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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Providence of God in Keeping Covenant

The Providence of God in Keeping Covenant


Text: Genesis 24:52-67



Introduction:


One of the most prominent themes in the Old Testament is the sovereignty of God. In other words, God is a heavenly king who makes decrees and then makes those decrees actually happen in real history on earth. The story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob shows clearly how God works not only with individuals but through generations of families. If you will remember, God made a covenant with Abram in Genesis 17 and Abram's name was changed to Abraham, the father of many nations. When Abraham was 99 year-old God promised to make him the father of many nations. However, it looks impossible since both Abraham and Sarah his wife are well advanced in years. In fact, both Abraham and Sarah laughed when God made this promise to them that they would have a male heir. Hence, Isaac's name in Hebrew means literally, "He laughs." Do we believe God's word to us? Exactly what is a covenant anyway?


1. The Idea of Covenant in the Old Testament


a. In the Ancient Near East a covenant between two men or two human parties serves as the model for the covenant between God and man. In case of human covenants the agreement can be between two equals or between a greater and a lesser person in social standings.


b. In the case of the covenant between Abraham and God it is obvious that the greater makes a covenant with the less equal and weaker party. There is no comparison between God our Creator and one of his creatures. A covenant, though similar to a contract, is different because a covenant is a solemn agreement based on an oath taken before God.


I. Howard Marshall says:


In modern times we define a host of relations by contracts. These are usually for goods or services and for hard cash. The contract, formal or informal, helps to specify failure in these relationships.

The Lord did not establish a contract with Israel or with the church. He created a covenant. There is a difference. Contacts are broken when one of the parties fails to keep his promise. If, let us say, a patient fails to keep an appointment with a doctor, the doctor is not obligated to call the house and inquire, "Where were you? Why didn't you show up for your appointment?" He simply goes on to his next patient and has his appointment secretary take note of the patient who failed to keep the appointment. The patient may find it harder the next time to see the doctor. He broke an informal contract.

According to the Bible, however, the Lord asks: Isaiah 49:15 (ESV)

15"Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. "

The Bible indicates the covenant is more like the ties of a parent to her child than it is a doctor's appointment. If a child fails to show up for dinner, the parent's obligation, unlike the doctor's, isn't canceled. The parent finds out where the child is and makes sure he's cared for. One member's failure does not destroy the relationship. A covenant puts no conditions on faithfulness. It is the unconditional commitment to love and serve. - Bruce Shelley

I. H. Marshall, Jesus the Savior, IVP, 1990, p. 275ff

c. So we can see that when God promised and made an oath with Abraham and established a covenant relationship with him that God is able to bring it to pass, to bring it into existence because he is God and not a mere human or creature.



Hebrews 6:13–18 (ESV)

The Certainty of God's Promise

13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, "Surely I will bless you and multiply you." 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.


(Compare Genesis 22:15; Psalm 105:9; Luke 1:73).


It is because Abraham believed God and obeyed His command to sacrifice Isaac that all believers on earth are now blessed.


2. God Is In Providential Control


a. On almost every page of the book of Genesis we see that God directing the action behind the scene.

1. God supernaturally makes Sarah bear a son in her old age. (Genesis 21:1-4)

2. God supernaturally provides a sacrifice in the place of Isaac. (Genesis 22:13-14). God will provide. Yahweh yireh. Jehovah Jireh. The LORD will see.


Genesis 22:15–18 (ESV)

15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, "By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice."


b. Sarah, the wife of Abraham has died (Genesis 23:2) and Abraham himself is around 140 years old. He decides to send his most trusted servant, probably Eliezer, to Ur in Mesopotamia to get a wife for Isaac from among his own people. Eliezer must be at least in his 60's by now and so this is no easy journey for him.

1. Notice first of all that in the first half of chapter 24 the servant prays to God for divine guidance. Abraham does not give the servant Yahoo driving directions. He simply tells him to go to Ur in general and amazingly God is faithful in directing the servant to precisely the right location and the right well to water his camels. The servant prays to God for divine intervention so that he can know the right girl to choose and the sign is that she will offer water from the well to the servant and to his 10 camels, a sign of great wealth for that time period since camels were rare.


2. God answers the prayer and leads Rebekah to do just as the servant prayed. If only we were more faithful in prayer! Gordon Wenham, the British commentator on Genesis 16-50, mentions one of the collects from the Trinity season in reference to these verses in Genesis. The prayer says:


ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire, or deserve; Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.


3. After an extended negotiation for betrothal, Rebekah and her nurse and her hand maidens depart with the servant to return to Canaan to meet up with Isaac.


