The Elephant in the Room

The following comes from an announcement for a series of sermons on hamlinechurch.org. In every home, in every life, there exist certain problems, certain realities that we don’t want to acknowledge. We think that if we ignore them for long enough they will go away on their own or no one will notice. ​​ We all struggle with how to deal with the Elephant in the Room. Often times we feel that we have to keep these elephants secret and tell everyone that we’re fine. ​​ If we have to act like something we are not – it’s problematic. Chances are the very thing you don’t want to talk about is probably the very thing that is nudging you out of a relationship with important people in your life, or with God. There are certain elephants that exist in our lives that need to be brought into the light of God’s love and God’s community of believers: the church.

One of these elephants is loneliness. We live in a culture that celebrates individualism and self-reliance, and yet we humans are an exquisitely social species, thriving in good company and suffering in isolation. We have more technology than ever to help us stay connected, yet somehow the devices fail us: and the elephant in the room is that we feel increasingly alone. God meant for us to be in community. We need each other. It is important that we talk about the elephant in the room and offer people ways to overcome loneliness and enter into genuine, authentic and life giving relationships. Another elephant is addiction. Addiction comes in many forms – overeating, social media, pornography, alcohol, television, tobacco, drugs and more. However, addiction is often birthed from one source: pain. Despite our best efforts to hide the elephant, eventually the side effects of addiction spill over into other aspects of our lives and can end up hurting the people we love most. Addictions can hold us back from the fullness of life that God intends for each one of us. We can open the door to recovery (both for those addicted and their loved ones) by sharing our experiences, strengths, and hopes with one another. We can become willing to accept God’s grace in solving our lives’ problems and healing our hearts.

This morning we are going to be talking about the “elephant in the room” for Jacob. This elephant is a person: his brother, Esau. Twenty years before, Jacob stole Esau’s blessing from their father and when Esau found out he vowed to kill Jacob. Jacob’s mother, Rachel, convinced Isaac to send him away to his uncle Laban’s family in order to put some distance between the two brothers and for Jacob to find a wife. We can only wonder how much time Jacob spent thinking about the “elephant in the room” while he away. He certainly had other things to worry about as he and Laban schemed back and forth most of the time. But now that he was at peace with Laban and on his way back to Canaan, the “elephant in the room” rears its ugly head. And we will see that it causes Jacob to prepare, to panic, to pray, to plot and to placate. The elephant in the room causes Jacob to be in great fear and distress which causes him not to completely trust God to protect him.

Even though God has provided for and protected him the past twenty years and just recently rescued him from harm by Laban’s hand, he is still fearful and full of doubt. But we also see Jacob making great strides in his spiritual maturity as he prepares to reconcile with Esau and prays to God for deliverance based on the promises God has made to him. For every step backwards he takes, he takes two steps forward. His prayer is a model for us when our enemies are closing in and we are doubtful, fearful and desperate to be delivered from their hand. That brings us to our big idea this morning which is When we are experiencing fear and doubt we can turn to God in prayer. And we can pray with confidence for deliverance from our enemies because of God’s promises to us.

Let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we invite your Holy Spirit to join us this morning as we open your Word. We pray for your guidance and for your pricking of our hearts where needed, as we learn your truths from your Word. Thank you for the freedom and the opportunity to open your Word in this place as a body of believers. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

There are three points this morning. The first is Preparation and Panic found in Genesis 32:1-8. This is what God’s word says, “Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim. Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my lord Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’” When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”

The first half of verse one takes us back to the last verse of chapter 31. After kissing his grandchildren and daughters goodbye, Laban leaves and returns home. Jacob now also goes on his way continuing his journey to Canaan. As he goes on his way, Jacob has an encounter with angels of God. This reminds us of when Jacob first left Canaan to escape his brother’s wrath. If you remember Jacob dreamt of a stairway to Heaven with angels ascending and descending it. God spoke to him and promised to provide for and protect him and bring him back to the Promised Land. Jacob promised that if God kept his promises to him then he would be Jacob’s God. Jacob named the place Bethel and was encouraged as he left his homeland for Haran. This second angelic encounter is a parallel event to Bethel in that it also will encourage Jacob as he now returns home. The two angelic encounters, one as he left Canaan and the other as he returned, suggest that the angels of God accompanied Jacob during his time outside the Promised Land. Although he was outside the land of promise, he was not outside the hand of promise.

When he sees the angels he calls the area “the camp of God” and names it Mahanaim, which, means “two camps.” Jacob gets positive encouragement in two ways. One, the “angels of God” were soldiers there to protect Jacob’s camp as he reentered the Promised Land. Two, it encourages Jacob to prepare to reconcile with his brother Esau. Jacob could no longer ignore his conscience and his guilt about what he did to Esau. Where Jacob is going in Canaan is not geographically close to where Esau is living, but spiritually speaking in order to get to where God wanted him to be, he first had to be reconciled to his brother. So with reconciliation in mind, Jacob sends messengers to Esau who was living in the land of Seir, in the country of Edom. Describing Esau this way would remind the first hearers of the three tensions between the two: their birth, the birthright and the blessing. In wanting to reconcile Jacob’s spiritual maturity is taking “two steps” forward.

He also gives the servants very specific instructions about what to say to Esau. They are to call him “my lord” and to refer to Jacob as “his servant.” Jacob may have been pouring on the flattery but this was also the usual language of courtesy. They are to let Esau know that Jacob has been away from the land of Canaan with Laban this whole time. He hasn’t been dodging him but has literally been “out of town” for the past twenty years and this is the first time he has returned to his homeland. The messengers were also to share with Esau the assets Jacob had acquired in Haran. Jacob wants Esau to know he is not back to take anything away from him because he has plenty. He may also have wanted Esau to believe that Jacob was willing to share his “blessings” with him. In Hebrew, the possessions are singular which suggests that he wanted to arouse Esau’s interest without letting him know exactly how much God had blessed him. Lastly, we see Jacob’s motivation for sending this message to him. It was so he may find favor “in Esau’s eyes.” He is appealing to Esau’s generosity and goodwill so that the rift between them can be repaired. Jacob wants him to know that his intentions are peaceable.

Jacob’s plan seems to backfire as the messengers return telling him that they went to Esau and he is now on his way to Jacob with four hundred men. Jacob begins to panic for a couple of reasons. One, the messengers don’t say if Esau spoke to them or not, just that he is on the way. Second, Jacob would have considered the four hundred men an army of sorts coming to wage war with him. In Genesis 14, Abraham took 318 men to attack the five kings in order to rescue Lot. In 1 Samuel, four hundred men was the standard number in a militia and was the number of fighting men that accompanied David as he was running from King Saul. And Jacob would have been reminded of Laban recently chasing him down with his men in the last chapter.

This news puts Jacob “in great fear and distress” as he believes that Esau is coming to make good on the threat to kill him. I am reminded of the Geico commercial: When you are in a scary movie you make bad decisions. It’s what you do. When you are fearful and in distress you don’t think straight and you make bad decisions. It’s what you do. What Jacob does is panics and divides his “camp” into two groups along with the flocks, herds and camels. Jacob thinks that when Esau comes and attacks one of the groups the other group can escape and be saved. He is not thinking straight because of fear, doubt and anxiety. This is seen in a number of ways. One, God sent an angel army to Jacob to encourage him and to protect him. Two, if Esau was intent on killing his family, why did he let Jacob’s messengers go. Three, wouldn’t it be better to have all the available fighting men together to fight as one group? His spiritual maturity takes “one step backwards” as he takes matters into his own hands, again.

Then almost as quickly as his panic sets in, we see him praying. His spiritual maturity, like ours sometimes, is on a roller coaster. Which brings us our second point which is Pray, found in verses 9-12. This is what God’s word says, Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”

We see our big idea played out here as Jacob, who is experiencing fear and doubt, turns to God in prayer. This is his first recorded prayer. He prays with humility reminding God of his covenant, command and promise to him and his family and prays for deliverance from his enemies because of God’s promises to him. His prayer is a model for us as he prays what I call the ACTS prayer. ACTS stand for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication and we can see each of those in his prayer. First, we see adoration as he prays to the God of his fathers, Abraham and Isaac. Baldwin says, “By invoking God’s name he was consciously calling to mind what God himself had done in making himself known to his family.” The last time he invoked the name of God it was with a lie as he was in the middle of deceiving his father and stealing the blessing. Invoking God’s name, put his need squarely in the saving purpose of God outlined in the covenant. He also reminded God of his obedience, as he was commanded by God to return to Canaan, and that he promised to prosper him.

Second, we see confession as he admits he is unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness God has shown him. This is his first admission of guilt for his sin, his failures and deceptions. He realizes that even though he is flawed, God has shown him kindness and has been faithful to the covenant promises made to him. Third, we see thanksgiving. When Jacob left Canaan, he only had his staff, but now has become “two camps.” God has prospered him with cattle, donkeys, sheep and goats, and male and female servants. He left with nothing and came back with an abundance all supplied by God and he thanks God for it. Finally, we see supplication. Jacob petitions God for salvation from Esau’s hand. He is afraid Esau is going to attack him, his wives and his sons and daughter. We again see spiritual maturity as he is worried and concerned about more than just himself. Lastly, again Jacob reminds God of his promises to him: that he would prosper him and that Jacob’s descendants would be like the sand of the seashore which can’t be counted. Jacob realizes that if he and his family are killed by Esau then his descendants would not become as numerous as the sand on the seashore. Griffith Thomas says, “Jacob’s spiritual life comes out now after all those years at Haran; and, though there is much to seek, we can see the clear marks of the work of God directing, deepening and purifying his soul.”

Jacob prayed believing that because God was the one who made the promises to him that he was the only one who could fulfill them. But we also see desperation in his prayer. At this moment Jacob’s faith was weak. He has not yet acknowledged that the God of his fathers was his God. He is like the father in Mark 9 whose son was possessed by an impure spirit. There Jesus said, “Everything is possible for one who believes.” And the father replies, “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” Jacob had knowledge of God’s ways and character but because he didn’t have that personal relationship with God yet, like his fathers had, he prayed with desperation instead of total confidence. We see this in a couple of ways: One, God commanded Jacob to return, why would he not protect him in his obedience? Two, God cared for him for the past twenty years, why would he stop now? Three, Jacob was part of God’s eternal purposes for the world, would God’s purposes now fail because of the Esau’s anger? While a prayer of desperation is still a prayer, a prayer of total confidence in God’s abilities and will is better. When we are experiencing fear, worry, doubt and unbelief it is as important for us, as it was for Jacob, that we turn to God in prayer and that we pray with confidence because of God’s promises to us. And we can use the same ACTS model that Jacob used which brings us to our first next step which is to Pray with confidence using the model of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication.

Our third point this morning is Plot and Placate and is found in verses 13-21. This is what God’s word says, “He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.” He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’” He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.”

After Jacob prayed he spent the night in the camp. He must have been plotting overnight because when he wakes up he has come up with a plan. He has just prayed to God for deliverance and we can assume that God’s angel army is still in his camp but he doesn’t fully trust God to protect him. Jacob didn’t need to be worried, anxious and upset because God had promised to take care of him. But Jacob takes matters into his own hands coming up with a plan to placate Esau into forgiveness and reconciliation. His plan was to gift or bribe Esau with 550 animals. This gift was larger than towns would have had to pay in tribute to foreign rulers. It would have really set up Esau well to start and maintain his own flock and herd. The gift was made more valuable due to the females and young included which would provide ongoing growth. This may have been an attempt by Jacob to return the blessing to Esau or at least restore the benefits of the blessing without disowning his rightful place in the plans and purposes of God. Jacob may have thought that forgiveness would only come by giving back what was taken. But he seems to be forgetting that his blessing came as a result of God’s sovereignty. Jacob separates the animals into five different herds and put each herd in the care of his servants. He then had the servants go ahead of him leaving space between each herd, effectively staggering them. Jacob also instructed the lead servant to tell Esau when he met him that these animals belong to “your servant, Jacob” and they are a gift from Jacob to “my lord, Esau.” The servant was also to make sure that Esau knew that Jacob was on his way behind them coming to meet his brother. Each servant leading each herd was to say the same thing highlighting the fact that Jacob was coming behind them.

Then we are told the reason why Jacob was giving all these animals to Esau. It was to pacify him in order that Esau would receive him. The Hebrew word for “pacify” literally means “cover his face.” The connotation is to make “atonement” that brings about reconciliation. Mathews says, “The words “gift” (offering), “atonement” and “accepted” implies that Jacob makes peace with God by reconciling with Esau.” Jacob wants to cover Esau’s face so he can’t see Jacob’s shame for what he has done to him and to wipe the anger from Esau’s face. He also is hoping that Esau would receive him which literally means that Esau will “lift up his face” in forgiveness and show him favor. But Jacob seemingly is trying to blind Esau with gifts so he forgets what he has done to him and would not be mad at him anymore. Jacob has the right heart as he wants to be reconciled to his brother, but instead of trusting God to work it out he takes matters into his own hands trying to bribe his brother into forgiveness and reconciliation. Lastly, we are told that the gifts went ahead but Jacob spent the night alone in the camp.

There is an important lesson to be learned in this point. When our faith is overwhelmed by fear we plot, scheme and trust in our own strength. When our faith is stronger than our fears we will live out Psalm 112:6-7 which says, “Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” When we walk in faith we do not need to fear the enemy and we know that the grace of God, not bribery, is the only thing that can take away our guilt. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” We should pray that God will keep us from our own plotting and scheming and help us to be confident in his plans and purposes for us. And that he will protect us from whatever danger, physical or spiritual, befalls us. That brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card which is to Trust in the Lord and be confident in his plans and purposes for me.

In conclusion I want to speak to spiritual maturity, Jacob’s and ours. We didn’t see a whole lot of spiritual maturity in Jacob in Haran. But bit by bit, as God has brought him back to Canaan, we have seen glimpses of the man that will become Israel and the father of the Jewish nation. Our spiritual growth and maturity is a lot of times a process, a series of ups and downs, taking two steps forward and one step back. And the steps backward can be brought on by fear, worry and anxiety. When those times come we tend to shy away from God’s Word and prayer. But we can overcome them by making it a habit of daily being in God’s Word, daily prayer and memorizing scripture. We mature spiritually when we know that Satan wants to keep us away from God’s Word but then we trust in God’s strength to defend us from fear, worry and anxiety and still continue to grow.

Which brings us to the 2023 Spiritual Life Journal. I wanted to introduce the theme this morning and give us all a challenge for the New Year. Our theme is “More Like Jesus.” We want to be more like Jesus in prayer, in service, in relationships, in fellowship, etc. You are going to hear more about these in the next month but I wanted to challenge us with this today: We want to be more like Jesus in the Word. Jesus knew his scripture and at age twelve was able to discuss it in the synagogue with the adult teachers of the law. In the SLJ, we have the section called Daily Bible Reading, which gives a reading for every day of the year starting on January 1. I want to challenge every one of us to read thru the Bible together in the New Year following this chart. And as we read we can ask ourselves the question: Where do I see Jesus in what I am reading? We would all be on the same page, and as we do this together, I hope it will spark conversations about what we are reading with others and how it is impacting our lives. Doing this as a body of believers, will help us to be more like Jesus, knowing God’s Word and hiding it in our hearts, which will continue us on the road to spiritual maturity. This brings us to our last next step which is to Accept the challenge to read through the Bible in a year together with my church family.

As the praise team comes to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, we give you all honor, glory and praise for who you are and what you’ve done for us. Thank you for this time of studying your Word and thank you for your Spirit that helps us to understand and discern the truths in it. Help us to pray with confidence knowing that your promises are true. Help us to trust in you and to be confident in your plans and purposes for us. And as we anticipate and live out our faith in the New Year, help us to accept the challenge to read through your word together, growing together to be more like your son, Jesus. It’s in his name I pray, Amen.

Showdown

The definition of a showdown is a final test or confrontation intended to settle a dispute. As I was formulating the title for this morning I thought about famous showdowns in history and on screen and the showdowns that we encounter in our everyday lives. Some historical showdowns you may be familiar with are the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. The Battle of Berlin, one of the final battles of WWII, between Germany and the Soviet Union. William Wallace leading Scotland in the First War of Scottish Independence against England. And the Showdown at the OK Corral between the Earp Brothers and the Clanton-McLaury Clan. Some famous movie showdowns are Neo vs. Mr. Smith in The Matrix. Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. Rocky Balboa vs. Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. And my all-time favorite showdown is at the end of the movie, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with Clint Eastwood.

There are also showdowns that occur in our own lives. It may be with our parents or siblings, with our bosses or co-workers, with people we just don’t get along with or even sometimes our friends within the church. We also have showdowns with Satan and the powers of darkness which we call spiritual warfare. Spiritual warfare is not exclusive to this day and age. It has been going on since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden. God vs. Satan is the greatest showdown of all time and the great thing is we know who the winner is. We see in Revelation that God and the Lamb, Jesus Christ, are victorious over Satan and the powers of darkness. But showdowns still happen as Satan tries to take as many with him as possible. Historically, every disciple except for John was martyred for their faith. Other church leaders and missionaries down through the ages were also martyred, losing their lives for their faith. But here is what we can know for sure: God had a plan and purpose for every one of their lives. And just like God protected Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from harm he protected every one of the disciples, every one of the church martyrs and every missionary from harm as they were fulfilling their role in the plan and purpose that he gave them. God was faithful to them in life and faithful to them in death. The same is true for us today, God has a plan and purpose for our lives, and as we, God’s people, fulfill his plan and purpose, he will protect us from harm, until our purpose on this earth is completed and we join him in eternal glory in heaven. That brings us to our big idea this morning which is God protects his people from harm as they fulfill their part in his plan and purpose.

As we let that big idea sink in let’s dedicate our study of God’s Word to him. Dear Heavenly Father, as we open your Word, we call on your Holy Spirit to guide us and teach us this morning. Give us ears to hear and eyes to see what you want us to learn. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

There are four points to the message today. The first is “Pursuit” found in Genesis 31:22-25. Follow along as I read. This is what God’s Word says, “On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. Taking his relatives with him, he pursued Jacob for seven days and caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead. Then God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country of Gilead when Laban overtook him, and Laban and his relatives camped there too.”

Last time we were in Genesis, we saw that Laban had gone away to shear his sheep. This task was important for a shepherd and would have taken a lot of time and manpower. Ancient texts state that depending on the size of the flock it would take between a hundred and fifty and three hundred men three days to complete. This explains a few things like why it took three days to hear that Jacob had left with his family, why Jacob took this opportunity to leave and why Laban had relatives around that he could take with him to pursue Jacob. This last part suggests that Laban was planning to harm Jacob or at the least intimidate him to return.

In verse 21 we are told that Jacob headed for the hill country of Gilead and that is where Laban caught up with him. The phrase “a distance of seven days” was a general phrase meaning a considerable distance. According to commentators there is no way that Jacob could have made it from Haran to Gilead in a ten day period considering the wives, children, servants and flocks that he had with him. It may have also taken some time for Laban to go back home after being told of Jacob’s leaving to get everyone and everything organized to pursue him. This may have also been when Laban realized that his household gods were missing. Nonetheless, Laban and his men finally overtake Jacob in the hill country of Gilead, each on opposite hills, ready for the showdown that they both know will take place.

Next, God comes to Laban in a dream at night warning him not to “say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” We can notice a few things in this verse. First, Laban is referred to as an Aramean. He is now not a relative of Jacob but an enemy. And this would have reminded the first hearers that Aram was an enemy of Israel and Judah. Second, coming to Laban in a dream at night reminds us of God coming to Abimelech in Genesis 20:3 warning him not to touch Sarah or he would die. Lastly, the phrase “good or bad” is the same phrase Laban and his father said to Abraham’s servant when he came to find a wife for Isaac. Opposites in scripture frequently express totality. Laban was not to do anything to stop Jacob from returning to Canaan. The similarities between events in Abraham’s and Jacob’s lives prove that Jacob was the successor to Abraham and Isaac as the covenant carrier.

We are then told a second time that Jacob pitched his tent in the hill country of Gilead and that Laban and his relatives overtook him and camped there too. Again, we can notice a few important things in this verse. First, Jacob is portrayed as alone while Laban has relatives with him. Jacob is outnumbered especially when it comes to fighting men and his plight is dire. The words that are used are reminiscent of battle; “pursued,” “pitched” his tent, “overtook” and “camped” give a connotation of war. Now, the players in the drama are set for the showdown to start.

