A Metaphor of the Divine Plan in Joshua 15 – The episode of Caleb and his daughter Achsah is inserted into a strange place here. Once again, here’s an invitation to look for a prophetic message! Let me tell you what I see in this passage about God’s divine plan.
Lead Like the Centurion – Matthew 8:5-13 – The Roman military command probably wouldn’t have looked too kindly on a centurion being too friendly with the Jewish residents of Capernaum as the centurion in Matthew 8 and Luke 7 had. Making a public appeal like this to an itinerant Jewish faith healer was likely to jeopardize his career. He had life-or-death command over nearly one hundred soldiers and numerous servants, but he was willing to risk it all for the sake of one of them. This is a great example for leaders on all walks of life.
Fathers above and below in Proverbs 3:1-12 – A set of three parallelisms in this passage are arranged in a chiasm that compares the relationship of sons to their earthly fathers to our relationship with our Heavenly Father. It also contains a direct connection to Eliezer’s prayer in Genesis 24:27.
A Woman of Valor, Who Can Find? – The Hebrew word used to describe the Proverbs 31 wife in v10 and translated variously as “excellent”, “of valor”, and “competent” is “chayil”. It most often refers to an army or a might warrior. Do you want an excellent wife? Then look for a woman with strength, competence, and intelligence coupled with humility and a desire to serve her husband.
Rebekah’s Godly Character in Genesis 24 – Abraham sent his trusted servant, Eliezer, to find a bride for Isaac. Eliezer, who knew the heart of Abraham and of YHWH, asked God for a sign: “When I ask her for a drink of water, she will also offer to water my camels.” Rebekah did exactly that in spectacular fashion, and she didn’t stop there! This story reveals three important character traits of Rebekah, traits that God wants to see in ALL of his people.
Three Days in the Grave – Yeshua is buried in tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and remains there until the third day.
The Resurrection – The tomb is opened, Yeshua returns to life, and leaves the grave.
The Pre-Resurrection – The dead in Jerusalem (probably only the very recently dead) are brought back to life sometime between Yeshua’s death and reappearance in Jerusalem. These people were resurrected with their old bodies, not glorified ones. They don’t count as the “firstfruits of the resurrection” because they would die again like Lazarus. They go back to their homes and families, not to Heaven.
The Second Coming – Yeshua makes a dramatic and violent return to earth, binding Satan in Sheol for a thousand years and ending the period of the Great Tribulation.
The First Resurrection – The saints who were martyred by the Beast and False Prophet during the Tribulation are resurrected to reign on earth with Yeshua.
The Final Battle – Satan is released to lead the nations of the earth in a rebellion against Yeshua and are defeated. Satan is thrown into the Lake of Fire, where he remains forever.
The Second Resurrection – All the dead who were not resurrected at the beginning of the Millennium are resurrected in order to face judgment.
The Final Judgment – The books of Heaven and the Book of Life are opened and all the dead are judged according to the record of their deeds.
The End of Death and Hades – Sheol itself is thrown into the Lake of Fire.
The Final Disposition – Those whose names are written in the Book of Life are allowed to eat from the Tree of Life and to live in the New Jerusalem or the New Earth. All who are not found in the Book of Life are thrown into the Lake of Fire.
The New Heaven and New Earth – The old heaven and earth have passed away and are replaced by new, incorruptible versions. A new, massive Jerusalem descends from Heaven.
In Genesis 24:60, Bethuel and Laban send Rebekah away with this blessing:
And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate them!” Genesis 24:60
We all know from Hollywood that the city gates are the key to capturing an enemy city. If you can break through the gates, you’ve all but one the battle.
We know from the rest of the story that Bethuel and Laban were much more concerned with what they could get out of other people than what they could give, so it’s the kind of blessing we might expect from them. “May you take everything from anyone who tries to take from you!”
However, the Angel of YHVH blessed Abraham’s offspring in the same manner:
And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 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, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” Genesis 22:15-18
Did God mean to bless Abraham’s son with military victory over all his enemies? To an extent, yes, but the Bible uses the idea of gates in a much broader sense than this.
Gates are, by definition, the primary point of entry to any city or home, but they are also the focus of trade, public discourse, and justice. The elders of a town meet at the gates to hear complaints and try criminal cases. God wants his Law written on the gates of our cities and homes, not just to remind us whenever we pass through them, but to signal that all true justice aligns with his standards, not ours.
