Suitable bride

God blessed Abraham and everything he touched, but as he approached death in his old age, something weighed heavily on his mind.

He called for his most trusted servant and said, “Promise me in the presence of God that you’ll not choose a wife for my son here in Canaan. Instead, find her from among my kinsmen in my country.”

“What if she refuses to come back with me,” the servant said. “Will I have to bring Isaac to her?”

“No,” Abraham said. “It’s important he never goes back to my old country. God himself led me out of my father’s house, out from my birthplace, and he promised that the land of Canaan would belong to my family.”

He continued, “An angel from God will prepare the way for you and make your mission a success. If the maiden isn’t willing to come back with you, I release you from your promise. Whatever happens, don’t take my son back to my old country.”

Abraham’s servant promised to do what his master said. He prepared ten camels, packed up an assortment of excellent gifts from his master’s store, and set out for the city of Nahor.

As evening approached, Abraham’s servant had the camels kneel by a well on the outskirts of town. “O God of Abraham,” he said, “give me success today and bestow favor upon my master. As the daughters of the city come to draw water, I’ll say, ‘Please offer me a drink from your vessel.’ If one says, ‘Have a drink, and I’ll give your camels a drink, too,’ let her be the appointed one for Isaac.”

Before he had finished praying, Rebekah, granddaughter of Abraham’s brother, Nahor, approached with a water pot mounted on her shoulder. She was a beautiful virgin.

After she filled her pot, the servant said, “Please let me take a sip from your vessel.”

“Drink, master,” she replied and lowered the pot for him to drink. Then she said, “I’ll water your camels as well.” She made quick work of the watering troughs, pouring water into each for the camels.

The servant stood in stunned silence, assessing whether or not God had so quickly made way for the promise he had made to his master.

Inspiration: Genesis 24

God provides

One day, God dealt Abraham an untenable command. “Take Isaac, whom you love, and offer him as a human sacrifice on a mountain I’ll show you in Moriah.”

Abraham got up early from a restless night’s sleep and woke his son. He saddled a donkey and cut up some wood for a burnt offering. Taking a couple of servants with him, Abraham and his son headed north for Moriah. After three days of travel, he looked out and saw the place God had designated for the altar.

“Stay here with the donkey and supplies,” Abraham told his servants. “Isaac and I will go up, worship, and then return.” Abraham gave the wood to his son, while he carried the lighted firepot and the knife. They walked together up the steep hill to the place of worship.

“Father,” Isaac called out as they walked along. “We have fire and wood, but where is the lamb for our offering?”

“God himself will bring the lamb, son,” Abraham said, a lump welling in his throat. They continued to walk on together. “God always provides for the faithful.”

When they reached the right spot, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood accordingly. Next, he bound his son and lifted him up onto the platform.

Abraham brought the sharp knife close to the boy’s throat for a quick, clean cut, and with tears searing his face, an angel from God called out from the sky. “Abraham!”

Abraham halted, the knife tremoring in his hand. “Here I am,” he ejaculated.

“Don’t harm the boy in any way,” he answered. “I know now that you fear God since you’ve withheld nothing you treasure.”

Abraham cut the cords that bound his son and wiped the tears from his bloodshot eyes. He looked up and spotted a ram, its horns tangled in a thicket. Taking the animal, he put it onto the woodpile in place of his son and offered it up as a sacrifice to God.

For the remainder of the time they worshiped on the mountain, and neither Abraham nor Isaac spoke. Amidst the smoke and silence, the angel called out. “God promises by his own name that because you’ve been obedient and not withheld your treasure from me, I will absolutely bless you and make your family as numerous as the stars in the sky. They will conquer their enemies, and by them, all nations will be blessed.”

Abraham and his beloved son returned to the servants who were camping below, unaware of the profound experience both men of God received. In the morning they got up and traveled down to Beersheba.

Abraham settled there, and word reached him that his brother Nahor became the father of eight sons, of whom, Bethuel became the father of a little girl named Rebekah.

Inspiration: Genesis 22

Ishmael’s bio

When Abraham was a hundred years old, Sarah bore him a son. They named him “Isaac,” He Laughs, remembering God’s promise.

“God made me laugh,” Sarah exclaimed with joy, “and everyone who hears our story will laugh too.”

Abraham circumcised Isaac at eight days old, and on the day he was weaned, Abraham hosted an elaborate feast. Sarah saw Ishmael poking fun at little Isaac at the celebration, so she told her husband, “Get this slave woman and her son out of our lives. That child will never share in Isaac’s blessing.”

This made Abraham sad because he loved his son Ishmael.

God said, “Don’t worry, Abraham. Do whatever Sarah says, because it will be through Isaac that your name will be carried. But because Ishmael is your son, I’ll make a nation through him, too.”

Abraham got up early the next morning, packed bread and water, and sent Hagar and Ishmael away. They wandered in the wild deserts of Beersheba, but they soon ran out of water.