Which brings us to our second point this morning: “Pointing the Finger” found in verses 26-30. This is what God’s Word says, “Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You’ve deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war. Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me, so I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of tambourines and harps? You didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters goodbye. You have done a foolish thing. I have the power to harm you; but last night the God of your father said to me, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ Now you have gone off because you longed to return to your father’s household. But why did you steal my gods?”

The showdown begins with Laban pointing the finger and accusing Jacob of a couple of crimes. This scene takes on a courtroom like drama where Laban is the plaintiff, Jacob is the defendant and their relatives are the jury. Laban is looking to convict Jacob in the court of popular opinion. He begins with charging Jacob with deceit and kidnapping. He accuses Jacob of leaving his household without telling him and “carrying” off his daughters like “captives” in war. Again, we can notice some things in this verse. “What have you done?” reminds us of the words that Jacob spoke to Laban after his wedding night with Leah. This is a lot like the pot calling the kettle black as Laban seems indignant that Jacob would deceive him. We also see that Laban is continuing with the militaristic and combative rhetoric. He accuses Jacob of carrying his daughters off like captives in war, like a cattle rustler stealing from his ranch. And notice they are Laban’s daughters and not Jacob’s wives giving us the sense that Jacob’s wives were not his to take and return home to Canaan with.

In verse 27-28, we should almost laugh out loud as Laban says that if he knew that Jacob was leaving he would have sent them away with a celebration; a feast with singing, tambourines and harps. He complains that Jacob didn’t even give him a chance to kiss his grandchildren and daughters goodbye. I say laugh out loud because, can you see the Laban that we know in our scripture throwing a party for Jacob and their family to depart for Canaan? I can’t, which I believe is the point of the author. Laban has done and will do everything in his power to keep Jacob in his household and not allow him to return to his father.

But how do we reconcile that with God telling Jacob it was time to return to Canaan with his family. There is still this sense that Jacob went about leaving the wrong way. He should have went to Laban and told him that God said it was time to return to his father’s house and trusted God to keep Laban from stopping him. Now he was in a serious predicament in a showdown with hostile parties threatening God’s purposes and covenant plan. He still had not learned to completely trust God to protect him from harm as he was fulfilling the plan and purpose God had for him and his life. I like what Wiersbe says, “Life isn’t easy but if we submit to God’s disciplines and let him guide us in our decisions we can endure the difficulties triumphantly and develop the kind of character that glorifies God. The God of Jacob never fails. That brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card which is to submit to God allowing him to guide my thinking and decisions so I can endure difficulties and develop a God-like character.

We see at the end of verse 28 what Laban really thought of Jacob: he was a foolish person who does foolish things. This would have been the strongest of rebukes by Laban. Then Laban tells Jacob he has the power to harm him but God, the God of Jacob’s father, told him the previous night to “be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” Laban is threatening not only Jacob but his whole family. The reference to “the God of your father” continues to show the spiritual differences between Jacob and Laban. Laban has just lit into Jacob about leaving him but he doesn’t seem to be worried about not saying anything to Jacob as God commanded. The commentators seem to agree that the moratorium God placed on Laban wasn’t about “speaking” but about not doing harm to Jacob. Laban has chased Jacob down and we can imagine what he would have done to him if God had not intervened. Legally, he could have taken his daughters away from Jacob, had him put in prison and possibly even killed him for his crime. The only power that can save Jacob from Laban’s wrath is God. God protected Jacob from harm as he was fulfilling his part in God’s covenant plan and purpose. (Big Idea)

Laban seems to conclude that Jacob foolishness was just homesickness to return to his father’s house. But then he lodges a second accusation pointing his finger at Jacob for stealing his gods. We can only surmise which accusation is more serious to Laban. Laban spends five verses accusing Jacob of deceit in taking his daughters and grandchildren away from him but only one verse on the accusation of theft. This may have been his play all along realizing he couldn’t keep Jacob from leaving for Canaan based on God’s intervention but if Jacob was convicted of theft he would have of a more legal standing with his relatives forcing Jacob to stay.

The household gods may have been the real reason Laban pursued Jacob. The fact that Laban wanted these gods back shows his faith was in idols and not in the God of Jacob. So what were these household gods? These gods would have been small statues that would have been placed around the house. Laban would have believed they brought him good fortune with his flocks, crops, etc. It may have been the way he divined that he had been blessed by God because of Jacob. Their possession may have also had something to do with who received the family inheritance. So we can see how much he may have depended on them as he went after Jacob to get them back. Now that the accusations have been leveled Jacob gets his chance to answer the charges.

The third point this morning is “Protest” found in verses 31-33. This is what God’s Word says, “Jacob answered Laban, “I was afraid, because I thought you would take your daughters away from me by force. But if you find anyone who has your gods, that person shall not live. In the presence of our relatives, see for yourself whether there is anything of yours here with me; and if so, take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods. So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he found nothing. After he came out of Leah’s tent, he entered Rachel’s tent.

Jacob answers the first charge with the truth instead of lies and deception. He was afraid that Laban would take Rachel and Leah away from him by force which continues the combative/war theme in this section. The entire time Jacob has lived in Laban’s household they have been struggling against each other, using each other trying to get as much as they can from the other. There has been strife between Jacob and Laban, Jacob and Leah, and Rachel and Leah and even Rachel and Jacob. Then Jacob answers Laban’s second accusation protesting that he has not stolen his gods. In fact he is adamant that there is nothing of Laban’s in his camp. He gives Laban permission to search his entire camp and if his gods are found then the person who stole them will be put to death and if anything of Laban’s is found he can take it back. Now the first hearers find out what has happened to Laban’s gods and we can almost hear the audible gasp. Rachel is the one who has stolen the gods and Jacob doesn’t know it. Talk about high drama as again this has the capability of ruining God’s plans and purposes for his people.

This brings up some questions. Why did Rachel steal her father’s gods? Why didn’t she confide in Jacob about the theft? What happens when Laban discovers that Rachel has taken his gods? There are a number of reasons why Rachel may have stolen her father’s gods. First, as he she was preparing to leave for Canaan maybe she wanted the familiar gods to worship. We already know that Laban has not embraced Jacob’s God and maybe Rachel hasn’t either. It seems that Jacob has not had much of an influence on Rachel. This reminds us that during Jacob’s time in Haran God has been mainly silent. Second, maybe she was getting back at her father. In 31:14-16, Rachel and Leah talk about how their father has sold them and used up the payment he received for them not giving them anything. They feel that they have no share in their father’s inheritance and he treats them like foreigners.

This brings us back to the question of what were these gods? The Hebrew word is “teraphim.” The Nuzi tablets indicate that whoever possessed the “teraphim” was the proper heir to a father’s inheritance. It seems that when Jacob first arrived Laban he had not fathered any sons of his own so he would have adopted Jacob as a “son.” This would also explain why Jacob felt he needed to stay for twenty years with Laban. Once any biological sons came along Jacob status would have been reduced and he would no longer have been Laban’s chief heir. He would still have had legal standing to inherit something from Laban as an adopted son rather than hired hand. Rachel believing that Laban would probably never graciously hand over anything to Jacob takes matters into her own hands. Rachel has forgotten that Jacob already has his birthright back in Canaan and doesn’t need Laban’s.

Next we can surmise that Rachel didn’t tell Jacob she had stolen the gods because he wouldn’t have approved. Again, there is strife between the two, the first being when she blamed him for her not being able to bear children. Now she is keeping secrets from him. We are left with the question of what happens to Rachel when Laban finds his gods in her possession. Laban first searches Jacob’s tent because he is probably sure that Jacob is the culprit. Then he goes to Leah’s tent which shows us that he didn’t trust his daughters to not be in league with Jacob. This makes all his showy words earlier about a celebration and goodbye kisses seem shallow. He then goes into the maidservant’s tents and searches for the gods but he finds nothing. Lastly, he comes to Rachel’s tent and the tension and drama is thick because the author has already told us Rachel took them. Is it only a matter of time before Laban finds them and then what will happen?

Which brings us to our fourth point this morning which is “Powerlessness” found in verses 34-35. This is what God’s Word says, “Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them inside her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. Laban searched through everything in the tent but found nothing. Rachel said to her father, “Don’t be angry, my lord, that I cannot stand up in your presence; I’m having my period.” So he searched but could not find the household gods.”

Now the narrator tells us where Rachel has hidden Laban’s gods. She has put them inside her camel’s saddle and is sitting on them. This would have been the first red flag for the first hearers because for the Israelites a camel was unclean. Then we are told that Laban “searched” through Rachel’s tent and found nothing. The word for “searched” is the same word as fumbling around in the dark like a blind person which reminds us of Isaac almost blind and not being able to tell Jacob from Esau. Laban is seemingly as blind as Isaac was and is deceived as well, by his own daughter. This would have been a final humiliation in that his own daughter was treating him in this disrespectful way.

Now comes the ultimate disrespect not only of her father but of her father’s gods. Rachel probably in a sweet voice tells her father that she can’t stand in his presence because she is having her period. The KJV says, “the custom of woman is upon me.” This was probably a subtle retaliation for Laban’s deception of Jacob for saying that the “custom” of the day was to marry the older daughter first. It would also have been a second red flag for the first hearers because anything that a woman having her period sat on would be considered unclean. So Laban’s gods would have been seen as unclean, worthless and powerless to keep themselves from being contaminated. Laban’s gods could be stolen, hidden and sat on and were inferior to Jacob’s God, the One True God. We are told two times that Laban searched and found nothing. Laban was also powerless. Powerless to do anything to Jacob and powerless to thwart the plans and purposes of the God of Jacob’s father. God protected Jacob and Rachel from Laban and his schemes because they were his covenant people and he would continue to protect them for as long as his will, purpose and plans were being fulfilled through them. (Big Idea).

As we come to the end of our scripture we are reminded once again of the promises and providence of God. First, the principle that God keeps his promises is seen as he provides for and protects Jacob and his family. Even Rachel stealing her father’s gods didn’t keep God from protecting his people. Second, the principle that God is in control. The providence of God is the working of God’s sovereignty to continually uphold, guide, and care for his creation. Belief in the providence of God reminds us that our world and our individual lives are not determined by chance or fate but by God’s plans and purposes being worked out behind the scenes and by his people. We can trust that God will protect us, just as he did Jacob and Rachel, when we allow ourselves to be used by him to fulfill his greater plan and purpose for the world. Which brings us to the last next step on the back of your communication card: Trust God to protect me as I allow him to use me to fulfill his plan and purpose to pursue, grow and multiply disciples.

As the praise team comes forward to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Sovereign Lord, we thank you for your promises to us and for your providence as you work out your plans and purposes for the world and for us individually. I pray that we would submit our thinking and decisions to your will in order to develop a God-like character. I also pray that we would trust in you to protect us from Satan and this world as we allow you to use us to fulfill your plans and purposes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The King’s Game

Chess is a two-player game played on a square board with 64 squares arranged in an eight-by-eight grid. At the start, each player controls sixteen identical pieces, one side white and the other side black. The object of the game is to checkmate the opponent's king. This is where the king is under immediate attack and there is no way for it to escape. Chess is a game of tactics and strategy. Tactics usually concentrate on short-term actions such as forks, decoys, deflections and sacrifices. Strategy is concerned with the evaluation of chess positions and with setting up goals and long-term plans for future play. During this evaluation, players must take into account numerous factors such as the value of the pieces on the board, control of the center spaces, pawn structure, and king safety. Each player is making moves that may seem subtle at the time but over the long run could do major damage in the game if there are no counter tactics and strategies made.

In the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, chess was called the “King’s Game.” It was part of the nobility culture and was used to teach war strategy. Chess was also often used as a basis of sermons on morality. Different chess pieces were used as metaphors for different classes of people, and human duties were derived from the rules of the game or from visual properties of the chess pieces. During the Age of Enlightenment, chess was viewed as a means of self-improvement. Benjamin Franklin, in his article "The Morals of Chess" written in 1750 said we can learn three things: “We may learn, foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action, circumspection, which surveys the whole board, or scene of action, in relation of several Pieces, and their situations, and caution, not to make our moves too hastily. Chess was also occasionally criticized in the 19th century as a waste of time and has been present in contemporary popular culture. For example, the characters in Star Trek play a futuristic version of the game called “Tri-Dimensional Chess" and "Wizard's Chess" is played in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter. Today, chess is one of the world's most popular games, played by millions of people worldwide.

How many people here today have ever played chess? How many really, really love and enjoy playing chess? Well, I absolutely love it. My father taught me how to play from an early age and I was in Chess Club in high school. I enjoy chess so much that I play it every day on an app on my phone that allows me to play with people all over the world. I have actually played someone from the Horn of Africa. That was probably the coolest.

This morning we are going to be studying Genesis 30:25-43 and what we see is a game of chess being played between Jacob and Laban. Each one is making subtle tactical and strategic moves with each one’s motives being to checkmate the other, which is getting what they want from the other and getting the best of them. We will see tactics such as decoys and deflections and strategies that set up goals for the long term, in this case six years down the road. Each player is making moves and counter moves that they think will put them a better position than the other.

Both Jacob and Laban have been blessed by God. Laban’s flocks have been multiplied by God because of Jacob’s presence and Jacob has been blessed with twelve children. Jacob has also been promised land and that he would be prosperous. These promises would come later. But these blessings from God were not for Jacob and Laban’s benefit; they were given to them in order to fulfill God’s purposes for the world. The same is true for us today. We have been and continue to be abundantly blessed by God. But his blessings to us are not for us to horde and keep to ourselves; they are to be used by us to fulfill God’s purposes for this world which is to make disciples who make disciples –to fulfill the Great Commission to pursue, grow and multiply disciples. That brings us to our big idea this morning which is God’s blessings in our lives are for his purposes, not our benefit. Now I am not saying we don’t benefit from them just that our benefit is not the purpose for them.

Before we start our study of the passage this morning, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, pour out your Holy Spirit on us this morning as we open your word. Help us to have open ears, minds and hearts to learn from it. We thank you that you have breathed your Word, and inspired the authors to write these words down so that we could use them to teach, rebuke, correct and train ourselves in righteousness. I thank you for the privilege to be in your Word and to study it as workers who do not need to be ashamed as we correctly handle your word of truth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Again, we are in Genesis 30:25-43. There are three points this morning. The first is the opening moves of our chess match called the King’s Gambit found in verses 25 - 31a. This is what God’s Word says, “Now it came about, when Rachel had given birth to Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, so that I may go to my own place and to my own country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you yourself know my service which I have rendered you.” But Laban said to him, “If it pleases you at all, stay with me; I have determined by divination that the Lord has blessed me on your account.” He continued, “Name me your wages, and I will give them.” But Jacob said to him, “You yourself know how I have served you and how your livestock have fared with me. For you had little before I came, and it has increased to a multitude, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned. But now, when shall I provide for my own household also?” So he said, “What shall I give you?”

The first thing we need to talk about is what started this battle of wits – this chess match, if you will, between Jacob and Laban. (Chess Board – Beginning) Jacob has worked for Laban for the past fourteen years in order to acquire his two wives Rachel and Leah. Now he approaches Laban to gain his release from his service. What has changed? What has changed is that Jacob’s preferred wife, Rachel, has birthed a child of her own. This was important for a number of reasons. One, was for her protection. It was important for women in that culture to give their husband’s children. If Jacob would have left Mesopotamia before Rachel had her own children there was no guarantee that at some point Jacob wouldn’t have kicked her out and left her by the side of the road. So for Rachel staying close to her family was good for her. It protected her. This reminds me again of the principle that God is in control of all things. Rachel was an integral part of the covenant and God protected her. But now that Rachel had given birth to Joseph, Jacob could make his opening moves and approach Laban about going back home to Canaan. These moves by Jacob were calculated for his maximum benefit.

But it really wasn’t practical for Jacob to leave at this time and it wasn’t going to be that easy to get Laban to agree and Jacob knew this. There were a couple of reasons why it wasn’t practical for Jacob to leave. The first was because he had no assets or resources to get back home to Canaan. He had worked for fourteen years for his two wives but he didn’t really get paid for his work. Jacob came to Laban with nothing and so the fourteen years of labor was to pay the bride prices for Rachel and Leah. Now Jacob didn’t want for anything because he was a part of Laban’s household but in the end he had nothing to show for the last fourteen years besides his wives and children. How would he get back to Canaan without resources – food, camels, etc? And then once he got back how would he buy assets such as flocks, crops, etc. Second, Jacob was indebted to Laban and in that culture it would have been respectful to get his permission to leave his household. Third, Laban was technically the owner of his daughters and the children they have given birth to so Jacob couldn’t just assume he had the right to take them away. It was possible that Laban could say, “Go ahead and leave but your wives and children must stay with me.”

So realizing he really can’t leave, Jacob strategically approaches Laban in order to persuade him to make certain moves in his favor. His tone is not subservient. He doesn’t say “please” but seemingly demands that Laban let him go back to where he came from. Jacob is probably thinking about the promises of God made to him at Bethel. God promised to protect him and he has. God promised him descendants and now he has twelve children who will have children and so on and so on. God promised to give him land as his inheritance and now Jacob wants to return to Canaan and claim that inheritance. Jacob appeals to the fact that he has faithfully served Laban. He mentions this service three times in verse 26 highlighting this fact. It is like he was saying, “Laban, you know what I have done for you and now you need to release me.” These were Jacob’s first moves in the chess match.

Laban now responds with his first moves. Notice he doesn’t respond to Jacob’s demand instead he acts like he’s the humble servant and Jacob is the master. He politely asks that Jacob stay, like Laban has treated Jacob fairly all these years. Laban also appeals to Jacob in a spiritual sense even though his words don’t show that he has embraced Jacob’s God as his own. Most commentators don’t agree with the word that is translated “divination.” Divination is defined as the attempt to discover hidden knowledge through incantation or other supernatural means. It was normally used if a situation were not going well and you wanted to find out why, like Rebekah inquiring of the Lord about the war raging in her womb during pregnancy. And divination was used to see the future.

But Laban is not going through bad times, in fact his flocks are growing and he is doing well. He is also talking about the past and not the future. More accurately translated, Laban is saying he has learned “by experience” that the Lord has blessed him because of Jacob. However Laban discerned the Lord’s blessing upon him it is clear that he consulted something other than God which led him to that conclusion. What is the author trying to tell us here? The author is contrasting the spiritual conditions of Jacob and Laban. Laban wasn’t interested in Jacob’s God only the blessings he could receive because of him. He had seen the blessing of God upon Abraham and his family and wanted to get the most out of them. We see the fulfillment of God’s promise in Genesis 12:3 here; that all the families of the earth will be blessed through Abraham and his descendants. There is a principle here that we have seen before: God keeps his promises. We can trust in that and believe that he will always keep his promises to us as he did for the patriarchs. We also see our big idea in that Laban has not been blessed on his own account but on Jacob’s account. God has blessed Laban in order to fulfill his own divine purposes. (Big Idea).

Laban asks Jacob to name his wages. We have seen this before and are reminded of Jacob negotiations with Laban to take Rachel as his wife back in Genesis 29:18. This was a cunning reply on Laban’s part because he didn’t owe Jacob anything and it implies that in order to leave Jacob would need to compensate Laban. Having an opening defense is the most important moves in the early part of a chess match. And next Jacob continues to set up his defense as he again reminds Laban of his service to him. He reiterates his service saying that Laban’s flocks have done well and Laban has been a witness to it; he can’t deny it. Jacob may be exaggerating a little when he says that before he arrived on the scene Laban had “little” and now his flocks have increased to a multitude. But he agrees with Laban that the Lord has blessed him wherever Jacob turned. It didn’t matter what pastures or wells that Jacob led Laban’s flocks to, they have increased and thrived because of the Lord’s blessing. Now after providing for Laban’s family, Jacob wants to provide for his own family. This would have been a practical and logical request. One that Laban shouldn’t turn down because Jacob’s family was also Laban’s family. But Laban was not just going to turn him loose, family or no family, because Jacob was too much of an asset to him. We can really see the character of Laban here.  ​​​​ 

Laban’s last opening move was to inquire what he should give Jacob. Jacob had already asked him to give him his wives, children and his freedom. Laban has ignored that request and asked what wages he could pay him. Now he asks what he can give Jacob. As the opening part of the chess match comes to a close and the middle game starts it gets interesting as both parties have set up their defense for what will happen next. (Chessboard – both parties castled)

Our second point is the middle game called the Bishop’s sacrifice, found in verses 31b - 36. This is what God’s Word says, And Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything. If you will do this one thing for me, I will again pasture and keep your flock: let me pass through your entire flock today, removing from there every speckled or spotted sheep and every black sheep among the lambs, and the spotted or speckled among the goats; and those shall be my wages. So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come concerning my wages. Every one that is not speckled or spotted among the goats, or black among the lambs, if found with me, will be considered stolen.” Laban said, “Good, let it be according to your word.” So he removed on that day the striped or spotted male goats, and all the speckled or spotted female goats, everyone with white on it, and all the black ones among the sheep, and put them in the care of his sons. And he put a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks.”

