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Ordering Affairs by God's Promises | Genesis 23:1-25:18

As preached by Timothy O'Day.

1) Invest your life in God’s covenant promises.

2) Trust God’s providence to deliver his covenant promises.

3) Devote yourself to God’s promised seed.

Ordering Affairs by God’s Promises

Christ Fellowship Church

December 3, 2023

Newspapers aren’t around as much anymore, but when they were I enjoyed reading them. There is something about (usually) well-crafted writing and new information that seems so alluring. Inevitably, my eye would always be caught by the obituaries. While you could never predict what would be in the paper, you could always predict that there would be an obituary page. Why? Because death is certain.

Death is tragic and wrong, but it is also usual. As such, it is not a topic that can be overdone. It is important to live your life in light of the fact that you will die. It is important to make your plans according to your mortality so that others aren’t overly burdened by your demise.

Death, thus, is a topic that cannot be overdone. It is everywhere, including the Bible. In this passage, the story of Abraham ends with his death and Genesis turns to the patriarchal descendants. Genesis 22 was Abraham’s climax, Genesis 23:1-25:18 is his end—at least his end as a main character in the narrative.

Chapter 23 records the death of Sarah his wife; chapter 24 his efforts of marrying off his son because he knows that he will soon die; and 25 details his demise.

As we read these chapters, death comes to the forefront because it is the impetus of the main activities undertaken. Abraham knows he will soon die so he is setting his affairs in order. And, as we read about death, it isn’t just Abraham’s death that comes to the forefront. When considering death, we cannot help but consider our own.

These chapters help us, then, reflect on death and, more importantly, what should be on our minds as we all face the reality of death. These chapters call us to consider our deaths and to order our affairs in light of God’s covenant promises.

Abraham views his death and orders his affairs in light of God’s covenant promises to him. In the same way, we should view our death and order our affairs in light of the New Covenant. How can we do that?

First, invest your life in God’s covenant promises

As I mentioned before, Genesis 23 begins with the announcement of Sarah’s death. Death is always of magnitude, but Sarah’s death is exceptional being that she was such an integral figure in the fulfillment of God’s supernatural promise of giving a child to Abraham through her. I believe I am not mistaken to say that no other woman mentioned in Scripture, when speaking of her death, also has her age listed. Such is Sarah’s significance highlighted.

Since she has such significance, it is no surprise that Abraham mourned and wept for her, and then he rose up to do something that had not yet been done by him: he sought to purchase a place to bury his dead, specifically Sarah but also others to follow her, including himself. In the ancient world, it would seem that purchasing land was not something that could easily be done by an alien and stranger, something that Abraham readily admits he is (23:4). Giving land to a stranger, one who does not share your culture and your gods, was a dangerous proposition. The Hittites, whom he asked, honored him by calling him a prince of God among them (23:5), but notice what they do not immediately do: offer him land to buy. Instead, they merely offer him use of any of their tombs. He would not own the tomb, but he would be allowed to bury his dead.

But simply burying Sarah is not what Abraham is after. God has promised in his covenant with Abraham that the land would belong to his ancestors, so he wants to taste the promise now and anchor his legacy in the land. To bury Sarah and himself in a tomb in the land as a sojourner is not what he is after. While he is a sojourner now, he believes that he will not be counted as such in this land always.

So he asks all in his hearing to entreat Ephron on his behalf. This is a clever kind of negotiation on Abraham’s part. He does not go directly to Ephron to ask to purchase the cave to use as a tomb. Instead, he calls for the aid of others. Ephron, being present, now cannot help but respond with an offer to meet the need. But notice what he does: he does not offer to sell the cave; he merely offers to give it. Just like today, they would not hold up legally if Ephron’s descendants wanted to later claim this field and cave as their own. This is why Abraham protests, offers to buy it, and induces Ephron to state how much he wants for it. After this, Abraham does not haggle about price, which would be expected. Instead, he buys the sum, making it even more obvious that no one can contest his rightful ownership to the property, paying it out in the sight of all the leading men and the pace of business, the city gate (23:18). Verse 20 stresses this reality: the field and the cave were made over to Abraham.

Why all of this trouble? Why not just bury Sarah in a tomb and move on with life? Because Abraham is confident in God’s promise that this land would belong to his people one day, so he wanted his tomb and Sarah’s tomb to be there. He no longer viewed the land from which he came as his home. He viewed the promised land, even though not yet his, as his possession because God had said it would be. Though he is still counted as a stranger and an alien, he wanted to anchor his life—and his death—in the covenant promise of God.

I keenly feel this particular example of burial. While I do not think God has promised Utah to my family—difference in covenant—I, and many of you, have moved to Utah and now call it home. And we have planted our lives here for now. But, when we die, where will we be buried? The urge is to be buried in a place that you count as home. You want to be buried in a place where your family is and where you will be remembered. For many of you, you may not even feel like Utah is that place yet.

Abraham had a promise that it would be. Even though he was still counted as a sojourner and a foreigner, he confidently lived in accord with God’s promise.

