Series on Genesis, II God's Family, G The Perpetuation of the Family, Text:22:20-27:46, Title: Promise and Purpose


In this section of Genesis we follow the development of God’s family through the life of Isaac, the death of Sarah and Abraham, the birth and growth to maturity of Jacob and Esau and the death of Isaac. Here we see the hand of God guiding the development of the promised seed. In this Scripture, more than any other, we see the sovereign grace of God in choosing his people. In fact the story of Jacob and Esau is the place where Paul turns when he is explaining God's electing love in Romans 9. Therefore we also see here a powerful explanation of what we can do and what we can't do. We can commit ourselves to God's promises, but we cannot change God's purposes. Consider first commitment and God's promises.

I Commitment and God's Promises

A. A Cave
The first story which illustrates commitment to God's promises is Abraham's purchase of a burial place for Sarah in Chapter 23. Here we have the typical middle-eastern negotiations between Ephron the Hittite and Abraham over a plot of ground with a cave suitable for burial purposes.This is recorded in verses 10-16 and 20, Ephron the Hittite was sitting among his people and he replied to Abraham in the hearing of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of his city. No, my lord, he said. Listen to me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead. Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land and he said to Ephron in their hearing, Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there. Ephron answered Abraham, Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between me and you? Bury your dead. So the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site. Behind these typical Middle-Eastern negotiations is a lesson in faith. Abraham refuses to accept the gift of the land. God had promised the land to Abraham, the whole land forever. But at this point he owns none of it. In fact he determines to purchase a part of it to bury his wife. Now the wife of Billy Graham, Ruth Bell Graham died recently, and was buried near Charlotte, North Carolina in the prayer garden of the recently dedicated Billy Graham library. Her husband said at her interment, “I look forward to joining her soon.” In hope we bury our loved ones and in hope the traditional burial service says “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead.” Among Ruth’s many poems were these words, ”Frail hands that ministered to many lie quiet, still; light from another world! look up bereaved it won’t be long till dawn.” She also wrote that she once saw a sign on a strip of highway that she would like to see on her gravestone. “End of construction, thank you for your patience.” You see Abraham buried Sarah in hope, but not just hope for Sarah. It was hope for the promise of God, and hope for the promised seed. In the same way in Jeremiah 32 we see the prophet obeying God in buying the field of his cousin Hanamel in Anathoth as a symbol that once again the children of Israel who were being besieged and carried off into captivity in Babylon would return to the land of promise and the blessing of the promised seed would come.

B. A Commission

And then in chapter 24:2-4 we have a second story of confidence in God’s promise.  He said to the chief servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, Put your hand under my thigh. 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. Abraham’s great concern is that his son Isaac would follow in his steps and be faithful to the Lord. Therefore he commissioned Eliezer, his trusted servant to find a wife for Isaac with the understanding that Isaac would not marry a Canaanite woman and the servant would return with her to the land of promise so that Isaac would not even be among the pagans. The manifest stated reason given is that God gave the land of Canaan to Abraham. Isaac’s wife Rebekah was found in Haran which was back in Babylonian territory, but she was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother, Nahor. So Rebekah came and Abraham’s desire was fulfilled because the most notable thing about Isaac’s life is that he followed exactly in his father’s footsteps. He went to the same places, dug the same wells, gave them the same names, and even imitated his father’s sin of lying to king Abimilech about his wife being his sister, and was delivered in the same way. Isaac’s life reminds me of Will Roger’s comment, "we can’t all be heroes,  because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by". Following is a vital part of the covenant. Jesus called his disciples saying "follow me". When God called Abraham he said, I have chosen him so that he will direct his household and children after him to keep the way of the Lord. People are all so concerned about leaders. Maybe we need more followers. A young woman applied to a certain college. The application form asked, “are you a leader.”  She answered conscientiously that she was not but fully expected that her answer would end her chances. The college replied that she was definitely admitted because a review of their current applications indicated that they would have 1,452 leaders in their entering class and they thought it was vital that there be at least one person to follow them. Hope in the promise, follow the promise and wait for the promise.