Jacob now makes his next moves. He doesn’t want to be beholden to Laban. He doesn’t want anything from him but he will stay and continue to pasture his flocks if Laban will do one thing for him. Jacob asks to go through Laban’s flock and remove every speckled or spotted sheep, every black lamb and every speckled or spotted goat. This is what Jacob asked to be his wages for as long as he stayed in Laban’s employ. There were two reasons on the surface that Jacob wanted these particular lambs and goats. First, the majority of the Mediterranean flocks consisted of white sheep and black goats. The abnormally colored sheep and goats were in the minority. Jacob probably felt that by choosing the abnormally colored animals that Laban would be more agreeable. Second, all Laban would have to do is look at Jacob’s flock to see that he hadn’t taken anything that wasn’t his. Jacob’s honesty would be at stake. So Laban readily agrees probably because this move by Jacob on the surface was not a great one. Laban was getting the better end of the deal. The normal shepherd wages of that day were between 10-20% of the newborn sheep and goats. With this arrangement, Jacob’s wages would probably amount to 10% or less of Laban’s flock. But to Jacob, starting with nothing, even 10% would be a good beginning to his own flock. Gangel & Bramer in their commentary, quote Morris, “The arrangement clearly was highly favorable to Laban and of very doubtful value to Jacob. It was an act of pure faith on Jacob’s part. He had put himself entirely at God’s mercy. It would be up to the Lord to indicate, by a very unlikely set of circumstances whether Jacob should prosper personally or not.” This was Jacob’s middle game. His plan was to make a sacrifice by offering to take less wages trusting God to give him what he needed from Laban to improve his situation.

Laban counters with moves of his own that seem to be deceptive. Laban, probably not trusting Jacob to be fair, preemptively goes through his flock and removes all the abnormally colored sheep and goats. There was probably no deception on Laban’s part for two reason: First, Jacob doesn’t complain so it must not have mattered who removed the animals from Laban’s flock. Second, remember that the shepherd’s wages back then were usually from the newborn sheep and goats. The initial flock was still considered to be the owner’s property. But by separating the abnormal sheep and goats from his flock before Jacob can pass through it left only solid colored sheep and goats. By doing this, Laban has significantly lowered the percentages of his flock that will produce Jacob’s wages. It was clever but not necessarily against the rules in this battle of wits between the two. Laban also took those separated animals and put them in the care of his sons putting a three days’ journey between them and his flocks that Jacob would be tending. This would guarantee that none of those animals would stray and come back to Laban’s flock making it easier for Jacob to produce the abnormal offspring. Laban was going to get any advantage he could. Once these moves were made our scriptures says that Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks. He started to tend and take care of them as he promised. At this point in the “game” it may seem as Laban has the upper hand as we continue to the endgame. (Chessboard – after Bishop’s Sacrifice).

Our third point is the endgame called the Rook Strategy found in verses 37 - 43. This is what God’s Word says, Then Jacob took fresh rods of poplar, almond, and plane trees, and peeled white stripes in them, exposing the white that was in the rods. He set the rods which he had peeled in front of the flocks in the drinking troughs, that is, in the watering channels where the flocks came to drink; and they mated when they came to drink. So the flocks mated by the rods, and the flocks delivered striped, speckled, and spotted offspring. Then Jacob separated the lambs, and made the flocks face toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban; and he put his own herds apart, and did not put them with Laban’s flock. Moreover, whenever the stronger of the flock were mating, Jacob would place the rods in the sight of the flock in the drinking troughs, so that they would mate by the rods; but when the flock was sickly, he did not put them in; so the sickly were Laban’s, and the stronger were Jacob’s. So the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.

As I just said it seems that Laban has the upper hand but as in any chess match one opponent or the other makes a fatal mistake. Laban has gotten overconfident and probably ignored Jacob thinking there is no way that he can produce a very big flock with what he has to work with. Plus he is confident that as long as Jacob is in charge, his flocks will prosper as before. He is probably feeling pretty good about his odds. Jacob’s next move seem weird to us today as he took rods or tree limbs from poplar, almond and plane trees and peeled them so that they seemed striped. The commentators aren’t sure why he picked these particular trees. It may be because of the play on words for “poplar” and “Laban.” In Hebrew “poplar” sounds similar to “white” and Laban’s name means “white.” Jacob put these striped rods in the watering troughs so that when the flock came to drink during mating season they would see them. This caused the offspring to be striped, speckled and spotted. Then he separated the lambs and made them face toward the striped and all the black in Laban’s flock during mating season.

In that time and culture it was believed that these acts could influence the kind of offspring they would have. Briscoe says “It was a common belief in that culture that when animals were breeding the embryo was affected by any strange sight which might confront the mother during pregnancy.” The use of the striped rods were the equivalent to using mandrakes to get pregnant that Pastor Stuart showed us a couple of weeks ago. They were folk traditions that didn’t have any power to accomplish what the people thought it would. But Jacob at some level either believed the folk traditions or was doing as he was directed or maybe both. Of course the real reason for spotted and speckled offspring was due to the recessive genes inside the white sheep and the black goats and, of course, the power of God to quickly affect these results.

Jacob had been building his flocks up and now separated his herd from Laban’s herd. Then he started to employ selective breeding. He knew which sheep and goats were the strongest and when they were mating he would put the rods in their sight in the drinking troughs. But when the sickly and weaker animals would be mating he would not put the rods in their sight. The result was that the strongest animals would mate with other strong animals and their offspring would be striped and speckled and would become part of Jacob’s flock. And the weaker animals would mate with other weak animals and their offspring would remain a solid color and would become part of Laban’s flock.

I didn’t make the final verse of our scripture this morning its own point but if I did I would have called it “Checkmate.” Jacob’s strategy was to build up his flocks so that when he was able to go home he would have the assets and resources to make the journey to Canaan and then be able to prosper once he arrived there. Verse 43 tells us that the man, talking about Jacob, became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys. “Exceedingly prosperous” reminds us of God’s promises to Jacob at Bethel that he would “expand and spread out” which included descendants, possessions and later the Promised Land. His possessions now include large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys. His prosperity in seen in a couple of ways: One, camels were considered rare and costly. Two, this list reminds us of what Abraham acquired in Egypt from Pharaoh. God had prospered Abraham in Egypt and now Jacob in exile. Jacob is more ready to return to Canaan than he was when he approached Laban asking for his release. God had promised the patriarchs possessions and prosperity and he fulfilled that promise to Jacob using Laban’s own sheep and goats. Checkmate!

In thinking about next steps I wanted us to think about the blessings of God in our lives. First, the big idea states that God’s blessings are not for our benefit but to be used to fulfill his purposes. Second, having received the blessings of God in the past we can and should anticipate his continued blessing in our lives in the future That brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card which is to anticipate God’s blessings in my life and be ready to use them to fulfill his purpose to pursue, grow and multiply disciples. Third, we should not only anticipate his blessings but give him glory, honor, praise and thanksgiving for the blessings we receive from him. The question becomes: Do we take the credit ourselves for the blessings that come our way? ​​ Or do we forget to thank him when we receive his blessings? Or do we gratefully give him the glory for what he has done for us? That brings us to the last next step which is to give God the glory, honor, praise and thanksgiving for the blessings I receive from him.

As the praise team comes to lead us in a final song, let’s bow our heads in a closing prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for the blessings you have given us and to our church. Help us to realize that those blessings are not for us to keep to ourselves but to be used to fulfill your purposes in the world. Help us to anticipate your blessings in our lives and church and to remember to give you the glory, honor, praise and thanksgiving as we receive them. Take us from this place willing to speak of your blessings and your glory to those we come in contact this week. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

 

 

Unrequited Love

I want to begin with an illustration from Preaching Today called, The Quest For Love Endures: “PBS’s The Great American Read is an eight-part series that explores America’s 100 best-loved novels. The series notes that one theme emerges often in these novels—the quest for love, especially a romantic love that will endure. Here are a few quotes from literature experts commenting on the series and the novels: “Love is the driving force behind everything that we do. So I think reading about all these different types of loves and the ways in which they present, is one of the great human questions.” “I love a good love story. I think everybody wants love. If you don’t have it you’re trying to get it. If you have it, you’re trying to keep it.” “Every book on this list is about love and death. And finding love that transcends death. I mean, who’s not going to love a love story?” “We are fascinated by the fact that things can go wrong in love. We don’t want to go there and we don’t want this sort of thing to happen to us.”

That brings us to unrequited love which is the title of the message. Unrequited love is love that is not mutual or reciprocated; one person loves someone who does not love them back. The word “requite” literally means to return or to repay. The term unrequited love, in particular, carries an intentionally dramatic or romantic connotation to it, in part because the phrase appears so often throughout classic literature and poetry and continues to be a popular theme in books, movies, and music today. Unrequited love can be deeply painful for the person who's in love, in part because it often means they will not get to share life with that person as fully or deeply as they want and they may also feel like it’s a rejection or condemnation of their worth.

This morning we are going to be in Genesis 29:31-35 and what we will see is really a story of unrequited love. Last week, Pastor Stuart in his sermon titled, Love is Blind, told us about Jacob who was so blinded by his love for Rachel that her father, Laban, was able to deceive him into marrying the older sister Leah. From last week, we know that Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah and this morning we will see that Leah knew this and felt this. She felt unloved, unwanted, afflicted and neglected and her love for Jacob was not reciprocated. And, yes, we will see that Leah does have children to Jacob but she doesn’t have his heart and that is what she really wants. She will cry out in her unloved and afflicted state and someone will hear and see her and that someone is God. This is where God will step into Leah’s life. When you feel that no one loves you, when you feel unwanted and neglected that is when God will step into your life as well. And you can know that God hears you, sees you and loves you deeply. That brings us to our big idea this morning which is: God sees and hears the cries of the unloved and the afflicted and loves them deeply. We see time and time again in the Bible where both God and Jesus see and hear those that feel this way and comes to their rescue.

Before we jump into our scripture this morning, let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, your Word says you are close to the broken-hearted and those would include the unwanted, afflicted, and neglected. We see in your word that you come to their rescue over and over again. Lord, there may be those here this morning or online who feel that very way and we pray that they would feel your presence and that they would feel your love that is right now already surrounding them. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear the cries of those around us that are feeling this way this morning and help us to come alongside them and provide love, comfort and peace in their time of need. In Jesus name, Amen.

The first point this morning is “Seen” found in Genesis 29:31. This is what God’s Word says, “Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was unable to have children.”

If we go back a few verses, we see that after finishing the wedding week with Leah, Jacob received Rachel as his wife and they immediately had their wedding week. We are told that Jacob had relations with Rachel but are never told that he had relations with Leah. And as I just mentioned we know that “Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah.” That is the background for what we see in verse 31, “The Lord saw that Leah was unloved.” The word for “unloved” is the same word for “hate” but actually means “to love less.” We don’t know how Jacob treated Leah but commentators agree that he didn’t abuse her. But he probably spent all of his time with Rachel, the wife he loved more, thereby neglecting Leah. Now we may not want to think too harshly of Jacob because he was tricked into marrying Leah but we know what God thought about his treatment of her. God saw how Jacob was treating Leah and opened her womb so she could have his children. These children would be a divine provision fulfilling God’s promise to Jacob that he would have descendants like the dust of the earth. This is the first time God has taken an active part in the narrative since his appearance to Jacob at Bethel. God’s silence and inactivity is probably because of Jacob’s lack of praise after being led by God to his mother’s brother Laban and his family and the subsequent treachery and deception by Laban. A lot of times in the OT, God’s silence shows his disappointment or disapproval in what is going on.

And then almost as an aside, we are told that Rachel was unable to have children. We know from verse 30 that Jacob and Rachel were having relations so why couldn’t she have children? The reason she couldn’t have children is because God closed her womb just as he opened Leah’s. In chapter 30:1-2 we see Rachel confront Jacob about not being able to have children and Jacob replies, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” So Rachel can’t have children and Leah will be able to have children because of an act of God. These two acts together would have been an implied rebuke of Jacob’s blatant favoring of Rachel and neglect of Leah.

God was pouring out his grace on Leah by opening her womb. The Jewish people believed that children were a gift from God. Psalm 127:3-4 says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.” It is possible that Jacob had been neglecting his marital duties with Leah. Whether he ever thought about divorcing her or not it must not have been an option. It wouldn’t have made sense for Laban to trick him if Jacob could have just divorced Leah afterwards. It is probable that Jacob was only having relations with Rachel because he wanted her, the one he loved, to have his firstborn son. But God saw that Leah was unloved, unwanted, afflicted and neglected and he opened her womb and closed Rachel’s. God in his infinite love and compassion saw Leah’s pain and because of his deep love for her he graciously blessed her. God also sees us when we feel unloved, unwanted and neglected and just like Leah we can trust that he deeply loves every one of us and wants to be in relationship with us. (Big Idea) This is brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card: Trust that God loves me deeply even when I feel like no one else does.

Now Jacob was smart enough to know that Rachel was barren and since children were a gift from God he decided to have relations with Leah. But this didn’t seem to have the desired effect that Leah was looking for as we will see that in the next section, called “Sons” found in verses 32-35. This is what God’s Word says, 32 Leah conceived and gave birth to a son, and named him Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has seen my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” 33 Then she conceived again and gave birth to a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.” So she named him Simeon. 34 And she conceived again and gave birth to a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore he was named Levi. 35 And she conceived again and gave birth to a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.

It seems that as soon as God opened Leah’s womb, she conceived and her firstborn was a boy. The formula we will see with these four births is that the child will be given a name followed by a comment by Leah or vice versa. In fact with the firstborn child, it is the only time that Leah names the child before making the comment about them. This was probably to differentiate the firstborn from the following three sons. Leah’s comments on the births of these four children will be a play on words connecting the children’s names to the comments made by her. Her comments will give us insight into what she is feeling and going through at the time of their births.

Rachel called her firstborn son, Reuben, which means “see or behold, a son.” Then she makes two comments. First, “it is because the Lord has seen my affliction” and second, “surely now my husband will love me.” These two sentiments expressed both a lament and a wish. The name Reuben sounds like the Hebrew word for “to see” and in naming him she was expressing her faith in God who saw her affliction. We also see how she was feeling and what her true wish or desire was. She was feeling unloved and unwanted and what she truly desired was for her husband to love her. She wanted Jacob’s heart even though his heart was with another. Leah was suffering from an unrequited love; a love that was not reciprocated by Jacob.

With the birth of the second son, before naming the child, Leah makes the comment, “Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.” Then she names him, Simeon. The name, Simeon, sounds like the Hebrew word for “to hear” and she comments that because the Lord has “heard” her he has given her a second son. This suggests that Leah had been talking with God about her unloved and afflicted state. She continues to be bitterly disappointed in the fact that despite the birth of Reuben she is still “unloved” by Jacob. He still would not reciprocate the love that Leah desired to have. She still expresses her faith in God though and she truly believes that these children were from God. He was pouring out his grace and mercy on her because he saw and heard she was unloved and afflicted by her husband. Simeon’s name would be a reminder that God hears his people in the time of their need.

We don’t know what Jacob was thinking because he is silent during these births. He seemingly doesn’t even have a hand in naming these children. It is interesting that as we look ahead he doesn’t seem to have had a hand in naming any of the twelve children born in this chapter or the next. This would have been unusual in that time as the father usually took part in naming their children. In Genesis 16:15, Abraham named Ishmael and in Genesis 21:3 he names Isaac. And in Genesis 25:25-26, Isaac and Rebekah named Jacob and Esau.

We see many times in God’s Word that he sees and hears the cries of the unloved, unwanted and afflicted. We have already seen this in the book of Genesis when we studied the story of Hagar and Ishmael. Genesis 16:11 says, “The angel of the Lord said to her further, “Behold, you are pregnant, And you will give birth to a son; And you shall name him Ishmael, Because the Lord has heard your affliction.” God heard Hagar’s affliction and she would give birth to a son called Ishmael which means “God hears.” Later in verse 13 & 14, we see these words, “Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees me”; for she said, “Have I even seen Him here and lived after He saw me?” “Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi, which means “the well of the living one who sees me.” God saw and heard Hagar’s cries and he still sees and hears the cries of the unloved and afflicted, today.

There is another story in the Bible of God hearing the affliction of others found in Exodus 2:23-25. “Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage ascended to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.” Not only did God hear the Israelites in their affliction but he also took notice of them. God sees and hears the cries of the unloved and afflicted (big Idea).

The third son born to Leah and Jacob is Levi. Again we see that Leah comments on the birth before he is named. She says that “now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” The name Levi sounds like the Hebrew word for “joined” or “attached.” Leah believes because she has now borne three sons to Jacob that he will want to be “joined” with her. Every Jewish father wanted sons and Leah was certain that the birth of Levi would cause Jacob to truly love her and her love would now be reciprocated. But of course this is not what happens. Jacob still loves Leah less than Rachel as Jacob is just fulfilling his duty as a husband and not sharing his affections with her. And Leah still feels unloved, unwanted, and neglected by her husband.

The fourth son born to Leah and Jacob is Judah. Leah comments, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Judah’s name means “he (God) will be praised.” We notice that this time she doesn’t mention being unloved, afflicted or neglected by Jacob instead she praises the Lord. She stops focusing on Jacob’s love which was not forthcoming and focuses on God’s love for her that had always been there. She has always known that these children were from God but seemingly never praised Him for them. She has become more and more aware of God working in her life, so when Judah was born, she decides not to dwell on the negative but to dwell on the Lord and his love and goodness for her. Leah decided to stop seeking the love and approval of her husband and instead God the glory and the praise. She had realized that her identity and worth came from the Lord not Jacob. (Big Idea) Maybe you are doing the same thing as Leah, this morning, in seeking love and approval from human beings instead of God. If so the second next step on the back of your communication card is for you: Stop seeking the love and approval of human beings and instead find my identity and worth in the Lord. Then you too will be able to praise the Lord for his love and goodness to you.

Lastly, we see that Leah “stopped having children.” We aren’t told explicitly that God had anything to do with it but we saw that God opened her womb and I believe he closed it. Why? Because he had a sovereign plan and purpose for the twelve sons of Jacob that would become the nation of Israel and his chosen people. And this part of the plan had been fulfilled and the next one was about to begin. Later in chapter 30 we will see that God listened to Leah and she became pregnant again. God is the one who opens and closes wombs. We may not understand why or why not but we can trust his sovereign plan in the Bible and in our own lives as well.

My conclusion is adapted from a sermon by Pastor Charlie Garrett. With the birth of the last two sons, Levi and Judah, Hamilton says, “two of the major OT institutions, priesthood and kingship, have their origin in an unwanted and unplanned marriage.” That is the sovereignty of God. The preeminence will move to Judah, and so the line of the Messiah will continue through him. From Levi will come the priestly class of people, known as the Levites. They will continue to minister to the people of Israel throughout the time of Jesus and the Gospel of Matthew will be written by a Levite. Today in Israel it is claimed that the gene identifying the Levites has been isolated and in particular the gene of the Kohanim, or the high priestly class. If you’ve ever known a Jewish person with the name Cohen, this is the group who can most readily trace their DNA all the way back to the line of Aaron, the son of Levi. It seems God has ensured that this tribe of people will be ready for the final portion of a prophecy given by Daniel about 2700 years ago which encompasses the 7 years of tribulation. It is a time when a temple will again stand in Israel and the Levites will minister there.

