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Genesis 21-23: Isaac and Jesus

1.  Church Discipline:  Wilderness (Genesis 21:1-20)

2.  Abraham’s treaty with Abimelech (Genesis 21:22-34)

3.  Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19)

4.  Nahor (Genesis 22:20-24)

5.  Sarah’s death and burial (Genesis 23:1-17)

1.  Church Discipline:  Wilderness (Genesis 21:1-20)

So we see the difference between the conception of Ishmael vs. the conception of Isaac.  The former is a representation of human effort; the latter the representation of the grace of God.  This is further substantiated by Ishmael, laughing in mockery (this being in the ESV footnote of v. 9 – the Hebrew word is “tsachaq” which literally means to laugh outright in scorn).

This is no mere mockery.  This is a threat to the very gospel itself.

If Ishmael, the ‘firstborn’ gained by human effort were to supersede Isaac, the true firstborn given as a gift, then we have essentially preached that effort trumps grace.  God expresses these sentiments in v.12 : “…’Be not displeased because of the boy (Ishmael) and because of your slave woman (Hagar).  Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”

So what happens here is a primary example of church ostracism – either you are for the gospel, or against it.  Remember that this incident began because Ishmael laughed with mockery against Isaac.  This is much like the jealousy portrayed by Cain in Genesis 4 against Abel.  What resulted is murder and deceit.  Cain was banished to the east of Eden.  Here, Ishmael and his mother Hagar, are sent away and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.

However, like Cain, Ishmael was not abandoned completely.  When Hagar cried out, God heard the voice of the boy and “the angel of God” (again, one of Christ’s titles) called to Hagar from heaven and said to her that the Father has heard the voice of the boy where he is.  She then saw the ‘living water’, despite being in the wilderness.  Here, we see the work of the Trinity again.  Firstly, someone calls to God (the Father), and the Father sends his presence, his face, the visible of the invisible – his Son, to be the mediator between him and the person who cried to the Father.

There is small hope yet for Ishmael.  God had been with Ishmael in his youth, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.  Some things to say about Ishmael, his character, and the wilderness of Paran.

(a)  Expert with the bow – perhaps this is prophetic of the warring nature of the Ishmaelites.  If it so be true of the Muslims, then it concords well with the Islamic militaristic and political nature of their evangelism.

(b)  Wilderness of Paran – this is most likely where the Israelites had wandered for 40 years between the Exodus and arrival at Canaan.  And how painful a time that was – a time of thirst.  But when they call on the LORD, they received manna and water from the rock.  It is no different for Ishmael. But it still calls into the question of his character, being a militaristic person who also married an Egyptian woman.

(c)  Wife from the land of Egypt – as already mentioned, if God is with Ishmael, then it is likely that the gospel has gone out to Egypt in some respect. But the problem is, like Lot, he had sojourned and mingled with foreign people.  Like Lot’s daughters who were supposedly engaged to the Sodomites, here we have Ishmael married to an Egyptian.  God may have been with Ishmael, like Cain – but the blessing is merely physical (e.g. like Cain’s descendants), but they may not revere God persistently over the subsequent generations for their physical blessings.

2.  Abraham’s treaty with Abimelech (Genesis 21:22-34)

(a)  Seven ewe lambs – it is interesting that Abraham uses 7 lambs to represent the “witness” of the covenant.  Why seven lambs?  Even Abimelech does not know; but Abraham clearly does.  Job 42:8 and 2 Chronicles 29:21 displays the significance of the number 7.  Why seven?  Because it is the day of the Sabbath, the day of completion. 2 Chronicles 29:20-22:

20Then Hezekiah the king rose early and gathered the officials of the city and went up to the house of the LORD. 21And they brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven lambs, and seven male goats(A) for a sin offering for the kingdom and for the sanctuary and for Judah. And he commanded the priests, the sons of Aaron, to offer them on the altar of the LORD. 22So they slaughtered the bulls, and the priests received the blood(B) and threw it against the altar. And they slaughtered the rams, and their blood was thrown against the altar. And they slaughtered the lambs, and their blood was thrown against the altar.

