Learning to Recognize God’s Love

“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!” – Malachi 1:2-5 ESV

Whether we can accurately determine Malachi’s identity or not is irrelevant. What is important is that the author more than lives up to his God-given title of “my messenger.” Every word he has recorded is a message from Yahweh to His covenant people, the nation of Israel. For generations, these descendants of Abraham had enjoyed a unique, one-of-a-kind relationship with God that had made them the beneficiaries of His love and blessings. God had set them apart and declared them to be His prized possession, among all the nations of the earth. When He had successfully freed them from their 400-year captivity in Egypt, God had led them to Mount Sinai, where He spoke to Moses and delivered give the following message:

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

And the people had eagerly responded, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8 ESV). Even before God had communicated the terms of the covenant, they had agreed to keep it. They liked the idea of being God’s treasured possession, so they wholeheartedly declared their intentions to keep whatever conditions He set forth. But it was three days later that God called Moses up to the top of Mount Sinai and delivered the content of the covenant agreement to which they had already pledged their allegiance.

When Moses returned from the mountaintop, he shared with the people all that God had told him.

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” – Exodus 24:3-8 ESV

Moses revealed to the nation of Israel the Ten Commandments and all the associated laws that were intended to regulate their behavior as God’s chosen people. This God-ordained code of conduct was a non-negotiable regulatory document that would distinguish the nation of Israel from all the other nations of the earth. As long as they remained obedient to the covenant, they would be blessed. But should they choose to disobey, they would find themselves suffering severe and inescapable consequences.

But the history of the people of Israel reveals their epic failure at keeping their word. Once God had successfully planted them in Canaan, the land He had promised as their inheritance, they began to reveal their propensity for disobedience and unfaithfulness. They repeatedly violated the terms of the covenant and, despite constant warnings from God, they refused to repent and return to Him. Generation after generation carried on a dangerous love affair with the world and its many false gods, choosing the snub their noses in the face of the one true God. And eventually, God was forced to fulfill His warnings of retribution and destruction. That is why they had spent 70 years living as captives in the land of Babylon. God had warned them time and time again that He would remove them from the land of promise if they continued to violate His covenant and, in 587 B.C., the Babylonians had overrun the city of Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and taken thousands of its citizens back to Babylon as slaves.

At the time Malachi wrote his message from God, a remnant of the exiles had been living back in Judah for years. The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt, the temple had been restored, and the sacrificial system had been renewed, but the people remained just as rebellious and disobedient as ever. So, through His “messenger,” God delivered a powerful reminder of His unrequited love and patience with his stubborn people.

Through Malachi, God declared the reality of His steadfast, unwavering love. Despite all they had suffered over the last 70 years, He had never fallen out of love with them. “I have always loved you,” He reminded them. And even their time in exile had been an expression of His affection because “the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12 ESV).

But the people had a difficult time viewing the destruction of their city and their seven-decade-long internment in Babylon as evidence of God’s love, so they asked, “Really? How have you loved us?” (Malachi 1:2 NLT). From their perspective, it appeared as if God was angry with them and, even now, they suffered constant threats from their enemies and lived in a city that was little more than a shadow of its former glory. They had no king, no standing army, and little hope of ever seeing their fate reversed. As a result, they were distrustful of God, questioning His goodness and doubting His word concerning their wellbeing.

So, God reminded them of how they came to be His chosen people in the first place. He took them back to the births of Esau and Jacob, the twin boys born to Isaac and Rebekah. Malachi’s audience knew the story well. Before the boys were born, God had told Rebekah that the infants inside her womb represented two separate nations.

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

God informed Rebekah that the younger of the two boys would become the greater nation. According to tradition, the elder son should have been the recipient of the father’s inheritance and the one to bear the blessing of the firstborn. But, through a series of somewhat underhanded, but clearly God-ordained events, Jacob, the younger of the two siblings, would become the next in line to receive the inheritance that had been passed down through Abraham to Isaac. Jacob had been “loved” by God.

“When He said here that He hated Esau, He meant that He did not choose to bestow His favor on Esau to the extent that He did on Jacob (cf. Psalm 139:21). He made this choice even before they were born…” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes of Malachi

God had chosen to break precedence and set apart Jacob rather than Esau, and it had nothing to do with either boy’s value or worthiness. In fact, the apostle Paul points out the undeserving nature of either child and explains the sovereign nature of God’s will concerning His decision.

…before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.” – Romans 9:11-13 NLT

From a human perspective, it appears as if God showed greater favor to one son while disfavoring the other. But God did not completely abandon Esau. He simply chose to make His covenant commitment to the descendants of Jacob. God eventually gave Esau the land of the hill country, located around Moun Seir in Edom. In a sense, God blessed Esau by providing him with land as an inheritance, but Esau would prove to be unfaithful and idolatrous. His descendants, the Edomites, would be a constant thorn in the side of the Israelites. And when the Babylonians invaded the region, the Edomite cities and towns were also destroyed.

And when the Edomites declared their intent to reclaim and rebuild their devastated homeland, God warned them that he would prevent them from doing so.

“They may try to rebuild, but I will demolish them again. Their country will be known as ‘The Land of Wickedness,’ and their people will be called ‘The People with Whom the Lord Is Forever Angry.’ – Malachi 1:4 NLT

The Edomites would become an illustration of the futility and hopelessness that faces all those who are not in a covenant relationship with God. The only reason the Israelites had been able to return to the land and rebuild their former capital was that God had ordained it. The decree set forth by King Cyrus of Persia that had allowed a remnant to return to Jerusalem had been God’s doing. He had orchestrated it all. And, in doing so, He had proved His love for His chosen people yet again.

As the Israelites looked around them, they would soon realize that none of the neighboring nations that had fallen to the Babylonians would experience the same degree of revitalization as they had. Not even the Edomites, the descendants of Isaac, would ever rebuild their cities or reestablish their hold on the land. And this should have caused the Israelites to declare, “Truly, the Lord’s greatness reaches far beyond Israel’s borders!” (Malachi 1:5 NLT).

Both the Israelites and the Edomites were descendants of Abraham and Isaac, and both had suffered the judgment of God, having been destroyed by the Babylonians in the sixth century. Yet only Israel had enjoyed restoration after judgment. Despite what appeared to be their less-than-ideal circumstances, the Israelites were experiencing the love of God in the form of His covenant commitment. He had restored them just as He said He would do and He was not yet done blessing them. But, as the following verses will reveal, God did expect to see significant changes among His people.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Blessed to Be a Blessing

28 He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen. 29 Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. 30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.” 31 Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32 And the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock, and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.’ 33 When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.” 

1 So Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan. They are now in the land of Goshen.” And from among his brothers he took five men and presented them to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our fathers were.” They said to Pharaoh, “We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. And now, please let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you. Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land. Let them settle in the land of Goshen, and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.” – Genesis 46:28-47:6 ESV

As Jacob approached the land of Egypt, he pulled a page out of his long and storied playbook. Almost as if he was reliving his long-delayed reunion with his brother, Esau (Genesis 32:3), Jacob sent Judah ahead of the caravan, with instructions to find Joseph and request his assistance in finding the land granted to them by Pharaoh. Perhaps Jacob harbored suspicions and was attempting to ensure that the entire family was not walking into a trap set for them by the Egyptians. But Judah did as his father suggested and soon returned with Joseph, riding in his royal chariot. This scene must have the aged Jacob staggering from unbelief and overwhelmed by joy. There, standing right in front of him was the son that he had long thought to be dead. It was like witnessing a miracle, a veritable resurrection.