Lot sat in the gate of Sodom. (Genesis 19:1)
Abraham transacted business at the gate of the city of Ephron so that there would be public witnesses. (Genesis 23:18)
Shechem and Hamor called the men of their city to the gates to discuss a proposed treaty with the Hebrews. (Genesis 34:20)
Trials, executions, and civil disputes to take place in public at the city gates. (Deuteronomy 21:19, 25:7, Joshua 20:4)
Kings held court at the city gates. (2 Samuel 19:8, 2 Chronicles 32:6)
Religious rituals and celebrations took place at the city gates. (2 Kings 23:8, Acts 14:13)
Public and private charity was dispensed at the gates. (Luke 7:12, Acts 3:2)
If you sit in the gates of a city, it means that you are a respected elder and judge. People bring their disagreements and accusations for you to hear, and they expect you to tell them what to do. You are the arbiter of public morality.
For the people of God to possess the gates of their enemies doesn’t necessarily mean to defeat them in battle. It can also mean to have a defining influence over justice, trade, diplomacy, and the mechanisms of government.
We aren’t called to overthrow earthly governments or conquer nations in order to convert them forcibly to Christianity. We are, however, called to exemplify and teach God’s ways to our communities. Wherever we live, we have an obligation to promote God’s standards of justice: Equal weights and measures. Judicial impartiality. Due process, including the right to defend oneself and refute all evidence and witnesses. The sanctity of marriage. The defense of the helpless. Generosity to the poor and landless.
For a variety of reasons, we in the United States are utter failures in that calling, and I hear people offering two mutually exclusive solutions: Rise up in arms and take the country back by force or else retreat to mountain camps to wait for God to rescue us.
But I don’t believe that either of these are real solutions.
I tell you that you are Petros, and on this Petra I will build my ekklesia, and the gates of hell will not overpower them. Matthew 16:19
Most of us live within the gates of Hell even now. Our courts, centers of trade, and seats of government are occupied and controlled by wicked people who have made themselves to be God’s enemies and therefore ours as well.
Yeshua told Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail against his assembled people (ekklesia). Clearly he didn’t mean that we are literally to storm the gates of Hell, and divinely ordained armed insurrection is very rare in the Bible, despite the many wicked tyrants described on its pages.
Likewise, Christian isolationism, in which we hide from the world in our homes and simply pray for better times, isn’t an option for God’s people. We have been commanded to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven and to be a light to all peoples, teaching the way of salvation and obedience to God’s instructions.
The Great Commission doesn’t end with witnessing to strangers on the street or coworkers in the office. It extends to city hall, the governor’s mansion, and Capitol Hill in Washington. It extends to Wall Street and Silicon Valley as well, because all of these are the city gates, and almost all of them are now in the possession of our enemies.
If you love God, you will promote his worship and his kingdom, and if you love your neighbor, you will promote justice at the city gates. As the people of God and subjects of the Kingdom of Heaven, we have an obligation to cultivate influence in the city gates here on earth through righteous means, not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of all the people who live within the domain of those gates.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8 ESV
Micah said that one of God’s greatest desires is for us to walk with him, but what does it mean to walk with God?
The Bible talks about three kinds of “walking” in relationship to God.
Walking in God’s ways or Torah
Walking before God
Walking with God
Walk in God’s Ways
If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them…
Leviticus 26:3 ESV
And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”
1 Kings 3:14 ESV
The idea of walking in God’s ways, commandments, or instructions, is a common theme in the Scriptures, and the meaning isn’t difficult to discern from context: Keep the commandments. Follow God’s instructions.
Walk Before God
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”
Genesis 17:1-2 ESV
That the LORD may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’
1 Kings 2:4 ESV
Abraham and David both “walked before God”, but the meaning of this phrase is somewhat less obvious. From it’s use in other passages (e.g. 1 Kings 9:4, 2 Chronicles 6:16 and 7:17) it is strongly associated with obedience to God, but what really distinguishes Abraham and David from many others is their extraordinary faith in God. They obeyed, but they obeyed because they trusted.
To walk before God is to believe in him above all things, and to believe in him is to obey him.