Four sons for the unloved wife and the honor of one of them leading to the Messiah of the world. It is a high honor for a woman who was overlooked as a suitable wife. Leah is simply a picture of a lot of us. We don’t feel we are anything special and may get passed by in life for whatever reason, but the Lord is always with us. God opened Leah’s womb and showed her favor while the younger, prettier wife remained barren. We don’t need to waste our time trying to compete with beauty or money or status. All of these may be nice, but they can disappear in a moment and we can’t take it with us. However, the favor of the Lord lasts forever. There will never be a time that Leah isn’t the ancestor of the Lord, but it wasn’t long before Rachel’s beauty disappeared. We must keep your eyes on the Lord and fix our thoughts on that which is noble and good. We can’t worry about the things we can’t control. The Lord has all of us exactly where He wants us and where He can best use us. He has a good plan and purpose for us. Nothing is left to chance with our wonderful Creator. As we daily and totally surrender ourselves to the Lord he will do marvelous things for us and through us.

As the praise team comes forward, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, we thank you for this time to go deeper into your Word. We praise and thank you that you see and hear our cries no matter what they are for and that you love us deeply. Help us through your Holy Spirit to trust that you love us even when we feel like no one else does. And help us to stop seeking love and approval from others and to find our identity and worth in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

A DIVINE APPOINTMENT

Have you ever experienced delays, changes of plans, or redirections in your everyday life? Have you ever felt that God is leading you somewhere you weren’t planning to go and you end up meeting someone you weren’t planning to meet? Have you ever had a coincidence that was so special that it seemed as if God had to be involved in it? Psalm 37:23 declares that “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” God orders, arranges, and establishes the details of the lives of those who are following and are surrendered to him. God is sovereign, all-knowing, and all-powerful and if we are willing to let the Holy Spirit lead us, God can and will use us to do miraculous things in the lives of the people he brings us in contact with.

God will give us encounters with another person(s) that God has specifically and unmistakably arranged. The Holy Spirit sets up these encounters because someone needs what He can offer them through you. You may be one conversation away from God doing something awesome in your life or in the life of the person he brought you to. Our prayers for God’s will to be done in our lives opens up divine appointments and the conversations that can come from them. Our words and actions are powerful, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant. God can lead his followers to cross another person’s path, resulting in amazing things, if they are willing to submit to his leading and guiding through the Holy Spirit. Throughout the Bible we find many examples of divine appointments:

In John 4, Jesus has a divine appointment with a Samaritan woman at the village well and her life was changed along with those in her village. In 1 Kings 17, Elijah had a divine appointment with the Widow of Zarephath, who had nothing so that God could provide for her and her family supernaturally as a result of her faith. In Acts 16, Paul was directed by God to go to Macedonia where he ended up in jail. There he had a divine appointment to bring salvation to a jailer and his family. In Acts 8, Phillip had a divine appointment with the Ethiopian Eunuch where he was able to open up the scriptures to him. The Ethiopian Eunuch believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and was baptized.

This morning we are going to be studying Genesis 29:1-14a where we find Jacob again on his journey to find the family of his mother’s brother Laban. He was instructed by his father to go there and take a wife who would be the next mother of the covenant people. Last week Pastor Stuart showed us Jacob’s encounter with God at Bethel. There God promised to always be with Jacob and Jacob vowed that the Lord would be his God. Jacob had finally surrendered to God and God ordered, arranged and established his steps to a divine appointment in Paddan Aram or Haran. There he would meet his mother’s brother, Laban, and his daughter Rachel and other members of his extended family.

If we are continually seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit and letting Him determine where we are best suited to serve Him, we will providentially be given divine appointments where God’s will can be done on this earth. Imagine walking in the Spirit as God gives us divine appointments using us to help those in need physical, emotionally, financially and spiritually. That brings us to our big idea this morning, which is, for Christ followers, there are no coincidences, only divine appointments.

Before we begin our study of this divine appointment let’s dedicate our time to the Lord. Dear Heavenly Father, pour out your Holy Spirit on us and open our hearts and minds to what you want us to hear, learn and share this morning. Thank you for your only son who was crucified, dead and buried and rose again on the third day. May we never forget his sacrifice and love for us as we strive to love one another in the same way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

There are two points to the message: Providence and Performance. We will begin with Providence found in Genesis 24:1-8. This is what God’s Word says, “Then Jacob set out on his journey, and went to the land of the people of the east. He looked, and saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep were lying there beside it, because they watered the flocks from that well. Now the stone on the mouth of the well was large. When all the flocks were gathered there, they would roll the stone from the mouth of the well and water the sheep. Then they would put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well. Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where are you from?” And they said, “We are from Haran.” So he said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” And they said, “We know him.” And he said to them, “Is it well with him?” And they said, “It is well, and here is his daughter Rachel coming with the sheep.” Then he said, “Look, it is still high day; it is not time for the livestock to be gathered. Water the sheep, and go, pasture them.” But they said, “We cannot, until all the flocks are gathered, and they roll the stone from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.”

The first thing we notice is the word “then” which is referring to the events that were recorded at the end of chapter 28. If you remember from last week, Jacob had a dream of a stairway resting on the earth with its top reaching to heaven. There were angels ascending and descending and the Lord, the God of Abraham and Isaac, spoke to Jacob there. He made the Abrahamic covenant with Jacob, promising to him and his descendants the land he was lying on, that his descendants would be like the dust of the earth, and that all people would be blessed through him and his offspring. The Lord also promised to be with Jacob, to watch over him wherever he went, to bring him back to the Promised Land and that he would not leave him until he had done all that he promised. Jacob took the stone that was under his head and set it up as a pillar and worshipped God vowing that the Lord would be his God.

It is from this encounter with the Lord that Jacob “set out” on his journey. The literal translation of “set out” is he “picked up his feet” meaning that Jacob now had a “spring to his step.” The experience with the Lord at Bethel had renewed Jacob’s faith to continue this long journey and the promises encouraged him after essentially being exiled from his home. The hand of God was directing Jacob. We are told that he came to the land of the “eastern peoples.” Normally, Genesis is more specific with its directions so the lack of specificity might imply that Jacob didn’t know exactly where he was going. He was going to a distant, alien and foreign land to find his mother’s brother’s family and Goldingay says, it would be “like looking for a needle in a haystack.” Jacob was going to have to rely on God to direct him to exactly the right place, at the right time, and to the right person if he was going to locate his mother’s brother, Laban, and take a wife from one of his daughters.

Also, in Genesis, going east has meant going away from the presence of God. It meant “judgment” in Genesis 3:23 as God sent Adam and Eve east out of the Garden of Eden and in Genesis 4:16 as Cain left the presence of the Lord and settled even farther east of Eden. Going east has also meant vanity as Lot chose the outward “well-watered” appearance of Sodom and journeyed eastward to eventually dwell there. Abraham sent his servant back east to his homeland to find Isaac a wife but Isaac wasn’t supposed to go there. And now Jacob has been sent to the “eastern peoples” to find a wife. We will see in the coming weeks that his journey will be filled with many heartaches and it will not be until Jacob journeys west back to the Promised Land that he will have peace.

Next we notice Jacob comes to a well in the field. Wells have been a theme so far in the lives of the patriarchs as they were signs of God’s blessings. We have seen Abraham digging wells and prospering in the future promised land, Isaac found water every time he dug a well, Abraham’s servant is led by God to a well where he found a wife for Isaac and now Jacob will meet his future wife and the next mother in the covenant line at this divine appointment at a well. Wells again become a place where Yahweh will provide. The phrase “in the field” reminds us where Isaac and Rebekah first met each other. Next we notice the word “behold” in verse 2, “He looked and saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep were lying there beside it.” We are reminded of that same word in chapter 28:12, “And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth” and verse 13, “Then behold, the Lord was standing above it.” The three-fold use of “behold” indicates Jacob’s success in finding the right place. The promises given to him at Bethel will begin to find fulfillment in this divine appointment at the well.

Jacob sees three flocks of sheep lying near the well because the flocks were watered from this well. There was also a large stone covering the mouth of the well. The narrator proceeds to explain the practice of the watering of the sheep at this well. When all the flocks had gathered at the well, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well’s mouth, water all the flocks of sheep and then put the stone back in place. The repetition of the size of the stone and the need for all the flocks to be there before removing it implies that the stone was too large for one shepherd to move it by themselves. It will later reinforce Jacob’s strength that was given to him by God to move it. The use of the large stone and this practice was probably for at least three reasons. One, it would keep the well from being contaminated. Two, it would ensure that the well couldn’t be filled in by enemies. Three, only those who were supposed to use the well could. This reminds us that water in the desert was a valuable commodity.

This was the scene when Jacob arrived at the well. He engages the shepherds there in conversation about where they were from. He finds out that there are from Haran which is probably the closest city to the well. He then asked if they knew Laban, the grandson of Nahor and they replied that they did. Jacob inquired about his well-being and the shepherds said that Laban was well. They then announced that his daughter, Rachel, was approaching the well at this very moment with the sheep. This was a fulfillment of God’s promise to Jacob in 28:15 that “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.” We aren’t told if Jacob thanked, praised and worshipped the Lord for his providential leading to the right place, at the right time and to the right person. Because we aren’t told we can believe that he didn’t and the narrator wants us to contrast Jacob with Abraham’s servant.

The Lord will order, arrange, and establish divine appointments for those who are following and are surrendered to him. Big Idea. It is important to thank, praise and worship the Lord when we recognize his providential hand working in our lives. That brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card. My next step is to thank, praise and worship the Lord when I recognize his providential hand at work in my life.

Instead of worshipping the Lord for his providence, Jacob proceeds to arrogantly question what the shepherds are doing just sitting around. He seems to insult them by telling them how to do their job. We can imagine how they felt to have an outsider command them to get their sheep watered and out to pasture? Jacob’s rational was that it was “still high day” meaning it was around noon and wasn’t yet time for the sheep to be gathered. The sheep were usually gathered at the end of the day in order to lead them back home. We aren’t told why Jacob tried to insist the shepherds get the well open, water their sheep and get them back to pasture. Maybe he wanted them to leave before Rachel showed up so he could meet her alone. Maybe he thought it would impress her to have the well open when she arrived. She would be able to water her sheep right away and he could take the credit for it. We notice that even after Jacob is told about the “way things work”, he doesn’t hesitate to disregard it.

The shepherds repeat what the narrator told us in verse 3, that they were not allowed to move the stone and water the sheep until all the flocks were gathered. The repetition tells us that this practice or custom was important. It was probably something like a covenant or contract between the shepherds. This would ensure that the well wasn’t contaminated or sabotaged and the proper shepherds were using it. Walton says, these types of “contracts were necessary where water is scarce and distrust is often warranted.”

The second point this morning is Performance found in Genesis 24:9-14. This is what God’s word says, “While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. When Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and raised his voice and wept. Jacob told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father. So when Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Then he told Laban all these things. And Laban said to him, “You certainly are my bone and my flesh.”

Jacob was still speaking with the shepherds when Rachel arrives at the well. We are told that Rachel is a shepherdess and that the sheep are her father, Laban’s. The narrator wants us to know that Rachel was performing a real job with real responsibility and would be a capable patriarch’s wife just as Rebekah was. Since the shepherds refuse to move the stone, Jacob takes things into his own hands and single-handedly moves the stone from the mouth of the well and water’s his “uncles” sheep. Gangel and Bramer say, “Jacob says nothing he just simply performs.” And Mathews says, “The servant worshipped the Lord when he discovered Rebekah’s identity, Jacob flexed his muscles, proving his capacity to serve Laban’s house.” The narrator is contrasting Jacob’s energy with the shepherd’s laid-back or lazy approach. The three-fold repetition of “mother’s brother Laban” in verse 10 implies that Jacob is not trying to impress Rachel for her own sake but trying to impress her to get to her father, Laban.

Jacob had been told to go to the house of his mother’s father Bethuel and find a wife from among the daughters of Laban. He knew that the first order of business was to get to Laban and his way to Laban was to impress one of his daughters. At every turn God had ordered and directed Jacob’s path. He was led to a well outside of Haran where they knew Laban and he came face to face with his daughter. This was a divine appointment orchestrated by God for his chosen man to find a wife that would continue the covenant promises for his chosen and covenant people. ​​ Big Idea.

We may not have expected what happens next: Jacob kissed Rachel and then raised his voice and wept. Usually men would kiss another man as a greeting but it would not have been normal for a man to kiss a women like this. This was probably not a romantic kiss because Jacob was more intent on getting to Laban at this point in the narrative. Why did Jacob weep? Maybe he didn’t forget that it was God who had providentially guided him to exactly the right place, at exactly the right time and to exactly the right person. He was probably overwhelmed with emotion as he thought about the providence and promises of God. God had kept his promises to be with him and to watch over him as he journeyed from Canaan to Haran.

Then Jacob told Rachel he is a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. And just like Rebekah did, Rachel, ran to tell her father. That Rachel’s response was the same as Rebekah’s indicates that she was to be the next mother in the covenant line. As soon as Laban heard about Jacob he ran to meet him, embraced him and kissed him and brought his to his home. Laban was even more demonstrative than Jacob was. The first hearers may have been reminded of Jacob kissing his father in bad faith and thinking about the things that would transpire between Laban and Jacob in the not so distant future. We aren’t told what Laban was thinking when he heard about Jacob’s arrival. He may have been thinking back a hundred years ago when Abraham’s servant came looking for a wife for Isaac. Abraham’s servant had brought gold and silver jewelry, clothing and costly gifts for his sister and the family. Wiersbe says, “Abraham sent a caravan with his servant to find Isaac a wife. Isaac sent Jacob to find a wife with nothing.” ​​ We aren’t told if Laban was disappointed when he met Jacob and noticed that he had no entourage and no gifts with him. But true to form he extended his hospitality and brought him into his home.

At Laban’s home, Jacob told him “all these things.” We are not told what Jacob recounted to Laban. Maybe, like Abraham’s servant, Jacob told him about what happened at the well. The servant told Laban about how God sent him to the right place at the right time and to the right person. He gave God the glory and worshipped as he told Laban the whole story. Again, it is telling that the narrator doesn’t mention Jacob gave God glory for this divine appointment. He probably told Laban why he was there (which was to marry one of his daughters) and what his plans were for his future (which was to take said daughter and return to Canaan). We can also surmise that Jacob told Laban about single-handedly moving the stone from the mouth of the well and watering his sheep. Jacob probably thought this would ingratiate himself with Laban and convince him to let him stay awhile in his home and work for him. Laban may have been thinking he had a prospect of a strong and healthy worker which could possibly make up for the lack of the bride price. As we will see in the next few weeks this is exactly what took place.

Laban then proclaimed that Jacob was “my bone and my flesh.” In the ancient near east the ties of family were very strong and if you were visiting relatives you were given every hospitality in their home even if you had never met them. This reminds us what Adam joyously said when God brought Eve to him in Genesis 2:23a, “At last this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Jacob had found the family, through the providence of God, in which he could take a fitting bride for himself, just like Adam. The phrase also implies a reciprocal commitment or oath was made between Laban and Jacob. Laban had instituted a bond of sorts between nephew and uncle. As we will see later in the narrative that phrase will prove that Jacob and Laban were “cut from the same cloth.”

I heard a story a couple weeks ago from a youth pastor friend of mine. His son is going to be a missionary to Muslims and is discerning which country to go to. He follows some Christian leaders on Instagram and from one of those he received an Instagram direct message that was hidden because it was from someone that he was not followers with. The message was from a Muslim man in West Africa asking if he was a Christian and if so, could he tell him about how to become a Christian. It seems that he had sent the same message out to a bunch of people and my youth pastor friend’s son was the first to respond. So he shared the gospel with this man through Instagram and the man accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. That was a divine appointment sent from God to my youth pastor friend’s son. He was prepared and obedient and immediately took the opportunity to act on that divine appointment. I would like to go just a little farther with this story. This man is the only believer in his village. He had previously told his father he wanted to become a Christian and his father beat him and his friends left him. This man also told some orphans in his village about Jesus and they accepted him as their Lord and Savior. This Muslim man has continued to talk with my youth pastor friend’s son and wants to know how to get baptized. This divine appointment is ongoing and far-reaching.

There are three specific things we can do to capture the divine appointments God has for us. One, pray for divine appointments. How do we as Christians allow the Holy Spirit to make such appointments for us? The answer is prayer! Every morning when we get up, we should be praying that the Holy Spirit leads us to a divine appointment or appointments. Two, we need to be prepared for divine appointments. The Bible says in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season.” 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” If we start looking for “divine appointments,” we will find them. By making ourselves available to God, we will see things happen that we would have never expected. He will give us eyes to see and ears to hear, the who, what, when and where of our divine appointments. Three, we must be ready to act on the opportunity of a divine appointment like my youth pastor friend’s son did. Divine appointments happen in the regular course of our lives so we need to be prepared to act at all times.

Divine appointments are about how much God cares about His people. God will order, arrange and establish the details of your life if you are truly following and are surrendered to him. I encourage you to look for those opportunities and moments in your everyday life when God is wanting to use you as a divinely appointed son or daughter to be a source of hope, comfort, and love to those he brings you in contact with. That brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card which is to daily pray for, prepare for and be ready to act on the divine appointments God places in front of me.

As the praise team come forward to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, I pray that we would leave this place today watching for your providential hand working in our lives. When we recognize it I pray that we would thank, praise and worship you for it. I also pray that each one of us would pray for, prepare for and be ready to act on the divine appointments you lead us to in our everyday lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

A Tangled Web

“Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive” sounds like something you would hear from Shakespeare but actually it’s was written by the early nineteenth century Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott. The quote is from his epic poem, Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field. ​​ It’s an historical romance in verse, published in 1808, that tells the tale of how one of Henry VIII’s courtiers, Lord Marmion, pursues a wealthy heiress, Clara de Clare. In order to remove her fiancé, Sir Ralph De Wilton, Lord Marmion forges a letter implicating him in treason. He is assisted by his mistress, Constance De Beverley, a perjured nun, who hopes to regain his affections. De Wilton claims the right to defend his honor in combat but is defeated by Marmion and forced to flee abroad. In order to escape Marmion, Clara takes refuge in a convent rather than endure his attentions. Lord Marmion abandons Constance who is condemned to death but not before she gives documents to the Abbess proving De Wilton's innocence. In the end De Wilton, is able to prove his innocence, given armor and reinstated to the order of knighthood. Marmion is killed in the battle of Flodden Field before De Wilton can get justice but by fighting in the battle with distinction, he regains his honor and estates, and marries Clara.

‘Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive,’ is a aphorism. An aphorism is a pithy observation that contains a general truth. It uses just a few words to describe one’s life experience so perfectly, and is so true, that it enters into the English language and lasts forever. Some other aphorisms you may recognize are “if it ain't broke, don't fix it”, “Don’t cry over spilled milk”, “Pride goeth before a fall”, “Actions speak louder than words”, “The early bird gets the worm” and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s, “ 'Tis better to have loved and lost/ than never to have loved at all.” These aphorisms take on immortal status because they are true and we live them out every day of our lives. In the case of ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave’ it says everything we need to know about the perils of lying and deceiving others. When we lie and deceive we begin a domino effect of complications and consequences that eventually can run out of control. One lie leads to a second and a third and so and so on, etc. etc.

I assume that we all have lied to and deceived someone during our lifetime. Maybe it was a friend, a co-worker or maybe it was a parent. That is where my personal example comes from this morning. In fourth grade, I failed math one quarter. Now there were structures in place for my parents to know how I was doing and one of these was when you failed a quiz you had to get a parent to sign the paper and take it back to the teacher. My parents were very surprised when I received a failing grade on my report card and called to talk with my teacher. I don’t exactly remember what started the cycle of deception but I am sure it had to do with not wanting to get in trouble with my parents. So when I received the first failing quiz, instead of taking it home and having one of my parents sign it – I signed it and returned it – my parents none the wiser. When I received the second failing quiz paper – I did the same thing and so on and so on. This deception got easier and went on for the entire quarter amounting to 10-12 failing quiz papers “signed” by my mother and returned to the teacher. Oh what a tangled web I weaved when first I practiced to deceive. If I would have taken the first failing quiz home to my parents and gotten their help to better understand the subject, I would have saved a lot of consternation, many months of being grounded and the pain in my backside from the spanking I got. Maybe you are recollecting your own tangled web at the moment. I tell you my story and invite you to remember yours for two reasons: one, we are just like the people in the Bible: imperfect, flawed, sinful human beings. And two, it proves that God’s grace that was sufficient for them is also sufficient for us and he can and will still use us the same way he used them.