(b)  Beersheba – this location will pop up again and again throughout Genesis.  Especially Genesis 26, when we see that Isaac and Rebekah commit the same sin as Abraham and Sarah.  It is clear that the sins of the father has passed down to Isaac; but Abimelech remembered the covenant between Abraham and him.  The relationship between the future nation of Israel and the Philistines could have boded well; but we can see that by the time of the Judges, it could not have been worse.

(c)  Tamarisk tree – this type of tree pops up again in 1 Samuel 22:6 and 1 Samuel 31:13.  What is a tamarisk tree?  Here is a bit on the Tamarisk tree:

Tamarix can spread both vegetatively, by adventitious roots or submerged stems, and sexually, by seeds. Each flower can produce thousands of tiny (1 mm diameter) seeds that are contained in a small capsule usually adorned with a tuft of hair that aids in wind dispersal. Seeds can also be dispersed by water. Seedlings require extended periods of soil saturation for establishment. Tamarix species are fire-adapted, and have long tap roots that allow them to intercept deep water tables and exploit natural water resources. They are able to limit competition from other plants by taking up salt from deep ground water, accumulating it in their foliage, and from there depositing it in the surface soil where it builds up concentrations temporarily detrimental to some plants. The salt is washed away during heavy rains.

So what we have is a sturdy tree, built by a well.  The seed can spread over vast areas by wind dispersal, and water, and exploit the natural water resources.  This explains even more about the well.  We should expect that the Tamarisk tree planted there would later grow into more trees.

Any theology behind the seeds?  Surely so – Abraham had presented 7 ewe lambs; a well of water; and a seed-bearing plant.  Living Water, Living Lamb, Living Seed.

(d)  Philistines – coming from Casluhim (Genesis 10:13), a son of Ham.  As we have already established, all the sons of Ham have problems in the future.  But they could have taken part of the gospel truth; here, the Philistines understood the nature of Abraham’s God.  He is mighty, and He is with him.  Abimelech, much like the Pharoah in the time of Joseph, revered the same God.  But their descendants did not – and that is the prophetic curse when Ham had sinned against Noah.  However, this again displays the global nature of God – he is not only the God of Abraham, but this God of Abraham is also merciful towards Lot, Abimelech and Ishmael.

3.  Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19)

This is truly a striking story not merely of Abraham sacrificing his only son; but of the Father sacrificing his only Son on the cross.  Some things to note:

(a)  Moriah, third day, donkey, wood – Moriah is the region where the temple of Jerusalem would be built 100′s of years later and especially important – where Jesus is to be crucified!  (2 Chronicles 3:1).  Jesus was cruficied on the mount in Jerusalem, the same area of Moriah!

Then, it is on the third day that Isaac was to be sacrificed.

OK let’s recount the synoptic gospel story.  Jesus entered Jerusalem in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9 on a donkey… this was seven days prior to his crucifixion on the wood in Moriah in Golgotha…

Far fetched?  Probably… not.  But why the differentiation between seven days and three days?  Let’s take a quick look.

Though in the gospel story, like the Passover lamb, Jesus enters Jerusalem 7 days before he is slaughtered, it is on the third day that he is resurrected.  Here, Abraham saw Moriah on the third day.  Day 3 is quite important as I’ve established in my Genesis 1, Day 3 post.  It is a representation of dry land, of hope, of new creation and of course of resurrection itself, after Day 2, with the waters of punishment.  Here, the slaughter of Isaac and his ‘resurrection’ per se happens immediately one after another.  This corresponds very much to Abraham’s quip to his men that he and Isaac would return.  Did he expect his men to wait there for “3 days”, as if Abraham would wait for Isaac to be resurrected on the third day?  No.  It is already the third day, and the resurrection would occur immediately.  Abraham already knew that Isaac, if he is to die that day, would be immediately resurrected.  Even better, Isaac wasn’t even sacrificed – because a ram was taken in his place.