Walk With God
There are only two men in Scripture described as having walked with God: Enoch and Noah.
Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.
Genesis 5:24 ESV
These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.
Genesis 6:9 ESV
Other than a general sense of righteousness, there is very little in the context of these statements to tell us what it means to walk with God. Fortunately, there are some other passages that mention this concept.
The first half of Leviticus 26 describes the many blessings that God promises Israel if they keep his Torah. Those promises end with this statement:
And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.
Leviticus 26:12-13 ESV
If the people keep the commandments and love God with all of their existence, he will walk with them, whether among the tents in the Wilderness or among the fields and hills of the Promised Land. It’s the same idea expressed by descriptions of God tabernacling (camping/dwelling) among his people.
Because of this they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His sanctuary. And He sitting on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.
Revelation 7:15 LITV
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Revelation 21:3-4 ESV
The great hope of the Gospel and the New Jerusalem of John’s Revelation is the restoration of our relationship with God, that we will once again be able to walk in the Garden with God as Adam did before he disobeyed. That is what is being described in these two verses from Revelation: God coming to live with mankind just as he did at the beginning.
And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
Genesis 3:8 ESV
Walking in Obedience
I began this article with Micah’s statement that God wants us to walk with him. We can see from the preceding verses, Micah 6:6-7, that walking with God is not the same as obedience–keeping the letter of the Law–but it goes hand in hand with justice and mercy, qualities that God loves in his people and that are integral to obedience. You can’t truly obey God without emphasizing justice and mercy.
I can’t help but think of Yeshua’s words to the Pharisees:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
Matthew 23:23 ESV
The distinct impression I get from reading these passages is that walking with God isn’t about obedience or belief or even about faith. It’s about relationship. More than anything, God desires an intimate, personal relationship with his people. He wants to live and walk among us. He wants to spend time with us.
Faith and obedience, however, are prerequisite to that kind of relationship. They are the feet that carry us along in God’s presence, and, without them, God cannot take pleasure in our company. We can’t earn a place in the New Jerusalem through obedience, but there will be obedience and only obedience there. God does not live with rebels, but with his faithful children.
In order to walk with God we must walk before him and walk in his instructions.
And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
(Mark 14:12-16 ESV. See also Matthew 26:17-19 and Luke 22:7-13.)
This passage reads almost like something from a spy novel with undercover agents and secret codes. What was going on? Who was this man they met? And who was the master of the house who was apparently expecting Yeshua and his disciples?
Two theories dominate most commentaries:
Yeshua was giving another demonstration of his divinity. By knowing exactly who would be where in Jerusalem and which house still had a room available at the height of tourist season, the disciples could see that he had knowledge that only one with powerful spiritual connections could have.
Yeshua wanted to eat the Passover in peace with his disciples. He had secretly made arrangements ahead of time and sent only two of his disciples to a clandestine meeting to secure and prepare the Passover so that they wouldn’t draw attention. In this way, they could celebrate Passover without being disturbed by worshipers, miracle seekers, or detractors.
I don’t have any strong feelings against either of those ideas–they both have merit–but I think there is something more going on. Passover involves washing, cooking, and baking, so surely there was more than one man in Jerusalem porting water in preparation for the coming festivities. There must have been thousands! Why did Yeshua single out that characteristic and not another, like the color of his turban or the style of his cloak?
Although these ideas are plausible, and might even be true, I’m going to give you two additional, interconnected, more significant ideas.
In Mark 14, an unnamed servant, who carries a pitcher of water, leads two of the disciples to the master’s house, where they will prepare to share the Passover with their friends.
Why a pitcher of water? Who was the man and how did he know they were coming?
Whenever you see something inexplicably odd in Scripture, it’s a sign that you should stop and take a closer look. I think a good place to start looking is in other places where we see pitchers of water and unnamed servants.
Genesis 24 – Abraham’s servant recognizes God’s intended bride for Isaac because of her pitcher of water.
Numbers 5:11-31 – A clay pitcher is used to mix holy water and dust from holy ground to wash away the curses written against the woman accused of adultery.
John 4:1-43 – The woman at the well abandons her water jar to tell her neighbors about Yeshua.
2 Corinthians 4 – We are clay jars into which the life and death of Yeshua have been poured.
There are others, of course, but I think this sampling is sufficient to learn something significant.
