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The Shadow of Christ: Isaac and Rebekah – a sermon

Wednesday February 21
Sermon: The Shadow of Christ: Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 24)
Text: Genesis 24:15
Theme: Isaac and Rebekah as type of Jesus and his Church
Lections: Genesis 24:5-8, 10-20, 26-27; Psalm 114 (8); 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 16:14-16

Genesis 24:5-8, 10-20, 26-27
5 The servant said to [Abraham], “Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” 6Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. 7The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. 8But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” …
10 Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor. 11And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water. 12And he said, “O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. 13Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”
15 Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. 16The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. 17Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” 18She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. 19When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” 20So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. …
26 The man bowed his head and worshiped the LORD 27and said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.”

Psalm 114 (8)
[The LORD] turns the rock into a pool of water,
the flint into a spring of water.

1 When Israel went out from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
2 Judah became his sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.

3 The sea looked and fled;
Jordan turned back.
4 The mountains skipped like rams,
the hills like lambs.

5 What ails you, O sea, that you flee?
O Jordan, that you turn back?
6 O mountains, that you skip like rams?
O hills, like lambs?

7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the LORD,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8 who turns the rock into a pool of water,
the flint into a spring of water.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen.

[The LORD] turns the rock into a pool of water,
the flint into a spring of water.

1 Peter 3:18-22
8 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Mark 16:14-16
14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. Genesis 24:15

I was once asked, “If I could go back in time and witness anything I wanted, to just being a fly on a wall, what would I choose?” The person who asked me this question was a member in one of my former congregations. I think he expected me to pick one of the big events in the Bible, like creation, the crossing of the Red Sea, the resurrection of Jesus, or Pentecost Day. What I picked, what I always pick when asked this question, is the Bible study Jesus gave to the two Emmaus Road disciples where our Lord went through the entire Old Testament and “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). It is passages like this one that teach us that Jesus is found everywhere in the Old Testament. If I could have sat in on that study, I might never leave the Old Testament in selecting my sermon texts.

In the Modern Era of Old Testament interpretation, we have gone away from how Jesus read the Bible. Unless something is explicitly spelled out as referring to Jesus, Modern Era exegetical style simply does not find him. It is only because of the New Testament that we find the resurrection of Jesus in the story of Jonah or the eternal nature of Jesus in the story of Melchizedek (Matthew 12:40; Hebrews 5-7). If not for such New Testament teachings, the Modern style of Bible reading would never find Jesus in those stories. Using Modern Era Bible interpretation style, our Old Testament lesson is only about how Isaac and Rebekah met. Anything else, we are assured, is simply reading into the text a meaning that isn’t there.

Praise Jesus that such approaches are changing and exegetes today are returning to Bible interpretation using older tools, the tools of Jesus, the Apostles, and the Church Fathers, without forgetting the tools that have developed in subsequent centuries. Those early tools are what we will be using throughout our Wednesday Lenten series to examine certain Old Testament stories and ask how they foreshadowed our Lord and the New Testament Age. Tonight’s story comes from Genesis 24, which is on page 18 of your pew Bible, in case you want to follow along.

First, I should say that the events recorded in this chapter really happened. That they point to greater realities does not mean that the everyday events recorded are somehow a myth or legend. There really were men named Abraham, Isaac, and Eliezer, and there really was a woman named Rebekah. But why the story of how Isaac and Rebekah became husband and wife is far more than an example of a love story. God wants us to look deeper.

Isaac was the only son of Sarah, the wife of Abraham. Abraham had other children, the most famous being Ishmael who was Hagar’s boy. Our story picks up shortly after Sarah dies. In it, Abraham secures a wife for Isaac. The importance of this story is underscored by the fact that it is basically told twice in the chapter, once as events that are happening and once as events that are described by Abraham’s servant.

Abraham calls his servant, probably his long-time servant Eliezer (Genesis 15:2), and commissions him to go back to his homeland and find a wife for Isaac from among his relatives. Eliezer goes, finds Rebekah, the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor, and arranges to take her back to become the wife of Isaac. They return to Canaan, where the two are married. Now, let us unpack the story a bit.

