
Jacob loved Rachel. He was willing to wait and willing to work to have her as his wife. The Africa Study Bible has this commentary: “The Banyamulenge community of the Democratic Republic of Congo require an expensive dowry (cows) from a bride’s suitor, or, if he does not have a dowry, (he must) serve as a shepherd before taking a wife. Marriage in most African communities includes elaborate requirements meant to test the degree of love and commitment the man will have for his future wife. It tests the man’s ability to provide for, take care of, and protect his wife once they are married…We can tell true love because true love waits, is patient, and endures to the end. A Rwandan proverbs says, ‘A bride is not given on a silver platter, rather by hard work.’”
It’s a great love story, but not without many challenges for the next 20 years. Read Genesis 29-30 for more!
The old joke goes like this: How can you tell when a lawyer is lying to you? Answer: His mouth is moving. I apologize to all of you lawyers and those who have a lawyer friend or relative. The real question is, “How can we tell when a Christian is lying?” The answer is: we can’t.
Paul wrote in Ephesians 4, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Why does Paul start this section that directly follows the description of the new man in Christ with this admonition: put away lying?
Perhaps on the one level, Paul started with this command because it is something that is so pervasive, even in the church. We learn as children that if we tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, sometimes that means punishment. Sometimes there is pain attached to the truth, so we learn to lie. When we get saved, we know it’s not good to lie, so we try not to lie, technically. But it is like riding a bike. Once you learn to do it, you never forget. We can lie to one another and not think twice about it. We can lie about how we are doing. We can lie about our sins. We can lie about our marriages. We can lie about our kids. We can lie about our financial struggles. We can lie about our fears. We can lie about our insecurities. We can lie about our loneliness. Not only can we lie about anything and everything, we can lie in so many different ways. We can lie with what we say. We can lie with what we don’t say. We can lie with a look. We can lie with a hug or a handshake. We can lie with a laugh. We can lie with a tear. We can lie with a big ol’ grin on our faces. We can lie with our presence. We can lie with our absence.
Speaking of absences, I remember when I was in the 11th grade, and I got it into my head that I really didn’t need to go to school every day, so I started skipping. It was easy to lie to my parents about it, since they were gone to work by the time my ride came to take me to school. It was easy to lie to my friends who came to pick me up: I would just stick my head out the door and shake it, with this sad, sick look like I didn’t feel well. It was easy to lie to my teachers. I just wrote them a note each time and signed Dad’s name to it. It was easy! After lying to my parents, friends, and teachers, I would go and lie on the couch all day and watch game shows. Talk about a sick puppy. I stayed home from school for “Let’s Make a Deal?!” Well, the Bible says your sins will find you out. It just so happened that my English teacher bumped into my dad at a meeting one night, about half-way through the year. “I’m so sorry that Mark has had such a problem with sickness this year,” he said, while looking at my dad to see his response. Just as he suspected, this was big news to my father. Dad sat me down that night and spelled it out for me. “You will stop lying to me about this. You will go to school every day and stay all day. Or…you will pack your bags and move out. As long as you’re living under my roof, you will do what I say. Finishing school is non-negotiable.”
Do you see what happened? As long as that thing was in the darkness, I could go on in my sin, even though it was eating away at my soul, while the TV programs were turning my brain to mush. But when it was brought into the light, it had to die. I don’t think any of us realize how much bondage and baggage comes along with every lie we tell. So, what should we do, starting yesterday?
Put away lying.
You can’t make this stuff up. The story of Jacob “stealing” the blessing from Esau is real and none of the names were changed because no one was innocent. This plot can be found borrowed, in part, in Shakespearean plays such as Othello, and in plenty of other plays and TV shows and movies, where one character pretends to be another and ends up in all kinds of trouble, as the audience laughs. But make no mistake. All four of the characters in this Bedouin tragicomedy are guilty, but Moses, our narrator, makes no editorial comments. He simply tells it like it is and shows the rival strategies of father and favorite son vs. mother and favorite son and how they all end up serving God’s purposes. But not without lies and deception and even blasphemy.