3. The Covenant of Marriage


a. We ought to note here that Rebekah is a beautiful young woman to behold. In fact, her name means "Ensnared." In other words, when men look at her they are enticed and trapped by her looks.

b. In the marriage customs of the Ancient Near East wives were negotiated for in arranged marriages. Despite our modern aversion to such practices, arranged marriages tend to endure longer than marriages based on dating and romantic attraction.

c. The value of women as wives is not that they are chattel to be bought and sold like slaves but that a man values a good wife who also happens to be attractive and a good mate. As far back as the Garden of Eden before the fall God saw that it was not good that Adam should be alone. In fact, Rebekah has the final say in whether or not she will accept the marriage proposal and return to Canaan with the servant. (Verses 57-58).

d. Even though Isaac is not present, the servant acts as his proxy and negotiates the terms of the marriage, the dowry, and the betrothal. In that day and time a betrothal is as binding as the marriage itself and the wedding is practically a done deal except for the consummation of the marriage. Here we see another picture of God's sovereignty. We are passive and wait for God to accomplish for us what is out of our control. All Isaac can do is trust God and wait for the servant to return. God keeps the covenant promises and brings them into reality. We do not make the covenant promises happen but God does.

e. Wealth is a sign of God's blessing on Abraham and Rebekah and her family cannot help but see the wealth of Isaac through Abraham. There are 10 camels and even one camel would be hard to afford in those days. Also, the servant gives Laban expensive gifts as well as the gold bracelets and the nose ring he gave Rebekah at the well. But wealth is not the real emphasis. Instead wealth is a sign of a relationship with God where God bestows divine favor on those who believe him and keep his covenant. This is the kind of favor that Abraham, Rebekah's future father-in-law obviously has with God. It is not favor that is earned or merited but rather a favor based on the fact that Abraham believed God's promise which God made to Abraham in the covenant. This is no mere contract but a covenant, a solemn agreement that Almighty God makes with Abraham.


4. The Marriage

a. When Rebekah sees Isaac she is immediately impressed and asks the servant, "Who is THAT man walking in the field towards us?" She's intensely interested.

b. When she learns that it is the servant's master, Isaac, she dismounts the camel and covers herself with her veil as a sign of modesty. We still observe the veil in modern weddings because the veil represents virginity and modesty and humility and virtue on the part of the woman.

c. Also it is noticeable that there is no formal marriage ceremony. Isaac takes Rebekah into his mother's tent and she becomes his wife. We ought not to think that because Isaac did this that there was immorality involved because they were already engaged. In the ancient near eastern culture betrothal is as serious as marriage and so the groom and the bride were committed to one another prior to the marriage. One can recall the story of Mary and Joseph in the NT when Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant he planned to divorce her quietly because he was a decent man. Even though Joseph and Mary were not yet married, the betrothal was a serious affair and Mary could have been accused of adultery. But Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant by supernatural means and marries her anyway (Matthew 1:18-25). Just as God supernaturally intervened with the birth of Isaac so God supernaturally intervenes in the birth of Jesus, who is the fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham.


Conclusion:


So what does all this mean for us today? First of all, we ought to be believers just as Abraham was a believer. Abraham, despite his doubts and trying to do things his own way—he took Hagar the Egyptian for a concubine rather than trusting God—was blessed by God. Despite trying to do things our own way if we are truly friends of God and in the covenant of grace as God's chosen people, God will indeed bring to pass what He has promised through Abraham. God is sovereign over even our sins and is able to bring the blessing despite our disobedience.


While the blessing is not necessarily health, wealth and prosperity as the television evangelists falsely promise, it is nevertheless a promise that God will meet our needs both in this life and for the life to come. We need not try to cheat and do things our own way or bargain with God. God is able to keep his end of the covenant. Even if we are unfaithful yet he remains faithful and cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13).


The fact that Isaac took Rebekah into his tent immediately does not justify having sex outside of marriage or living together in a common law relationship since this is fornication and adultery. Instead it means that sex is a sacred and intimate bonding between one man and one woman. It is through the covenant of marriage that God preserves the Christian family and brings the promises of Abraham into reality. Of course, we evangelize the whole world because the Gospel is now open to Gentiles as well as the house of Israel. Abraham is truly the father of many nations.


A genuine Christian marriage is not based on worldly ideas of erotic love or romantic love. Rather our commitment to God and to each other comes first. As in an arranged marriage, true love is what happens after the commitment is made. The married couple is then supported in their commitment to their marriage vows by the extended family, the community, the church and God. Isaac took Rebekah into the tent and she became his wife and he loved her. True love involves a prior commitment and on the part of both the man and the wife. The roles God assigned to Adam and Eve in creation manifest in a mutually nurturing and interdependent relationship and true love can only be known inside a committed covenant relationship of marriage. Everything else is a cheap imitation. Furthermore, the idea of a man lording it over his wife is the result of sin and the fall. However, in a Christian marriage we have both parties in an equal relation but with truly male and female roles to play in that relationship.


If we will trust God, we will be blessed. But if we insist on doing things our own way, we face consequences in this life. Just as Abraham and Sarah had marital problems following Abraham's relationship with Hagar, so we too suffer temporal consequences. God's perfect will is for one marriage for life to one partner. But even if we fail at this, God is merciful and forgiving. He will never leave nor forsake those who are chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world. We are His children who are bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:19). God is able to do exceedingly and abundantly beyond what we can imagine. He provides for us in all areas of life. Just as God provided an heir for Abraham and a wife for Isaac so too God will provide for all of our needs in Christ Jesus.



The 1662 Book of Common Prayer make it clear that marriage is a covenant and not merely a contract when it calls the service, THE FORM OF SOLEMNIZATION OF MATRIMONY. Marriage symbolizes the covenant relationship between Christ and the church and reminds us of the covenant God made with Abraham that all believers would be blessed because of God's promises.


Numbers 6:24–27 (ESV)

24 The Lord bless you and keep you;

25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

27 "So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them."

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