THE POWER OF PRAYER

Scripture Reading: Genesis 24:10-27

“Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel, son of Milcah, who is the wife of Abraham’s brother Nabor.” (Genesis 24:15)

In the last post, we saw God’s providential hand leading Abraham’s servant as he sought a wife for Isaac. It is obvious from the biblical account that this servant knew God in a deep way. He was a man of faith. We can learn a great deal about prayer from this servant. Apart from Abraham’s intercession for Sodom, this is the first recorded prayer in the Bible.

We must remember that God delights in the prayers of His people — “The prayer of the upright is His delight” (Proverbs 15:8). God wants us to pray. The servant of Abraham approached God’s throne of grace with absolute confidence that God would guide him to the right woman to be Isaac’s wife (vs. 12-14).

We are to approach God with the attitude of a needy servant. We must realize how dependent upon God we are — “As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He shows us mercy” (Psalm 123:2).

We are to pray with a sense of urgency. We are to be passionate and persistent in our prayers. As we read the prayer of the servant in verse 12, we can hear the sense of urgency. We also need to be specific in our prayers. Notice the specific petitions in the servant’s prayer We must realize the power in prayer — “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16b). Before the servant finished praying, God answered his prayer! Consider the following quotes on prayer:

“Prayer is climbing up into the heart of God.” (Martin Luther)

“How vast are the possibilities of prayer! How wide is its reach! What great things are accomplished by this divinely appointed means of grace!” (E.M. Bounds)

Lord God, thank You for the great privilege of prayer. It is amazing to think that you desire for me to come to You in prayer. You actually delight in my prayers. Thank You for listening to me when I pray and for the assurance that You hear and will answer my prayers.

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THE REALITY OF PROVIDENCE

Scripture Reading: Genesis 24:12-60

“Then he prayed, ‘O Lord, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham.'” (Genesis 24:12)

The focus in this passage is on Abraham’s servant as he follows God’s guidance to find a wife for Isaac. What stands out in the passage is the providential work of God in the circumstances of the faithful servant. Clearly God guided Abraham’s servant to Rebekah.

The servant followed Abraham’s instructions (vs. 1-9). He went to the town of Nabor where some of Abraham’s relatives lived. The first thing he did was pray — “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’ — let her be the one You have chosen for your servant Isaac'” (vs. 12-14).

God answered his prayer — “Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel, son of Milcah, who was the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor. The girl was very beautiful, a virgin, no man had ever lain with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jar and came up again” (vs. 15,16). The servant had prayed with specific qualifications in order to be sure the woman was God’s choice for Isaac — “May it be that when I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’ — let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master” (v. 14).

Rebekah did exactly what the servant prayed (vs. 17-20). This was the first confirmation of God’s will in the matter. But we also have the confirmation of Rebekah’s family — “Laban and Betheul answered, ‘This is from the Lord; we can say nothing one way of the other'” (v.50). Through these providential events, God confirmed that it was the His will for Rebekah to become Isaac’s wife.

All through this God was deliberately behind the scenes. You find no word from the Lord here. There was no miracle; but there was the clear hand of God’s providence at every step of the way. I am reminded of this verse — “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). It is so comforting to know that God will providentially guide our steps as we seek to find His will.

Lord God, You are the God of providence. I have experienced Your hand at work guiding me and leading me throughout my life. Thank You for Your providential care, for the fact that You direct my steps.

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A PARENT’S MAJOR CONCERNS

Scripture Reading: Genesis 24:1-21

“I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.” (Genesis 24:3,4)

Abraham charged his most trusted servant to find a wife for his son Isaac. Certainly this is one of the major concerns that parents have for their children. Abraham was well advanced in years and he had been blessed in many ways. Sarah had died by this time and Isaac was not married. Abraham was concerned for Isaac and for the future of God’s promises to him.

Isaac had witnessed his father’s faith and now he had a faith of his own. The greatest concern a parent should have is for his or her children to know and to love Jesus. It is so important for parents to set a godly example before their children. Our children should see the reality of our faith. We must live out the gospel in a transparent way before them. They must see us praying, reading and meditating upon the Scriptures, and worshiping God regularly. A parent’s example is the greatest witness to his or her children.

As we have seen in our passage today, another major concern parents have for their children is that their children find the right spouse. Isaac was forty years old at this time. Abraham was anxious to find a wife for his son.

Abraham was concerned that Isaac would find the right wife. She was not to come from the Canaanites (v. 3). The Canaanites were pagan people who descended from Noah’s son Shem (Genesis 9:25,26). Later God’s people were told not to intermarry with the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 22:20-24). Abraham wanted Isaac to marry someone who had a background of faith.