Isaac is old now, his eyes are dim, and maybe his faculties are as well. He thinks he is about to die so he wants to give Esau his blessing, though Isaac will end up living at least 20 more years. And it seems the whole thing for Isaac centers on food. Listen! Isaac knew the oracle God spoke to Rebekah before these boys were born, that the older would serve the younger. You know Rebekah had reminded him of it often as the boys grew up. But Isaac was determined to have his way, not God’s, in this. And honestly, the older he got the more he was being led by his five senses, and not by good sense. Derek Kidner wrote, “his palate had long since governed his heart and silenced his tongue for he was powerless to rebuke the sin that was Esau’s downfall…(and he ends up) rejecting the evidence of his ears for that of his hands, following the promptings of his palate and seeking inspiration through -of all things- his nose.”
The plot of the story is hatched because Rebekah overhears Isaac talking to Esau about the kill and the meal and the thrill of the blessing that would follow. What if Rebekah had not overheard and Isaac had eaten Esau’s food and then blessed his older son? Oh my goodness, what would God have done then? We don’t know how, but God’s purposes will stand. Always and forever. Rebekah did not have to hatch this plot, because God had already told her Jacob was the chosen son. God did not need her help. We never have to take matters in our own hands to get what we think God wants for us.
It might appear Jacob has a twinge of conscience when his mother tells him her plan, but it is simply fear of being caught. This is situational ethics 101. Do whatever you need to do, even if it includes deception, to “accomplish the purposes of God.” Kent Hughes writes about this, “The variations of this ethical absurdity are endless: (A man says) ‘It is God’s will that I provide for my family. Therefore a partial truth told to a client is OK.” Or, “It is God’s will that his Word be preached with power. So the use of made-up illustrations and personal stories are fine if they enhance the truth of the Word.” Or, “God wants people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. So it’s OK to use unbelievers and entertainers to get an audience.”
Jacob says to his mom, I might end up bringing a curse upon myself, and Rebekah assures him that no, she would take the curse. As if she had authority over that discipline from God. Then she says, “Only obey my voice.” Listen, everyone, and especially young people. If anyone tells you to do something that you know is wrong, no matter who it is, obey God instead. But Jacob did what his mother told him to do, and Rebekah knew that she could prepare some gamey-tasting goat (yuck) that would taste just as delicious as whatever Esau would be dragging back to the tent, and she could do it in less time. That was important, right? You couldn’t have Esau showing up right when Jacob, all dressed up in his Esau-halloween costume, is carrying a platter of steaming goat into his father’s tent. That would ruin the ambience and probably lead to fratricide. I’m telling you; you can’t make this stuff up.
The final touches are complete when Rebekah makes a meal that will appeal to Isaac’s stomach, puts some of Esau’s clothes on Jacob to help him smell like his brother, and goat skins on his arms and neck so he will feel like his brother. The fix is in, the props and the costumes are ready, so…
Read the rest of the story in Genesis 27!
God blessed Isaac in the land that he had told him to live in. He became rich, and then he became very wealthy. God is not an enemy of wealth or the wealthy. In fact, Deuteronomy 8:18 reminds us, “You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth…” But Isaac’s faith was never in his crops or stocks or wells, but in God.
I love the story in Genesis 26 of Isaac digging one well after another, only to have the men of Gerar contend and quarrel with him over who owned the wells. Isaac set to work re-digging the wells his father had dug and the Philistines had filled in. Each well his men dug was challenged or seized by the herdsmen of Gerar, and Isaac simply moved on and dug another. Finally he moved far enough away that the well was not contested, so he named it Rehobeth, which means “broad places.” God has given me room. Derek Kidner writes, “His labor on the lost wells, the contesting of his early gains, the timely reliefs and encouragements, and the eventual reward of his tenacity make a story which still speaks to the man (or woman) of God engaged in the same struggle.”
I also love the character that we see here in Isaac. The confidence he had that his life and his work were in the Lord’s hands gave him the strength not to fight the men or even resent the struggles and the opposition. He was able to simply trust that it was part of God’s plan, and that God would give him a broad place after he patiently and peacefully walked through the narrow ones.
I call that divine grit. Grit that comes not from self-reliance but from faith that rests solidly on the promises of God. We see it in Isaac, and we will see it even more in Jacob, and even more in Joseph. Divine grit is not just a patriarch thing. It’s a man of God thing. It’s a woman of God thing.
