Genesis 21:1-2, “Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him; “The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken”
Whose birth in your lifetime would you consider the most unusual or significant? After his wife gave birth to their first child, one excited father shouted, “It’s a father! I’m a girl!” Elizabeth Adeney, a 66-year-old British woman, is reported to have traveled to Ukraine to seek fertility treatment that has resulted in a pregnancy. Her first child is due to be born, by elective Caesarean section, in the coming week or two. If all goes as planned, that will make her Britain’s oldest first-time mother. Adeney may be the latest older woman to give birth, but she is not alone and hardly the oldest. Last year, an Indian woman gave birth at 70 to a daughter conceived with the egg and sperm of her niece and the niece’s husband. In 2006, a 66-year-old woman in Barcelona gave birth to twin sons after she lied about her age to fertility doctors and was implanted with embryos. In 2005, a 66-year-old Romanian woman gave birth to a daughter. A 62-year-old great-grandmother from Redding, California, gave birth in 2006 to her 12th child. If you find these stories amazing, here’s one more that’s even more intriguing. In the Middle East a ninety-year-old woman married to a one-hundred-year-old man gave birth to a baby boy. The child was her first, and they hadn’t spent a dime trying to get pregnant. The event didn’t get any TV coverage, but it has been receiving significant attention for almost four thousand years. You see, the birth was supernatural; God intervened in the lives of Abraham and Sarah, and in history, to give them a son, who would continue the lineage through which Jesus, the Savior, eventually came. Our study features the birth of Isaac, which I’m sure delighted and brought great joy to his parents, Abraham and Sarah.
Abraham and Abimelech – (Genesis 20:1-18)
This chapter of Genesis is a reminder to every believer in Christ that we aren’t without lapses and failures. In these few verses, Abraham decided to leave Mamre and journey to Gerar, the capital city of the Philistines, approximately ten miles south of Gaza. There he repeated the sin of twenty years before, when he told the king of Gerar, that Sarah was his sister. In verse 10, Abimelech ask Abraham, “What was your reason for doing this?” In verses 13, Abraham tells Abimelech, “When God had me wander from my father’s household; I said to her, this is how you can show your love to me. Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.” This was a half truth because she was the daughter of his father, and so his step sister (see Genesis 12:11). Sarah, though already 89 years old, was quiet a beautiful woman (12:11) and she would have been a very desirable addition for Abimelech’s harem. Think about this, Abraham had enough faith in God to forsake Ur, stay out of Sodom, to rescue Lot, but when it came to trusting God with his own personal safety, when His wife’s beauty attracted pagan kings, he failed miserably. However, even though Abraham’s lack of faith in this area, God still protected Abraham and his wife.
I. Heir to God’s Covenant – (Genesis 21:1-7)
Twenty-five years had passed since Abraham first entered Canaan. God’s promise of a son who would be his heir was long delayed? We can only speculate why God delayed His promise to Abraham for such a long time. Maybe, God was testing and strengthening Abraham’s faith. At last, when Abraham was one hundred years old, the son was born after “the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken” of in (Genesis 21:1). Thus, God’s promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah was finally fulfilled. What about the promises we make? Whether you’re a doctor, bank clerk, student, politician or whoever, we have difficulty following through on the promises we make! Prior to any election, every political campaign seems to be the same, with promises and cliché on what the candidate will do. Each candidate tries to out-promise the other, and after every election, the results are predictably the same. Some promises are quickly broken because the candidate never intended to fulfill them. Other promises, while well intentioned, were beyond the candidate’s power and ability to fulfill. Maybe an unforeseen string of events or new information changed the politician’s mind about the wisdom of his original statement. Special-interest groups may exert pressure, making sure they get what was promised, while less influential people seem to get lost in the crowd.
What about the promises God makes to us that are recorded in His Word? Do we believe them to be God’s promises, and not merely printed words on paper, or simply the guesses of fallible humans? I submit to you that we can cling to the promises of God with full assurance that what He says He will most certainly do. What a faithful God we have who gives us the assurance in His promises and in His power, through His written Word. God made unconditional promises to Israel through the covenant with Abraham, and He has also made unconditional promises to every believer in Christ. If we trust those promises by faith, we will have the confidence we need to live for Him and to serve Him effectively. Assurance is a matter of faith, not feeling. God’s promises never fail no matter how long their fulfillment may take. Abraham named his son Isaac, which means “laughter.” He had laughed with joy when God promised him a son in his old age (Genesis 17:17). Sarah had laughed in doubt at such a promise (Genesis 18:12-15); but after Isaac’s birth, she laughed in pure delight. She said, “God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6). Her laughter was like the bright shining of the morning sun on a clear day. It had the sound of music in it. Who would have dreamed that Sarah would nurse a child when she was ninety-one years of age? In the rapture of fulfillment, the happy parents must have forgotten their many years of waiting. God’s joy is worth waiting for!