An unnamed servant is often a metaphor of the Holy Spirit, for example in Genesis 24 when Abraham sends his servant to find a bride for Isaac. How does the servant know which of the many young women of the town is the right one to bring back for Isaac? She is the one who is carrying a pitcher of water from which she will give a drink to him and all of his camels. Abraham is God, the Father, while the servant is the Holy Spirit, Isaac is the Son, and Rebekah is Israel, the Messiah’s bride.
So the servant in Mark 14 may be an image of the Holy Spirit, but what does the pitcher of water mean?
Bear with me for a bit.
By calling the servant–and the whole situation–a metaphor, I don’t mean to say that the events of Genesis 24 and Mark 14 didn’t actually happen as described. I mean that real events are often orchestrated by God to be prophetic metaphors of future events or of greater truths. In Mark, the man leads the two disciples to the Master’s house. Who is the Master? As in the Genesis story, He is God, the Father, and the house is the Kingdom of Heaven. No one can know the way to the Father unless the Spirit opens his eyes.
But having one’s eyes opened to the way is not enough. Yeshua said that he is the door and no one comes to the Father except through him. So where is Yeshua in this story? He is there at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end.
Bear with me a while longer, if you will.
Water is often a metaphor of spirit. Depending on the context, it can be the Holy Spirit or the spirit of a person or even of a people.
The water in this story is held in a clay pitcher.
Earthenware vessels take a prominent role in the sacrificial system. If a sin offering (Hebrew: khatat, which literally means just “sin”) is boiled in a clay pot, the pot had to be broken afterward (Leviticus 6:28), much like Yeshua’s body was broken for us as he took our sin upon himself. The clay pot is his body, the sin offering is our sin, and the water is his spirit, which transforms the sin offering into an atonement for sin.
There is another transformation–and another earthenware vessel–described in the trial of the woman suspected of adultery in Numbers 5. The woman undergoes an elaborate ordeal in which curses against her are written on a scroll and washed off into a vessel containing sanctified water and dirt from the holy ground of the Tabernacle. She then drinks the mixture. If she is guilty, she’ll die of a wasting disease. If she is innocent, the curses are erased by the water and dirt from the pitcher, not just physically from the scroll, but also spiritually from her soul.
In this procedure, we are the accused woman and Yeshua is, again, the vessel. His life was poured out on the cross in order to “blot out the handwriting of ordinances that were against us” (Colossians 2:14). We too are clay vessels, and into us, God has poured “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”, as well as his very life and death so that we can, in turn, give his light to the world while standing firm beneath the hardships and persecutions that the world throws against us for the sake of our faith in Yeshua. (2 Corinthians 4)
In John 4, there is yet another woman and an earthenware vessel. Yeshua and his disciples encounter a Samaritan woman drawing water from a well–Why does that sound familiar?–and when she realizes that he is the prophesied Messiah, she abandons her pitcher there at the well. She exchanges her pitcher of mundane water that must be replenished daily in order to continue sustaining life for another, Yeshua, that gives eternal life and never runs out. She runs home to tell all of her friends and family about the man who gave her living water, and they all believe in him too.
What has all this to do with the Passover water-bearer? Here is the meaning:
As in the story of Rebekah, the unnamed servant (the Holy Spirit) has gone to the well in search of a bride for the Master’s son. At the well he finds Peter and John who are two witnesses standing in for the twelve disciples, as well as for the two houses of Israel. They are the Bride of Messiah.
The servant doesn’t speak to them directly or on his own behalf, but carries his water pitcher on his shoulder, lifting up Messiah Yeshua so that they are able to follow him through the throngs that fill the streets for the coming festivities to the Master’s house, to the Kingdom of Heaven and the wedding feast of the Lamb.
God’s graphic prophecies are multidimensional, and if you turn them to look at them from a slightly new angle, you can often see another layer.
The servant is also you and me.
We are the woman at the well who has abandoned her old, empty life at the feet our Messiah and exchanged it for another, full of eternal life in Him. Our task, our Great Commission, is to lift Yeshua up high, like she did, so that all those who are called can see him in us. The world must be able to watch us walk among the world’s billions and see the life and death of Yeshua in our every word and deed. Our walk must be righteous to match the innocence which has been imputed to us by his shed blood, so that those who are ready and seeking him will find him.