Obviously we cannot arrange for our children’s marriages, as was the case in Abraham’s day. But there are things we can do to influence our children’s decision about a spouse. First and foremost, we can pray fervently and regularly for God to lead our children to a godly spouse. Second, we must instruct our children in the biblical principles of marriage. God is clear that a believer should not marry an unbeliever — “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (II Corinthians 6:14). So many young people compromise and marry someone who is not solid in his or her faith. This most likely will create major problems later in the marriage.

The most important decision our children will make is a decision to follow Jesus Christ. Nothing is more important than this. The second most important decision they will make is the choice of a spouse. Let’s commit to pray fervently and regularly for our children and grandchildren to find godly spouses who will encourage them in their walk with Christ.

Lord Jesus, I pray for my children and grandchildren. I pray that You will work mightily in their hearts so that they will love You and serve You all the days of their lives. I pray that You will lead them to godly spouses and that You will protect them from making poor decisions in whom they date and marry. Please bless my children and grandchildren in the richest sense of the word.

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GOD WILL PROVIDE

Scripture Reading: Genesis 22:1-19

“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 the place ‘The Lord Will Provide.’ And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.'” (Genesis 22:13,14)

Abraham put his faith into action. Father and son climbed the mountain. An altar was built. Wood was placed on the altar. After binding Isaac and laying him on the altar, Abraham raised his knife. But at that very moment God intervened — “‘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'” (v. 12).

God provided a substitute for Isaac (v. 13). It is critically important to understand what was happening here. God revealed to Abraham His plan for the substitutionary atonement. This is the way God deals with sin. God provided a substitute who would pay the price for sin. The Old Testament sacrificial system was based on this concept.

Abraham named the place “The Lord Will Provide” (v. 14). God had seen Abraham’s problem. But notice the verb tense — future. It meant more than just a provision for Abraham. Abraham was not just thinking of his own experience, he was also reflecting on the fact that God will provide for the great problem of the sin of humankind. God will provide a Savior for His people.

Mount Moriah became a special place later. When Abraham first went to Mount Moriah, it was a barren and deserted place. Later the city of Jerusalem, God’s city, was built on Mount Moriah. And specifically God’s temple was built there, the very site where God provided a substitute for Isaac. God was showing Abraham that it was on Mount Moriah that He would provide for our salvation.

Years later Jesus went up to Jerusalem, to Mount Moriah, and entered the city on Palm Sunday. A few days later, He became the sacrifice, God’s provision for our sins. Through Christ’s death, God brought life to all who would put their faith in His Son, His only Son, Jesus.

Lord Jesus, You are the One Your Father provided to be the Substitute for me. Unlike Isaac, who was spared from death, You were not. You voluntarily took my place and bore the punishment for my sins. You gave Your life for me. You suffered the very pain of hell in my place so that I would never have to experience it. I bow before You this day in adoration and gratitude for all that You have done for me.

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RESPONDING IN FAITH

Scripture Readin: Genesis 22:1-19

“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.” (Genesis 22:9)

As we have seen God was testing Abraham — “Some time later God tested Abraham” (v. 1). What would Abraham do? Would he trust God to spare his beloved son Isaac? Abraham believed God and took the first steps immediately — “Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about” (v. 3).

Upon arriving at Mount Moriah, Abraham believed God would provide a solution to the problem. When Isaac asked his father where the lamb was for the burnt offering, Abraham replied, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (v. 8).

By the time they reached Mount Moriah, I believe Abraham thought he knew what God was going to do. We can read this in the great faith chapter in Hebrews — “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promise 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 raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death” (Hebrews 11:17-19).

Abraham had complete trust in God. He fully submitted his will to the will of God. God interceded and provided the solution for Abraham — “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” (vs. 11,12).

The One who spoke to Abraham on Mount Moriah that day is the very one who would provide the ultimate answer to not only Abraham’s problem, but for our problem — “God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” The Angel of the Lord is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Lord Jesus, thank You for being my substitute. You suffered death and hell in my place so that I could be forgiven of my sins and have eternal life. You are the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

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ABRAHAM’S ULTIMATE TEST

Scripture Reading: Genesis 22:1-6

“Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.'” (Genesis 22:2)

What is the most difficult thing you have ever had to face? When was your faith tested the most? If we could ask Abraham these questions, I know what his answer would be. He would tell us to read Genesis 22. In this chapter God asks Abraham to do something that he would never imagined being asked to do. We are dealing with a difficult and troubling subject that is open to great misunderstanding.

While these things are true, I believe Abraham would tell us that this was the greatest event of his life. He would learn some amazing things about God’s love and His provision for guilty sinners.

From the time God called Abram out of Ur, He promised that He would make him a great nation (12:2). This promise was repeated and expanded many times throughout Abraham’s life (15:5,6; 17:5-7). God made it clear that Abraham’s hopes and promises were centered in Isaac.