This is a cartoon depiction of Jacob and Esau at a pivotal moment in their lives. Which one of these is a real man? The truth is, both of them appear to have the XY chromosome, so they are both men. Which is the more manly man? Some people determine manliness by levels of aggression, athleticism, or rugged individualism. Or even by the size of the pickup truck or the biceps. Esau was a skillful hunter and a man of the fields. He may have been a lot bigger or stronger than his little brother, but the truth is, Jacob will turn out to be the most manly. Even the way Genesis 25 describes Jacob here is telling. He is a “quiet man, dwelling in tents.” The Sumerians of that day spoke highly of tent dwellers, saying they were settled and civilized. But what about “quiet man?” Some people read “mama’s boy,” or “sissy,” but the word in Hebrew for quiet means “complete, upright, one of stable disposition.” He was much more in control of himself and his emotions than his older brother, which brings Proverbs 16:32 to mind: “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Manliness has much more to do with self-control than with brute strength. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek,” and we know that meekness is not weakness, but it is strength under control. With that understanding, then, Jesus was the manliest man who ever lived.
What is most important in this story is that Esau lost his birthright to Jacob, but he lost it because he did not consider it important. It is a great story of how expedience can overcome wisdom and make us the poorer. It is a story of how flesh will win over spirit if we do not say no to the flesh. It is a story of wanting something of little value instead of that which has greater and lasting value.
Jim Eliott said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” That statement would take on ‘forever meaning’ for Jim when he was speared to death by the Auca Indians in 1956, the same ones he was witnessing to. He gave up his comfort and even his life which he could not keep anyway to gain eternity and to help that tribe do the same.
Esau came in from the fields, tired and exhausted, and Jacob was cooking some red stew. Esau smelled the stew and he saw the stew, and he wanted the stew, wanted it right now. He didn’t care what it took and what he had to give up to get the stew. This past week, an airborne deer going north to south met my Honda Accord traveling west to east. It’s rutting season when bucks are thinking about only one thing. He was chasing a doe and could not have cared less what was in his way. Even the windshield of a pastor’s car as he is just trying to make it across town.
Esau didn’t care about anything at that moment but food. See food. Eat food. Red stew? Good. Give me some. Birthright? What good is a birthright if I’m about to die. Drama much, Esau? But he was thinking with his gut. Derek Kidner said, “he was a prey to his craving.” At this moment, he was not the mighty hunter but the weak prey. You may say that Jacob wasn’t much better. And on one level, you’re exactly right. He was the usurper, right? The heel-grabber, the one who trips up to take advantage, and he was doing just that with his brother. The difference is that what Jacob desired more than anything was worth desiring. That made Jacob the more godly man. He gave his brother what he craved and Esau walked away, thinking nothing of the consequences to his soul. The text is stark: “…He ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.”
It was a warning to Israel and to all who simply live to satisfy the desires of their flesh. Man and woman without Christ simply eat and drink and die and go their way. And in the process, they despise their birthright, the blessing that is freely given to all who come to Christ by faith and through grace.
Isaac was 40 when he married Rebekah and 60 when his twins were born. So for 20 years, Rebekah was barren. Twenty long years of waiting. But that waiting was not without action. What did Isaac do? What was his work during those 20 years besides taking care of his flocks and herds? Prayer. Prayer that sprang from his faith. Remember when the people asked Jesus, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So Isaac prayed. And believed. And waited.
Some in today’s world might say, “What was the big deal that Isaac and Rebekah couldn’t have children? We have too many people in the world, anyway!” Or some say, “The world is dark and evil; why would I want to bring children into it?” I answer with the Psalms: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” And I answer with Jesus, “You are the light of the world.” Think about it, followers of Christ. If the world is a dark place, don’t we need to bring more light into it? That’s what children born into a home where they will be taught of the Lord can become: light in a dark place. Having children, if you are able, is an act of faith in a mighty God, and I would even say an act of obedience to a God who gives good gifts.