Strangers and Aliens

If you are in Christ, then you are a stranger and alien in this land as well. You, too, can invest your life in the promises of God’s New Covenant. How? Take any reality given to you in the New Covenant and live your life in accord with it. That is how you invest your life in God’s New Covenant Promises. Abraham was essentially saying, “since God’s promises are true, I will invest my time, money, and efforts according to his promises.”

What does that look like for you right now? Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. If you do not know Christ and you have not bowed your knee to him in faith, then that is step number one.

If you are in Christ, then you need to ask “How can I please the Lord?” This is discerning what the will of the Lord is: has he commanded I act in a certain way? Then I will rejoice to do that. Has he called me to trust him with certain things? Then I will trust him. Has he placed before me a certain trial? Then I will count it all joy as I face that trial, knowing that he is working all things for the good of those who love him

Set your affairs in order by investing your life now in the promises of God.

Second, Trust God’s providence to deliver his covenant promises

Genesis 24 is one of the longest chapters in the whole book and it records the story of how Isaac and Rebekah married. In giving this story, we have the perfect illustration of providence. Providence is not a word you find in the Bible, but you do find its reality, and Genesis 24 is a beautiful picture of it. Simply defined, providence refers to God’s provision for, and the sustenance and governance of, the world. We see God’s provision, sustenance of, and governance of the world clearly in Genesis 24. In the following ways.

The Problem

First, Genesis 24 presents a problem. Abraham is old, near to death, and his son does not yet have a wife. God has promised to give Abraham descendants, but right now he only has Isaac as the chosen line. If it is going to continue, there must be children. So Abraham calls his servant and makes him swear that he will find a wife for Isaac. But there are two terms to this oath. First, the wife must not come from the Canaanites. Why? It isn’t stated here, but the implication is that God has promised to take the land from the Canaanites, so the chosen seed must remain distinct. Thus, the servant is to go back to Abraham’s kin and find a wife for him from there. Second, the servant is not to take Isaac out of the promised land and back to the land from which Abraham came because God has promised this land to Abraham’s descendants (24:6b-7).

But this leaves the servant with a problem. What if the woman he finds doesn’t want to come back to Canaan? Abraham’s answer rests in the providence of God. Verse 7, God “will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.” In other words, it’s God’s particular promise, so it is God’s particular problem to solve.

Prayer and Providence

Next, we see that the servant goes to the land (which probably took over a year by the way) and, upon reaching the city, stops by a well and prays. This was the time that women would come out to draw water, so he set himself up for a good opportunity, but he does not simply trust this. He makes to the Lord a very specific prayer. He asks God, in his sovereign and providential control, to show his covenant love for Abraham by sending out a young woman who will answer his query for a little water by not only offering him water but also offering to water his 10 camels. And he asks God that this would be the girl that God has appointed for Isaac. The phrase “grant me success” at the beginning of the prayer literally means “Make it happen before me.”

This is not a small ask. A thirsty camel can drink up to 25 gallons of water and he has 10 camels. Before the servant finishes speaking, Rebekah comes out. He asks her for a little water, and she gives him water. Then she offers to water his camels also “until they have finished drinking” (24:19). Rebekah is a woman of intense hospitality, which is fitting because she is to be in the line that will result in blessing all the earth through the Messiah.

God answered the servant's prayer down to the detail, for when he asked her whose family she belonged to, she responded that it was the family of Nahor, Abraham’s kin (24:24).

Upon telling her family all of God’s providential care for Abraham in blessing him and in his providential care in leading him to Rebekah, they can only respond that this is clearly the work of the Lord and let her go.

What Providence Means for You

God’s providence means you do not need to be anxious about God’s promises. He is more than ready and able to keep them. But notice that providence does not mean you are not active. Rebekah doesn’t spring up out of nowhere. Abraham and the servant trust God and God provides.

So God’s providence doesn’t negate human activity and responsibility. It makes human activity and responsibility hopeful and joyful. God’s providential care means that you do not need to be anxious because God is sovereignly acting for the good of his people—which makes faith and obedience joyful and not stressful.

What are you to do under God’s providential care? Look at the examples in this chapter.

First, plan in accord with God’s providential care. Abraham set the parameters of the servant's oath based on God’s promises and trust that God would actively work in the world to keep his promises. But notice what Abraham doesn’t do: he does not presume to know how God will bring about the promise. Look back at 24:8. After saying that the Lord will send his angel ahead to providentially lead the way and act to fulfill the promise, Abraham adds, “But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” In other words, Abraham is saying, “I am confident the Lord will provide and I feel confident that it will be through this, but if not don’t assume God has failed and you need to take matters into your own hands.” Plan in accord with God’s providential care and then trust his providence.