The worthy servant of God goes out into the world with the Spirit and the Word to guide the broken, the sorrowful, the meek, and the hungry to the freedom from sin and death that is only found in our Passover lamb, Yeshua.
So, go, and live worthy lives that “draw all men unto” Him (John 12:32) and “be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) to tell others of the living water that has redeemed and animated us.
In the Scriptures, unnamed servants are often symbolic of God’s Spirit. Although we know Abraham’s senior servant was Eliezer, he is not named in the story of the betrothal of Rebekah and Isaac, in which he takes a central role.
Abraham, whose name means “Father,” charged his Servant with the task of finding a wife for his son, Isaac. When he arrived at the well of Haran, he prayed that God would reveal the right woman by way of a test of selflessness. When Rebekah passed the test, she was given gifts and asked to accompany the servant back to Canaan to be with her new husband.
This story is an image of the Messiah and his Bride. Abraham represents God, the Father. He sends the Spirit into the world to find those who are qualified to be his people. When the Spirit has identified God’s people from among all the others at the well, he gives them an extravagant gift and asks if they will accompany him to the Messiah. The bride price was paid before the bride had even been asked. It was a down-payment, an “earnest,” of the covenant that was promised. (2 Cor 1:22, 2 Cor 5:5, Eph 1:13-14) The bride of the Messiah leaves the world of her own free will and follows the Spirit to the Messiah in the Promised Land, sight unseen. She joins the Messiah in faith that he is who he claims to be and has the power to deliver on his promises.
Important additional points to ponder:
Not everyone who is called to the well is chosen. There were many women in Canaan, more along the road, and even others at the well.
The defining characteristic of God’s people is selflessness, a willingness to put oneself out for the benefit of others.
Rebekah (aka the Bride of Christ or the Congregation of Israel) was not kidnapped in the middle of the night, but was asked to leave suddenly without time to make extensive preparations or say long goodbyes.
The Bride joins the Messiah in the Promised Land for Sukkot (aka the Feast of Tabernacles/Tents). How much do you want to bet that Isaac’s marriage was on the anniversary of Sukkot 400 years in advance?
Abraham married three times, had at least eight children, traveled the known world, led an army, and accumulated fantastic wealth. He interacted with kings as an equal and was a personal friend of the Creator of heaven and earth. He lived a long and eventful life and half the world calls him father today.
Genesis has something very curious to say about what he did with all that he had acquired.
Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country.
If Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac, what gifts could he have given to his other sons?
There are three ways to understand this:
Abraham gave gifts to his other sons and then bequeathed all that remained to Isaac. This is possible, but based on the order of the statements, I don’t think this is what is intended.
Rashi wrote that these gifts might be the things that he had acquired from Pharaoh and Abimelech after the misunderstandings over Sarah. Abraham didn’t want to be associated with them, so didn’t really consider them his. For this to be true, he would have had to keep two completely different sets of books, including segregated flocks and servants, for more than 75 years with no confusion between the two. Why wouldn’t he have just given them away during that time? This explanation also seems unlikely to me.
“All he had” didn’t include tangible things at all, but spiritual things. This, I believe, is the correct answer.
Everything belongs to God. Whatever we have is only held in trust for the day God requires it from us. “I own the cattle on a thousand hills,” God says. But Abraham did have a set of possessions that was completely his. God could never recall these things, could never demand that anyone to whom He has given them, return them:
These are things that neither God nor man nor death can ever take from you. You can’t touch them or put them in a bank, but once yours, they are yours forever. Not only that, but you can share them. You can give them away as much as you want without ever running out. They can’t be inflated, deflated, or out of stock. When you die, your relationship with the Father, your knowledge of His character, and the wisdom of His righteousness are the only things that will still belong to you. Best of all, you can pass them on to your children.
I’m sure Abraham imparted wisdom and knowledge to his other sons–whether or not they accepted these gifts–but the Covenant and associated promises he only gave to Isaac. Not because he didn’t want to give them to all of his sons–he asked God as much when he had to send Ishmael away–but because Isaac was part of God’s redemption plan, while Zimran, Jokshan, et al, weren’t. The Covenant was Abraham’s single most important possession. It was only because of the Covenant, that he received God’s promises, that he learned of God’s character, and that he adopted the wisdom of God’s righteousness. The Covenant was truly all that Abraham had and he gave it to Isaac long before he died.