As the story begins, Abraham is determined to find a wife for Isaac. This is vital because the promise of the Messiah, first issued to Eve, was to be carried through Isaac (Genesis 3:15; 17:15-21). This is the primary meaning of the “covenant” we read so much about in the Old Testament and not some piece of dirt in the Middle East. No wife for Isaac would mean no descendants, which would break the covenant and mean no Messiah. The meaning behind Abraham requiring Eliezer to put his hand under the thigh of Abraham to swear the oath, then, is that Eliezer is swearing by Abraham’s descendant, Jesus (Genesis 24:2). Jesus was still in the loins of Abraham, so to speak. This is the first connection to Jesus in the story.

Next we see that Abraham is wealthy … very wealthy, and that all of his possessions are to be the possessions of Isaac. This reminds us of God the Father and our Lord Jesus. Jesus is the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, just as Isaac is the only-begotten son of Abraham through his wife Sarah. We are reminded of passages like when Jesus said, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand” (John 3:35).

If Abraham is representing God the Father in this story, then Isaac is representing Jesus. If Isaac is representing Jesus, then the bride of Isaac represents the bride of Jesus, that is, the Church (Matthew 22:1-10; Revelation 19:7). This comparison runs through the whole story.

The servant is sent back to Mesopotamia to search for and find a wife. He is to bring her back to Canaan, that is, the Promised Land. Abraham is quite clear; Isaac is not to move back to Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia can be thought of as representing the world and the sending of the servant representing the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). In the Great Commission we are charged with going into all the world with the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. Eleizer then represents all who go forth with the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus searching for the bride of Christ, that is, searching for converts. In general, we think of ministers of the word, but the truth is, all Christians have this Great Commission.

Eleizer brings with himself all sorts of rich presents (Genesis 24:10). So do all who share the Gospel. Such Gospel sharers bring the riches of God to their hearers. These are gifts of pure grace, which are given to the bride. These gifts include, of course, God’s word and sacraments, which convey the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. But, as Eleizer is commanded to bring the bride to Isaac, so we are to be brought to Christ. We are not to remain in a worldly condition. We are not to conform to this world but to be transformed into the image of our groom, Jesus (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18).

As the story moves on, Eleizer arrives in Mesopotamia and rests near a spring where he again prays for success. This underscores the idea that all undertakings of ours should be supported by prayer, especially that of sharing the Gospel. There is something else also. Eleizer is by a spring, and that is where he meets Rebekah. This source of water reminds us of baptism, where we meet our groom, Christ. So the Ethiopian, upon seeing some water, asked to be baptized (Acts 8:27-38). You might say that baptism is our Lord’s wedding proposal.

The messenger of the Gospel, that is, the one who brings the marriage proposal, receives a positive response and the servant returns with Isaac’s bride to the Promised Land. The Promised Land represents heaven (Hebrews 11:13-16). That is its primary symbolic meaning in the Bible. The Church is our way-station and so provides a foretaste of heaven, but when we leave this fallen world at the moment of our death, we enter the eternal Promised Land to live with our Divine Groom, Jesus.

We have time for just one more comparison. The beauty of Rebekah receives special note in the story (Genesis 24:16). This reminds us of how God sees us, the Bride of Christ. The book most often used for this comparison is the Song of Solomon. There the groom says of the bride, “Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves” (Song of Solomon 1:15). The Bride, that is, the Church, responds by saying of the Groom, “As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste” (Song of Solomon 2:3).

We, who are the bride of Christ, are indeed beautiful in his sight, as beautiful as Rebekah. It is a beauty that is a reflection of the love our Heavenly Groom has for us, as the moon reflects the sun. We, in turn, adore our Heavenly Groom and follow him to that distant land, our promised land, heaven. There we will dine on his sweet fruit forever, the fruit of his love. Amen.

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