This morning, we are going to study a family who over the years has become what we might call dysfunctional. The parents play favorites and the children take advantage of each other. And it will come to a head in our scripture this morning where all four parties are trying to take advantage of and are deceiving each other. We would think that with all the tangling of webs going on, there is no way that God’s plan for the world could be accomplished through them. But of course we would be wrong because God is all-knowing, all-powerful and most importantly, sovereign, and his will and plan will be accomplished no matter the lies and deceptions that human beings put it in the way. Which brings us to our big idea this morning that God’s plans will be accomplished despite our lies and deceptions. Aren’t you glad that God is so powerful that his plans and will are not kept from being accomplished because of our interference, sin or deception? I am extremely grateful that the lies and deceptions I perpetrated couldn’t not derail God’s plan for my life.

Before we dig into God’s Word for us this morning, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, pour out your Holy Spirit on us and open up our hearts and minds to what you want us to learn. Use this passage to teach us, to rebuke and correct us where needed and to train us in righteousness. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Our first point this morning is Isaac and Esau and is found in Genesis 27:1-4. This is what God’s Word says, “Now it came about, when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called his older son Esau and said to him, “My son.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” Then Isaac said, “Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death. Now then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; and prepare a delicious meal for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die.”

Isaac is now an old man and is physically blind. The phrase his “eyes were dim” has the meaning of spiritual blindness as well. Isaac thought he was close to death, so he sent for his eldest son, Esau, so that he could bless him before he died. To prepare for the giving of the blessing Isaac commands Esau to get his quiver and bow and go out to the fields and hunt, kill and prepare the kind of delicious meal that he loved. The phrase “such as I love” suggests Isaac was in bondage to his appetite. Genesis 25:28 reminds us that Isaac had a taste for wild game and loved Esau because he was the hunter and a man of the open country. That same verse says that Rebekah loved Jacob, who was a quiet man and stayed among the tents. Very early on both Isaac and Rebekah seemed to play favorites with their children. These preferences were the beginning of the downfall of this family. Isaac states he wants Esau to prepare this delicious meal he loves so that his “soul” may bless him. The use of “soul” expressed how strong Isaac’s desire was to bless Esau. It would be the passing on of a lifetime of blessing.

There are significant observations we can make in these four verses. One, Isaac is ruled by his stomach. He loved wild game therefore he loved Esau who could hunt, kill and prepare it for him the way Isaac liked. It is interesting that when Abraham was preparing for death he sent his servant to Mesopotamia to get a wife for Isaac and Isaac when he was preparing to die wanted a feast. Two, we are told that Isaac felt he was close to death. Isaac actually lived at least another 25 years so he was not on his deathbed. We see other biblical leaders, such as Moses in Deuteronomy 31:14, being warned by God when they were about to die. Isaac stating that he doesn’t know the day of his death would seem disingenuous especially to the first hearers. Third, we see deception here on the part of Isaac and Esau. Most commentators agree that Isaac most assuredly knew about Rebekah’s oracle from God that the elder would serve the younger and/or he knew that Esau had sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of red stew. The birthright and the blessing normally went together so by planning to give his blessing to Esau he was trying to deceive and circumvent the will of God. Esau was also trying to deceive because he knew that he had sold his birthright to Jacob; so by accepting the blessing he was breaking his oath. Also Esau had really disqualified himself by marrying Canaanite women something Isaac was willing to turn a “blind eye” to, pun intended.

Most telling though is the fact that Isaac didn’t call the entire family to the occasion. Whenever the father’s blessing was given to the eldest child he also gave the other children their blessing at the same time. These blessings were like our last will and testament today and needed to be witnessed. (Picture of witnessed will) Isaac by neglecting to call Jacob, in order to bless him as well, and by not calling any witnesses to the event, shows he was trying to deceive Jacob and Rebekah. And in the end, by going through with blessing Esau he was trying to deceive God as well. That reminds us of our big idea that God’s plans will be accomplished despite our lies and deceptions.

The second point this morning is Rebekah and Jacob found in Genesis 27: 5-17. This is what God’s Word says, “Now Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game to bring home, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Behold, I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, saying, ‘Bring me some game and prepare a delicious meal for me, so that I may eat, and bless you in the presence of the Lord before my death.’ So now, my son, listen to me as I command you. Go now to the flock and bring me two choice young goats from there, so that I may prepare them as a delicious meal for your father, such as he loves. Then you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death.” But Jacob said to his mother Rebekah, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will touch me, then I will be like a deceiver in his sight, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing.” But his mother said to him, “Your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, get the goats for me.” So he went and got them, and brought them to his mother; and his mother made a delicious meal such as his father loved. Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. And she put the skins of the young goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. She also gave the delicious meal and the bread which she had made to her son Jacob.”

First thing we notice is Rebekah eavesdropping which reminds us of her mother-in-law, Sarah. In Genesis 18, Sarah “overheard” the Lord telling Abraham she was going to have a child. Isaac probably had this conversation with Esau in his tent and Rebekah must have been on the lookout so she could intervene. This meant that she had an inkling that Isaac would try to pull a fast one. There is no telling how many times in the past Rebekah must have listened outside Isaac’s tent in order to hear this particular conversation. When Esau left to go to the open country to hunt the game Rebekah went to Jacob and quoted Isaac’s words to Esau. This was to establish her truthfulness to Jacob in what was about to take place. Notice she identifies Isaac and Esau as “your father and your brother” and Jacob as “my son” reminding us of the family dysfunction. Rebekah leaves out the part about Isaac blessing Esau with “all his soul” downplaying the strength of his desire and resolve to bless him. And she adds the part about “in the Lord’s presence” which emphasized the importance and the religious significance of what is about to take place. Rebekah needs Jacob to see the urgency of putting her plan into motion immediately. She is persistent and makes it clear that he is to pay close attention to her voice and commands. Seemingly, it is Rebekah who is the mastermind here.

Notice Rebekah’s deception as she puts her plan into motion. She must have been formulating her plan for a while because it was elaborate and would need to be done quickly for it to be successful. She commands Jacob to get two young goats from the flock so she can prepare the meal and Jacob can take it to his father. But he is concerned that his father will notice that he is not Esau. If his father touches his smooth skin it would give him away. He didn’t want to appear to be deceiving his father and bring down a curse on himself instead of a blessing. But this isn’t Jacob rebuking his mother for her plan of deception; he is just worried about getting caught. But Rebekah is wily as she calms his fears about being cursed. She said she would take the curse upon herself showing the lengths she was willing to go. Interestingly, as we will see later, if the blessing couldn’t be taken away from Jacob and given to Esau then the curse could not be taken away from Jacob and given to Rebekah. She was manipulating Jacob in order to get him to participate in her scheme, which was to get him the blessing. Of course, Jacob didn’t need much coercing and he obeys his mother’s commands. We continue to see that Rebekah had it all planned out. She takes Esau’s best clothes that were in the house and put them on Jacob. She also covered his smooth hands and neck with the goatskins. After preparing the meal and dressing Jacob up to look, smell and feel like Esau, Rebekah gave him the food and bread to take to Isaac. Throughout this story, Rebekah seems so sure she could pull off this deception. She probably felt that the ends (Jacob getting the blessing like God wanted) justified the means (the deception).

The third point this morning is Jacob and Isaac and is found in Genesis 27:18-29. This is what God’s Word says, “Then he came to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn; I have done as you told me. Come now, sit and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.” Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?” And he said, “Because the Lord your God made it come to me.” Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come close, so that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not.” So Jacob came close to his father Isaac, and he touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him. And he said, “Are you really my son Esau?” And he said, “I am.” So he said, “Bring it to me, and I will eat of my son’s game, that I may bless you.” And he brought it to him, and he ate; he also brought him wine and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Please come close and kiss me, my son.” So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said, “See, the smell of my son Is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed; Now may God give you of the dew of heaven, And of the fatness of the earth, And an abundance of grain and new wine; May peoples serve you, And nations bow down to you; Be master of your brothers, And may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, And blessed be those who bless you.”

Jacob is now in full deception mode as he takes the meal to his father. But he almost blows the whole plan. In trying to cover all their bases, sight, smell, taste and touch, they forgot about Isaac’s hearing. When we lose one of our senses usually the other senses are heightened and when Jacob announced he was there Isaac was immediately confused. He was expecting Esau but the voice sounded like Jacob. So, what does Jacob do? What would we do if we were caught in a lie? We would babble on and on trying to cover up the lie hoping the person doesn’t notice our deception? That’s exactly what Jacob does as he lies and rushes Isaac along saying “sit up, eat the game and bless me.” Isaac wants to know how his son hunted, killed and prepared it so quickly. This reminds me of the phrase I started with, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Rebekah probably thought her plan was foolproof but she had forgotten a couple things. One, Jacob’s voice and, two, she prepared the food too quickly. Isaac may have been blind but he wasn’t dumb. Esau had hunted, killed and prepared this food for him many times before so he had an idea of how long it may take.

Jacob now has to come up with a good answer for his father so he tells another lie to cover the first one. This lie, “the Lord your God made it come to me” shows his spiritual condition. Jacob blasphemes by invoking the name of the Lord and his answer suggests that Jacob saw the Lord as Isaac’s God and not his own. Jacob was having to weave a dangerous tangled web in order to get Isaac to believe he was Esau. Isaac is still not convinced and he wants Jacob to come near so he can touch him. Isaac thought that even though the voice seemed wrong the skin would prove who it really was. But even after touching him Isaac was still confused and didn’t recognize him. So Isaac asked him one more time if he was really his son Esau and Jacob continued his deception by outright lying to his father. Jacob has now lied three times in the presence of his father, Isaac, and in the presence of God. We notice how conflicted Isaac was, but, interestingly, all he had to do was call a witness when he couldn’t confirm whether Esau or Jacob was there, but his hands were tied by his own deceptions. (will slide)

Isaac, now seemingly convinced or maybe just hungry, had Jacob bring the game so he could eat and give him his blessing. Jacob also brought him some wine which may have been too dull Isaac’s senses even more. Then Isaac tried one more thing in order to know he was really in the presence of Esau. He asked Jacob to come and kiss him. Jacob kisses his father and when his father caught Esau’s smell he immediately blessed him. Isaac had been betrayed and deceived by Rebekah and Jacob but he had also been betrayed and deceived by his own senses. His sight was already dulled. He allowed his hearing to be deceived even though he was skeptical at first. He was deceived by Jacob’s touch and by the smell of Esau clothes. Lastly, he was even deceived by his taste buds. He had probably eaten tons of game or venison dishes prepared by Esau over the years but was now deceived by the goat meat dish that Rebekah had prepared.

The smell of who Isaac thought was Esau prompted him to begin the blessing that was specifically suited for Esau. The smell of his clothing reminded Isaac of the fields where Esau spent his days and saw God’s blessing on him. The open fields now became a place of blessing and plenty not just merely a place to live. The blessing unfolded in three parts: The first part was generous in its scope mentioning the heaven’s dew and the earth’s fatness which expressed the entirety of nature’s abundance. Heaven’s dew was essential to vegetation and farming in the land of Canaan and the “fatness of the earth” meant prosperity. The prosperity of the land was further spelled out as having an abundance of grain and new wine. Hamilton says, “The God of Jacob will provide Jacob with all the ingredients of fertility that were thought to be given by the Canaanite gods Heaven, Earth, Dagan and Tirosh.” We should notice that these would be seen as blessings for the settled farmer not necessarily that of a nomadic hunter. We should not be surprised that this blessing is more suited to Jacob than Esau looking forward to the settling of the Promised Land.

The second part of the blessing had to do with peoples serving Jacob and nations and brothers bowing down to Him. To “bow down” meant they would serve him and show him honor. He would be their master. This part of the blessing fulfilled the oracle God spoke to Rebekah during her pregnancy. The last part of the blessing reiterated the blessing of protection and favor God first gave to Abraham that those who “curse you will be cursed and those who bless you will be blessed.” The order of the blessing is logical in that the blessing of prosperous land foresees a flourishing nation that makes servants of rival and even brother nations. So Jacob received the blessing, just as God sovereignly ordained, that Isaac intended for Esau. It was so far-reaching that it would have left nothing for the other children. Isaac intended to bless Esau in such an enormous fashion that it would have left nothing of importance for Jacob. BIG IDEA.

Briscoe says, “There is one profound factor which must not be overlooked and that is the Sovereign Lord was still at work despite the scheming and conniving. Despite all the efforts of man to thwart the purposes of God through all manner of mistakes and misdemeanors, Jacob, whom God had said would be the next link in the chain of divine promise had arrived in that exact position. The lesson behind all of this is that God delights to have his men and women work in glad cooperation with him, but should they freely chose not to cooperate, they will eventually discover that God works despite their having chosen not to allow him to work with them. This brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card. My next step is to freely choose to work in glad cooperation with God in fulfilling His will and plans for my life and the world.

Now I would be remiss to not address the deceptions in this passage. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” We must “watch over” or “guard” our hearts with all diligence in order to keep from wanting to deceive others. Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob have spent a lifetime NOT guarding and watching over their hearts. They were not diligent. They let preferential treatment run rampant in their home and cultivated a lifestyle of deception and taking advantage of each other. This brings us to the second next step this morning which is to guard my heart with all diligence in order to keep from deceiving my fellow human beings and God.

I want to close with this story called, Successful Swindlers, from Walton’s commentary. The joke is told of the deacon whose property adjoined that of a golf course. One Sunday morning he decided to skip church and take in some golf. He slipped over the fence onto the third fairway and began to play. As in the case of Job, Satan was standing before God and asked what God intended to do to punish the deacon’s dishonesty. “Just wait and see what happens on the fifth hole,” God smiled. The fifth hole was the most difficult on the course and often was responsible for scuttling the hopes for a good game. On this particular Sunday morning, however, the deacon (whose handicap was a barely mediocre 33) drove the ball straight and true. Not only did it find the green, but it took the curve of the terrain and went right in the cup: a hole-in-one. Satan was aghast with incredulity. “Why have you rewarded this unconscionable conduct with such remarkable success?” “It looks like success now,” replied God, “but who is he going to tell?”

When we read this story about sinful Jacob and hear about the successes of sinful people in our day and age, we may be inclined to ask, “How can God allow this conniver to succeed?” From Jacob’s story we can see that God at times allows success in sin because he has a greater lesson to teach someone at a later time. God’s timing is strategic. None of us experiences immediate response from God every time we sin. Rather, at the proper time God brings our sins to our attention or brings the full fruit of consequences into our lives. That inevitably means that sin has the capability of bringing temporary success. God in his impeccable sovereignty, will bring each sin to light and fruit so as to serve his optimum purposes in our lives and in his plan. He did so with Jacob and will do so in our lives as well. The success from sin is short lived.”

As the praise team comes to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, I for one am truly thankful that you still use sinful human beings today to do your work in this world. I pray that each of us would freely choose to work in glad cooperation with you in fulfilling your plans for our lives and the world. I also pray that we would guard our hearts with all diligence so that we would not give the devil a foothold in our lives. Help us to strive to be more like your son, Jesus, every day and to hide your Word in our hearts so that we wouldn’t sin against you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

 

Where there is a Well there is a Way

In Africa and other developing countries, water is a daily and crippling challenge. Without water you can't grow food, you can't build housing, you can't stay healthy, you can't stay in school and you can't keep working. Children, especially girls under the age of fifteen, often bear the burden of walking miles each day to find water in streams and ponds which is full of disease that makes them and their families sick. Wells bring clean, safe water closer to where people are living cutting down on illnesses and the time used to fetch water which can better be spent on other things.

There are five things that digging wells can help in these countries. The first is education. Education is critical for breaking the cycle of poverty and yet over half of the world's schools lack access to safe water and sanitation facilities. Lack of clean water has serious effects on students' academic performance and attendance rates. Second is hunger. Relieving hunger begins with access to clean water. It may seem simple, but we forget that without access to a reliable source of water, food is hard to grow and even more difficult to preserve and prepare. Globally we use 70% of our water sources for agriculture and irrigation, and only 10% on domestic uses. Third is healthy living. In developing countries, about 80% of illnesses are linked to poor water and sanitation conditions. 1 out of every 5 deaths under the age of 5 worldwide is due to a water-related disease. Fourth is poverty. The lack of water is an often insurmountable obstacle to helping oneself. Without clean water, the possibility of breaking out of the cycle of poverty is incredibly slim.

Lastly, water has long been at the center of conflict in these countries. You can travel tens or even hundreds of kilometers without seeing a single water facility and even then it is not of good quality. Finding water is becoming increasingly urgent to ease the strain on local community tensions. Water is the source of many conflicts within nations and between them. The causes of this conflict are complex, but one thing is certain: water shortages raise tensions, and in turn tensions make access to water more difficult. The digging of wells can reduce these tensions.

Today’s sermon is titled, “Where there is a well there is a way” because wells can be a way to better education, relieving hunger, healthy living, less poverty and less conflict in developing countries today. Wells are one way to help the physical and emotional needs of the world. This was also true in the time of the Patriarchs. Without water people could not have survived in the desert for very long. The lack of water took a physical and emotional toll on all living things. In our scripture this morning, wells will also take on a spiritual quality. Because of Isaac’s obedience to the Lord he was blessed with water wherever he went. “Where there is a well there is a way” meant that God was taking care of Isaac’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Physically, he had water for his family, for his flocks and herd and his crops. Emotionally, he didn’t need to worry about him or his family dying of thirst or losing his flocks and herds to a lack of water. And spiritually, he could trust God to provide for his daily needs knowing that the same blessing that the Lord had promised to his father Abraham was now extended to him.

We will see that God’s blessing is upon Isaac as he becomes very wealthy as a farmer and a shepherd. But Isaac’s life was not without trouble. Some of his troubles were brought on by himself and other troubles were brought on by others as they saw the blessings of God in his life. We will see conflict involving water this morning as we study this passage and we will notice that even though Isaac is abundantly blessed by God his life is not trouble-free which brings us to the big idea that Being blessed by God doesn’t mean a trouble-free life.

Before we begin the study of our scripture this morning let’s pray: ​​ Heavenly Father, we thank you that your Holy Spirit is among us this morning. I pray that your Spirit would move in this place and among those who are listening online. I pray that our hearts and minds would be open to what you want to say to us individually and corporately as Christ followers. Illumine us, teach us and grow us to spiritual maturity through your Word and your son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. In his name, Amen.

There are three points this morning. The first is Abundance and is found in Genesis 26:12-14. This is what God’s Word says, “Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him.”

The first thing we notice is that Isaac has become a farmer. We don’t know how long he has been in Gerar but it has been long enough to plant crops and reap its harvest. What is significant is that the first time Isaac plants his crops in the area and in the very same year he reaps a hundred-fold. He reaped this abundant harvest even in the midst of a famine in the land because the Lord blessed him. This fulfilled the promise made by God back in verse 3 that if Isaac stayed in the land of Gerar, God would be with him and would bless him. He chose obedience to God over the attractions of Egypt. There must have been a good source of water nearby for his harvest to have been so great. He was probably using the wells that his father Abraham had dug when he was in the same area back in Genesis 20 and 21. In Genesis 21:25, we see Abraham complaining to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized from him.

Next we are told that Isaac became rich and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. A literal reading shows the repetition of the word “great.” ​​ “And the man became great, and he continually became greater until he became very great.” It is the picture of a person growing wealthier and more powerful because God has abundantly blessed him. But Isaac’s life wasn’t trouble-free. Last week, we saw that his troubles came because of his own actions. He lied about Rebekah being his wife and that caused tensions between him and his neighbors. We are not told that they were upset with Isaac and Rebekah but we notice in verse 11 that Abimelech had to order the Philistine people to not molest them or they would be put to death. They must have wanted to harm Isaac and Rebekah for their deception. Second, his troubles came because of the blessings of God in his life. Because of his abundant wealth, his neighbors, were envious of him. They had access to the same soil, sunshine and rain as Isaac but his hundred-fold harvest was greater than theirs and his flocks and herds were more abundant. He had also accumulated many servants during his time in Gerar. Isaac’s neighbors did not appreciate how successful and powerful he had become and they despised him and his success.