Hagar placed a dehydrated Ishmael under a shade tree to die of thirst. She put some distance between herself and her son, so she didn’t have to watch him suffer, and she wept in grief.

God heard Ishmael moaning through a parched throat for water, and an angel spoke to Hagar. “What’s wrong, Hagar?” the angel asked. “Don’t worry about your son, because God hears him. Go and lift him from the ground. I’ll make him a great nation.”

God led her to a well of water. She ran over, filled the waterskin, and brought it to her son to drink.

God remained near as the boy grew into a man. He was an expert bowman and lived in the wilderness of Paran. Hagar found him a wife from Egypt, and Ishmael had twelve sons, who became twelve tribal kings. Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years.

Inspiration: Genesis 21, 25

Negotiating terms

The visitors finished the food that had been prepared by their gracious host and then stood to leave Mamre Oaks. Gazing out over the distant waters toward the fertile plain of Sodom, the Master asked, “Should I hide what I’m about to do from my chosen one, Abraham?”

The sun began its early evening descent, and a warm breeze wafted through the encampment.

“You’ll be a great and mighty nation,” the Master said, his eyes meeting Abraham’s. “Every nation will be blessed because of you. I’ve chosen you to teach your children and their children to keep firmly on the way, to walk justly and uprightly. This is the way of the promise.”

The Master turned again toward Sodom. “Sodom and Gomorrah have brought their wickedness to new levels. I’m going down to see just how bad it has become.”

The two men traveling with the Master began their way toward Sodom, but Abraham stood on the path, the words of the promise echoing in his ears. The man in shining robes motioned for his company to go on ahead.

Abraham asked, “Master, will you destroy the good with the bad? What if you find fifty good people in Sodom. Will you still destroy the entire city? In other words, would the Judge of all the world do what’s unjust?”

The Master said, “If there are fifty good people in Sodom, I’ll spare everyone.”

Abraham then asked, “Who am I to press the issue, but what if you only find forty-five good people? Will you still spare the whole city?”

The Master answered, “For forty-five, I’ll spare both Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Abraham continued, “Forgive me, but what if there are only thirty good people in Sodom? What then?”

The Master said plainly, “I won’t destroy the city if there are thirty good people living there.”

Again, Abraham spoke. “What if you find twenty?”

“Then I’ll spare the city.”

“Ten?”

The Master put a hand upon Abraham’s shoulder and smiled. “For the sake of ten good people, I will spare the entire city.” Then he set out for Sodom.

Abraham went into his tent and attempted sleep.

Inspiration: Genesis 18

Promise confirmed

Abraham reclined one afternoon at the entrance of his tent at Mamre Oaks when he saw three men approaching, all adorned with bright robes. Running to them, he knelt humbly at their feet.

“Master,” Abraham said, addressing the man standing between the others. “Let me bring water for your feet and bread for you to snack on. Relax under my shade tree before moving on. I’m at your service.”

The men nodded.

Abraham called Sarah. “Quick, make some cakes with the good flour.” Then he ran over to his stockyard, brought out a tender calf, and handed it over to be slaughtered and roast on the spit.

He served succulent meats and cakes with butter and milk, and he stood at the ready, keeping their wine goblets full as they feasted under the shade tree.

“Where’s Sarah?” one of the men asked, out of the blue.

Abraham motioned to the tent. “Inside,” he said, realizing his guests knew him and his family.

“I’ll be back through this way when the time is right,” the man answered, “and Sarah will have a son.”

Hearing her name, Sarah put her ear closer to the entrance of the tent, and she laughed under her breath. Imagine an old bag like me having a child, she thought.

The Master said to Abraham, “Why’d your wife laugh? Is anything too difficult for the Master?”

Abraham’s face went ashen. They were reading his wife’s thoughts, which could only mean one thing. He was in the presence of heavenly beings on a mission to confirm the way of God’s reverberating promise.

“When the time is right, I’ll return. Your wife will have a child,” he said. Then with a glint in his eye, he added, “and I’ll have the last laugh.”

Sarah came out of the tent and blurted, “I didn’t laugh.” She was noticeably shaking with fear.

With a friendly smile, the Master said, “Yes, you did.” And the case was closed.

Inspiration: Genesis 18

Eternal contract

When Abram was nearly a hundred years old, God appeared and said, “I’m God Almighty. Walk before me and be perfect, and I’ll promise you a kingdom of abundance.”

Abram fell on his face.

God continued, “Here’s the promise: I’m making you the father of many nations. Your name is now changed to “Abraham,” Father Of Nations. Kings and priests will come from you. This promise is established forever through every generation. I’ll give you and your offspring this foreign land, all of Canaan forever, and I will be their God.”

Abraham remained flat on the ground with his forehead jammed into the dirt.