Joseph had grown up and was not wearing the familiar multicolored robe that Jacob had given him, but even in his old age and with failing eyesight, Jacob had no problem recognizing his boy. And their reunion was an emotional affair. Both men wept as they clung to one another in joy and disbelief. Neither had ever expected to see the other again. But God had graciously made it happen.

Having been given the unexpected blessing of seeing his son again, Jacob expressed his gratitude to God by stating that his long and adventure-filled life was now complete. He had lived to witness the impossible and was now ready to be with God.

“Now I am ready to die, since I have seen your face again and know you are still alive.” – Genesis 46:30 NLT

He could now die in peace, knowing that Joseph was alive, but also that his family had been preserved from certain death had they stayed in Canaan. All of his sons were together again and his family was under the watchful eye of Joseph and the gracious protection of Pharaoh.

Jacob and his sons were primarily sheepherders. It had been while he was living in Haran with his inlaws, that Jacob had been blessed by God with great wealth in the form of herds and flocks.

Thus the man increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys. – Genesis 30:43 ESV

But eventually, Jacob made the fateful decision to return home to Canaan, the land that had been promised to his father and grandfather by God.

So Jacob arose and set his sons and his wives on camels. He drove away all his livestock, all his property that he had gained, the livestock in his possession that he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac. – Genesis 31:17-18 ESV

And, once Jacob returned to Canaan, his assets had continued to increase. It had been while pasturing their father’s flocks in Dothan, that the brothers of Joseph had made the decision to turn against Joseph, eventually selling him into slavery. But now, years later, these very same shepherds and their vast flocks would find employment in the most unlikely of places. Joseph informed his father and brothers that he was going to request permission from Pharaoh that they be allowed to settle in the land of Goshen with their flocks. This was an ingenious plan on the part of Joseph because he knew that the  Egyptians held shepherds in great disdain. If he could convince Pharaoh to let his family settle in the fertile land of Goshen, he knew the Egyptians would give them wide berth, avoiding them at all costs “for everyone who takes care of sheep is disgusting to the Egyptians” (Genesis 46:28 NET).

Unsurprisingly, Pharaoh agreed with Joseph’s plan, decreeing that Jacob and his sons should settle in the land of Goshen. And in addition, he hired Joseph’s brothers to tend his herds and flocks as well. In other words, he guaranteed the Israelites a steady income for as long as they lived in the land.

“Now that your father and brothers have joined you here, choose any place in the entire land of Egypt for them to live. Give them the best land of Egypt. Let them live in the region of Goshen. And if any of them have special skills, put them in charge of my livestock, too.” – Genesis 47:5-6 NLT

In a sense, Jacob’s family was set for life. They had gone from facing a famine in Canaan to a land of fruitfulness where their flocks could thrive and their clan could survive. It was all almost too good to be true. But it was all in keeping with the promise that God had made to Abraham.

“I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you…” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

And this was the very same promise that God had reiterated to Jacob when he had returned to Canaan from his time in Haran.

“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 35:10-12 ESV

Little did Jacob know at the time that this promise would require a not-so-brief detour to the land of Egypt. But it would be in Egypt that God would greatly increase the number of Jacob’s descendants. As they made themselves at home in the land of Canaan, they found themselves unharassed by enemies and able to enjoy relative peace and prosperity in their new home.

In the book of Exodus, Moses reveals what transpired while the Israelites lived in the land of Egypt. They had entered Egypt, few in number, but they did not stay that way.

All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:5-7 ESV

God was behind this entire transition from Canaan to Egypt. It had all been for a much greater purpose than anyone realized at the time. Pharaoh had been generous and Joseph showed his gratitude by conveying a blessing on him. In keeping with the promise of God, the descendants of Abraham were proving to be a blessing to the nations. Because of Joseph, Pharaoh and his countrymen had been spared the effects of a seven-year famine. He was now more rich and powerful than he had ever been, thanks to Joseph’s ingenuity and foresight.  And God would use the once-despised, falsely accused, and unjustly imprisoned Joseph to bless the family of Israel.

So Joseph assigned the best land of Egypt—the region of Rameses—to his father and his brothers, and he settled them there, just as Pharaoh had commanded. And Joseph provided food for his father and his brothers in amounts appropriate to the number of their dependents, including the smallest children. – Genesis 47:11-12 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Weight of Waiting

20 These are the sons of Seir the Horite, the inhabitants of the land: Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, 21 Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan; these are the chiefs of the Horites, the sons of Seir in the land of Edom. 22 The sons of Lotan were Hori and Hemam; and Lotan’s sister was Timna. 23 These are the sons of Shobal: Alvan, Manahath, Ebal, Shepho, and Onam. 24 These are the sons of Zibeon: Aiah and Anah; he is the Anah who found the hot springs in the wilderness, as he pastured the donkeys of Zibeon his father. 25 These are the children of Anah: Dishon and Oholibamah the daughter of Anah. 26 These are the sons of Dishon: Hemdan, Eshban, Ithran, and Cheran. 27 These are the sons of Ezer: Bilhan, Zaavan, and Akan. 28 These are the sons of Dishan: Uz and Aran. 29 These are the chiefs of the Horites: the chiefs Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, 30 Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan; these are the chiefs of the Horites, chief by chief in the land of Seir.

31 These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites. 32 Bela the son of Beor reigned in Edom, the name of his city being Dinhabah. 33 Bela died, and Jobab the son of Zerah of Bozrah reigned in his place. 34 Jobab died, and Husham of the land of the Temanites reigned in his place. 35 Husham died, and Hadad the son of Bedad, who defeated Midian in the country of Moab, reigned in his place, the name of his city being Avith. 36 Hadad died, and Samlah of Masrekah reigned in his place. 37 Samlah died, and Shaul of Rehoboth on the Euphrates reigned in his place. 38 Shaul died, and Baal-hanan the son of Achbor reigned in his place. 39 Baal-hanan the son of Achbor died, and Hadar reigned in his place, the name of his city being Pau; his wife’s name was Mehetabel, the daughter of Matred, daughter of Mezahab.

40 These are the names of the chiefs of Esau, according to their clans and their dwelling places, by their names: the chiefs Timna, Alvah, Jetheth, 41 Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, 42 Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, 43 Magdiel, and Iram; these are the chiefs of Edom (that is, Esau, the father of Edom), according to their dwelling places in the land of their possession. Genesis 36:20-43 ESV

Moses makes it clear that the land in which Esau and his descendants eventually settled was far from empty. It had been occupied by another group of people known as the Horites. The first mention we have of them is found in Genesis 14, where they are listed among a group of nations that were defeated by an alliance of four kings. This confederation of kings attacked and defeated the people living in the area around Mount Seir,  in the far south of Canaan. They ended up conquering the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, taking captive all the citizens, including the nephew of Abraham.

When Esau separated from his brother, Jacob, he ended up settling in the very same region as the Horites and, eventually, his sons and their children would supplant the Horites as the official inhabitants of the land. Hundreds of years later, when Moses prepared to lead the people of Israel into the promised land, he would receive instruction from God regarding this southern region and its inhabitants.