This brings us to our second point this morning which is Animosity found in verses 15-22. This is what God’s Word says, “So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth. Then Abimelek said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.” So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar, where he settled. Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them. Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. But the herders of Gerar quarreled with those of Isaac and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him. Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.”

The Philistines are envious of Isaac and they showed their displeasure by stopping up all the wells that his father’s servants had dug. These were the same wells that Isaac had been using. He relied on these wells to water his crops, his flocks and herds and to keep his family alive. Water was essential to his survival in the region. Think about how much the Philistines must have hated Isaac. By stopping up the wells they wouldn’t have access the water either. It seems they just wanted to hurt Isaac and run him off their land. Then his troubles get worse as Abimelech orders Isaac to move away from them. Abimelech orders him to move away which suggests he has the upper hand but states that Isaac “is too powerful for us” making his words more of a request than an ultimatum. Nonetheless, Abimelech’s involvement makes the banishment more official. The fact that the Philistines and Abimelech are so focused on getting rid of Isaac shows how much the wells and the water were a blessing from God. The Philistines were probably not finding water in their own land like Isaac was. Isaac was blessed by God but that didn’t keep the troubles away from his doorstep reminding us of our big idea that Being blessed by God doesn’t mean a trouble-free life.

We notice that Isaac moves away instead of fighting for his right to use the wells or taking offense at the Philistines or Abimelech. He simply obeyed their demands. He had every right to those wells because they were his father’s and the water should have been his. He had done nothing wrong and was just trying to take care of his family. But he walked away when confronted and didn’t take offense at being wronged. God is pleased when his people live in peace and harmony with the world. We see this in Romans 12:16a & 18 which says, “Live in harmony with one another. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” And in Proverbs 19:11 it says, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” To overlook an offense is to take no notice of wrongs done against oneself, to refuse to retaliate or seek revenge, to let affronts go, or in a word forgive. This is what Isaac does here and will also do again later in our passage this morning. That brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card which is to strive to live in peace and harmony with everyone and to forgive and not take offense when wronged. That is important as we live our lives among believers and unbelievers.

We are told that that Isaac moves and encamps in the Valley of Gerar settling there. It is possible that Isaac had been living in the city proper because in verse 8 Abimelech was able to look out a window (probably from his palace) and see Isaac and Rebekah caressing. ​​ If this is true he may not have moved too far. It may have been like moving from Carlisle or Gettysburg to Idaville; moving from a town or city to its suburbs. He probably stayed close by so he could continue to use the wells his father had dug when he was living in the area. These wells had been stopped up by the Philistines after Abraham had died. The Philistines didn’t seem to care about the previous treaty made between Abraham and Abimelech in Genesis 21. The Philistines just wanted to control and claim all the resources of the land for their own, even if they didn’t intend to use them. We are told that Isaac reopens his father’s wells and gave them the same names that his father had given them. It is significant that Isaac knew the names of his father’s wells and where to find them. He was making the statement that he now owned them as Abraham’s son.

We continue to see more evidence of God’s blessing on Isaac as his servants dug a new well in the valley and discovered fresh water. Some translations say “springing water” or “living water.” They not only found water but water from an underground spring instead of stagnant water from a cistern. It would have been fresh water that would always be fresh because it came from a spring. But we see that trouble was not very far away. The herdsmen of Gerar, seemingly having followed Isaac, quarrel with his herdsman claiming that the water from the new well was theirs. So Isaac named the well Esek which means “quarrel” or “disputed.” Then Isaac again walks away from conflict and dug another well but the herdsman quarreled over that one too. This well he named Sitnah which means “to accuse” or “to oppose” relating to the word “satan” meaning “opposition.” It has the connotation of a formal complaint. It seems that the herdsmen of Gerar filed a legal, formal complaint against Isaac to seize this well as their own.

We notice a couple of things: One, God continues to bless Isaac because every well he dug he found water. We see this in that the herdsmen of Gerar continue to harass him as he digs new wells and finds water. If these wells didn’t produce water there would be no reason harass him. He would have just continued to move farther away from their land until he did. Two, Isaac again and again takes the high road. He doesn’t start a confrontation; he doesn’t take offense. He moves on trusting in God to provide the water needed for his family, flocks and herds. God continues to bless Isaac as he tries to faithfully live in peace and harmony with his neighbors.

After the formal complaint is filed against Isaac, he again moves on and digs another well. No one comes to quarrel over this well meaning that he must have moved far enough away from the land of the Philistines that they did not need to harass him anymore. Isaac names this well “Rehoboth” which means “room”, “open spaces” or “enlargement. This name praised the Lord for ending the conflict and giving Isaac and his family “room” to flourish and be fruitful in the land. It is the same root word used in Genesis 13:17 which describes the breadth of land that God showed to Abraham. God told Abraham to look to the north, south, east and west and promised him that all the land as far as he could see would belong to his descendants. Isaac and his descendants would possess all this land and would flourish and be fruitful there. Isaac’s life was not trouble-free but God continued to abundantly bless him over and over again even in the midst of trouble. (Big Idea)

This brings us to our third point this morning which is Assurance found in verses 23-25. This is what God’s Word says, “From there he went up to Beersheba. That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well.

Isaac moves from the area of where he dug the well, Rehoboth, to Beersheba. Beersheba was the same place where Abraham and Abimelech had made a treaty earlier in Genesis 21:31. The words “that night” show how significant it was that Isaac returned to his father’s homestead. The Lord appeared to Isaac the same night he returned to Beersheba and assured him that he was same God that was the “God of his father Abraham.” This is the first occurrence of this title for God that will continue throughout the rest of Genesis. The title reflects God’s personal commitment to Abraham in fulfilling his promises to him and involving him in the fulfillment of the promise to bless his offspring and in turn to bless the nations. He renews this personal commitment here to Isaac as he will later on with Jacob. God enters into a personal relationship not just with Abraham but also with his descendants. The Lord also told Isaac he did not need to be afraid because he is with him. Everywhere he dug a well he had found water because the Lord was with him. God was assuring Isaac of his protection and provision physically, emotionally and spiritually.

God also reiterated and reaffirmed the covenant blessing that Isaac would have numerous descendants. This covenant that Isaac was now a part of was for the sake of God’s servant Abraham and affirmed that Isaac was the true recipient of the Abrahamic blessings. But it was not for anything Abraham or Isaac did but because of the grace of God. The honored title, “my servant”, will also be used of the great leaders of Israel: Moses, Caleb and Joshua. God appearing to Isaac after the troubles in Gerar would have been an encouragement to him like it had been for Abraham. God also speaks to us and encourages us today.

Then Isaac did three things. The first reminds us of what Abraham did in the past: He built an altar and called on the name of the Lord. He was following in his father’s footsteps expressing his faith in the Lord. The altars built by the patriarchs were a grateful response to God coming and speaking to his servants. Baldwin says, “Worship seemed to be the first thought. They heard and received God’s word and gave themselves in adoration and worship pledging their obedience.” Then Isaac pitched his tent and his servants dug a well. These actions show Isaac’s commitment to worshipping the one true God as his father did and to making his residence in the land of promise in obedience to God. In the midst of troubles Isaac was still blessed by God. God proved faithful in producing water every time he dug a well providing for the fundamental needs of Isaac and his family. And in gratitude Isaac worshipped God thanking him for his protection, provision and blessing on his life. This brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card which is to worship God with thanksgiving for his protection, provision and blessing on my life. This worship is not supposed to be a one-time thing. We should continually worship the Lord for his protection, provision and blessing on our lives.

My conclusion is adapted from Weirsbe’s commentary. In the Bible, wells sometimes symbolize blessings from the hand of the Lord. When we become followers of Christ some of the spiritual wells or blessings that we receive are the Word of God, prayer, worship, faith, the power of the Holy Spirit, sacrifice and service. In our individual lives or even in the church we sometimes allow these wells to be stopped up by the enemy. The Bible is full of warnings against this. 2 Timothy 4:3 warns us that there will be a time when people will not endure the sound teaching from God’s Word but will look for teachers to say what they want to hear. 1 Samuel 12:23 warns that when we don’t pray we are sinning against the Lord. Malachi 1:6-14 warns us about not offering our best in worship to God. Hebrews 11:6 warns us that without faith it is impossible to please God. Luke 14:26 warns us that we must be willing to sacrifice everything even father and mother or our own lives for the sake of Christ. Matthew 12:31 warns us about disregarding the power of the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the unpardonable sin. Matthew 25 warns us about not serving the least of these. The goats are the ones who did not serve the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick or the prisoner and they will go to eternal punishment.

We’ve just had the Revival on the Farm and we continually pray for revival for Idaville Church and for the church universal. Weirsbe says, “Whenever there has been revival of spiritual power in the history of the church it’s been because somebody has dug again the old wells so that God’s life-giving Spirit can be free to work.” We must evaluate our individual hearts and the corporate hearts of our church to see if any of these spiritual wells have been stopped up by the enemy. And if they have we must begin to dig and reopen those wells. That brings us to the last next step on the back of your communication card which is to evaluate the spiritual wells in my life and the life of Idaville Church and reopen the ones that the enemy has stopped up.

As the Worship Team comes to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Most Holy God, enable us through the power of your Holy Spirit to reopen those spiritual wells in our lives and in our church that Satan, the enemy has stopped up. Help us to worship and thank you for the blessings you have given us. And help us to live in peace and harmony with our neighbors and to not take offense against those who wrong us. For your honor and your glory. Amen.

 

Sibling Rivalry

Since the beginning of human history there have been sibling rivalries. Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve, the first siblings on earth didn’t get along. Since then, sibling rivalries have dotted history in many shapes and forms. Some sibling rivalries are purely playful, competitive one-upmanship, while some siblings sue each other over money or defamation. Some take the form of constant bickering and arguing while others live out their days amid a frigid silent treatment. Siblings have even gone to war against their brothers and sisters in the pursuit of wealth and power, not stopping even until the other was dead. These stories of sibling rivalries prove that it's impossible to expect brothers and sisters to get along all the time. Just because you're related to your brother or sister doesn't mean you will like them. I found the following examples of famous sibling rivalries.

Edwin and John Wilkes Booth. Long before the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 by John Wilkes Booth, he and his older brother Edwin were locked in a brutal sibling rivalry. The brothers were both aspiring actors and fought for the attention of their father, a famous Shakespearean performer at the time. When John began supporting the Confederates, Edwin had him thrown out of their home for treason. Though Edwin was very famous for his acting talent at the time, his legacy has been overshadowed throughout history by his brother’s heinous crime.

Eppie Lederer and Pauline Phillips. These sisters are better known as Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren. They were twin sisters who wrote competing high-profile advice columns starting in the 1950s. In 1958, Life magazine published an exposé entitled “Twin Lovelorn Advisers Torn Asunder by Success,” which featured “bitter exchanges” between the two. It seems the feud began in the mid-1950s when Pauline allegedly offered to write "Dear Abby" for their hometown newspaper for less pay if it promised not to print "Ask Ann." The twins were never the same after that. It is said that this sibling rivalry has been passed down even through the sisters’ children.

Adolph and Rudolph Dassler. In the 1920s, they created a shoe company in Germany together in their mother’s laundry room. As business boomed, so did the tension between them. The actual feud allegedly stemmed from a mere miscommunication during a WWII air raid but barely five years later, the brothers were dividing the company into two separate shoe brands Adi's Adidas and Rudi's Puma. The rivalry continued for more than 60 years, as the Dasslers' companies earned the loyalties of different athletes, celebrities, and even their fellow German townsfolk.

Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine. They were sisters and actresses during Hollywood’s Golden Age and were known rivals. As they rose to fame, both were nominated for Best Actress during the 1942 Academy Awards. Olivia was assumed to be the winner by many, but Joan famously went home with the Oscar. In a 1978 interview, Joan said, "You can divorce your sister as well as your husbands. I don’t see her at all and I don’t intend to…I got married first, got an Academy Award first, had a child first. If I die, she’ll be furious, because again I’ll have got there first!"

How many here today have siblings? I have a brother, Christian, and a sister, Laurie. They are twins like the subjects in the message today. My brother, Christian, is older than Laurie by a whole three minutes. From my perspective I wouldn’t say there was sibling rivalry between us growing up. There may have been between Chris and Laurie since they were only born three minutes apart. But there were definitely times in the past that my brother and I wouldn’t let her forget who was born first. What about you? Did you and your siblings experience any sibling rivalry? Maybe it was grades in school or vying for attention from the same friends or vying for the love and attention of parents that caused the rivalry. Maybe the rivalry was in sports or in the same job or field.

This morning we are going to delve into the story of a sibling rivalry that started before birth. In fact it pretty much started at conception. There was a war of sorts going on in their mother’s womb that would be the beginning of a sibling rivalry that would last many years. The brothers would eventually make up and be able to coexist but their descendants would not end up on the same happy terms. We are going to see that the characters in this narrative go through struggles just like the generation before them. All their struggles had the capability to derail God’s will and plan for their lives. But they never did because God is sovereign and in control of all things. Which brings us to our big idea this morning that God’s will and plan is accomplished even in the midst of our struggles. It doesn’t matter what we are struggling with. Maybe it’s in our relationships with family at home or with friends at work or in the church. Our struggles may come due to our sin and trying to do things our own way. No matter what we are struggling through our struggles cannot stop or thwart or change God’s will and plan for our lives or for the world. God’s will and plan will always be accomplished even in the midst of our struggles.

Before we dive in to our scripture let’s bow our heads and commit ourselves and the study of God’s word to the Lord this morning. Dear Heavenly Father, give us ears to hear and eyes to see what truths you have for us this morning. Open our hearts and minds to your Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

We are in Genesis 25:19-26 and there are three points to the message this morning. The first point is Devoted and we see this in Genesis 25:19-21. Follow along as I read. This is what God’s Word says, “This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.”

Last week we heard about the account of Abraham’s son, Ishmael and today we begin the tolodot or the account of Abraham’s son, Isaac. There are a couple of differences in the two accounts that we notice. One, Abraham is mentioned twice here but only once last week. This repetition stresses the connection of Isaac to Abraham, who was the one who received the promise. Two, we notice here that Isaac’s mother, Sarah is not mentioned but last week Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, was. ​​ Also, here it doesn’t state that Isaac fathered Esau and Jacob but last week it stated that Abraham fathered Ishmael. Three, last week what followed was the names of the sons of Ishmael but here Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, where she is from and who her father and brother are, is highlighted. This tolodot links the following story back to how Rebekah came to be married to Isaac and forward to the struggles that Jacob will have with Rebekah’s brother later on.

As we look at the patriarchs, Abraham and Jacob seem much more prominent than Isaac. Even in this passage that begins the tolodot of Isaac, he seems to be overshadowed by his father, Abraham, and his wife, Rebekah. As Pastor Stuart said last week, Isaac seems to be a transitional character, but Isaac is an important link in the chosen line that would lead to Jesus. God used the traits and personalities of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to call his people out of paganism and into a relationship with himself and to make them into his chosen people and a royal nation. Take away Abraham’s obedience to the call, Isaac’s obedient faith or Jacob’s tenacity and the nation of Israel probably doesn’t survived the exiles to be a nation today. God was able to take all those different traits and personalities and mold them together in order to fulfill his plan and purpose for the world. Those traits and personalities caused many struggles but God’s will and plan was still accomplished. (Big Idea)

In verse 21 we see the first struggle that could have derailed God’s plan: Rebekah was childless; she was barren so was not able to have children. So far we haven’t been told how long she has been barren but in verse 20 we see that they were married when Isaac was forty and in verse 26 we are told that Isaac is sixty when Rebekah gives birth to the twins. So Rebekah has been barren for twenty years. Sarah was barren for 39 years and it took nine chapters in Genesis for Sarah’s barrenness to be resolved but only took one verse to resolve Rebekah’s. Rebekah’s barrenness is like a “ditto” reminding us of Sarah’s barrenness and God’s provision of Isaac. We can presume that Rebekah had all the anxiety, concern and uncertainty of Sarah’s barrenness.

We notice a contrast in the way Isaac and Abraham handled their wives’ barrenness. When confronted and struggling with Rebekah’s barrenness, Isaac and Rebekah did two noteworthy things. One, they were patient for twenty years and waited on the Lord’s timing to be revealed. They didn’t try to figure it out on their own. They didn’t try to do in their own strength. They held onto their faith in the Lord’s promises to them. This brings us to our first principle this morning: God is pleased when his people are patient and wait on his timing. On the other hand, instead of waiting on the Lord’s timing, Sarah finds a surrogate wife for Abraham in Hagar and he agrees to Sarah’s plan for a son. They didn’t trust the Lord to take care of Sarah’s barrenness and they didn’t wait patiently on the Lord to fulfill his promises to them of a son. Abraham and Sarah’s struggles and taking things into their own hands had the potential to derail God’s will and plan but it didn’t. God did the miraculous and Sarah conceived Isaac in her old age.

The entire book of Genesis emphasizes God’s sovereignty and the wisdom of his timing. Psalm 31:14 -15a says, “But I trust in you, Lord; I say “You are my God.” My times are in your hands.” Baldwin says, “Trusting in the Lord means having faith in his way and his timing and demands patience. We can learn a lesson here that we need these same attributes to navigate the tests that are sure to come in our Christian walk. Every believer needs to hold on to their faith no matter what comes. That is spiritual maturity to hold on instead of taking the easy road to just let go of their faith.” That brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card which is to be patient and wait on the Lord’s timing in the midst of my struggles.

Two, Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of Rebekah but we never see Abraham praying to the Lord on behalf of Sarah. Isaac was devoted to Rebekah. He cared for and loved her so as the NLT says he pleaded and interceded to the Lord on her behalf. This would not have been the first time in twenty years that he prayed for her to become pregnant. The Hebrew word “entreated” means Isaac kept pleading and kept praying on Rebekah’s behalf until God answered his prayer. This brings us to our second principle this morning: God is pleased when we intercede for others. Weirsbe says, “It has been said that the purpose of prayer is not to get our will done in heaven but to get God’s will done on earth. Isaac wasn’t praying selfishly but he was concerned about God’s plan for fulfilling his covenant. True prayer is being concerned about God’s will, not our own wants, and claiming God’s promises in the Word.”

The Lord answers Isaac’s prayer and Rebekah becomes pregnant. This answer to prayer shows the importance and effectiveness of intercessory prayer and God’s response to it. It also shows that the seed was provided by God and Rebekah was able to conceive by the direct action of the Lord. The first two mothers of the promise were able to conceive because God provided the miracle of conception. Ross says in his commentary, “Isaac was the son of Abraham, the heir of the promise and Rebekah was of good stock and carefully chosen to be the bride but these facts are not sufficient to produce the next heir of the promised blessing; it will still take divine intervention.”

Our second point this morning is Distressed and we see this in Genesis 25:22-23. This is what God’s Word says, “But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why am I in this condition?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people will be stronger than the other; And the older will serve the younger.”

Isaac and Rebekah are confronted with the second struggle that could derail God’s plan: Rebekah is having a hard and difficult pregnancy. The narrator tells us there are twins in her womb that are “struggling” with each other. But Rebekah doesn’t know that she is carrying twins and doesn’t understand what is happening inside of her. ​​ All she knows is she is troubled and in distress. It is so difficult that she questions whether her pregnancy is even worth it. It’s worse because the struggle in her womb was an answer to prayer. The Hebrew word for “struggle” means to “abuse,” “crush” or “oppress.” It implies a violent collision as the children were “smashing” against each other inside her. These words were used to depict the oppression of the poor and to describe skulls being “smashed” together. It was not a mild discomfort and suggested that what was going on was not normal.