C. A Contrast

The third story reminds us that like God’s people of all generations we wait for the promise. It is the story of the birth of Jacob and Esau. But first in chapter 25 Moses records the numerous children of Isaac’s brother, Ishmael, in sharp, almost mocking, contrast to Isaac. It is Isaac to whom the promise is made and Isaac in whom the promise of a seed as numerous as the stars of heaven must be fulfilled, but Rebekah is barren. Isaac prays to the lord and in his sixtieth year, Jacob and Esau are born. The point I want to make is that we spend too much of our time worrying about what God is going to do. It is not unusual for us to want to change God's mind because we are apprehensive about the outcome He may have planned. This is not our job. We are called to be committed to God's promises. We are to follow in hope and wait for the promise. We walk in the way that he has revealed and the things which are hidden from us, His secret purpose, is hidden for a reason. This brings me to the second point.

II Change and God's Purpose

First we must recognize that God's purpose stands firm as Paul says in Romans 9. And, that purpose is to choose a people out of his grace and mercy alone, not because of anything foreseen in them, although God knows all, But to demonstrate that we are saved by his sovereign gracious choice. God has a plan. We see this in God's choosing Jacob and not Esau. It is surprising how consistently in the Old Testament the younger son who was not normally the heir is chosen by God to inherit the blessing. You can read about it in Genesis 25, but the significance is summed up by Paul most adroitly in Romans 9:10-15 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls, she was told, The older will serve the younger. Just as it is written: Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all!  For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. Secondly, we must understand that the circumstances of our birth, our choices and our experiences are part of that plan; the bad as well as the good. Not only did God choose Jacob, but that choice determined the natures of the children Jacob and Esau. We read in Genesis 25:27 and 28, The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. Jacob, as we learn later, was far from being ideal. He was a deceitful conniving scheming sinner, but through all of his failures he proved himself to be the one following God's promise, while Esau demonstrated his utter lack of faith in God. In no way does this excuse Jacob’s sinful deceptions or Esau’s godless immorality. Hebrews 12:15-17 warns us to see that no one Is sexually immoral or godless like Esau who sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing he was rejected. He could bring about no changing of mind though he sought the blessing with tears. Hebrews 12 agrees with Romans 9. The mind that could not be changed was Isaac’s. The tears were Esau pleading. Isaac said I have already given the blessing to your brother Jacob, I have blessed him and indeed he will be blessed. These words are written to show us the futility of struggling against God’s purpose. Isaac knew that God has chosen Jacob as the heir of the promise, but he fought against it, just as his father Abraham had once prayed that Ishmael might be the heir, and God said, “No, in Isaac shall your seed be called.” This has nothing to do with your free will. Jacob was free. Esau was free. It has everything to do with the attitude of your heart in submitting to God in all things.


We need to get from the Bible the main point that God wants us to see. Alexander Maclaren writes, “As faith is obedience and submission, so faith breeds obedience, but unbelief leads on to higher-handed rebellion. With dreadful reciprocity of influence, the less one trusts, the more he disobeys; the more he disobeys, the less he trusts.” This is the main point of these Scriptures. Our job here below is neither to curiously inquire into God's unchangeable will nor to try to change it. There are so many things in life we cannot change. We cannot change the weather though sometimes we would like to. We cannot change progress though we’d like to do that too. In fact sometimes we can’t change our own minds. In 1900 the clerk of a presbytery outside Philadelphia wrote, “Lord, help us to be right for you know how hard it is to change.” Our purpose is to discover God’s revealed will, his promise, and follow it in spite of the fact that we cannot change his plan. When Jesus wanted to teach a Jewish rabbi how God graciously works he used the wind. he said in John 3, The wind blows wherever it please. you hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where its going. so is everyone who is born of the spirit. Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? God can change what you cannot. The essence of true faith is to make this distinction very clearly in our lives. In fact, true faith persists even when the appearances are contrary to it and only when disappointment is seen as His appointment.