Monday, January 17, 2011

You shall take a wife for my son: Lessons in espousal evangelism from Genesis 24

I've found myself ranging over Genesis, Exodus and 1 Samuel in recent weeks. In these books the Father is telling the story of the man and his bride, in various ways. The man is also known as the son or the seed and is ultimately Jesus but we see him typified again and again.

Genesis 24 seems to be a classic example of this For chapters the promised seed has been anticipated and then finally he's born. That story is told with alarming brevity in Genesis 21. He then figuratively dies and is resurrected in Genesis 22 according to Hebrews 11. Then his Father wants him to have a bride. Some will think it too fanciful to see a glimpse of Christ here but I'm inclined to think the reluctance to see Christ is more newfangled than the willingness to. Spurgeon, for example:
"Paul saith in a certain place "which things are an allegory," by which he did not mean that they were not literal facts, but that, being literal facts, they might also be used instructively as an allegory. So may I say of this chapter. It records what actually was said and done; but at the same time, it bears within it allegorical instruction with regard to heavenly things. The true minister of Christ is like this Eleazar of Damascus; he is sent to find a wife for his Master's son. His great desire is, that many shall be presented unto Christ in the day of his appearing, as the bride, the Lamb's wife."
Genesis has told the story of the seed, and now the seed must have a bride. As the Father had said, it is not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18) and so a bride must be found for him. The Servant is sent to get him a bride. He cannot compel her or force her to come but he can invite her, then she must make her response. What's the story telling? Just how Isaac got a bride, or that and more? The servant who finds a bride for Isaac surely shows us something of the evangelist who is sent to search for a bride for the true Isaac. Tracing that thread forward  it is wisely asked:
"Should every gospel pastor be an affectionate romantic at heart?
(or at least have become one!?)"  
Sounds appropriate since Abraham commissions his servant:
"you shall take a wife for my son" (24:4)
It's not quite flirt-to-convert but there's some romancing to be done. There's a tenderness and heart needed by the evangelist, the pastor - something I know my own need to grow in. The Servant was not sent to obtain subjects or slaves for the son, but a bride. To find one who will make the son sing for joy as the first man sang "this at last is..." and to delight over her with singing. With careful Biblical controls this is the evangelists call, to be one who woo for Christ, seeking him a bride. Evangelists are espousal theologians, lovers of Christ and of his bride the church. The stereotype of the hell-fire preacher who appears to hate people is deeply inappropriate. The evangelist will be passionate and persuasive, warm and affectionate, representing Christ to those invited to be part of the church.
"All the Great Father's heart is set on giving to Christ a church which shall be his beloved for ever. Jesus must not be alone: his church must be his dear companion. The Father would find a bride for the great Bridegroom, a recompense for the Redeemer, a solace for the Saviour: therefore he lays it upon all whom he calls to tell out the gospel, that we should seek souls for Jesus, and never rest till hearts are wedded to the Son of God. Oh, for grace to carry out this commission!" Spurgeon
When she is found and adorned in Genesis 24 her family seek to delay her coming but she is keen to come. Sibbes (Bowels Opened #8):
Faith is but an empty hand, that goes to Christ to draw from him what it has need of; 'In Christ I can do all things.' So, to have our hearts warmed with love to him... If our hearts once be warmed with the love of Christ, this will make  us to think nothing too dear for Christ, and will cut off all excuses and pretences whatever, which come from coldness of affection. 'Love is strong as death,' as we have it in this book, 'much water cannot quench it,' Song 8:6. All oppositions and discouragements whatever, all the water which the devil and the world has or uses, cannot quench the heavenly fire of love, when it is kindled in any measure.
She comes with a prophetic word issued over her - great fruitfulness, a multitude of offspring and one in particular who will possess the gates of his enemy (24:60). The man Isaac is not the final seed, we look ahead for him! Isaac lifts his eyes in faith to her, and she in faith lifts hers to him (24:63-64). They become one flesh and she comforts him - and no doubt this too is mutual. They have strong affections for one another.

The man is no longer alone. When Paul wrote of Christ as the church's husband he wasn't innovating or merely illustrating, he was well versed in all that had previously been spoken. The Father has always been sending evangelists to search for a bride for his son, the son who gives himself for his bride, whether in Proverbs, Genesis, Hosea, Ezekiel, Revelation and of course in The Song of Songs.

The evangelist must also be one whose affections are enlarged, and therefore one who searches after Christ with empty hands, sick with love. Saying with Sibbes: "Though I hear the same things again, yet I may hear them in a fresh manner, and so I may have it sealed deeper than before." And though some may say there is too much preaching of the gospel the evangelist lives by it.

12 comments:

  1. I have just finished reading Genesis and had never thought of the finding of Isaac's bride in this way - thank you!

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  2. I think it makes sense given how he is a picture of Christ, and this story gets more airtime within Genesis than the more famous death/resurrection chapter... Bible's all about sons born and finding brides.

    On to Exodus?

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  3. love this - hmm i feel a new (girl friendlier?) approach to evangelism training coming on....found this really helpful in talking through the confusion & jealousy that comes in bringing someone to christ who then seems to be drawn away in their affections... love "it's not exactly flirt to convert", but knowing we're praying to a Father whose passion is to find a wife for his son means we're not exactly praying to a Mr Burns either!

    John 3:29-30
    The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must increase, I must decrease

    2 Cor 11:2 I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband...to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ

    Gal 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel which is really no gospel at all.

    Gal 4:8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

    Gal 4:19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!

    1 The 3:5 For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.

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  4. I find Greidanus' approach helpful for saying there are many many ways of preaching Christ from the OT

    - redemptive historical progression (nb pivotal points)
    - promise -> fulfilment (prophets/psalms/stories)
    - typology (unless typology replaces exegesis)
    - analogy (granted being aware of genres)
    - longitudinal themes (biblical theology)
    - NT references
    contrasts centring in christ)

    so presumably you'd want to endorse that "many routes" approach while saying that in this particular instance, he doesn't see the particular typology/analogies that you do. He may agree to differ over the particular route but presumably wouldnt take issue with the end point or the principle of analogy you took?

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  5. Greidanus is great, but I'm not so happy with his dismissing of there being any types of Christ.

    Does change our approach to evangelism training I think, and to discipleship. Take evangelism this way then you're going to think Song of Songs is good early days discipleship... you're going to be church-focussed... etc.

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  7. 'I'm inclined to think the reluctance to see Christ is more newfangled than the willingness to.'

    See Mike Reeves on Freidrich Schleirmacher - seems he may well be responsible for this!

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  8. I've not got that far through On Giants Shoulders yet. I assume it's Freidrich not Mike who is at fault...

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