“You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. So be very careful. Do not contend with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession.” – Deuteronomy 2:4-5 ESV

Moses records that Esau and his clan didn’t simply overwhelm the Horites with their superior numbers and strength, but that God orchestrated the transference of the land from one group to the other.

“…he [God] destroyed the Horites before them and they dispossessed them and settled in their place even to this day.” – Deuteronomy 2:22 ESV

The leader of the Horites was a man named Seir, and a large mountain in the region aptly bore his name. The Horites proved to be quite prolific, as the genealogy found in verses 20-43 reflects. But the chiefs of Seir and the chiefs of Esau would end up engaged in an ongoing conflict over control of the land around Mount Seir.

These are the sons of Dishan: Uz and Aran. These are the chiefs of the Horites: the chiefs Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan; these are the chiefs of the Horites, chief by chief in the land of Seir. – Genesis 36:28-30 ESV

These are the names of the chiefs of Esau, according to their clans and their dwelling places, by their names: the chiefs Timna, Alvah, Jetheth, Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, Magdiel, and Iram; these are the chiefs of Edom (that is, Esau, the father of Edom), according to their dwelling places in the land of their possession. – Genesis 436:40-43 ESV

These two groups of “chiefs” or leaders of their clans would have gone head-to-head in battle with one another over control of the land. But what is interesting is that Moses provides a list of the kings who ruled over the land of Edom, and not one chief among the Horites or Edomites can be found on that list. It contains the name of eight Edomite kings, but none appear to be sons of Esau or Seir. In fact, one is referred to as a Temanite, another hales from Rehoboth, and still another comes from a place called Masrekah.  This sequential order of kings seems to reveal that there was a constant shift of power among the people groups that occupied this region. And Moses points out that the land of Edom had many kings long before the nation of Israel had their first monarch. Part of the reason for this disparity is that the people of Israel would eventually make their way to Egypt where they would remain for 400 years. During that time, the land of Edom would go through a long list of kings, chiefs, and leaders, while the Israelites were biding their time in Egypt. But the land of promise, like Edom, would not go unoccupied during the Israelites’ long absence. Canaan would be filled with nations, and overrun by the sins of idolatry and immorality.

And by the time Moses led the people of Israel back into the land, the  descendants of Esau (the Edomites) would be well established around Mount Seir. In keeping with God’s directive, the Israelites would view Edom as off-limits, restricting themselves to the purchase of food and supplies, but avoiding the confiscation of any Edomite territory because it had been given to them by God. And Moses states, “So we went on, away from our brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir, away from the Arabah road from Elath and Ezion-geber (Deuteronomy 2:8 ESV).

All of this sets up the next section of Moses’ historical record of the people of Israel. While Esau and his descendants were busy making themselves at home in Edom, Israel and his descendants would be continuing the nomadic lifestyle established by Abraham and Isaac. Moses opens up chapter seven with the statement: “Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 37:1 ESV).

The Hebrew word that Moses used is מָגוּר (māḡûr), which can also be translated “to be a stranger.” That is why the New Living Translation translates verse 1 this way: “So Jacob settled again in the land of Canaan, where his father had lived as a foreigner.

Isaac, like his father before him, lived in the land of Canaan, more like an alien and a stranger than as a legal citizen. Neither Abraham or Isaac lived in a city or built a permanent dwelling place. They were sojourners, moving from one place to another, and never staying long enough to consider anywhere in the land of Canaan as their true home. And it is the author of the book of Hebrews who explains the reason behind this vagabond existence that was passed down from father to sin to grandson.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God. – Hebrews 11:8-10 NLT

And the author of Hebrews indicates that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never got to see that city – in their lifetimes.

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. – Hebrews 11:13 NLT

The Edomites had kings and kingdoms. Even the Horites had a long list of chiefs and enjoyed that benefit of living in cities built by human hands. But the people of God would have to wait a long time before they experienced the fulfillment of God’s promise. God had promised to give them the land of Canaan as their inheritance, but neither Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob would make ever find their permanent home in the land of promise because God had something better in store.

Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. – Hebrews 11:14-15 NLT

The wait would be difficult but well worth it.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

With Friends Like This…

43 Then Laban answered and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day for these my daughters or for their children whom they have borne? 44 Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I. And let it be a witness between you and me.” 45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 And Jacob said to his kinsmen, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. 48 Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” Therefore he named it Galeed, 49 and Mizpah, for he said, “The Lord watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight. 50 If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.”

51 Then Laban said to Jacob, “See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm. 53 The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, 54 and Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread. They ate bread and spent the night in the hill country.

55  Early in the morning Laban arose and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned home. Genesis 31:43-55 ESV

Laban’s desperate search for his missing idols proved to be a bust. So, he had no other recourse but to let Jacob continue his journey to Canaan. This meant saying goodbye to his two daughters and his 11 grandsons. And he was not happy about it. In fact, he let Jacob know that the whole affair was nothing less than a form of highway robbery.

“These women are my daughters, these children are my grandchildren, and these flocks are my flocks—in fact, everything you see is mine. But what can I do now about my daughters and their children? So come, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and it will be a witness to our commitment.” – Genesis 41:43-44 NLT

He offered no confession or admission of wrongdoing. Instead, he accused Jacob of having taken what rightfully belonged to him, including his daughters, grandsons, and flocks. But sensing that he was powerless to stop Jacob’s departure, Laban decided to bury the hatchet and offered to sign a non-aggression pact with his son-in-law. Jacob was leaving Haran a very wealthy man and Laban was reluctant to completely sever ties with him, because he stood to lose a lot more than access to his daughters and grandsons. He really did believe that Jacob was absconding with his possessions and still held out hope that he might one day get them back.

But Jacob, anxious to put as much territory between he and Laban as physically possible, agreed to the treaty.

So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a monument. Then he told his family members, “Gather some stones.” So they gathered stones and piled them in a heap. Then Jacob and Laban sat down beside the pile of stones to eat a covenant meal. – Genesis 31:45-46 NLT

They erected a monument to commemorate their agreement, then sealed the deal with a meal. But despite their mutual pledge, the two men couldn’t agree on a name for the location. Laban called it יְגַר שָׂהֲדוּתָא (yᵊḡar śāhăḏûṯā’), which means “witness heap.” B ut Jacob named it גַּלְעֵד (galʿēḏ), which means “heap of testimony.”

The terms of the covenant were simple. They basically agreed to let the stones to serve as a boundary marker, which they pledged never to pass in order to harm on another.

“I will never pass this pile of stones to harm you, and you must never pass these stones or this monument to harm me. I call on the God of our ancestors—the God of your grandfather Abraham and the God of my grandfather Nahor—to serve as a judge between us.” – Genesis 31:52-53 NLT

It was less a treaty than it was an agreement to refrain from doing harm to one another. There were no wounds healed or friendships made as a result of this act. Laban and Jacob remained distrustful of one another and were much more like enemies than co-signers of a peace agreement. Because of their mutual interest in Leah, Rachel, and the children, the two men agreed to set their animosities aside and do what was necessary to protect those whom they loved.

And it’s interesting to note that the idol-worshiping Laban was the one who chose to call upon the name of Jacob’s God as witness.

