Jacob is sent away to marry from Rebekah’s family. He is given a proper blessing by his father, and instructed not to marry from the Canaanites around him. I remember in Sunday School always being taught that Esau heard about this and ran off to marry a Canaanite woman to spite his father and mother. I have also brought that presupposition into my previous readings; so i didn’t pay that much attention.
However, that doesn’t really seem to be the case. The passage says, “So Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan displeased his father Isaac; and Esau went to Ishmael and married” (NASB). So Esau did not turn away, he simply attempted to fulfill his father’s wishes the only way he reasonably knew how. He did not marry from the Canaanites, he married from his uncle Ishmael, just as Jacob was sent to marry from his uncle Laban. It’s not hugely significant, but it’s one of the things that i have never really caught in the many times that i was just reading the passage through.
This chapter contains some interesting theological situations. For instance, what is described here is a ladder or staircase from earth to heaven. It is a connection point: a point at which heaven and earth almost touch each other. It’s a point at which those in heaven have access to earth and those on earth have access to heaven. Being a dream, I don’t know the extent to which this “stairway to heaven” is literal or figurative, but it does give you reason to pause and wonder how this occurs and how many other of these “stairways” might exist throughout the world. I also don’t know how important this “stairway to heaven” is overall, but it is a unique feature of this chapter.
What IS more important though, is Jacob’s reaction to the situation. Instead of ignoring the “dream”, or running away, or trying to rationalize it away, he comes to realization. He was amazed, and he was afraid, and he was in awe of the situation and where he was; “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Beautiful isn’t it? So Jacob turns around, sets up his pillow-rock as a pillar, pours oil over it, and calls the place Bethel or House of God. Then he makes a vow to God that if He will be with him and take care of him, then Jacob will give a tithe (tenth) to God.
What is our reaction to God when He does something amazing? What do we do when He shows up? Do we run away, or try to ignore it, or rationalize it away, or try to justify ourselves; or do we fall in awe and wonder? Do we, trembling, acknowledge God and make His truth a reality in our lives? Do we pursue that God that we have had a personal experience with? Do we take God’s truth into our very being and let it change who we are as a person? Our reaction tells us who we really are.
John J. Camiolo Jr.
I was tempted to title this chapter “Loose Ends” due to the beginning of the chapter being dedicated to tying up the loose ends of Abraham’s life. He got married a third time, and had six more children. He ended up sending them away to the east with gifts and giving all that he had to Isaac before dying and being buried. As i was going through though, the realization came to me that these children weren’t just loose ends. They were as much children of Abraham as Isaac and Ishmael. So while the Bible doesn’t focus on them as much, they had just as much of God’s blessing as Ishmael. They were still blessed. They would still become great nations, but their lives simply don’t continue through the story as the others do. They are not key characters, but neither are they simply loose ends. They are still the children of Abraham.
The best i could come up with is “Chosen Path”. This chapter is about multiple paths. It is about the options and opportunities taken and lost. No one in this chapter is insignificant in and of themselves. God simply chose His route. There were multiple paths and roads to choose from, but of Abraham’s eight children God chose Isaac, then Jacob of Isaac’s two. Esau squandered his opportunity, …for a bowl of stew and a slice of bread. Ultimately though, it’s about God’s choice. It’s not that the others were of less value or worth, they were just not chosen.
How about us? Do we disregard someone because they have come from a different path? Do we recognize that all people are God’s children, or do we get so caught up in the fact that they come from a different path that we automatically reject or push them away? What is more important to God, that they came from a different (wrong?) path, or that they find the Chosen One?
What is it about promises? We make them. We take them. We keep them. We break them. How much do they really mean? What are they really worth?
For instance, God made a promise towards Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son. He fulfilled it, and at the time that He said that He would as well. Sarah finally received the fulfillment of God’s promise with the birth of Isaac. Hagar also had received, and receives again a promise that Ishmael would become a great nation. In this chapter God provides for her and Ishmael, taking a step towards the fulfillment of His promise towards them.