Isaac’s work of God was to believe, and because he believed, he prayed with and for his wife. How many times in Genesis 25 did Isaac ask in faith that God would let his wife Rebekah conceive? We are not told. But maybe he had heard from his father about the time when God told him to pray for the women in Abimilech’s house who had been made barren by the Lord. God heard Abraham’s prayer and the women in Abimilech’s house bore children. Abraham may have said to Isaac, “Son, I didn’t pray for your mom then. She was barren, and I should have prayed that God would heal her long before she was 91 and had you.” We don’t know how this happened, but Isaac knew that his only hope for children was the Lord. So he prayed with and for his wife. And if that prayer started when they got married, and he prayed every day, then he asked God more than 7,000 times to bless his wife with a child. The verb that is translated “prayed” in that passage is used by Moses multiple times in Exodus and is usually translated “plead.” Moses told the Pharaoh more than once that he would go and plead with the Lord to remove the plagues. There’s an emotional component here as well, as Isaac is pleading with God on behalf of Rebekah.
One of the most important works of being a husband is to pray, in faith, with and for your wife. And not to give up. Keep knocking on the door, keep asking, keep seeking. Isaac did that. Can you imagine the joy of this couple when “God granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived”? God did the same for the mothers of Jacob, Isaac, Joseph, and Samuel, among others. Four famous and very important men of God whose mothers were barren before God healed them. Where would the people of faith be without those men, and their fathers and mothers who prayed for their existence?
Let’s acknowledge and believe and teach others that EVERY child, every single one, is a gift from God.
I love the story in Genesis 24 Abraham sending his servant to find a wife for Isaac in the old country. Eliezer had to travel more than 500 miles with ten camels and supplies and “choice” gifts, to find a woman he did not know, convince her that she should leave her family and home and travel with a stranger for 500 miles, where she would meet his master’s son, a stranger, and become his wife!
Eliezer stopped at the well outside the city of Nahor and prayed for guidance, that God would show him the right woman for Isaac. He didn’t ask God to help him see something arbitrary or spectacular. He wanted to see a woman who was set apart by her generosity and her willingness to work. A woman who was both kind and industrious, as one commentator put it. By this I will know, Eliezer said to God, that you have shown “hesed,” steadfast love to my master.
How do we know Rebekah was generous and kind? She did not hesitate to offer Eliezer a drink of water when he asked. And she did not hesitate to offer to draw water for his camels as well! How do we know she was industrious and hard working? Because he had TEN camels, and a thirsty camel after a long journey can drink up to 25 gallons. That means she offered to draw 250 gallons of water from the well for this stranger and his camels which would have taken 2 hours or more. The text says Eliezer “gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not.”
God did, and Rebekah took Eliezer and his entourage to her house to meet the family and stay the night. The evening and the next morning in Rebekah’s house is another example of the faithfulness of Eliezer. And of his determination to complete what his master had sent him to do. Allen Ross wrote, “Believers must give priority to completing God’s work.” Eliezer did that by coming into Laban’s house at his bidding, but then insisting that before he ate anything he would need to tell them the story of his coming to their house. What did he tell Laban? He emphasized the blessing of the Lord upon Abraham, and that the inheritance of all he had would go to his son Isaac, and the promise he made to his master not to take a wife for Isaac from Canaan but from his father’s house and from his clan. He told him that his master promised an angel would come with Eliezer and prosper his way. He told him of the conditions by which he prayed the Lord would show him the right one for Isaac and how Rebekah appeared even before he finished praying and did all that he had just asked the Lord to show him. He ended his story with this appeal to Rebekah’s family: “If you are going to show hesed, steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me.” They agreed!
But…what happened the next morning is a good reminder that though God’s provision is certain, it is not always easy. Rebekah’s brother and mother, and I suspect this is mostly Laban, as we know how he will treat Jacob later on, tell Eliezer to let her stay at home for another ten days and then she could go. Eliezer had two choices. He could acquiesce and bide his time for ten days, with no guarantee that 10 would not stretch into 30 and a decision not to let Rebekah go at all. Or he could push back. The saying is, “Don’t doubt in the darkness what you have heard in the light.” He had heard in the light that this was the woman God had led him to. So, he pushed back: “Do not delay me, since the Lord has prospered my way.” They responded with, “OK, let’s see what Rebekah wants to do.”
I love this, and I believe God sovereignly worked it out precisely this way. Because though on the one hand this was an arranged marriage, and the two who will marry in a few days will have never seen each other, neither was forced into it. Especially not Rebekah! She said to her brother and mother, “I will go.” J.I. Packer wrote, “Believers are never in the grip of blind forces (fortune, chance, luck, fate); all that happens to them is divinely planned, and each event comes as a new summons to trust, obey, and rejoice.”