“May the Lord keep watch between us to make sure that we keep this covenant when we are out of each other’s sight. If you mistreat my daughters or if you marry other wives, God will see it even if no one else does. He is a witness to this covenant between us. – Genesis 31:49-50 NLT

While hundreds of miles would separate the two men, Laban called upon Yahweh to act as witness to their agreement and as the divine monitor of Jacob’s behavior. If Jacob got out of line and mistreated Leah or Rachel, Laban asked God to intervene and pass judgment on him. As a father, Laban grieved over the thought that he would no longer be able to protect his daughters. And it seems unlikely that he would live long enough to see his grandsons grow up and mature. He seemed to know that this would be the last time he ever saw his daughters and grandchildren.

So Jacob took an oath before the fearsome God of his father, Isaac, to respect the boundary line. Then Jacob offered a sacrifice to God there on the mountain and invited everyone to a covenant feast. After they had eaten, they spent the night on the mountain. – Genesis 31:53-54 NLT

Jacob would never return to Haran. And his relationship with his father-in-law would not end on the best of terms. They completed their covenant agreement, then parted ways. Laban returned to Mesopotamia and Jacob continued his journey back to Canaan. And Jacob must have felt a great sense of relief as he watched his father-in-law ride off into the distance. The last 20 years of his life had been a living nightmare, but now it was all over. But Jacob’s relief would be short-lived. He had gotten rid of one enemy but had another waiting for him at home – his brother Esau.

In the two decades he had been in Haran, Jacob had never received word from Rebekah that it was safe to come home (Genesis 27:45). So, he had no idea what to expect. Was Esau still harboring bitterness for him or had his anger subsided? Would he be greeted with a confrontation or a warm welcome? Every mile he traveled must have been excruciating as the distance between he and Esau diminished. His time of reckoning was drawing near. But, as always, God had plans of which Jacob was oblivious. This trip was going to end far better than Jacob could have ever imagined and it would all be in keeping with the promise had made 20 years earlier.

“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:15 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

It Never Pays to Bargain With God

Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women,” and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram. So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father, Esau went to Ishmael and took as his wife, besides the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” Genesis 28:6-22 ESV

After Jacob had left to seek a wife from among his mother’s family in Mesopotamia, his brother Esau decided to try and win back his parent’s favor by marrying a woman from among his own clan. Esau already had two Hittite wives, but he knew that these marriages had been a huge disappointment to his mother and father. So, when he had heard Isaac warn Jacob not to take a wife from among the Canaanites, Esau determined to make amends with his parents by marrying one of his cousins. Her name was Mahalath and she was the daughter of Ishmael, the elder son of Abraham. While Esau had been angered by his parent’s complicity in Jacob’s stealing of his blessing, he also desired their favor. Having lost his birthright and his blessing, he was desperate to win them over. But he failed to consider the fact that God had divinely ordained the separation of Ishmael’s clan from that of Isaac’s. The Ishmaelites were not destined to share in the covenant promise made to Abraham. So, Esau’s marriage to Mahalath would do little to improve his relationship with his parents or to enhance his future prospects. Yet, during his brother’s 20-year absence, Esau would build a life for himself in Canaan, raising a family and attempting to maintain a civil relationship with his mother and father.

Meanwhile, Jacob continued his long and arduous journey to Haran. But some 58 miles into his trip, he was forced to stop for the night, and it would prove to be anything but a restful evening. As he drifted off to sleep, he had a vivid and somewhat disturbing dream. He envisioned a giant flight of steps reaching from heaven to earth, and on that massive stairway, there was a host of angels ascending and descending. But Jacob’s eye was drawn to the top of the stairway, where he caught a glimpse of Yahweh, the Lord. And, considering all that Jacob had just done to deceive his father and defraud his brother, this vision of the Almighty must have struck fear into his heart. Was God going to repay him for having stolen his brother’s blessing? Was this going to be some kind of well-deserved payback for his treachery and deceit? But before Jacob could formulate any words to speak to God, he was presented with an unexpected announcement.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. – Genesis 28:13-14 NLT

The symbolism contained in this dream is powerful and significant. As Jacob lay in the darkness, separated from his family and facing an uncertain future, a host of angelic beings were moving back and forth between heaven and earth. These messengers of God represent His divine oversight and influence over all that happens on earth. Their movement between the two realms was meant to symbolize His sovereign control over the affairs of this world. They were His celestial agents, carrying out His wishes and accomplishing His divine will among men.

While Jacob and his mother had been busily conspiring to deceive Isaac and defraud Esau, God’s will had been carried out. There was a constant movement taking place between heaven and earth, as God’s messengers carried out His orders and implemented His sovereign plans among men. But Jacob and Rebekah had been oblivious to this invisible activity taking place in the unseen realms. They had mistakenly thought that they were in control of their futures and fate. But now, Jacob was receiving a divine wake-up call, informing him that all his trickery and deceit had been unnecessary. There had been no need for Jacob to barter for the birthright or to steal the blessing of the firstborn. God had always intended for the covenant promise to be his. It had not been his cleverly conceived plan to fool Isaac that had earned him the right to his father’s inheritance. It had been the sovereign will of God.

From among all the men who lived on the earth, God had chosen Abraham. And He had given this undeserving Chaldean a promise to bless him beyond his wildest dream.

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you,
and I will make your name great,
so that you will exemplify divine blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
but the one who treats you lightly I must curse,
so that all the families of the earth may receive blessing through you.” – Genesis 12:2-3 NLT

And then, God had chosen Abraham’s son, Isaac, to be the conduit through whom this blessing would flow. God had sovereignly passed by Ishmael, the firstborn. And now, God was announcing that it had always been His plan to choose Jacob over Esau. The covenant promise would flow to him and through him. God was going to use this flawed vessel as the conduit through which He would accomplish His redemptive plan for mankind. And, not only that, God informed Jacob that he would enjoy divine protection all during his extended journey.

“What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:15 NLT

What Jacob didn’t know was that his trip was going to take much longer than he anticipated. Two decades would pass before he was able to return to Beersheba and, during that time, Jacob would experience both the blessings and the discipline of God. He would eventually find the wife for which he was searching. But, more importantly, he would discover the power and sovereignty of God. The next 20 years of his life would be filled with joy and sorrow, success and failure, hope and heartache. But his roller-coaster existence would also be marked by the constant assurance that God was with him, operating behind the scenes and orchestrating every aspect of his life. God had promised Jacob that he would remain with him to the end.

The impact this dream had on Jacob can be seen in his response when he awoke.

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” – Genesis 28:16 NLT

Jacob could have spoken those words back in Beersheba as well because God had always been with him. He just hadn’t realized it. This divine encounter left Jacob shaken and sobered.

“What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!” – Genesis 28:17 NLT

Out of reverence for God, Jacob took the stone upon which his head had rested while he dreamed and he turned it into a sacred pillar. He named the place Bethel which means “house of God.” What’s fascinating is that this is the very same spot where, years earlier, Jacob’s grandfather Abraham had erected an altar to God.

Then he moved from there to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshiped the Lord. – Genesis 12:8 NLT

Like his grandfather before him, Jacob worshiped Yahweh. But, in keeping with his bargaining nature, Jacob attempted to strike a deal with God.