Now we come to Genesis 22. Notice the way the chapter begins — “Some time later God tested Abraham.” We are clearly told that God TESTED Abraham. However, this was not only a test for Abraham; it was also a prophecy about the sacrifice of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We will look at this in more detail in the days ahead.

The Scripture is clear — our faith will be tested. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater value than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (I Peter 1:6,7).

The testing of our faith results in spiritual maturity — “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

We must be prepared for the tests God may choose to give us. When we understand that these tests are part of God’s plan to mature us spiritually, we can rejoice when they come.

Lord God, thank You for the times that my faith has been tested. As I look back over my life, I realize how much I grew spiritually during some of the painful trials I experienced. Let me be prepared for the trials that may come my way in the future. I know they have a purpose and I will grow in my faith through them.

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ABRAHAM’S TWO SONS (Part 2)

Scripture Reading: Galatians 4:21-31

“For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a salve woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh while the son of the free woman was born through promise.” (Galatians 4:22-23)

Paul uses the birth of Abraham’s two sons as an example of two contrasting faith systems. He is addressing people who are trusting in their obedience to the law to save them — “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?” (v. 21). It is so easy to drift back into legalism and moralism. This was the essential problem of the Galatians.

Paul earlier reminded them that they were children of Abraham by faith — “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (3:7). As spiritual children of Abraham, they were the recipients of the blessings that were promised to Abraham — “So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (3:14). However, some of the Galatians had drifted back to a works salvation. Thus Paul uses the two sons of Abraham to remind them that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by works of the law.

The sons were different in that they were born of different mothers — Ishmael by a slave woman and Isaac by a free woman. Each son took after his mother. They were different in that they were born in different ways — “But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh while the son of the free woman was born through promise” (v. 23). Ismael was born by ordinary means — according to the flesh. Isaac was born in a supernatural way — through the promise. Thus, in this allegory, Ishmael was born a slave according to nature; while Isaac was born free according to God’s promise.

Paul goes on to write that these two women represented two covenants — two ways of relationship with God, two completely different approaches to God. The old covenant was based on law (Mount Sinai and the present Jerusalem). It depended upon one’s efforts to earn God’s favor by being obedient to the law. The old covenant leads to slavery (v. 25). The new covenant was based on promises (the Jerusalem from above). In the promises God keeps the responsibility to Himself. The new covenant leads to freedom (vs. 26,27).

Let me summarize. Hagar bore children into slavery and she stands for the covenant of law. She corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. On the other hand, Sarah bore children into freedom and she stands for the covenant of promise. She represents the Jerusalem above where our citizenship resides and where true freedom is found.

The crucial question concerns who our mother is. If it is Hagar, we are like Ismael — in bondage to the law. If it is Sarah, we are like Isaac — in true freedom through Christ. Paul draws this conclusion: “But what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.’ So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman” (vs. 30,31).

Lord Jesus, I am so thankful that I am a son of the free woman and not of the slave woman. Thank You for setting me free from bondage to the law as a means of salvation. I know that it is only by grace alone through faith alone in You alone that I have eternal life.

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ABRAHAM’S TWO SONS (Part I)

Scripture Reading: Genesis 21:1-21

“But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham,’Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.'” (Genesis 21:9,10)

Chapter 21 is a bittersweet chapter in the story of Abraham. There is laughter and there are tears. There is rejoicing and there is grief. The chapter contains the story of Abraham’s two sons Ishmael and Isaac.

There are some tremendous insights into parenting found in this section of Scripture. It is not an easy task being a parent. Parenting can bring you great joy and it may also lead to times of grief and tears. Parents have a huge responsibility. Their greatest task is to bring their children up to know and to love Christ. It takes the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to do this.

This passage also shows God’s concern for our children. When He established the covenant, God said that the promise is to you and to your children after you. The children of believers are included in God’s covenant. The Lord Jesus showed His love and concern for children when He said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 14:14).

The Lord fulfilled His promise to Abraham and Sarah at the right time. The promise was much bigger than the birth of Isaac. The birth of Isaac was critical, but it was only a small part of God’s promise to Abraham. The promise was really about God’s gracious plan of salvation for His people. It was about the coming of the Messiah, the Seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16).

When their son was born, Abraham and Sarah responded in faith and obedience by naming him Isaac. His name means “laugher” (17:15-19). God brought great joy to Sarah and Abraham with the birth of Isaac.

However, Abraham had another son by Sarah’s maid servant. At a celebration honoring the day Isaac was weaned (v. 8), Sarah’s son Ishmael began mocking Isaac. Sarah witnessed Ishmael doing this and she became very protective of Isaac. She demanded that Abraham drive Hagar and Ishmael away. Abraham was distressed greatly because of his son Ishmael. This was the consequence of an earlier sin that brought great pain upon Abraham. Instead of trusting God to give them a son, Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands (Genesis 16:1-6).