In the ancient world events during pregnancy and birth were considered ominous. Rebekah realizing there was something going on inside her that she couldn’t explain thought that possibly God was trying to speak to her in some way. It seems she wanted to understand God’s will for her life and for the life inside her. So, instead of following in her mother-in-laws shoes, trying to take things into her own hands in some way, Rebekah makes a correct choice. In her distress she goes and inquires of the Lord. She realizes that her pregnancy was because the Lord had willed it in the first place and he would have the answers. This brings us to our third principle this morning that God is pleased when we seek his counsel. There were other avenues she could have sought but probably because of the influence of Isaac in their marriage she inquired and sought the counsel of the Lord. When we are suffering or struggling physically, emotionally and or spiritually or in any other ways we also should inquire of the Lord. God is pleased when we seek him in the midst of our struggles.

We are told that the Lord answered her. The Hebrew word used implies she got her answer from the Lord in the form of an oracle. An oracle was a divine utterance delivered to a person usually by another person, in answer to a request for guidance. They could also be indications of favor or disfavor communicated through designated mechanisms such as with Gideon and the fleece. Later in Israel a divine response was given by means of the Urim and Thummim in the breastplate on the high priest's ephod, or by casting lots or given by the prophets. We are not told how Rebekah received the oracle but if we take it on face value we can believe she received it directly from the Lord. The oracle answered her question of what was happening to her and why. The Lord tells her that there are two nations in her womb and the two peoples will be separated or divided. This means that she will be the mother of twins but it also means their descendants will be incompatible and not able to coexist together. This dividing was going on even now in her womb. This dividing reminds us of the tensions between Abraham and Lot and Isaac and Ishmael in which separation was the best resolution to the struggles between them. This same resolution will be played out later with Jacob and Esau.

The Lord goes on to tell her that one of the peoples will be stronger than the other and that the older would serve the younger. This expressed God’s sovereign choice of the younger son getting the blessing instead of the older one. Before the twins were ever born the Lord was predicting what would happen in their later lives. The struggle within Rebekah’s womb foreshadowed the competition that would come later resulting in the older brother serving the younger one. Later in Genesis the nation of Edom that came from Esau will be enemies with and under the subjection of the nation of Israel that came from Jacob. This was all part of the sovereign will and plan of God for his chosen people. This story makes us acutely aware that the Lord is aware of, concerned about and involved in the very existence of the unborn. It also suggests that human personality is well on the way to being formed even in the womb. God’s answer probably didn’t bring Rebekah much comfort but she seems content and is able to endure the pain of her pregnancy. Both Isaac and Rebekah sought after the counsel of the Lord in prayer for the struggles of barrenness and a difficult pregnancy. That brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card which is to seek the Lord’s counsel in continual prayer in the midst of my struggles.

The third point is Divided and is found in Genesis 25:24-26. This is what God’s Word says, “When her days leading to the delivery were at an end, behold, there were twins in her womb. Now the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so he was named Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.

When the time came for Rebekah to give birth she had twins proving the truth of the oracle from God. Only time would tell who the stronger one would be and what would happen when the older one ended up serving the younger one. The narrator wants us to take notice of the unusual birth of these two boys. With the birth of the firstborn we are take notice of his appearance. He came out “red” and his whole body was like a hairy garment and his parents named his Esau. Names in the ancient world were important and often made statements about deity or the circumstances surrounding the child’s birth. Esau is described using only adjectives and his name came from three plays on the sounds of words. Esau (esaw) means “hairy” (se’ar). The Hebrew word for “hairy” (se’ar) sounds like “Se’ir” which will be the place that Esau settles. The Hebrew word for “red” (admoni) sounds like “Edom” (edom) which was Esau’s nickname relating to his red skin or hair and later to the red stew which he sold his birthright for.

The second born came out with his hand grasping the heel of his brother so they named him Jacob. Jacob is described in action from the very beginning. His name made statements both about deity (God) and the circumstances surrounding his birth. Jacob (ya aqob) means “may God protect” and sounds like the word for “heel” (aqeb), or “watch behind” or “to follow closely.” It has the idea of God watching our “six” like in the military, protecting and guarding our rear flank. We can see that God was already protecting Jacob in the womb and would surely protect him in the future. Heel (aqeb) sounds like the word for deceived (aqab). So because of the way Jacob stole Esau’s birthright, as we will see next week, the name Jacob came to mean someone who had the tendency to supplant, to trip, or to cheat. Jacob latching onto Esau’s heel conveys the ideas of deception, betrayal, and opportunism. Hamilton in his commentary states, “Even the infantile Jacob is acting out the oracle of Yahweh. From the very moment of birth the divine plan is in evident operation.” The parents observed the unusual circumstances of the births in view of God’s oracle and commemorated them in the naming. This commemorative naming was recognition that God’s oracle was the answer to their prayers.

Lastly, we are told that Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to her sons. Our narrative is bookmarked by how old Isaac was when he married Rebekah and how old he was when Rebekah gave birth to Jacob and Esau. Isaac and Rebekah waited on the Lord for the continuation of the promise to be realized for twenty years confirming the faith of Isaac and the faithfulness of the Lord’s promise. God in his sovereignty did not allow their struggles of barrenness and difficult pregnancy to get in the way of his will and plan. (Big Idea)

Brothers, Clifton and William Prentiss, were born near Baltimore, Maryland. When the Civil War began, Clifton enlisted in the Union Army and rose through the ranks to major. William enlisted in the First Maryland Infantry of the Confederate States. On April 2, 1865, after the Union and Confederate armies had been stalemated at Petersburg, Va for almost ten months, General Grant ordered a full assault to break the Rebel lines. Major Clifton Prentiss led the 6th Maryland as they attacked the Rebels and was reported to be the first officer to enter the enemy's line. Almost immediately, he was shot in the chest. William, defending the Confederate trenches against his brother's regiment, was struck by a shell fragment above his right knee. ​​ 

An account given in 1920 by J.R. King in the National Tribune recorded this "pathetic incident": "Two of the 6th Md. men like many others were going over the field ministering to the wounded without regard to the uniform they wore, came upon a wounded Confederate, who after receiving some water, asked if the 6th Md. was any way near there. The reply was, "We belong to that regiment. Why do you ask?" The Confederate replied that he had a brother in that regiment. "Who is he?" he was asked. The Confederate said, "Captain Clifton K. Prentiss." Our boys said, "Yes, he is our Major now and is lying over yonder wounded." The Confederate said, "I would like to see him." Word was at once carried to Maj. Prentiss. He declined to see him saying, "I want to see no man who fired on my country's flag." Colonel Hill, after giving directions to have the wounded Confederate brought over, knelt down beside the Major and pleaded with him to see his brother. When the wayward brother was laid beside him our Major for a moment glared at him. The Confederate brother smiled; that was the one touch of nature; out went both hands and with tears streaming down their cheeks these two brothers, who had met on many bloody fields on opposite sides for three years, were once more brought together." William died on June 24, 1865 and his brother died on August 18 less than two months after his brother. Clifton was buried next to his brother William, and they have lain side by side for more than a century.

We will see later in Genesis that Esau and Jacob were reconciled just like Clifton and William Prentiss were. If you are going through a sibling rivalry today, it is not too late for you to be reconciled to them, either. It will take patience, it will take prayer, and it may take you being the bigger person. This is true in sibling rivalry conflicts and with conflicts with other human beings. With the help of the Holy Spirit, if we will humble ourselves to the other party, sibling or not, reconciliation can take place. So, I want to encourage us with that this morning.

As the praise team comes forward to lead us in a final song, let pray: Dear Heavenly Father, let us be people of reconciliation. You are our supreme example of wanting reconciliation with us by sending your son to die on a cross for our sin. I pray Lord that we would in the midst of our struggles wait upon your timing and not try to fix it on our own. I pray that we would seek your counsel through prayer in the midst of our struggles as well. Take us from this place and give us divine appointments with those who need to be reconciled to you and allow us to proclaim your salvation to them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Good Hands

You’re in Good Hands with – All State. That’s right, you are in good hands with All State. Probably all of us have seen the commercials for All State with these guys. The “You’re in Good Hands” slogan started in the 1950’s when a general sales manager at the insurance company rushed home after learning his daughter was ill. His wife, comforting him, noted that the girl was “in good hands” with the doctor. The manager recalled the incident at a sales meeting, and the slogan, “You’re in good hands with Allstate” was born. What are the qualities that All State wants their customers to believe they have that means they are in good hands? They want their customers to believe that they are knowledgeable, approachable and leaders in the field of insurance. They also want their customers to believe they are trustworthy, reliable and dependable, that they will take care of them when there is a problem and that there is nothing to worry about if you are insured by them.

Character is defined as attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual; moral excellence and firmness. Your character, good or bad, is made up of different qualities and we all have the choice as to what our character will be. I think we all probably strive for the same qualities that All State wants their customers to believe they have. Those qualities also remind me of the character of God. God is trustworthy, reliable, dependable, he takes care of us and we have nothing to fear or worry when we are “in his good hands.” As Christ-followers we know from scripture and from our own experiences that we are “in good hands” with God. Psalm 33:4 says, “For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.” 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Matthew 6:25-26 says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

As we think about the character of God, I believe it is important to evaluate our own character. We should ask ourselves: Am I trustworthy, reliable and dependable? Do my loved ones feel cared for by me? Do people feel like they don’t have to worry if they have been placed in my hands or if a task is left in my hands? Do I possess the same character qualities as God? This brings us to the big idea we will explore this morning that God is pleased when we exhibit his character. We want to emulate the character of God. We want to be more like his son, Jesus. I believe that God will use us for his purposes when we exhibit his character and it is important for our witness as Christ-followers that others would say that they are in “good hands” with us.

Two weeks ago, Pastor Stuart, opened up the beginning of chapter 24 to us which tells the story of Abraham sending his servant to Mesopotamia to find Isaac a wife from his family/clan and not from among the Canaanite women. The servant was led by God to find Rebekah, who was the granddaughter of Nahor, the brother of Abraham. When Rebekah tells her family about what the servant had said and done, her brother, Laban, invites the servant into his house, gives his camels a place to stay and be taken care of, and places food before the servant and his men. But the servant would not eat until his story was told and that is where we pick up the passage this morning.

The phrase, “in good hands” will be important as we study this passage and see how the character qualities of the main players fit in with it. Before we begin, let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we praise you for your many attributes. You are trustworthy, reliable and dependable. You care for us and we don’t not need to worry about anything because we are being held in your good hands. Lord, pour out your Holy Spirit upon us this morning. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear what you want us to understand from this passage. Give us opportunities to share your good news with those in our spheres of influence who do not know you as their Lord and Savior. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

There are three points to the message this morning. The first is Witness, this is the witness of the Servant, found in Genesis 24: 34-49. This is what God’s Word says, “So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’ “Then I asked my master, ‘What if the woman will not come back with me?’ “He replied, ‘The Lord, before whom I have walked faithfully, will send his angel with you and make your journey a success, so that you can get a wife for my son from my own clan and from my father’s family. You will be released from my oath if, when you go to my clan, they refuse to give her to you—then you will be released from my oath.’ “When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘Lord, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” and if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one the Lord has chosen for my master’s son.’ “Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’ “She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.’ So I drank, and she watered the camels also. “I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ “She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milkah bore to him.’ “Then I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms, and I bowed down and worshiped the Lord. I praised the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me on the right road to get the granddaughter of my master’s brother for his son. Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn.”

The servant is giving witness to Rebekah’s family about everything that has happened from the time that Abraham has commissioned him to find a wife for his son until the present, with a couple variants. There is a lot going on and a lot to notice in this long narrative. The length, the detail and the retelling of the story shows how important this story is to the continuation of God’s promises to Abraham. The servant begins by identifying himself as Abraham’s servant and informing the family of his master’s abundant wealth. He is not modest as he lists all that Abraham owns such as sheep, cattle, silver and gold, etc. This list reflects what Abraham acquired in Egypt and Gerar and is a more comprehensive list of his wealth then we have seen before. He also tells them that Sarah has borne a son to Abraham in her old age and that the ​​ son has been given all that Abraham has. He is enticing Rebekah’s family to agree to allow her to marry Isaac. Why does he begin with Abraham’s wealth? He wants her family to believe that the son of Abraham has the wealth to take care of Rebekah. I also believe that the servant noticed that his gifts to Rebekah brought out the materialistic character in Laban. In verse 30 we notice that as soon as Laban saw the nose ring and bracelets on his sister’s arms and heard her story he makes a great show of hospitality towards the servant. He’s probably thinking there was more where that came from.

The servant twice mentions the oath he took to find a wife from Abraham’s family and not from among the Canaanite women. This shows the importance of finding a wife from Abraham’s family. Baldwin says, “The success of this enterprise was depended on the separateness of the people of God, a necessary condition for developing a counter-culture that would reflect their walk with God.” Notice that servant never mentions that Abraham commanded him not to bring Isaac to Mesopotamia. He probably thought it would give the family the idea they needed to meet the son first before giving their ok.

Up to now the servant has focused on Abraham’s wealth and his kinship with Rebekah’s family. Now he turns to how the providence of God led him directly to Rebekah. He recounts his prayer to God to show him the right woman and how God answered that prayer. The servant knew that God had led him to Rebekah because even before he was done praying she came to the well and gave the servant a drink when he asked her. Then the sign that he was waiting for was fulfilled when she offered voluntarily to water his camels. Further verification came when he asks Rebekah whose daughter she was and she answered that she was the granddaughter of Nahor who just happened to be Abraham’s brother. The servant knew that the Lord had led him to exactly the right place at the right time to find the right woman. He knew God was in control of all that happened and he bowed low and worshipped the Lord. Now the servant asks Laban and Bethuel to show him the same kindness and faithfulness that the Lord showed Abraham’s servant in finding Rebekah in the first place. He wants them to act in good faith the same way the Lord has and make a decision one way of the other. If they say “yes” then he can take her back to Isaac or if they say “no” he can move on to find someone else.

We see certain character qualities in the servant and Rebekah that are the reason why the Lord chose them to play such a huge part in the next installment of the blessing to Abraham and his descendants. The servant was loyal, patient, determined, and humble. He had integrity and a heart for prayer, thanksgiving and praise. He praises and worships God every time he answers his prayers. That brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card. My next step is to be a person who prays before I act and to praise and thank the Lord for answered prayers. Rebekah was generous, kind, friendly, hospitable, practical and hard working as seen in volunteering to water the servant’s camels. Their character showed that the blessing was in “good hands.” The servant and Rebekah were able to be used by God for his purposes because they exhibited his character and I believe that God will use us as well for his purposes when we exhibit his character in our daily lives. (Big Idea).

Our next point is willingness and we will see this in the willingness of the bride to go back with the servant to Canaan. It is found in Genesis 24: 50-61. This is what God’s Word says, “Laban and Bethuel answered, “This is from the Lord; we can say nothing to you one way or the other. Here is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has directed.” When Abraham’s servant heard what they said, he bowed down to the ground before the Lord. Then the servant brought out gold and silver jewelry and articles of clothing and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave costly gifts to her brother and to her mother. Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night there. When they got up the next morning, he said, “Send me on my way to my master.” But her brother and her mother replied, “Let the young woman remain with us ten days or so; then you may go.” But he said to them, “Do not detain me, now that the Lord has granted success to my journey. Send me on my way so I may go to my master.” Then they said, “Let’s call the young woman and ask her about it.” So they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?” “I will go,” she said. So they sent their sister Rebekah on her way, along with her nurse and Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the cities of their enemies.” Then Rebekah and her attendants got ready and mounted the camels and went back with the man. So the servant took Rebekah and left.”

Laban and Bethuel say they realize that the Lord has been at work in this matter and give their consent for the servant to take Rebekah to become Isaac’s wife as the Lord has directed. It is interesting because this part of Abraham’s family was probably not following the one true God as Abraham had been for close to a hundred years. Stenberg says, “The Mesopotamians undergo a process of discovery that brings home to them God’s management of the world.” And Hamilton says, “It is not the servant, Abraham or Isaac, but rather their God that Laban and Bethuel find persuasive.” God was in total control of this situation.

The servant worships the Lord for their. He provides the bride and her family with costly gifts. This would have been seen as the bride price and the “mohar” which would compensate the bride’s family for taking her away from her family. We notice that the servants gives the gifts to Rebekah’s brother and mother and not to the father. It seems that the father may had been ill and only brought out for the initial negotiations with the servant. Or it is also possible that it was normal for the brother and mother of the bride to take the lead in these types of negotiations. Finally, after the servant had recounted the story, after Rebekah’s hand in marriage had been given and the gifts handed out the servant and his men now eat, rest and spend the night knowing that the task was satisfactorily completed.

The next morning the servant announces that he is ready to leave and take Rebekah back to marry Isaac. This seems abrupt but he may have been worried that Abraham would not live long enough to see his new daughter-in-law. The family pushes back wanting Rebekah to stay with them for ten days before leaving. This was probably normal so the woman could spend some final days with her family knowing that they may never see each other again. It would have also made sure that the marriage arrangement was on the up and up. The servant though pushes back as well and plays the “God” card. Now that the Lord has granted him success in his journey he wants them to send him on his way. It was important for the servant to return to his master to report on the success of the mission. We see a determination to finish the task at hand as another of the servant’s character qualities. ​​ 

The family leaves the matter in Rebekah’s hands and without hesitation she says she will go with the servant. Rebekah recognized the will of God for her life and was willing to follow that will wherever it led. Discernment and obedience to the will of God were other character qualities of Rebekah. We also need to be discerning the will of God for our lives and then be obedient to that will. That brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card which is to listen, discern and obey the will of God for my life. When our character aligns with the character of God, we can be better equipped to listen, discern and obey God’s will for our lives. Once Rebekah has decided to go, her family sends her and her nurse with Abraham’s servant and his men. It is interesting that neither Abraham’s servant nor Rebekah’s nurse is specifically named in this passage. As Pastor Stuart said two weeks ago, Abraham’s servant may have been Eliezer, but we aren’t told for sure. Rebekah’s nurse is named later in Genesis as Deborah. This anonymity may be so we focus on the major characters in this passage which are Rebekah and later on Isaac.

The last thing that Rebekah’s family does is bless her. Notice they did not invoke the name of the Lord with this blessing. They bless her to increase in numbers, to thousands upon thousands, and that her offspring would possess the gates of their enemies, meaning they would conquer their enemies. It is significant that these blessings mirror the blessings that God promised to Abraham. Mathews says, “The author (of Genesis) is declaring Rebekah the divinely chosen instrument who helps realize the promise made to Abraham and his descendants.” Rebekah’s character is equal to Abraham’s and she exhibits the character of God which means the fulfillment of the divine blessing is in “good hands.” After the blessing we see Rebekah, her maids, Abraham’s servant and his men mount their camels and leave for Canaan.

The final point this morning is welcome talking about the welcome of the bridegroom. We see this in Genesis 24: 62-66. This is what God’s Word says, “Now Isaac had come from Beer Lahai Roi, for he was living in the Negev. He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching. Rebekah also looked up and saw Isaac. She got down from her camel and asked the servant, “Who is that man in the field coming to meet us?” “He is my master,” the servant answered. So she took her veil and covered herself. Then the servant told Isaac all he had done. Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

The narrative now turns to Isaac. It seems since we saw him last he has changed locations from Beer Lahai Roi to the Negev. What has probably happened is that in the time it took for the servant to go to Mesopotamia and back, Abraham has set Isaac up with his own homestead, in the hopes that the servant’s mission is successful. We notice that one night Isaac is out in the fields “meditating.” This word could mean “prayerful” or “contemplative” or even “lamenting.” We can only wonder what is going through Isaac’s mind. He has lost his mother who he was very close to. He is awaiting news of whether the servant has found a bride for him or not. It’s possible that he is lonely in that Abraham has set him up with a home but has not stayed with him there. He is probably regularly calling out to God in the pain of his mother’s loss, in his loneliness and in the uncertainty of what the future holds for his life.

Isaac “looks up” and sees the camels approaching and Rebekah also “looks up” and sees Isaac. To “look up and see” indicates that what is about to be seen is important. What is important is that Isaac and Rebekah get their first glimpse of each other. We are told that Rebekah gets off her camel. It seems in that time and place it was unladylike for a woman to be on a camel in the presence of a strange man. She asks the servant who is the man that is coming to meet them and when he tells her that the man is his master she covers herself with her veil. Notice that the servant now refers to Isaac as his master. We already heard that Abraham had given everything he had to Isaac, and this now includes his servant. She puts on her veil which was a mark of chastity, modesty and submission. Her face would now be covered until their wedding night.