“If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.” – Genesis 28:20-22 NLT

Rather than rejoice in the fact that God had just promised to bless and not punish him, Jacob arrogantly attempted to bargain with the Almighty. He placed conditions on his continued worship of God. Despite the fact that God had promised to fulfill every aspect of the promise He had made, Jacob wanted guarantees. This undeserving grandson of Abraham tried to arm wrestle Yahweh by threatening to hold his worship if his conditions were not met. Suffice it to say, Jacob had a lot to learn about God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Growing Conflict

17 So Isaac departed from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. 18 And Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father, which the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham. And he gave them the names that his father had given them. 19 But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, 20 the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, “The water is ours.” So he called the name of the well Esek, because they contended with him. 21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that also, so he called its name Sitnah. 22 And he moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it. So he called its name Rehoboth, saying, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”

23 From there he went up to Beersheba. 24 And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” 25 So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well. 

26 When Abimelech went to him from Gerar with Ahuzzath his adviser and Phicol the commander of his army, 27 Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?” 28 They said, “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you. So we said, let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord.” 30 So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths. And Isaac sent them on their way, and they departed from him in peace. 32 That same day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well that they had dug and said to him, “We have found water.” 33 He called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.

34 When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, 35 and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. Genesis 26:17-35 ESV

The blessings of God were clearly evident in Isaac’s life. He had become a wealthy man while living among the people of Philistia. But they soon grew jealous and suspicious of this stranger’s expanding presence in their land, so they demanded that he leave. But Isaac didn’t go far. He ended up settling in the Valley of Gerar, where he began the process of digging wells for his growing flocks and herds. Unfortunately for Isaac, the wells his father had dug many years earlier had been decommissioned by the Philistines. In an effort to rid themselves of Abraham and his future descendants, they had filled in all the wells he had dug. This forced Isaac to dig new wells, a laborious and time-consuming task.

But each time Isaac’s servants dug a productive well, they found themselves in a contentious standoff with the local citizens, who claimed it as their own. It seems that everywhere Isaac turned, he was faced with opposition. The Philistines were going out of their way to make his stay in their land as uncomfortable as possible. And because the entire land of Canaan was experiencing a famine, Isaac was having a difficult time caring for all the flocks, herds, and servants with which God had blessed him. He even ended up giving two of the wells the highly descriptive names of “Contention” and “Enmity.” Things were not going well.

They say the third time is the charm, and that proved true for Isaac. A third well dug by his servants proved to be uncontested, prompting Isaac to give it the name, Rehoboth,  which means, “to make room.” It seems that Isaac was expressing his gratitude to God for having made room for them among the Philistines. Despite all the opposition they had faced, God had provided them with a much-needed source of fresh water. And Isaac vocalized his gratefulness for God’s blessing.

For now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” – Genesis 26:22 ESV

The water provided by the well was another sign of God’s blessings upon Isaac. Not only would he be able to sustain the life of his flocks, but he would have water necessary to plant and harvest crops – in the middle of a famine.

But after an undisclosed length of time, Isaac moved his growing clan to Beersheba. This small town was located at the southernmost tip of Canaan, on the very edge of Negev Desert. It was in Beersheba that Abraham had made an covenant with King Abimelech. It was there, decades earlier, that the servants of Abimelech had unlawfully seized a well dug by Abraham. In exchange for seven ewe lambs, Abimelech acknowledged the well as belonging to Abraham and his descendants. The name Beersheba means “well of seven” or “well of the oath.” It was while living in Beersheba that Isaac received a vision and message from the Lord.

“I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” – Genesis 26:24 ESV

God reiterated His covenant commitment to Isaac, ensuring him that the promises made to Abraham would be fulfilled through him. Abraham was dead but God’s promises were very much alive and well. He would do what He had promised to do. Like his father before him, Isaac built an altar to Yahweh and “called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God” (Genesis 21:33 ESV).

Having demonstrated his devotion and gratitude to God, Isaac commissioned the digging of yet another well, probably an indication of his vast wealth and the growing size of his flocks and herds. One well would not suffice. And when Abimelech received word that Isaac had settled in Beersheba just as Abraham had done, he determined to pay the young man a visit. This entire scene is reminiscent of a similar trip made years earlier by Abimelech and Phicol, his army commander.

At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army said to Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do. Now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my descendants or with my posterity, but as I have dealt kindly with you, so you will deal with me and with the land where you have sojourned.” And Abraham said, “I will swear.”Genesis 21:22-24 ESV

History has a way of repeating itself and chapter 26 of Genesis is proof. Here we have the king of Gerar and his army commander making another unscheduled visit to Beersheba in order to strike another agreement with the son of Abraham.

“We see plainly that the Lord has been with you. So we said, let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord.” – Genesis 26:28-29 ESV

Abimelech renewed his covenant with Abraham, but this time, with his son. He saw the handwriting on the wall and seemed to understand that Abraham’s God was going to continue to pour out His blessing upon Abraham’s offspring. The names may have changed, but the outcome seemed as certain as ever. Even this pagan potentate understood that Abraham’s offspring were the heirs of God’s gracious provision and protection. So, he made a peace treaty with Isaac and celebrated their agreement with a feast.

Then Isaac was informed that yet another well had been dug in Beersheba, which he promptly named, Shibah, which means “oath.” There is more to this name than a recognition of an oath sworn between two men. This entire pericope is meant to stress the covenant-keeping nature of God Almighty. He had made an oath to Abraham and He was going to stand by it, even though Abraham was long gone. Isaac would be the next in line to receive the blessings of God. And soon, his son, Jacob would follow in his footsteps.

But Moses ends this section with a brief update on Esau’s marital status. Esau was technically the firstborn son, but he had sold his birthright to Jacob for the price of a bowl of stew. And in these closing verses of chapter 26, Moses reveals that Esau ended up taking two foreign wives from among the Hittites. These were the descendants of Heth, who had been one of the sons of Canaan., who was the grandson of Noah. Ham, the son of Noah had dishonored him so, as a result, Noah had placed a curse upon Ham’s descendants (Genesis 9:25).

Esau, who had treated his birthright with contempt, ended up marrying two different women from among the descendants of Heth. And Moses flatly states, “and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:35 ESV). Noah had declared that the offspring of Canaan would end up being the servants of their own relatives. And it seems that this curse came to fruition in the life of Esau. By marrying women from among the sons of Heth, Esau sealed their fate and assured an ongoing conflict between the sons of Jacob and Esau.

But Esau’s wives made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah. – Genesis 26:35 NLT

How? They ended up bearing Esau children who would become the enemies of Jacob’s descendants. And the stage is set for a growing conflict between Jacob and Esau. But God is at work, behind the scenes, orchestrating everything according to His sovereign plan.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Like Father, Like Son

So Isaac settled in Gerar. When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he feared to say, “My wife,” thinking, “lest the men of the place should kill me because of Rebekah,” because she was attractive in appearance. When he had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw Isaac laughing with Rebekah his wife. So Abimelech called Isaac and said, “Behold, she is your wife. How then could you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I thought, ‘Lest I die because of her.’” 10 Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.” 11 So Abimelech warned all the people, saying, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”

12 And Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, 13 and the man became rich, and gained more and more until he became very wealthy. 14 He had possessions of flocks and herds and many servants, so that the Philistines envied him. 15 (Now the Philistines had stopped and filled with earth all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father.) 16 And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.” Genesis 26:6-16 ESV

Isaac and his family are facing a severe famine in the land of Canaan. And this is not the first time that God has allowed the land of promise to withhold its bounty. Nearly two centuries earlier, another famine had come upon the land of Canaan. Isaac’s father, Abraham, had been only 75-years-old at the time and was a new arrival to the land, having been called by God out of Haran in Mesopotamia. Yet, while God had promised to give Abraham the land of Canaan as his inheritance, a severe famine forced Abraham to seek refuge in Egypt.

Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. – Genesis 12:10 ESV

Hundreds of years later, when Isaac found himself facing similar circumstances, God warned him to avoid Egypt like the plague.

“Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. – Genesis 26:2-3 ESV

Abraham was dead and gone, but as this passage will reveal, his influence still lingered over his family. And God knew that Isaac would be prone to follow in the footsteps of his father. There is little doubt that Abraham had told his son about his fateful trip to Egypt and all that occurred there. His decision to seek food and shelter in Egypt had not been his primary mistake. It was the unwise decision he made once he had crossed the border.

When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” – Genesis 12:11-13 ESV

Finding himself a stranger in Egypt, Abraham had feared for his own life, and so he convinced his wife to hide their marital status. He hoped that by having Sarah claim to be his sister, which technically she was, the Egyptians would not kill him so they could have his beautiful wife. But his plan had backfired. The Pharaoh himself had decided to add Sarah as a concubine in his harem, leaving Abraham very much alive, but also very much alone. But God had intervened, sparing Sarah from humiliation at the hands of Pharaoh, and returning her to Abraham’s side.

So, Isaac’s warning from God that he avoid Egypt at all costs makes more sense with that story in mind. But there is another story from Abraham’s past that factors into this account. While Isaac had been forbidden by God to seek shelter in Egypt, Moses makes it clear that “Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines” (Genesis 26:1 ESV). This should sound eerily familiar.

Years earlier, Abraham had also journeyed to the land of Gerar. And, as he had done in Egypt, he begged Sarah to introduce herself as his sister. He had learned little from his close call with Pharaoh and was still having a difficult time believing that God could protect him from his enemies. So, upon their arrival in Gerar, Sarah had once again faithfully followed her husband’s counsel, and the next thing she knew, she was in the harem of King Abimelech. And as before, God intervened and protected Sarah.

God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” – Genesis 20:3 ESV

Sarah was returned to Abraham, along with many sheep, oxen, and male and female servants. The relieved Abimelech showered Abraham with gifts, including 1,000 pieces of silver. The unbelieving and distrustful Abraham had walked away a wealthy man, just as he had done in Egypt. And perhaps it was this silver lining on the dark cloud of Abraham’s behavior that attracted Isaac and prompted him to mirror his father’s behavior. Because that is exactly what he did.

So Isaac settled in Gerar. When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he feared to say, “My wife,” thinking, “lest the men of the place should kill me because of Rebekah,” because she was attractive in appearance. – Genesis 26:6-7 ESV

His little ploy seems to have worked because a great deal of time passed and no one attempted to add Rebekah to their harem. And because no one suspected them to be husband and wife, there had been no threats on Isaac’s life. But in time, their little charade was exposed.

When he had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw Isaac laughing with Rebekah his wife. – Genesis 26:8 ESV

There is far more here than meets the eye. Isaac and Rebekah were doing far more than sharing an innocent laugh together. The NET Bible Study Notes explains:

The Hebrew word מְצַחֵק (mtsakheq), from the root צָחַק (tsakhaq, “laugh”), forms a sound play with the name “Isaac” right before it. Here it depicts an action, probably caressing or fondling, that indicated immediately that Rebekah was Isaac’s wife, not his sister. Isaac’s deception made a mockery of God’s covenantal promise. Ignoring God’s promise to protect and bless him, Isaac lied to protect himself and acted in bad faith to the men of Gerar.

As he had done some 70-90 years earlier, Abimelech proved to be more righteous than Abraham or Isaac. He had done more to protect the wives of these two men than they had. And when he discovered the lie that Isaac and Rebekah had been living and considered the consequences it could have brought upon his people, Abimelech confronted Isaac and warned his people to avoid Rebekah or face death.

“What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.” So Abimelech warned all the people, saying, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.” – Genesis 26:10-11 ESV

One of the difficult things to understand about these stories is how God repeatedly blessed Abraham and Isaac even in the midst of their unfaithful actions. Moses reveals that Isaac’s lies and deception were seemingly rewarded by God.

And Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, and the man became rich, and gained more and more until he became very wealthy. He had possessions of flocks and herds and many servants, so that the Philistines envied him. – Genesis 26:12-14 ESV

But these blessings were not a result of Isaac’s actions. They were the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to Abraham. God was blessing Isaac in spite of his behavior, not because of it. God had told Abraham, “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2 ESV). God had made a self-binding agreement with Abraham, declaring His intentions to establish an everlasting covenant between Himself and Abraham’s descendants.

“I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 17:6-7 ESV

And Isaac was destined to play a role in God’s fulfillment of His covenant promise. After Abraham had shown his willingness to obey God and sacrifice Isaac, his only son, God had reiterated His promise.

“…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.” – Genesis 26:16-18 ESV

Now, years later, the adult Isaac stood back and watched as God poured out His covenant blessings, despite all that he had done to deserve God’s judgment and wrath. And while he was blessed by God, he also found himself despised by the occupants of the land. As they watched him prosper at their expense, they decided to treat him as persona non grata and cast him from their land. Even they could see that Isaac was under some kind of divine protection. He was living under a charm and they were jealous of his supernatural and inexplicable success.

But as God continued to bless Isaac, He was also preparing him for what was to come. There would be yet another famine in the land, and the days ahead would be full of conflict and constant relocation, as Isaac and his family continued the same nomadic lifestyle that Abraham had endured. God was blessing Isaac so that he might one day be a blessing. God was separating Isaac so that, one day, his descendants might become the set-apart people of God. And through Isaac would come another Son who would mirror the nature of His Father. He would become the offspring of Abraham who would bring the blessing of God to the nations.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A New Chapter Begins

1 Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country.

These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, 175 years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi.

12 These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham. 13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16 These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. 17 (These are the years of the life of Ishmael: 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) 18 They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled over against all his kinsmen. Genesis 25:1-18 ESV

The 25th chapter marks the midway point in the book of Genesis. And while the chapter designations came long after the book was written, the details recorded in this section of Moses’ chronicle serve as a turning point in the narrative. For the last 14 chapters, Abraham has served as the story’s central character. Since the moment God called him out of Haran and disclosed the terms of the covenant, Abraham has been the protagonist and the promised progenitor of God’s grand plan. It would be through Abraham that God would fulfill His covenant promise to establish a great nation. And yet, here at the midway point of the Genesis account, Abraham is old and quite wealthy, but he has only one son. It would be a gross understatement to say that Abraham’s quiver was full. And even that one son is 37-year-old, newly married, and currently childless. Where is this great nation that God had promised?