God confronted Abraham in his pain — “Do not be distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring” (vs. 12,13).

The Jewish people came through Abraham and Isaac. The Arab people came from Ishmael. There has been great conflict between the Jews and the Arabs since that day. The birth of the two sons and their mothers also illustrate two opposing views of salvation. You find an explanation of this in Galatians 4:21-31. We will look at this in tomorrow’s post.

Lord God, thank You for my children and grandchildren. They are a blessing from You. Thank You that the covenant promises apply to them as well as to me. You are a God to me and to my descendants after me. Enable me to have a godly influence upon them and to remind them of the love and grace of my Savior Jesus.

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THE GRACIOUS CHARACTER OF GOD

Scripture Reading: Genesis 20:14-18

“Then Abimilech brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. And Abimilech said, ‘My land is before you; live wherever you like.'” (Genesis 20:14,15)

We have seen how Abraham failed to trust God and how he took matters into his own hands. His actions affected Sarah and Abimilech. Even though Abraham failed to trust God to take care of him, God’s ability was not altered in the slightest. God is sovereign and omnipotent. God intercedes into human history to carry our His purposes.

God has a plan for the salvation of His people. That plan is centered in an heir of Abraham who would come to redeem God’s people from their sins — “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Galatians 3:13,14).

Abraham may have doubled God’s grace, but God remained as gracious as He had ever been. God’s view of Abraham did not change. Abraham was still God’s man. He was still God’s friend and God’s prophet. In all the other references to Abraham in the Bible, God does not bring up this matter again. God even allowed Abraham the privilege of prayer and service in His name — “Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abilimech, his wife, and his slave girls so they could have children again, for the Lord had closed up every womb in Abimilech’s household because of Abraham’s wife Sarah” (vs. 17,18).

God also put a spirit of gracious generosity in the heart of Abilimech toward Abraham — “Then Abimilech brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. And Abimilech said, ‘My land is before you; live wherever you like'” (vs. 14,15).

The Lord remains sovereign even when we sin; and He remains gracious in spite of our foolish choices. When we understand these things about Him, it gives us the resolve not to sin, but to please Him and to serve Him to the best of our ability.

Lord God, how grateful I am that You remain gracious to me even when I fall flat on my face spiritually. Your love never fails me and Your faithfulness continues regardless of my foolish actions. Thank You for the gracious provision of Your Son who made my salvation possible.

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FEET OF CLAY

Scripture Reading: Genesis 20:1-13

“Then Abimilech called Abraham in and said, ‘What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should not be done.'” (Genesis 20:9)

Have you ever had someone you deeply respect let you down? You find out something about a person you admire that really disappoints you. In our passage today, we see another very disappointing event in the life of Abraham. It is chapters like this one that give another proof of the divine inspiration of Scripture. If I was writing the story of Abraham’s life, I probably would not include this event. God put is here for a reason. The Scripture gives us an honest view of humanity — even the greatest characters in redemptive history such as Abraham, David and Paul were sinners. We all have feet of clay.

After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham journey south to the land of Gerar. It is understandable why he did not want to remain in the region of Sodom and Gomorrah. How unpleasant it would have been to see the ruins of those cities and to smell the sulfur. So he moved to Gerar — the area that would later become the land of the Philistines. A powerful king reigned in the land, whose name was Abimilech.

Abraham again failed to trust God. He was afraid of Abimilech and asked Sarah to say that she was his sister in order to protect himself. One would have thought that Abraham had learned his lesson the first time he did this. It is amazing how easy it is to forget the consequences of sin.

As in the case the first time Abraham did this, the Lord protected Sarah. He struck Abimilech with some kind of illness. Then God spoke to Abimilech in a dream — “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman” (v. 3). Abimilech released Sarah at once and rebuked Abraham for what he had done (vs. 8-10).

We all have feet of clay. We have all had moral failures and we will most likely disappoint one another. Even godly people as prone to sin. We tend to have recurring sins. All of us have our pet sins that we struggle with. We may attempt to justify our sins just as Abraham did (vs. 11-13). We may even put others in jeopardy when we sin as Abraham put Sarah and Abimilech in jeopardy.

The root cause of Abraham’s sin was that he did not trust God. He did not believe God would take care of him. Often this is the case with us. We fail to trust God and turn to our own feeble efforts to protect ourselves. When we do, the consequences may be painful.

Lord Jesus, I confess that there have been many times when I failed to trust You. I took matters into my own hands and made a mess of things. Thank You for being gracious and loving to me. I don’t deserve Your love, but am so grateful for it. Give me the strength to resist sin and to live for You this day.

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