(b)  The offering – one could say that the sacrifices so far in the book of Genesis has pointed towards this sacrifice.  The sacrifice of the only Son.  And so this is also a foundational chapter for all the law about sacrifice for the coming books.  How odd it is that God would test Abraham in such a way; why did he not test the subsequent Israelites similarly?  God is teaching us something about the offering here.  He is essentially saying that the lamb, the ram, the turtledove, the pigeon, the ox, the heifer… all those offerings pale in comparison to the true offering of one’s only Son.  However, it’s not about the ‘degree’ of sacrifice; rather, it’s about the very specific nature of the sacrifice.  It is not a self-sacrifice as God could have simply asked Abraham to sacrifice himself; it is a sacrifice of something EXTERNAL, but extremely dear to him.

So here, we have Jesus.. sorry, Isaac, bound to a piece of wood, undergoing the punishment of fire as symbolised in the burnt offering.  The interesting thing in God’s response is “you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me”.  What about Ishmael – isn’t he Abraham’s son as well?

This, again, is the gospel-driven focus that God views in sonship.  He is not speaking of mere physical heritage; he is speaking of spiritual heritage.  We are all sons of Abraham in a covenant sense.  But Ishmael had been outside of that covenant, because he laughed at Isaac.

(c)  The LORD will provide

Chapter 22v.5 is a big give-away.  “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”  Worship?!  And both will come again to his young men?  What is Abraham speaking of?  He is going there without the sacrificial animal when God had told him to take his only beloved son Isaac to offer as a burnt offering (Chapter 22v.2), and he describes this event as worshipful and he also expects to return to the men with his son?

This reveals Abraham’s mentality.  He had full assurance that God would either intervene or resurrect his son, having seen the miraculous conception of his son when he was already 100 years old (and Sarah 90 years old).  Then, unsurprisingly, we reach v. 12-13, when God tells Abraham to withhold the knife and God provides a ram.  But that is not the end of the offering.  Abraham knew that the ram merely symbolised the things to come – and this is revealed in the phrase “The LORD will provide” or in the ESV, “The LORD will see”.  The phrase then moves on in v. 14 to “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided” or “he will be seen”.  Abraham was still waiting for the True Lamb who will really take away the people’s sins; not by the testimonial witness of the blood of this ram.

4.  Nahor (Genesis 22:20-24)

Another prophetic fulfillment of God’s provision.  We may have heard a lot about Lot and his disastrous family.  But here, we have Nahor, whose descendant Rebekah will be the future wife of Isaac.  Things are going smoothly in God’s divine plan.

I’ve provided a table which may help you see the extensions of the descendants mentioned thus far from the line of Terah, the descendant of Shem, the son of Noah.

This is quite a family – besides Rebekah, comes Elihu the only person in the book of Job who really understands the truth; then there is Laban who knows of God, despite his household idols (Genesis 31:19).

5.  Sarah’s death and burial (Genesis 23:1-17)

Here we see business practices of the day; but more importantly, we see Abraham buying a cave, a tomb, for Sarah in a small plot of land in Canaan.  He understands the promises made to him earlier on in Genesis 12 and 15; and here again, he looks forward to the day when his descendants will inherit the physical Canaan.  The field of Ephron was in Machpelah, the east of Mamre.  This tomb will not be forgotten – in Genesis 49:29 – Genesis 50:5, we see that Jacob speaks of Abraham and Sarah’s burial place.  They want to be buried in Canaan, not Egypt.  Why?  Because Canaan was the prophesied promised land.  The place where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, Jacob… and future saints of the old were buried.  Did they have confidence in the land itself?  Of course not… the land could not even hold the ‘multitude’ of nations promised to Abraham.  Rather, this land is symbolic, and Abraham knew that the stars in heaven and dust of the earth were the true spiritual numbers of the descendants in Christ.  Now, it is just a bit of property – it is a firstfruit.  It is a temporary inheritance; and much like the Holy Spirit who is in us now as an inheritance (Ephesians 1), and our faith in Christ the firstborn of creation and the firstfruit of those with new creation bodies, we are awaiting the true total inheritance of the new Jerusalem, the complete filling of the Spirit and the new bodies with new names!

Discussion

One thought on “Genesis 21-23: Isaac and Jesus

  1. This is impressive,may the Holy spirit continue to help us understand the indepth of the word of God,and at the end of our journey on earth,we will make Heaven in Jesus name, amen.

    Posted by Akinlabi oluwatoyin sola | December 8, 2012, 8:35 pm

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