Dr Clifford Denton.
Toldot: Genesis 25:19-28:9.
18th November 2023/Kislev 5.
…Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be those who bless you! (Genesis 27:29)
Picture by Helen McNeill
Last week’s Bible study ended with the way Ishmael’s sons were tribal leaders whose descendants became influential among the nations. This week’s study turns back to Isaac and Jacob, continuing to focus on the family whom God chose to outwork His central covenant promise first given to Abraham, passed on to Isaac and then to Jacob (Genesis 27:27-29). God was faithful to His covenant commitment then and still is today. A family will be drawn from all nations as a result of God’s immutable plan.
Yet, at our human level, despite this great promise and plan, there has always been struggle. This struggle was typified by the twins, Esau and Jacob, in Rebekah’s womb (Genesis 25:22-23). The consequences of this struggle going back to both Ishmael and Esau, continue right up to today in the Middle East. It is hard to clearly distinguish the nations that came from Ishmael and Esau, but the conflicts that began in the families of Abraham and Sarah and of Isaac and Rebekah have contributed to the wars with Israel through all generations.
From the wonderful beginning of Isaac’s betrothal and marriage to Rebekah (Genesis 24) and the time that Abraham spent with his son Isaac preparing him for his covenant responsibility, we might have expected to read about the next wonderful step in the story of Isaac’s marriage and among his children. Yet, we must confess some disappointment in what we read. We might go over these few chapters time and again to try to understand how it was that Isaac and Rebekah, who started so well, seemed not to have the same united purpose and agreement as time went by and as Isaac’s death approached. It seems that Esau was perhaps not taught by his parents as we would have expected, resulting in his marrying wives who brought tension to the family. Did Rebekah tell Isaac what God had told her about the older son serving the younger son (Genesis 25:23)? Had they forgotten as the years went by? Why did Rebekah need to be devious when it came to the important moment of Isaac’s passing on the covenant blessing?
God certainly had His way, nevertheless, that Jacob was to be the chosen son for His covenant purposes, yet He needed to take account of a division in this very special family in achieving His purposes. Despite Isaac’s weakness as a father, and despite his errors, the blessing that was spoken over Jacob (Genesis 27:27-29) was anointed by God and irrevocable. Was the tension that this caused between Esau and Jacob necessary, if Isaac had been a better father or Rebekah a better mother?
The reality is that such struggles do go on in our families despite God’s care for us. Issac lived to be 180 years old (Genesis 35:28). Not many chapters of the Bible cover his life, so the story we are told is short. Even 180 years, nevertheless, is not very long in the light of eternity. One might have expected him to do well in all those years, be a model father, valuing his covenant responsibility most highly. Yet even the significance of the profound moment with Abraham on Mount Moriah, and the blessing of his marriage to his chosen wife Rebekah, faded with time.
In hindsight we can judge all these things. We might be sad at the frailty of the fathers of our faith, but also thankful of the consistency and trustworthiness of God despite such frailty. Then we come to consider our own lives.
Our lives are much shorter these days, than those of Abraham and Isaac, but even so 70 or 80 years can seem very long, and just as with these patriarchs, our focus can blur and our commitment can dim.
If we have been privileged to be married and bear children, we will have had beginnings comparable to Isaac and Rebekah. Those early days of friendship and courtship which led to marriage, made most sacredly before God, can become a distant past. Those promises we made, may be barely recalled as year succeeds year. Even that wonderful first encounter with the Living God through His Son Yeshua, whose impact was life-changing, can go from wonderful to ordinary. Our children, miracles of God’s creation when they were born, can easily go the way of the world as time goes on because of our neglect in teaching them from their early childhood.
It is good to turn to the Book of Ephesians. We will return to Ephesians 5 and 6 more than once in these weekly studies. Let us take the opportunity to read these chapters this week along with our Torah portion. Just as Isaac and Rebekah had a high covenant call on their family, so do we for God’s particular purposes in our lives. Our relationship with Yeshua is patterned in our family life, which is to be ordered according to the ordained family structure of God that Paul describes. Husbands have a particular role, wives a compatible role and children are to be brought up in God’s ways. The result is strong families. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can withstand the spiritual powers of darkness that seduce, lie, and set out to destroy God’s perfect plan for our families. With our study of even Isaac and Rebekah not maintaining God’s call and commission perfectly, we must be warned to stand firm to achieve God’s best in our family relationships. This is no small matter in the culture of our day, which redefines family and brings immense pressures to us to conform to the ways of the world around us with all its sad discord.
God will draw a family of faith from all nations, and we have an opportunity to fulfil our part in this wonderful story in unity with Him and one another.