The story ends with the two seeing each other for the first time, and “she became his wife, and he loved her.” We modern folks like to flip that around and say, “I loved her, and then she became my wife.” And that’s good. But isn’t it the desire of every married couple that we will grow in love for our wife or husband in ways we could never even imagine when we first married?
Sarah lived 127 years, Moses writes here, and she died in Hebron, in the promised land of Canaan, that had not yet been given to the people of God. Sarah was not perfect, as we have seen, and neither was her husband. But she had been Abraham’s faithful companion and wife for at least 100 years, ever since they were married in Ur of the Chaldeans and her name was Sarai. She had been with Abraham in all of the great moments of their lives, and in all of the failures. And she was the miracle mother at 91 of the child of promise, Isaac, who was now around 37 years old. Centuries later, Isaiah the prophet would write this to the people of God: “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you;” (Isaiah 51:1-2)
Now Sarah, the matriarch from which Israel came, was dead. And Abraham does what any husband would do when his wife dies. He mourns for her. He weeps over the loss of his faithful companion, the wife of his youth and his old age, the mother of his son Isaac. Death is the enemy that will one day be finally and forever defeated, but not yet. Paul wrote that it will be after this mortality puts on immortality on that day when we are all changed in the twinkling of an eye that the saying shall come to pass that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” But death still stings today, doesn’t it? Every marriage, every family, every loving friendship will ultimately suffer loss. It is simply the reality of life before the second coming of Christ. But as Paul says, we who believe, “do not mourn as those who have no hope.”
After Abraham mourned, he rose up and went presumably to the gate of Hebron where he found the people who lived there, the Hittites. With the 62-year old promise of God perhaps ringing in his ears, “to this offspring I will give this land,” Abraham speaks to the men in the gate. Notice he does not tell them that the land they are occupying is really his and his descendants and they might as well go ahead and give it to him. No. Abraham simply asks them for a place to bury his dead wife. They may have been surprised that this man from far away was not taking his wife back to her ancestral home to bury her. They didn’t know what Abraham knew, that this land was his home and the home of his descendants, though they held not one deed to one square inch of it. Not yet.
That’s when the bargaining begins. I have bought souvenirs from street vendors and street marketplaces in several countries, and one tactic is universal. If you offer $5 for a carved wooden elephant, you may only be able to get that price, after several minutes of bargaining, if you also buy a carved wooden giraffe and lion and maybe a rhino and pay $5 each for them as well. In other words, “upselling” was not invented by Americans. It happens everywhere and has been going on for a long time. At least as far back as Hebron, circa 1914 B.C. Because Ephron does it with Abraham when he is asked about the purchase of a cave to bury his wife. First the game. Ephron says to Abraham, “No, my Lord, I give you the field and I give you the cave that is in it.” Ephron has no intention of giving this foreigner anything, but notice what he did? He added the field into the deal. Abraham didn’t ask for the field, just the cave. He is not looking to build a cemetery or a park, just bury his wife. But he doesn’t argue. He simply bows again and asks permission to be heard once more. He then asks for the price of the field. Ephron, he says, name your price and I will give you that price, and I will bury my dead.
With the upsell of a field as well as the cave accepted, Ephron asks for what most believe to be a highly inflated price tag. He says maybe with a heavy sigh for effect, Oh, that field is only worth 400 shekels of silver, and what’s that between you and me? The man in Kenya with the carved elephant, when I offered him $5 for it would put his hand on his chest and say, “Oh, my friend, you hurt my heart! This elephant, and I love this one, I have spent hours and hours carving it. Not $5, but $50. My friend.” And so it would go. Well, back in Hebron, Ephron has Abraham on the hook and starts reeling him in. The price of 400 shekels, or 6 ½ pounds of silver in that day would be an enormous, even outrageous sum. But notice that Abraham did not argue. He knew God as Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who provides, didn’t he? He accepted the price graciously, and the price was weighed out in the hearing of the Hittites.
Allen Ross writes, “The only portion of the Promised Land that Abraham ever received, he bought—and that was a grave.” What is important about this transaction beyond a place to bury his beloved bride? This purchase forever tied the descendants to the land. Sarah will be joined by Abraham in the same burial cave, and then Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah.
The writer of Hebrews said, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”