God’s Fidelity to Isaac

The Lord said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger’” (Gen. 25:23).  

- Genesis 25:19–23

The record of Ishmael’s offspring concludes the first half of Genesis 25. Here we see clearly how the Lord has been true to His promises to Abraham and Hagar. As God predicted in 16:7-12, 17:20, and 21:13, the Egyptian’s son fathered twelve princes who grew into a great nation settling “over against all his kinsmen” (25:12-18).

 However, as Moses begins the “generations of Isaac” in today’s passage, we find the Creator’s pledge to multiply the promised heir (17:15-19) as yet unfulfilled. Undoubtedly, the Abrahamic promises of salvation (life, land, and descendants, 12:1-3) rest upon Isaac’s shoulders. Moses again mentions that Abraham fathered Isaac (25:19) to remind us that he is the covenant heir. But Rebekah is barren; no son is apparently forthcoming for Isaac (v. 21a).

Isaac does what all believers must do when facing a desperate situation: he prays to his Father in heaven. His prayer is remarkable both for its intensity and duration. The Hebrew for Isaac’s intercession (‘athar) is the same word Pharaoh uses when he begs Moses to entreat Yahweh to stop sending the plagues to Egypt (Ex. 8:8). Isaac also likely offered costly sacrifices as he prayed since Zephaniah 3:10 uses a related noun to speak of those who will bring offerings to the Lord. Moreover, Isaac did not stop praying when Rebekah’s womb was not immediately opened. He continued on his knees for twenty years before his wife conceived (Gen. 25:20, 26b).

Rebekah’s piety is also evident during her pregnancy. The twins growing within her “struggled,” or literally, “smashed together,” causing her great discomfort. She prays to the Lord in order to find out why this is happening to her (v. 22). Like other believers, Rebekah knows “it is a great relief to the mind to spread our case before the Lord, and ask counsel at his mouth,” as Matthew Henry comments.

The answer God gives Rebekah was likely bewildering to her at first, for while affirming the promise of many offspring through her sons, it also favors the younger above the elder (v. 23). Clearly, he is chosen in a way his older brother is not, and we will explore the ramifications of this truth in the coming weeks.

Coram Deo

It can be easy for us to get discouraged when we have prayed for years and it seems that God has not intervened in our situation. We can be tempted to give up interceding for that sick person or wayward friend when things do not improve. But the example of Isaac and Rebekah shows us that we must persevere in earnest prayer and not lose heart. Stay on your knees for the salvation of souls and other needs, for the Lord works in prayer even when we cannot yet see it.

Passages for Further Study

Gen. 20:17–18
Est. 4
Luke 6:12; 18:1–8
Heb. 7:22–25

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