The servant reports to Isaac all that had transpired and a number of things happen as we end the story and the chapter. One, Isaac brings Rebekah into the tent of her mother and marries her. This signified that just as Isaac has replaced Abraham within the blessing, so has Rebekah replaced Sarah. Rebekah now becomes the next mother in line to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham that he will become a great nation. Two, Isaac loved Rebekah. As with any arranged marriage the couple doesn’t start out loving one another but Isaac and Rebekah fell in love with each other and their marriage was more than a marriage of convenience. Lastly, Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death. It is clear that Sarah’s death deeply affected her son. Rebekah’s arrival would prove to be a source of solace and support. There would be a good balance and compliment in their home.

Other character qualities of Rebekah in this section are that she was alert and expectant. She was waiting to see the man whom she would spend the rest of her life with and when she saw him she obeyed God’s will for her and became his wife and a comfort to him after Sarah’s death. She was also chaste, modest and submissive. We also notice some character qualities of Isaac. He had a quiet and patient faith. He was seeking after the Lord as he meditated in the field. He showed grace and humility as he humbled himself to take Rebekah as his wife because the Lord had arranged and ordained it.

In his sermon titled "Think Hard, Stay Humble," Francis Chan told about a man named Vaughn who radiated the love of Christ to everyone around him: There were a couple of guys who came to his church who said they were inspired by their former youth pastor, a guy named Vaughn. The next week another person named Dan told Francis "I know Vaughn. He's a pastor in San Diego now, and he takes people into the dumps in Tijuana where kids are picking through the garbage. I was just with Vaughn in Tijuana. We would walk in the city, and these kids would run up to him, and he would show such deep love and affection for them. He'd hug them and have gifts and food for them. He'd figure out how to get them showers. Francis, it was eerie: the whole time I was walking with Vaughn, I kept thinking, If Jesus was on earth, I think this is what it would feel like to walk with him. He just loved everyone he ran into, and he would tell them about God. People were just drawn to his love and affection." And then Dan said this, "The day I spent with Vaughn was the closest thing I've ever experienced to walking with Jesus." Hearing this made me think, “Would anyone in their right mind say that about me? Would anyone say that about you? … As I thought about all this, I prayed, "Lord, that's what I want. I don't want to be the best speaker in the world. That doesn't matter. I don't want to be the most intelligent person on the planet. That's not what I want to be known for. I want to be known for someone saying, "Wow, he's a lot like Jesus."

God is pleased when we want to and strive to be more like Jesus. He is pleased when we exhibit his character. (Big Idea). Earlier I put forth that each of us need to look into our own hearts and evaluate our character. Does our character fall in line with God’s Word? Do we daily exhibit the character of God in our lives? That brings us to the last next step on the back of your communication card. My next step is to evaluate my character to see if I am exhibiting God’s character in my life. If we are that’s great and we must keep it up. If we aren’t then it is time we make the necessary changes to align our character with his.

As the praise team comes to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, help us to be praying people and a thankful people for answered prayer. Help us to listen, discern and obey your will for our lives. And help us to evaluate our character and align it with yours. As we leave this place today give us divine appointments with those who do not know you as their Lord and Savior and use each of us as witnesses to your love, your holiness and your salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

Jehovah-Jireh

Who thinks about the products you buy before purchasing them? Who checks to see if they are tested for safety or how they will work under extreme conditions? As you probably know most everything is tested in some way, shape or form. It might be cars and planes tested for safety. It might be food tested for taste or quality. It might be cell phones tested for durability. I would bet that some of us just buy things and don’t really worry or seek out the results of the testing done to them. There are four reasons why product testing is important. One, testing gives insight into system level functions. This means each part is checked to make sure it will work properly with the whole. The product is only as good as the sum of all parts working together. Two, testing catches product defects early on. Product defects have the potential to cause serious injury, so, in order to protect users, company reputation and integrity, it is important to minimize the risk of defects by thoroughly testing products before they are sold. Third, testing is important for quality assurance. There are certain standards that products need to meet in order to be distributed and applied which ensures they are safe, reliable and of high-quality. Four, testing is important to find out what the product can endure. Stress testing is important in order to figure out how the product will function under extreme temperature, weather, pressure, or other harmful conditions.

This morning we are going to be looking at another kind of testing – the testing of a human being. We can be tested in many ways and by many things. We go through testing or trials because of the choices we make or the sins we commit. We may be put through tests and trials by the world or by Satan. We may also be tested by God. We should not be surprised that God will test his children. He will test us as a means to reveal our obedience. He will test us so we will “fear” or reverence him in order to keep us from sinning. He will test us to humble us, to know what is in our hearts and whether we will keep his commands. He will test us to bring about our good and he will test us to bring glory to himself. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

God’s purpose for testing us is to bring us to spiritual maturity; a spiritual maturity that brings about obedience, trust and total submission to Him. We must have occasional tests or we will never know if we are maturing spiritually or not. Briscoe says, “Faith is matured through the experience of stressful testing in the same way the cardiovascular system is strengthened through exercise and the muscles are developed by lifting weights. (Faith) often demonstrates itself more fully by its responses to the furnace of affliction than the warm shallow waters of ease and prosperity.” It would be good for us to remember that we are never too old to be tested, that God tests the faithful and that being tested by God is a compliment.

This morning in Genesis 22:1-19, we will see Abraham being tested once again. Weirsbe gives us insight into Abraham’s previous testing: He passed the “family test” when God told him to leave his family and step out in faith to go to a new land. He failed the “famine test” going to Egypt doubting God would provide for him. He also failed by not trusting God to protect Sarah and himself from Pharoah. Abraham then passes the “fellowship test” when he gave Lot first choice of the land. He also passed the “fight test” when he defeated the kings and passed the “fortune test” when he said no to Sodom’s wealth. He failed the “fatherhood test” when he went along with Sarah’s plan to have a child by Hagar. And he passed the “farewell test” when it came time to send Ishmael away even though it broke his heart.

Up to this point, Abraham’s faith has been wishy-washy or timid. Today we are going to see that his faith will be rigorously tested in the most extreme conditions. When we come to the end of this story, we will see that his faith has been transformed into a triumphant faith. His life of testing by God has produced a spiritual maturity of obedience and trust in Him. The question we want to ask ourselves as we study this passage this morning is what does it take to transform our faith from timid to triumphant? How does God require us to respond when he tests our faith? We find the answers in the example of Abraham, which brings us to our big idea this morning which is timid faith, when it becomes tested faith, is transformed into triumphant faith. Before we dive into our scripture this morning, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, pour out your Holy Spirit on us. Help us to open our hearts and minds to your Word. Let us glean your truths from our passage and put us in positions this week to share those truths with those who desperately need to hear them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Our first point this morning is TEST and is found in Genesis 22:1-2. This is what God’s Word says, “Sometime later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Our passage begins with “sometime later” and we need to go back to chapter 21 to see what happened before. We see three events happening. One, Isaac is born. Two, Isaac is weaned and there is a great feast. It is at this feast that Ismael was mocking, maybe Isaac. Sarah saw Ishmael as a potential threat to Isaac’s inheritance and she told Abraham to get rid of the Hagar and Ishmael. This greatly distressed Abraham but God told him to do as Sarah had said. Three, we see a treaty being made between Abimelech and Abraham. Abraham now owns a well and settles down in the land of promise. We are told that Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time. As chapter 22 opens, most commentators believe that Isaac is now at least a teenager so it is probably ten to fifteen years later.

We are told that God is going to test Abraham. God calls to Abraham and tells him to take his only son, Isaac, whom he loves, and go to the region of Moriah and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. The intensity of this story is seen in two ways. One, the narrator uses the word, God “Elohim” instead of the more personal name “the Lord” to show who is speaking to Abraham. This is the narrator’s way of emphasizing that it is the Most High God, Abraham’s God, the one who gives and takes away who was testing him. There is no doubt as to who is asking this of Abraham. Two, in the original language God says, “please, take your son.” We have seen this before and in each instance he is asking the person to do something extraordinary, something that defies rational explanation or understanding. We can know that God is fully aware of the magnitude of this test for Abraham.

A burnt offering was the language of tabernacle sacrifice. It was a sacrifice where the entire animal was burned on the altar. With this type of sacrifice, the offerer is saying they were completely submitting themselves to the Lord. ​​ We can only wonder what Abraham must have been feeling. It had taken a hundred years for him to have a son born to him by Sarah. And this son was to be the promised son which would give Abraham descendants like the stars in the sky. This is the son through which his descendants would possess the Promised Land. We don’t know what Abraham thought but we do know what he did next.

Our second point this morning is OBEDIENCE and is found in verses 3-10. This is what God’s word says, “Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.”

The first thing we notice is that “early the next morning,” Abraham got up and prepared to do what God had commanded him. We have seen a couple times as we have studied the life of Abraham that he gets up “early the next morning.” In chapter 19, he gets up “early the next morning” to see if Sodom had been destroyed or not. In chapter 21, he gets up “early the next morning” to send Hagar and Ishmael into to the wilderness. Here Abraham gets up “early the next morning” to set out to sacrifice his son as the Lord commanded. “Early the next morning” means he was resolute, he was decided and his obedience was prompt. His mind was made up that he was going to obey God no matter what. He was going to trust God no matter the outcome.

Next we notice Abraham preparing for the trip. He saddles the donkey, gets the servants and Isaac together and he cuts the wood for the burnt offering. Most commentators feel the order in which he prepared to leave shows a hesitation especially the cutting of the wood for the burnt offering. Normally, if you were traveling to make a sacrifice, you would chop the wood once you got to your destination. You also wouldn’t want to carry all that excessive weight on the journey. But it is also possible that Abraham didn’t want to cut the wood once he got there because any hesitation on that end could cause him to change his mind. I believe everything Abraham did was part of God’s sovereign plan and we will see that later in the story. Next we notice that the journey took three days. Imagine what that must have been like for Abraham. To walk side by side with his only son knowing that when they get to their destination he was going to sacrifice him as a burnt offering. This was God taking Abraham’s timid faith, making it a tested faith, so that it would become a triumphant faith (BIG IDEA).

As they come close to the place God told him to go, Abraham does and says some things that probably seemed strange. He tells his servants to stay with the donkey. He tells them he and Isaac are going to go worship and then “we” will come back to you. He takes the wood that was on the donkey and placed it on Isaac. Again, this begs some questions. Why did he tell the servants to stay back? Why did he say that both of them would return to them after worshipping? Why did he take the wood off the donkey and make Isaac carry it? Maybe he didn’t want to have to worry about the servants trying to stop him from sacrificing Isaac. Maybe he was trying to deceive the servants and Isaac by saying they both would return. Or maybe his faith was so strong that he knew even if he sacrificed Isaac on that mountain God would be able to raise him from the dead and both of them would return to the servants? This is what the writer of Hebrews believed in Hebrews 11:17-19. “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”

We can see Isaac as a type of Christ in this story. Isaac carrying the wood may be seen as the equivalent to Jesus carrying his cross. Or at the very least a picture of Jesus carrying the weight of our sin to the cross. So with the wood being carried by Isaac and Abraham carrying the fire and the knife it says they “went on together.” Again, we can only imagine what is going through Abraham mind as he walks side by side with Isaac. They probably walked in silence most of the way, Abraham thinking about what is to come. Isaac finally asked his father where the lamb was for the burnt offering. Abraham answers his son that God will provide it. And we are again told again they “went on together.” We are reminded with this exchange between “father” and “son” that there is a deep affection and love for each other which makes what Abraham is going to do that much harder. We are also reminded of God, the Father, sending Jesus, his son, to the cross as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.

When they reached the place God had told him about Abraham again didn’t hesitate; he built the altar, put the wood on it, bound his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar. He then reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. We can notice that it seems Isaac went onto the altar willingly as the burnt offering. Abraham is over 100 years old and Isaac’s a teenager. We have to believe that at some point Isaac must have realized he was to be the offering and could have ran away or overpowered his father and got away. Commentators mention this as a picture of Isaiah 53:7, 10 that talks about Jesus being like a lamb led to slaughter who did not open his mouth and that the Lord made his life an offering for sin. We notice that Isaac exhibits the same qualities of perfection looked for in sacrificial victims. We see why Isaac was seen as a type of Christ.

Our third point this morning is DIVINE PROVISION and is found in verses 11-14. This is what God’s word says, “But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Abraham is fully submitted to God’s will and is about to plunge the knife into his son. At the last possible moment the Angel the Lord calls Abraham’s name to stay the execution. God’s timing is never early and never late; it is always perfect. We notice that the name “Lord” is now used. The same Lord, who is our savior, father and friend is “the Most High God” holy, sovereign, and creator God. The God who tested Abraham once again shows himself to be the gracious Lord who keeps his promises. The angel calls his name twice because he urgently needed to get Abraham’s attention. Abraham was to not lay a hand on the boy nor do anything to him. The angel’s “now I know” is an admission that the ordeal was a test and a confirmation of Abraham’s depth of loyalty to God. Then the Angel tells us what triumphant faith is. Triumphant faith is a faith that “fears God” and is willing to give up everything (even an only son) in submissive obedience to the Lord. (BIG IDEA) Ross says, “The fear of the Lord is drawing near to the Lord in love, adoration and reverence but never forgets that the Lord is the most High God and shrinks in fear at such an awesome deity.”

Next, we see the truth of Abraham’s words, “God will provide.” He looks up and sees a ram caught in the thicket. Abraham was surprised and recognized this was a miracle from the Lord; one second there was no ram and the next second there it was. God had truly provided the sacrifice for the burnt offering and Abraham sacrifices the ram as a substitute for his son. Then Abraham does something we have seen him do before. He commemorates the place and calls it, Jehovah-Jireh. Jehovah-Jireh has a dual meaning, which are literally, “The Lord Sees” and “The Lord Will Provide.” He is celebrating that God not only saw him but provided for him. I found something interesting which I only would have found by studying God’s Word in context and verse-by-verse. At the end of chapter 21, when Abraham made the treaty with Abimelech, Abraham planted a tamarisk tree to commemorate that place and he calls the Lord, “El Olam” or “the Eternal God.” Abraham was praising the God of the long-term and of the future. In this chapter when Abraham names this place “Jehovah-Jireh” he is celebrating the God of the short-term; the God of the details of our lives. God will “see” to it that even the littlest details of our lives are cared for. We can trust God for the future but we can also trust him for the here and now.

Our last point this morning is DIVINE BLESSING and is found in verses 15-19. This is what God’s word says, “The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

The Angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time. This tells us that something important is about to be said. God emphatically reiterates the promises he has already made to Abraham. We can notice some interesting things. One, God swears by himself. This is first and only time in Genesis that God does this. There is no one higher to swear by and it affirmed the promises on the integrity of God’s own name and reputation. Abraham could depend on God to keep his promises; he could take these promises to the bank. Two, the reason for the blessings is because he did not withhold his only son from the Lord. He was willing to give up the promised descendants and the Promised Land that they would inherit. He was willing to give up all worldly things including his son for the Lord.

Abraham’s relationship with God was the most important thing to Him and God would “surely” or “really” bless him. These promises were going to be better than all the others. We see in the earlier promises that Abraham’s descendants were compared to “the stars in the sky” but now they are compared to the “sand on the seashore.” His descendants were now promised to “possess the gates of their enemies” meaning they will conquer their enemies’ cities not merely inherit the land. It is promised that through his descendants “all nations on earth will be blessed.” This implies that the world had already been blessed through Abraham but more blessing is to come through his descendants all because of Abraham’s obedience. Imagine how we could bless the people and the world around us today if we would just be obedient.

Finally, as we come to the end of the passage it says that Abraham returned to his servants and they set off together for Beer-sheba where Abraham stayed. Isaac is not mentioned as returning with them but we can surmise that he did. We have seen this before in Genesis as the most important character is mentioned and the secondary ones are not even though we know they are involved. What the narrator wants us to remember here is that Abraham is the central figure. It was Abraham’s faith that was tested and was found triumphant (BIG IDEA). But we should come away from this story more impressed with God’s faithfulness than with Abraham’s compliance.

There are many things we can take away from this passage. What truths does this passage have for our lives today? What next steps can we take? First, I think each of us should evaluate our faith. Is our faith timid? Has our faith been tested? And has our faith been found triumphant or something less? After evaluation if you determine that you have a timid faith it would be important to ask God to move you toward a triumphant faith. But, know that if you ask for a triumphant faith, then your faith will be tested. That is the process we all must go through to mature spiritually and to take our faith from timid to triumphant. So maybe this next step is for you. My next step is to ask God to move me toward a triumphant faith knowing that my faith will be tested by him.

Next, maybe after evaluating your faith, you can say that you’re faith has been tested and found triumphant. Great!!! But we know from Abraham’s life that we are never too old for testing as God wants to continue to mature us spiritually. As long as we live on this earth there is possibility of testing. God wants our faith to keep on growing and that requires testing. There are also times that our faith may waver as hard testing comes and we may fall back into a timid faith. We must be ready and on guard for all the tests and trials that come our way. We must be resolute and decided (just like Abraham was) in how we are going to react to them when they come. Our reaction must be obedience and a complete trust in the Lord. So maybe this next step may be for you. My next step is to be obedient to and completely trusting in the Lord when testing comes so my faith will continue to be triumphant.

Second, I feel this passage is asking us to dwell on a major question this morning. That question is what is your motivation for being a Christ-follower? Why do you love God? Why do you take up your cross daily and follow him? We are promised so much as we follow Christ. Is it because of the promises that God has given you that you follow and serve Him? I would say that this is a wrong motivation for being a Christ-follower. Look again at Abraham. He had been promised many great things for being in obedience to God. And in the end Abraham was totally ready to give up all those promises. Abraham “feared God” and was totally committed to and submitted to God. God was number one in Abraham’s life; not the promises that he was given and not even the child of promise that was given to him in his old age. In the end, the only motivation that Abraham had for following God was to “get God.” To know God more. To surrender to God more. To fall deeper in love with God more.

Andre Crouch wrote a song called, “If Heaven Was Never Promised To Me.” In it he asks “Is it just for heaven’s gain?” “But if heaven never were promised to me; neither God’s promise to live eternally; it’s been worth just having the Lord in my life – living in a world of darkness he came and brought me the light.” The question is would we be willing to give up eternity in Heaven for God? Would we be willing to follow God if there were nothing in it for us? Would we willing to follow God only for the benefit of living a life loving God with all our heart, minds and souls and loving others? This is what Paul is saying in Philippians 3:7-8. I am reading from the Living Bible translation: “But all these things that I once thought very worthwhile—now I’ve thrown them all away so that I can put my trust and hope in Christ alone. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have put aside all else, counting it worth less than nothing, in order that I can have Christ. This is the place that we need to be as followers of Christ. Every single day of our lives should be in the pursuit of getting more of Christ. That brings us to the last next step, which is to Spend the rest of my life in the pursuit of knowing Christ better every day.

Now lastly, I don’t want to forget another important part of the passage seen in the title I chose for this sermon, Jehovah-Jireh, “The Lord Will Provide.” First, we all have stories of times and ways that God has provided for us all through our lives. The question is: What do we do when God provides for us? Do we even see or acknowledge it? Do we rejoice and praise him for it? Two, we all may have things coming up in your lives that we need God’s provision to get through it? Maybe you need God to provide physical, spiritual or emotional healing for you or a loved one. Maybe it’s your circumstances. Maybe you need God to provide financially for you and your family? You’re struggling to make ends meet and without God’s provision you don’t know what you will do. Maybe you are dealing with fear and/or anxiety and you need God to provide peace and his presence to quiet those fears and anxieties in your heart. We need to go to God in prayer for his provision for whatever struggles we are going through today.

As the praise team comes forward to lead us in a final song I invite and encourage you to come to the altar this morning. Come rejoicing and praising God for his provision in your life or come praying for the provision you need this morning. Coming to the altar is not a silver bullet. You most definitely can do the same where you are sitting. But what coming to the altar does is allows us to rejoice with you and praise God with you for his provision in your life. It also allows us to pray with and for you for the provision you need from God today. Our final song is called “You Always Provide.” As you sing or listen think about the words. Some of it says, “God, you see us every moment” “You always provide every season of our lives” “You always provide every moment every time.” Powerful words that I hope you will take with you this morning and share with those you come in contact with this week.