I would like to be able to pass on some material goods to my son when I die, but what I really want him to take from me is a covenant relationship with our Heavenly Father. When I die, when my son dies, when we are all dead and turned to dust, Abraham’s Covenant is the only thing we will still possess. It ensures our eternal salvation, our resurrection and reunion with our Creator. It is the most important thing in the world that a father could give to his son.
It’s important to teach our children to save, to invest, and to live productive lives. But it is infinitely more important to teach them to be a friend and a son of God and a productive citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. As you gather with family and friends this week, remember to thank God for the great gift He promised us through Abraham and delivered to us through Yeshua. Especially remember to let your children see your gratitude.
Anyone who wants to be President badly enough to make it happen is almost certainly unqualified for the job.
None of the greatest men of God in Scripture sought power for themselves. Consider these highlights from the lives of Abraham, Moses, Gideon, and David, all undoubtedly great leaders.
Abraham was an extremely wealthy man, a king in his own right. Everything he did prospered, yet he was never greedy, never took power where he didn’t already have authority, never engaged in military conquest. When he went to war against the four Mesopotamian kings to rescue his nephew Lot, he refused any reward from the five Canaanite kings whose people he also saved.
But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.” (Genesis 14:22-24 ESV)
After his wife Sarah died, he asked Ephron, a Hittite prince, to sell him a cave as a burial place. During the negotiations The Hittites called Abraham “lord” and “a mighty prince,” and Ephron offered to give him the cave for nothing. He bowed to all the people and paid more than the market value.
Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. And he said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “But if you will, hear me: I give the price of the field. Accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” (Genesis 23:12-13 ESV)
Adopted into the house of Pharaoh, Moses actively tried to protect his people, the Hebrews, from oppression, not as a prince of Egypt, but as a fellow Hebrew.
When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:13-14a ESV)
After forty years of exile in the land of Midian, God called Moses to confront Pharaoh, but he resisted. He had no desire to engage in national politics or to be the leader of his people.
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11 ESV)
But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10 ESV)
Even after many years as the reluctant leader of Israel, he remained a selfless and humble man.
Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. (Numbers 12:3 ESV)
And Moses was very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, and I have not harmed one of them.” …And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD.” And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. (Numbers 16:15,28-31 ESV)
When the Midianites continually raided the land of Israel, Gideon, also known as Jerubbaal, did all he could just to protect his own family’s livelihood. Leading an army was the furthest thing from his mind when God sent an angel to call him to do just that.
And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.” And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” (Judges 6:12-16 ESV)
And when the war was over, Gideon had won a lasting peace against Midian and settled inter-tribal disputes, Israel asked him to rule over them as king. Instead, he gave them a new religion (for what it was worth) and returned to his own home.
Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you.” …So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon. Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. (Judges 8:22-23,28-29 ESV)
When the prophet Samuel anointed David to be the new King of Israel, instead of declaring himself and forming an army, David became the servant, personal musician, and right-hand man of the King Saul who had been anointed before him. He had a number of opportunities to seize power, but he always refrained.
He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed.” So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way. (1 Samuel 24:6-7 ESV)
Years later when his son Absolom rebelled and David was forced to flee Jerusalem, he humbly accepted severe criticism from a man of Saul’s house, allowing that the man might even be right.
When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. And Shimei said as he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! The LORD has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the LORD has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.” Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?'” And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. It may be that the LORD will look on the wrong done to me, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing today.” (2 Samuel 16:5-12 ESV)
When the war was over and Absolom dead, that same man was the first to greet David on his return and begged his forgiveness. His advisor Abishai urged David to have the man killed, but David refused.
Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the LORD’s anointed?” But David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be as an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” And the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king gave him his oath. (2 Samuel 19:21-23 ESV)
Susceptibility to political ambition seems to be the greatest weakness of representative democracy. We choose our leaders by how well they appeal to our vanity and greed instead of how well they appeal to God’s Law and mercy.
I don’t have a better suggestion. I don’t have any ideas for fixing a broken political system because I am convinced that no political system can be fixed, that whether we are a democracy or a monarchy has almost no impact on whether we are cursed with great leaders or with power hungry tyrants.