At the same time, other promises are, and are not made. Abimelech, seeing that God blesses everything that Abraham does comes to Abraham seeking a promise. He reminds Abraham of his kindness to him in regards to the incident with Sarah. Abimelech had been righteous in his actions and dealings, so God had prevented him from sinning by sleeping with Sarah and he acted righteously towards Abraham. So, knowing that God blesses all that Abraham does, he comes to Abraham seeking a promise that Abraham and his descendants will never deal falsely with Abimelech and his descendants. Together, Abraham and Abimelech make a covenant with each other that neither would deal falsely with the other. So the promise is made. At the end of the chapter, we see just who Abimelech is. He is a Philistine king.
We know, especially from Judges and Kings, that this promise is not kept. The Philistines are the primary antagonists to the Israelites in Judges and Kings. They attempt to make the Israelite people their slaves. They even steal the Arc of the Covenant. Their promise has no lasting value.
What’s more, is the promise that they didn’t make. They made a promise with Abraham, whom God was blessing, but they never pursued a promise with the God of Abraham. They were more focused on the things of the world that they ignored the very source of Abraham’s blessings. They never pursued the true God. That was a promise lost.
In looking at the promises and fulfillments; I suppose that the value of a promise is very much dependent upon who is making what promise, to whom, and why? What promises have we made, and to whom? Are we fulfilling our promises?
To some extent, i really don’t understand this chapter. It just seems like a repetition of previous chapters with some more clarification. It doesn’t seem like there is too much of a need for it. God has already made these promises to Abram, but it almost seems as though He is making the promises all over again. Like somehow the first time didn’t matter.
I believe that this was just a reminder and clarification for Abram’s sake. After so much time had gone by (~23 years) it would be easy to lose sight of the promise and it’s promised fulfillment. So God took it a step further. He not only reminded Abram of the promise, He made it even more real.
God gave Abram a new name. Abram went from “exalted father” to Abraham “father of nations”. Sarai went from “leader / head / director” to Sarah “Princess”. The promise became even more real with the promise that Sarah would bear a son in approximately one year, and that God would continue to bless Ishmael. Of course, there was still the issue of circumcision, the outward expression of the covenant. The physical expression that would forever stand as a physical representation of the promise between God and man.
So, the question comes; have we lost focus of God’s promise for us? Is there something that God has told you that you have lost due to the busyness of life? What do we need to be reminded of?
Worthy of note as well, this is the first appearance of the name God Almighty (El-Shaddai).
Genesis 16 is a lesson to us all. God had made a promise to Abram. That promise was going to take a miracle. There was no way it was humanly possible for Sarai to have a baby at her age. Yet God had told Abram that he would have a son. This could be seen as an opportunity, rejection, or false promise.
It could be a false promise (or disillusion) in that either God did say or Abram only thought He said, and that there was no real plan for the fulfillment of the promise.
It could be that God was going to bring it to fulfillment, and simply had not yet (which we know to be the truth). However, that seemed less and less likely every day.
Finally, it could be a rejection. God could have been making the promise to Abram while rejecting Sarai. This was likely the struggle that Sarai was going through. She was past the age of child birth, but Abram was not. She could not have children, but her husband still could. The promise had been made to him and not to her. He needed an heir, and she couldn’t provide it. So she did what she felt needed to be done to fulfill God’s promise for Him… and it was the wrong thing.
In Sarai’s defense, as far as we know, there had never been a single woman past the age of childbearing who had miraculously conceived. It was unheard of. Is that a valid excuse? No, not really, but it does explain her decisions. She knew what her husband and family needed. She knew she couldn’t provide it, so she did what she thought was the only feasible solution… and it backfired on her.
It also wasn’t fully her fault either. Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. He accepted her assessment and solution.
Ultimately though, the question comes back to us. What promises that God has made to us are we trying to fulfill of our own power? Are we trying to “help” God fulfill His promises, or are we resting in the promises of the God who promises and fulfills?