But 24 chapters remain, and God is far from done. It is as if God is turning a page in the storyline and beginning something new. Isaac has found and married his bride – with the help of God. Sarah has died and, as these verses reveal, Abraham is not long for this world. He has reached the ripe old age of 175 and yet, Moses describes him in terms that belie his elderly status. He may not be a spring chicken, but he is far from a doddering old man. When Sarah had died, Abraham had been 137 years old. And while he mourned the loss of his wife, he eventually married a woman named Keturah. Up to this point in the story, Abraham had fathered only two children, Ishmael and Isaac. But his marriage to Keturah would result in the births of six additional children.

This insight into Abraham’s procreative capabilities seems intended to underscore the unique nature of Isaac’s birth. Abraham had always been capable of fathering children. He had no trouble in impregnating his wife’s handmaiden, Hagar. And even as he neared the latter days of his life, he proved to be fully capable of producing descendants. But the text makes it clear that children were not to be heirs of the promise. After providing the identities of Abraham’s latest offspring, Moses states:

All these were the children of Keturah. Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. – Genesis 25:5 ESV

These children were not destined to be part of the “great nation” that God had promised to produce from Abraham and Sarah. God had even told Abraham that Ishmael, the son born to him by Hagar, was not to be an heir of the covenant.

“As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.” – Genesis 17:20-21 ESV

It is important to remember that Sarah always resented the presence of Ishmael. Even though his very existence had been the result of her bright idea to have Hagar bear a son for Abraham, Sarah despised this son of a slave woman (Galatians 4:22-23). And the day had come, after the birth of Isaac, that she demanded that Ishmael be disinherited.

“Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” – Genesis 21:10 ESV

While Abraham found his wife’s anger to be unjust and disturbing, God encouraged him to give in to her demands.

“Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” – Genesis 21:12-13 ESV

And, just like always, God kept His word. Moses records that Abraham sent away each of the sons born to his concubine, Keturah. He provided them with gifts, but they would not share in the inheritance of Isaac. They suffered the same fate as that of Ishmael. They were cast out but they were far from forgotten by God. Notice how Moses records the children born to Ishmael. Why would he bother to add that seemingly unimportant detail?

These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham. These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. – Genesis 25:12-15 ESV

These names mean nothing to us. And yet, their very mention is designed to prove the integrity of God’s word. Remember what God had said to Sarah: “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation” (Genesis 17:20 ESV).

Now, look closely at the list of obscure and difficult-to-pronounce names recorded in verses 12-15 of Genesis 25. There were twelves sons born to Ishmael. In spite of Sarah’s ill-treatment of this young man, God had chosen to keep His word and bless him. He would make of Ishmael a great nation. The whole point seems to be that Abraham had always been fully capable of procreating and producing a long line of descendants. Ishmael had been prolific and produced 12 sons. In the same way, the six sons born to Keturah would go on to produce many offspring. But only the descendants of Isaac would become the nation through whom the other nations of the earth would be blessed. Only the line of Isaac would produce a chosen people, set apart by God, and destined to become the conduit through which He would pour out His divine blessing on humanity.

God fulfilled His promise and made Ishmael the father of “12 princes.” It is interesting to note the correlation between these 12 “tribes” and the 12 tribes that would eventually come through the line of Isaac. Moses indicates that Ishmael’s descendants “settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled over against all his kinsmen” (Genesis 25:18 ESV). The Ishmaelites eventually settled in the region of Arabia, southeast of Canaan, and would have a less-than-ideal relationship with their distant relatives, the Israelites. But God had kept His word. He had faithfully fulfilled His promise.

And with the fate of Ishmael’s descendants established, Moses records that, at the age of 175, “Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8 ESV). The life of Abraham came to an end. But the fulfillment of God’s promises had only just begun. The story is far from over. And verse 19 will begin a new chapter in God’s grand redemptive plan as Moses records the births of Esau and Jacob. But this story will contain many familiar features and themes. Yet another woman will find herself cursed by barrenness. There will be seemingly irreconcilable conflicts between siblings. Glaring examples of jealousy, anger, deceit, and disobedience will fill the storyline. But through it all, God will be operating behind the scenes, orchestrating His sovereign plan to fulfill the covenant he made with Abraham. Yahweh is fully committed to His promise to bless the nations. 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Case of Déjà Vu

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of 150 days the waters had abated, and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.

At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. But the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. 10 He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. 11 And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. 12 Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore.

13 In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. 14 In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth had dried out. 15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. 17 Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” 18 So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. 19 Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the ark. Genesis 8:1-19 ESV

The ark had been God’s idea all along, and He had graciously shared the plans for its construction with Noah. And when Noah had faithfully completed his work on the massive project, God had extended a gracious invitation for him and his family to enter the safety and security of the ark.

“Come into the ark, you and all your household, for I consider you godly among this generation. – Genesis 7:1 NET

After years of faithful and obedient service to God, constructing the vessel that would be the means of his own salvation, Noah was offered a chance to cease from his labors and enter into the rest that God had ordained for him. Noah had proven his reverence for God by doing all that the Lord commanded him to do. And the reward for all his work was rest and refuge from the coming storm.

This divine invitation, offering Noah a chance to rest in the safety and security of God’s chosen means of salvation, is echoed in the words spoken by Jesus as He inaugurated His earthly ministry.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28 NET

The ark had always been intended to foreshadow the coming of Christ. In a sin-stained world, condemned to suffer the wrath of God’s just and righteous judgment, a means of salvation had graciously been provided. God had invited a weary and worn-out Noah to enter into His rest and find salvation from the coming judgment.

One of the fascinating things to consider is how many trees Noah would have had to cut down in order to build the ark. Created by God, these fully mature trees would have been cut down in the prime of their lives, so that Noah and his family might be saved. They sacrificed their lives so that others might live. And, in the same way, Jesus would offer up His life so that others might find salvation. It was Isaiah who later prophesied of the Messiah’s selfless sacrifice on behalf of sinful humanity.

Unjustly condemned,
    he was led away.
No one cared that he died without descendants,
    that his life was cut short in midstream.
But he was struck down
    for the rebellion of my people. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

The ark provided Noah and his family with protection from the judgment of God. He invited them in and then closed the door behind them. And there, in the safety of God’s preordained vessel of salvation, a remnant of humanity found refuge from the flood of divine judgment. And Moses paints a vivid picture of God’s mercy and grace when he writes, “God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark” (Genesis 8:1 ESV). The waters rose and covered the face of the earth. And the majority of God’s creation was destroyed in the process. But God remembered (זָכַרz – āḵar) Noah. In other words, God had not forgotten the covenant promise He had made.

“Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die. But I will confirm my covenant with you.”  – Genesis 6:17-18 NLT

The ark was not intended to be Noah’s final destination. It was simply the means by which he and his family would find access to the preferred future God had in store for them. In the same way, Jesus became the ark of mankind’s salvation, offering His life as a ransom for many. As He Himself stated, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV).

Noah wasn’t meant to stay on the ark. He had been delivered from death so that he might enjoy abundant life in a new, recreated world. The old was gone. God was giving humanity a new opportunity to begin again. But it took time for the waters to recede. This period of waiting provided time for the planet to be cleansed from all the death and decay caused by the flood.

Moses puts a great deal of emphasis on the steady decline of the deadly floodwaters.

the waters receded from the earth continually. – Genesis 8:3 ESV

And the waters continued to abate – Genesis 8:5 ESV

Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. – Genesis 8:8 ESV

So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. – Genesis 8:11 ESV

The time came when the waters of destruction receded and the formerly sin-saturated world was cleansed of all wickedness.