Mohandas Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” However leaders are chosen in any nation and in any political system, history indicates that we almost always get the leaders we deserve. If we want better leaders, we must become a better people. If we want leaders like David and Moses, we must become like David and Moses ourselves, not seeking after power for our own purposes, but able and willing to wield power when necessary on behalf of our families, communities, and nations. We must obey God’s Law, hear his voice, and act fearlessly when we are called.
Nominal leaders are superfluous and incidental in a nation of Davids. As Gideon said, “The LORD will rule over you.”
Genesis 23:2 And Sarah died in Kiriatharba – the same is Hebron – in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.
This is such a sad verse. Abraham and Sarah had been together for more than one hundred years. Can you even imagine that? We all cheer at golden anniversaries and gasp at diamond, but just think of living, working, and loving with someone for one hundred years! Abraham had experienced all of these things with Sarah:
Decades of childlessness
Miraculous conception and birth
Actual fire and brimstone
Personal visits from God!
And then she was gone.
Scripture doesn’t have much to say about Abraham after the death of Sarah. Nothing more of significance happens in his life. He hadn’t done anything wrong. He didn’t suddenly become a failure. In fact he remarried and had six more sons and probably as many daughters. All of those sons went on to be the patriarchs of their own tribes. But compared to what he had been, the “Friend of God”, all of this pales. The entire story of the rest of Abraham’s life is wrapped up in a single character in the last word in the Hebrew text of Genesis 23:2, the little kaph.
Read that last sentence again:
Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.
Why does Moses say “mourn” and “weep”? Wouldn’t one of those words be enough? Whenever Scripture appears to repeat itself, there is a reason, and there are a couple of reasons in this case.
First, mourning and weeping in this context are two different things. “Mourning” is a ritual frequently involving sackcloth, ashes, and hair pulling. Sometimes there are hired mourners who might not have even known the deceased. They’re hired to put on an emotional show. (There’s a cultural disconnect here for me. I don’t understand how the practice of hiring official mourners honors the dead. Fortunately, I don’t have to understand it. I just have to acknowledge that other people understand it, and then move on.) This is probably what Abraham did. He put on a good show of wailing and tearing and maybe hired some locals to join in.
Weeping, on the other hand, is a genuine outpouring of emotion. Sarah had been a huge part of Abraham’s entire life, and he must have been terribly heartbroken at her death.
There is something else going on here, though. The word Hebrew word for weep is bakah. It has only three letters: bet-kaph-heh. The really unusual thing is that the middle letter, kaph, is written smaller than usual. Remember that nothing in the Torah is superfluous; there is a reason for every jot and tittle. Some of the Jewish sages believed that this little kaph tells us that Abraham only wept a little: the grief in his heart was infinite, but in his humility he didn’t want to make a big show of it. However, this interpretation seems to be at odds with the mourning of only a few words earlier. The sages have passed down a lot of wisdom, but it appears to me that they were wrong in this case. The little kaph does not mean that Abraham didn’t cry very much. It actually tells us about the depth of his sorrow.
Take a look at the meanings behind the three letters in bakah.
Bet = house = nation, descendants, kingdom Kaph = hand = strength, control, pride Heh = window = revelation, wisdom, prophecy
In the death of Sarah Abraham saw much more than the loss of his lifelong companion. He saw the diminution of his role in God’s plan. Isaac, the child or promise, was grown into a man. The great prophecy of the Lamb of Providence who would take away the sins of the world had been given at Mount Moriah. Abraham’s days at the center of God’s work were done, and it was time to move on. He saw all this in Sarah’s passing. Moses’ writing of the little kaph certainly tells of Abraham’s humility, but not through subdued weeping. Even in his humility, Abraham was grand. He showed us what true humility means through his willingness to reduce his active role (the hand) in the ongoing revelation (the window) of God’s house (the house). He acknowledge that he was nothing but a tool in God’s hand. His purpose having been served, he stepped back from a spectacular life and allowed Isaac to take center stage.
After he buried Sarah, instead of continuing to vie with kings and to claim the Promised Land for future generations, he settled down to live a relatively mundane life. He remarried, had children, grew old, and died. Abraham was always a man of great faith, but in the end, he was still just a man with hopes and disappointments, joys and sorrows.