“As for you and your side of the promise,” God said, “you and every male among you, through every generation, will have their foreskin removed. This is the sign of our contract. When each boy is eight days old, including slaves born in your house or any other male purchased with money, they will be circumcised. Why? This is a formal contract, and for it to be irrevocable, it must cut into the most intimate part of the flesh. Anyone who has not had his foreskin cut off will himself be cut off from your people because he will have broken the promise.”

Abraham flinched uncomfortably as the reality of the command set in.

“As for Sarai,” God continued, “she is now Sarah, and she will give you a son. I will bless her, and nations and kings will issue from her womb.”

Abraham laughed and muttered, “We’re too old to have children.” Then he lifted his head toward heaven. “Bring Ishmael into the blessing. He’s my son.”

God answered, “Sarah will bear you a son next year, and you’ll call him Isaac. Through him, my eternal contract will be secured and fulfilled, not with Ishmael. As for Ismael, I will bless him for your sake and give him a large family. He will be a great nation, the father of twelve princes.”

Abraham took his son Ishmael and all the male slaves born or purchased in his house, and he cut off their foreskins. Then he had Eliezer cut off his master’s foreskin.

Ishmael was thirteen years old when his foreskin was removed.

Inspiration: Genesis 17

God’s promise

After Abram’s conquest and victory over the king of Elam, he stirred sleeplessly in the night, fearing retaliation.

“Don’t be frightened, Abram.” God appeared in a vision one night. “I’m your protection, and great will be your reward.”

Abram remembered the promise God had made when he called him out of Haran, so he answered, “But what will you give me? I’m childless, and my legacy is my adopted son and servant Eliezer.”

God’s message was unmistakable. “Eliezer won’t be your heir. Your own flesh and blood will pave the way of my promise.”

God led Abram outside of his tent and said, “Count the stars if you can. Your sons and daughters will be as many.”

Abram mustered renewed faith in the promise, and for that, God considered him righteous.

“I’m God. I took your father from Ur and took you from Haran to give you everything as far as the eye can see.”

Abram stammered. “Help me believe.”

“We’ll make a pact,” was God’s reply. “Bring me a heifer, a female goat, and a ram, all of them three years old. Also bring a turtledove and a pigeon.”

Abram did as he was told, cut them in half, and stacked each piece onto the other. The birds he left whole. Abram guarded the sign of God’s promise against the birds of prey circling overhead, shooing them from the pyre until, around sunset, he dozed off.

Abram descended into a terrifying nightmare. The circling vultures turned into the captors of his future offspring, and he saw them being carried off to a strange land for four hundred years.

“Your descendants will be slaves, poorly treated and beaten down,” God said in the dream, “but I will punish the nation responsible. In the end, they will know my might, and they will inherit great riches.” Then He said, “As for you, you’ll die at a ripe old age and will be buried in peace.”

Abram’s night terrors subsided, and his breathing calmed. God appeared once more and said, “Your offspring will come back here and take the land in the fourth generation, for at that time the Amorites will have come to ruin because of their evil practices.”

The sky went black, and a smoking firepot and a lighted torch passed between the carcasses. God said, “I give this land to your blood relations, from the Nile all the way to the Euphrates.” The pyre, the sign of God’s promise, was ignited, the animal flesh burned up in the holy fire.

As dawn approached, the presence of God lingered, and the fire’s embers smoldered into fine dust.

Inspiration: Genesis 15

Sea sick

Noah let fly a raven through an access hatch, but the waters continued to swell for another five months. Finding no place to land, it returned.

Seven months later, the large vessel and its living cargo lodged itself in a cleft on Mount Ararat, and for three months the waters continued to drain outward into the seas.

After spending about a year on the boat, Noah released a dove, but it too returned. He rereleased the dove seven days later, this time returning with an olive leaf in its beak. After another seven days, he released the dove for the third time. Noah never saw the dove again.

Noah and his family decided it was safe to disembark. They had lived in the floating house for a year and two months, and by that time, their claustrophobia was full blown.

Noah gathered the seven pairs of split-hooved animals, as well as the seven pairs of birds. Instead of using them for clothing or some other resource, he built an altar and incinerated them as a sacrifice.

This gesture so pleased God that he said, “I’ll never again curse the earth or destroy all creatures because of humankind. The human heart is hell-bent from an early age and needs saving. May the seasons endure. I’ll provide a way of promise, hope, and salvation.”

Then God made a new promise between himself and humankind. “Multiply yourselves and populate the whole earth. From this day, the animal kingdom will fear you, for they are now yours for food. I gave Adam and Eve the gardens; I now provide you with everything. However, don’t eat the blood of animals. Blood is life. For that matter, whoever causes human bloodshed will pay with his blood. I have encoded My image in human blood.”

Then God ordained a sign of his promise. “Whenever you see a rainbow,” he said, “remember that I’ll never again destroy the earth because of human evil.”

Inspiration: Genesis 7-9