In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth. – Genesis 8:13 ESV

It was time for Noah and his family to exit the ark and re-enter the world. So, God extended yet another invitation to His faithful servant.

“Leave the boat, all of you—you and your wife, and your sons and their wives. Release all the animals—the birds, the livestock, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—so they can be fruitful and multiply throughout the earth.” – Genesis 8:16-17 NLT

In a way, Noah was invited by God to enjoy the resurrected life. For months, he and his family had been “entombed” in the ark. But the day came when they were invited to walk out of the “grave” and into the light of God’s new day. The apostle Paul would later write about the vicarious death-to-life experience that comes to all who place their faith in Christ.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:1-4 ESV

God invited Noah to exit the ark and reenter the world. He and his family were to fulfill the original kingdom mandate given to Adam and Eve. God expected them to be fruitful and fill the earth. He was starting over with a man who walked with Him, and whom He had deemed to be righteous and blameless. This was to be a new beginning. And Moses records that “Noah, his wife, and his sons and their wives left the boat. And all of the large and small animals and birds came out of the boat, pair by pair” (Genesis 8:18-19 NLT). When they stepped out of the ark, they were beginning a new chapter of the human story. This man and his wife were the new Adam and Eve. They were the divinely ordained pair who would be given the opportunity to act as God’s vice-regents, bearing His image, and faithfully stewarding the vast resources He had placed at their disposal.

But this passage is filled with a sense of déjà vu. It seems that a new chapter in the play has begun, but has anything really changed? With the floodwaters gone and the judgment of God fulfilled, will the story of humanity take a sudden turn for the better? Will Noah succeed where Adam failed? Will righteousness fill the earth? Will the godly remnant replicate and spread the image of God across the planet? Sadly, those questions have all been answered. Humanity was given a chance to begin again. Noah was provided with an opportunity to raise up a new generation that would walk with God. But as chapter five pointed out, Noah was a direct descendant of Adam. And as the apostle Paul later revealed, Noah had inherited the same sinful predisposition as his ancestor.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned – Romans 5:12 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

God of the Past, Present, and Future

For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’” Haggai 2:6-9 ESV

God has provided much-needed words of encouragement to His people.

Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:4 ESV

And He has reminded them that because He is a covenant-keeping God, they have no reason to fear. His presence among them is assured because He promised to never leave them or forsake them. God referred to the covenant He had made with their ancestors at Mount Sinai after He had delivered them from their captivity in Egypt.

“Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:3-6 ESV

It was on Mount Sinai that Moses had received the Ten Commandments from God, the divine code of conduct that was to regulate their behavior and determine their ongoing relationship with Him. God had set them apart as His own special possession, but He required that they conduct themselves in a manner that was in keeping with their status as His kingdom of priests and His holy nation. He expected them to keep the covenant agreement He was making with them. He would be their God and they would be His people, but that relationship required that they remain faithful to the covenant and obedient to live by all of its commands.

On the day that God had communicated His covenant commands to Moses, He had revealed Himself to the people in a formidable and unforgettable manner.

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. – Exodus 19:16-20 ESV

And this dramatic display of God’s glory had left the people in a state of fear.

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” – Exodus 20:18-19 ESV

But Moses had assured them that God’s glorious display of His power and might was actually for their good.

“Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” – Exodus 20:20 ESV

It was God’s desire that His people live sinless lives, in keeping with His commands. But in order to receive His covenant blessings, they would be required to keep His covenant commands. Now, centuries later, the people of Judah were hearing from God once again. They had returned to the land of promise after nearly 70 years of captivity in Babylon, a punishment meted out by God because of their failure to keep their covenant agreement with Him. He had graciously kept His promise to restore them to the land and now He was reiterating His commitment to be their God and dwell among them. And God uses imagery that was meant to remind His people of Mount Sinai.

Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. – Haggai 2:6 ESV

Their ancestors had been given a sight and sound show intended to reveal the majesty and power of God Almighty.

…there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. – Exodus 19:16 ESV

when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off – Exodus 20:18 ESV

God was promising to reveal Himself with such power and might that it would shake the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the dry land. This dynamic imagery concerning God’s power can be found throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. King David put the cosmic significance of God’s power in poetic terms.

O God, when you went out before your people,
    when you marched through the wilderness, Selah
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain,
    before God, the One of Sinai,
    before God, the God of Israel. – Psalm 68:7-8 ESV

Asaph echoed David’s words in his own psalm.

When the waters saw you, O God,
    when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
    indeed, the deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
    the skies gave forth thunder;
    your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
    your lightnings lighted up the world;
    the earth trembled and shook. – Psalm 77:6-18 ESV

In Haggai 2:6-9, God is describing a coming day when the people of Israel will once again experience a powerful display of God’s glory. He will reveal Himself in a supernatural, earth-shaking demonstration of never-before-seen power and might. The prophets had spoken of a great day to come when God would shake the heavens.

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
    and the earth will be shaken out of its place,
at the wrath of the Lord of hosts
    in the day of his fierce anger. – Isaiah 13:13 ESV

All living things—the fish in the sea, the birds of the sky, the animals of the field, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the people on earth—will quake in terror at my presence. Mountains will be thrown down; cliffs will crumble; walls will fall to the earth. – Ezekiel 38:20 NLT

All of this imagery points to a future day when God will bring about a divine intervention of global and cosmic proportions. His Son will return to earth again and bring about the culmination of the divine plan for the redemption of all things. The author of Hebrews was quoting Haggai 2:6 when he wrote:

“Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. – Hebrews 12:26-27 ESV

God is going to do far more than simply shake the heavens and earth. He is going to destroy and remake them. The prophet Isaiah referred to this great day when he recorded the following promise from God:

“For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
    and her people to be a gladness. – Isaiah 65:17-18 ESV

And centuries later, the apostle John was given a vision of this coming day, which he recorded in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:1-4 ESV

Haggai is recording a promise from God that spans the centuries and looks far into the future when God will bring about the final phase of His grand redemptive plan for mankind and all creation. Yes, He wanted the people to complete their task of rebuilding the temple. But He also wanted them to understand that their faithfulness to do so was to be based on His faithfulness to fulfill all that He had promised to do. God had far more in mind than they could have ever imagined or believed. Their return to the land and the restoration of the temple was but one chapter in the divine narrative God had in store for His chosen people. Their ongoing existence was guaranteed because God had great plans for them. It would be through His chosen people that the Chosen One would come. His Son would be born a descendant of Abraham and a rightful heir to the Davidic throne. The Son of God would be the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. In His first advent, Jesus offered His life as a ransom for many. But in His second coming, He will as King of kings and Lord of lords, and rule and reign on the throne of David in Jerusalem. And in that day, a new temple will exist that will far outshine the glory of the structure that Solomon had built. And God provides His guarantee of this future reality.

“The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:9 ESV

The people of Haggai’s day had a job to do. They had a role to play. It was their responsibility to rebuild the temple. That’s why God commanded them, “Work, for I am with you” (Haggai 2:4 ESV). They were to be obedient and complete the task assigned to them by God, knowing that He would do His part and fulfill every promise He had made concerning their present and the future.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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