Second, pray in accord with God’s providential care. This is what the servant does when he reaches the well. He doesn’t simply pray the desire of his heart in this pray. Look again at 24:12, 14. In these verses we see that his request is not merely for some specific things to happen—though he does pray for specifics. We also see in these verses that he is asking God to show his steadfast love for Abraham, which is covenant love and loyalty to Abraham. In other words, the servant is praying in light of specific promises. When you pray in light of specific promises, your eyes will be opened to God’s providential care and his agenda.

What is controlling the direction of your prayer life? Your desires should be made known to the Lord, but your desires should not control your prayers. The Lord taught us to pray saying, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” As we make our desires known, we should pray in line with God’s kingdom and will because this is the goal of his providential work.

Third, praise in accord with God’s providential care. If you pray in accord with God’s providential care, then you will end up praising as well. The servant, after seeing God’s meticulous care in how his prayer was answered, cannot help but bow in worship (24:25-28).

Fourth, believe in accord with God’s providential care. After telling the story of God’s activity to Laban and Bethuel, they cannot help but admit that God has been providentially active, but their next actions say otherwise. When the servant asks to leave in order to return to Abraham and Isaac with Rebekah, they stall and ask him to stay. While they ask for her to remain at least 10 days, the servant sees that this is a ploy to delay him for some reason (24:56). So they turn to Rebekah and ask her if she wants to go. Like Abraham before her, she says yes to the Lord’s leading and goes to an unknown land. She has witnessed God’s providential care through answered prayer and she is ready to walk forward in faith because of it.

And note that this is not something Rebekah was necessarily expecting. Why would she expect a man to arrive unannounced and God’s providential events turn her eyes to see that she was to move away from her family and never see them again? You, too, will face moments of being surprised by God’s providence. Sometimes providence will fit your desire, sometimes it won’t. In those moments, you must turn your eyes to trust in God. Mary, the mother of Jesus, had a shocking announcement: she would give birth to a son before she was even married. Pause and consider the ramifications of this announcement. People would think she was a sinner. She would be shamed. But how does this respond to God’s providential care to use her? Simply saying, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). What will you say to the providential care of God when the unexpected comes your way?

Are you ready to open your eyes to God’s covenant promises so that you can see his providential care in fulfilling all of his promises in Christ Jesus? Doing so will fuel your prayer, praise, and faith. Set your affairs in order by trusting God’s providence now.

Third, Devote yourself to God’s Promised Seed

In Genesis 25, Abraham dies. But before we are told of his death, we read of his other children by his second wife (or concubine) Keturah. The listing of these children, along with the generations of Ishmael, is significant because it shows that God’s promise to bring nations plural from Abraham has come true. These children are the making of many nations that Israel will also have dealings with.

But there are two other things in these verses more significant than God making many nations out of Abraham

First, what is more significant is how Abraham relates to this offspring. God promised Abraham in Genesis 21:12 that through Isaac his offspring would be named. That is when he sent Hagar and Ishmael away to guarantee that the inheritance rested only with Ishmael. So we see here as well that Abraham sends away all of his other children with gifts while he is still alive so that there is no rival to Isaac (25:6).

Abraham was committed to God’s choice of Isaac as heir and child of promise. There was no competition in his heart for that role. God had said, “Through Isaac, your offspring shall be named,” and Abraham ordered his priorities and actions accordingly.

Second, it is also more significant what is said about Abraham’s death. 25:8 reads “Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.” Do you see that last assertion? Abraham dies, but he does not cease to exist. He is gathered to his people, which is a euphemism for continued life.

Abraham devoted himself to the promised seed because he believed God’s promise that the curse would be reversed by one who is born of a woman. Isaac was not that seed, but one in his line is Jesus Christ. Abraham believed that God’s work of salvation, the working out of the promise of Genesis 3:15, would come through Isaac and he planned his affairs accordingly.

Through the years, as we will read in Genesis, this promise develops and leads to the people of Israel; from Israel comes the Messiah; and in the Messiah, all the nations of the earth are blessed. But they are blessed only, as Psalm 2 puts it, as they “kiss the Son.” Only by taking refuge in him will you be blessed.

What affections are in competition with him in your life? Is there something that crowds him and takes priority of place over him? Consider for a moment how important it is that you send it away. All other treasures will not lead to life; no sin will deliver what it promises you.

Herein lies the most vital affair to put in order. How do you stand with Jesus Christ today? Have you sent away all would-be competitors and put on the Lord Jesus Christ?

Something More Certain Than Death

Death seems so certain. Everyone would do well to make plans accordingly. Scripture, however, actually tells us that there is something more certain than death: the victory of Jesus Christ, the one who conquered death. While it may make sense, then, to humbly plan out your last will and testament. It makes more sense, though, to humbly make peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. This he graciously offers to all of us sinners and debtors. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, who for us and our salvation lived a life of perfect obedience, died a substitutionary death on the cross, bearing the wrath of sin, and rose again from the grave. As such, he has promised that all who unite to him by faith today can be forgiven of sin, receive his Spirit, and have life everlasting with him. His love is stronger than the grave, his mercy is greater than your sin, and his victory is more sure than death.

Set your affairs in order today by coming to him in trust.


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