Old Abraham: Conviction and Compromise, Part 2

Jun 21, 2019 10:50 AM

Elieazar and Rebekah

Gustave Dore'

In yesterday’s post we saw how Abraham, purchasing a burial plot in land which God had bestowed on him through a promise, seemed to be making a concession in opposition to his faith. It reality it was not a capitulation at all, but a confirmation of his hope in the promise of God along with an acknowledgement that others still held legal title and the land was his in which to dwell but not yet to possess. Even so today God’s children chosen in Christ Jesus must live in a world that does not recognize their eternal privilege, yet are instructed to submit to lawful authority and live peaceable and quiet lives in testimony of their faith.

There comes a time, however, when a situational compromise is impossible without compromising faith and conscience. Sometimes we simply must make a stand and trust God for the results.

Genesis 24: Abraham seeks a bride for Isaac

Once again, aging Abraham had a problem. His son Isaac was 40 years old and still a bachelor—not good if this is the seed through whom a great nation would spring.

Some have blamed that on Isaac being a mamma’s boy, and to some extent that may have been true. Still, the bigger problem was that the pool of suitable young ladies in South Canaan was extremely small, even nonexistent unless Isaac married a Canaanite. That was not going to happen under Abraham’s watch.

Abraham could do nothing about Isaac’s introverted personality. What he could do is take the search for a bride to another region. But he could not do it himself, for age was finally catching up even on Abraham. Neither did he dare send Isaac away to do it for himself lest his son be enticed or trapped to stay in the land that God had called him to leave behind, so he enlisted the aid of a trusted steward. (I’m not going to launch into a defense or even an explanation of marriage customs in the Levant in the 2nd millennium B.C. That would be a pointless digression.)

His instructions were clear, the objective well-defined, but Abraham went a step further. He put his servant under oath:

You will not take a wife for my son Isaac from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.

At this point the servant sees a potential drawback. What if he goes, finds a suitable woman, but she refuses to come with him? He is under oath, so it is literally either do or die. But if the other parties fail to comply with his restrictions, where does that leave him? It is a valid point. The servant wants to know what part of this transaction is negotiable and what is not. Where does the servant’s liability end? What if they instead invite Abraham’s son to come up and claim her himself—would that be acceptable?

The old patriarch would have none of it.

See to it that you do not take my son back there. The 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. But 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.

Abraham acknowledges that the servant has a valid concern. He is asking a lot from the man, and he is asking far more from the as-yet unknown young woman. God is faithful, but people are not. So Abraham explains the conditions and grants an escape clause: If she will not come, the servant is released from his oath.

The whole story that follows—how  the servant went back to the land of Haran in northern Mesopotamia, faithfully obeyed Abraham’s instructions, and brought back Rebekah to wed Isaac—is wonderful and charming and worth retelling. But I’m not going to do that here. Read it yourself in Genesis 24.

I wish simply to draw attention to the conviction in Abraham’s words and in his instructions to the servant. It is important to understand that God had given Abraham no commandment or instruction on this matter—otherwise it surely would have been recorded in Scripture. The conditions Abraham laid down were determined by the word God had given him before Isaac was conceived, and by Abraham’s confirmed conviction that the promise of God is true. Therefore:

  • If the promise of God is true, then Isaac must not marry a Canaanite. The line of promise must be kept pure of that.
  • If the promise of God is true, the Abraham’s son must not leave the land of promise to go back “home.” That land will never be home again.
  • If the promise of God is true, then God who made the promise will—indeed, must—provide a suitable bride.
  • But if the people involved will not cooperate, God’s plan notwithstanding, then there will still be no compromise here. Conviction cannot be reduced to a preference just because others do not see the point.

What then if the servant comes back empty handed? Abraham pre-releases the servant from his oath. Does that betray a doubt in the mind of Abraham, a hint that the whole proposition is a throw of the dice? Not at all. God made the promise, and God established the conditions. Therefore, God would provide.  This Abraham learned on a fateful day at Mt. Moriah (Genesis 22), and as it was then so it would be now. Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord provides. Man must be practical and operate on probabilities, but God is God, and with him all things are possible.

Read the whole story. From a natural and human point of view, it is a chain of improbable but happy coincidences. From Abraham’s point of view, the viewpoint of faith, it is the working out of the plan.

What shall we say then?

How, then, did Abraham (and how do we) know the difference between righteous and unrighteous compromise? Put another way, what is the difference between the vice of obstinacy and the virtue of conviction?

Righteous compromise does not waver on truth and is an act of faith it its own right. It is not good to try to force God’s will on others; neither is it good to passively plead for God’s help in an emergency when he has already provided the means for deliverance. To refuse to budge because things are not happening according to desire or expectation is just being obstinate.

There does come a time in every believer’s life, however, when he has to stand on his conviction of what is true and right and let the results rest in the hand of God.

Most things are negotiable in this world, but not morals and not faith. God is sovereign, Jesus Christ is Lord, and either we believe it, or we do not. When we do not believe God is going to come through for us, we make other arrangements and try to hedge our bets.

Like the guy in the Catholic hospital who was visited by the chaplain as he lay dying. Administering the last rites, the priest adjured him, “Do you renounce Satan?” and the dying man replied, “This is no time to be making enemies!”

But I digress….