II. The Excluded Son – (Genesis 21:8-21)
When Isaac was weaned, Abraham hosted a great feast (Genesis 21:8). Ishmael by this time was seventeen, fourteen years older than Isaac. He had been Abraham’s only son and heir before Isaac was born, but he was no longer an only son and no longer the heir, so he resented Isaac and poked fun at him. Ridicule is always cruel, and Isaac was not too young to feel the pain of his half brother’s taunts. Sarah was suffering the consequences of her ill-advised request to Abraham that he beget a son by Hagar. Her temporary lapse of faith and impatience gave birth to conflict and misery. She saw Ishmael mocking her son. Incensed, she scornfully referred to Hagar as “this bondwoman” and to Ishmael as “the son of this bondwoman,” demanding that Abraham drive them out. Sarah herself was capable of cruelty, but blinded by her rage, she no doubt felt justified in her demand. Abraham, on the other hand, was grieved. After all, Ishmael was his boy; he loved him. He did not wish to injure him, nor did he want to be separated from him. It is doubtful that he would have yielded to Sarah had not God intervened (vv. 9-13).
God did not justify Sarah’s attitude or behavior, but it was necessary for the two families to separate; Isaac alone was the son of God’s promise. God would take care of Hagar and Ishmael, and He would make of Ishmael a great nation. He therefore told Abraham to do as Sarah had requested. God comforted Abraham, but He did not indulge him. Abraham had to allow God to wound him, and he had to trust God to care for his son. Ishmael had to go. Early in the morning, Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away with only some bread and a skin of water (v. 14). Once before, Hagar had been on her way to Egypt and evidently knew the route, but this time she lost her way. She strayed in the wilderness of Beersheba. Eventually the water in the skin was consumed, and Hagar despaired of Ishmael’s life. She sat her son under one of the shrubs to shield him from the sun and left him there to die (Genesis 21:15). She walked about a “bowshot” away and through her tears agonizingly cried, “Let me not see the death of the child.” In his distress, Ishmael was also crying, and “God heard the voice of the lad. “ It was to Hagar, however, that He spoke from Heaven. He asked, “What aileth thee, Hagar?” (vv. 16, 17). “Fear not,” God told her. He was not deaf to the pitiful cries of her son. He caused her to see a nearby well. Not only did He spare Ishmael’s life, He also promised to “make him a great nation.” The statement that “God was with the lad” probably indicates not only that God protected him but also that Ishmael was a believer (vv. 18-20). Eventually, Ishmael married an Egyptian (v. 21), and his descendants became a source of great grief to Isaac’s descendants.
III. The Test of Faith – (Genesis 22:1-14)
After many days of tranquility, a new crisis loomed in Abraham’s life. The only way to move to a higher level of faith is by pressure to exercise more faith than was ever previously necessary. God called on Abraham to face the supreme test of his life and thereby to achieve his greatest victory. God wasn’t tempting Abraham to sin; He never entices anyone to do evil. He was testing Abraham’s faith to prove the genuineness of his faith and also to strengthen it. God commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering (a sacrifice first slain and then burned on the altar). “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest” (Genesis 22:2). He touched Abraham at his most tender spot. Abraham had waited a long time for the birth of Isaac, and he loved him more deeply than words can possibly express. Would he surrender Isaac to the will of God? If he did, what would become of the promise that “in Isaac shall your seed be called”? We don’t read that Abraham either argued with God or hesitated to obey Him. He knew God too well to believe that He would ever do anything wrong or unwise. He got up early in the morning and began his long journey to Mount Moriah. Abraham did not drag his feet or attempt to slow things down. Instead, he hastened to obey. He saddled his donkey, chopped wood, and got everything ready as quickly as possible. His faith was active even when he didn’t understand why God had commanded him to sacrifice his son. On the third day, Abraham saw the place in the distance. Abraham instructed his two servants to stay with the donkey. He said, “I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you” (v. 5). Now we know why Abraham obeyed. He did not believe that God would take Isaac from him, because God had made a promise. Isaac, a teenager, carried the heavy load of wood, even as Christ carried His own cross. The teen’s father carried the fire and the knife (v. 6). Isaac didn’t know that he was to be the sacrifice. He asked, “Where is the lamb?”
When he learned that he was to be the sacrifice, Isaac accepted his fate. How extraordinary that he was willing to be the lamb, the sacrifice. He did not have to be; as a young man, he did not have to submit to a man well over one hundred years of age. What a picture this is of Isaac’s greater Son! Christ submitted voluntarily to the Father and endured what Isaac only anticipated. Even the place of the sacrifice is significant; it was Mount Moriah. “Jerusalem in Mount Moriah” (2 Chronicles 3:1) is identified with Jesus’ crucifixion. Abraham drew his knife and was ready to plunge it into Isaac. But God restrained him. Would he have slain Isaac if God had not intervened? Definitely he would have. Hebrews 11:19 informs us that Abraham believed God would have raised Isaac from the dead if he had slain him. Abraham did not waver in his confidence in the Lord’s promise that Isaac would beget children and that his descendants would ultimately inherit the land of Canaan. God stopped Abraham from plunging the knife into Isaac. He called Abraham, saying his name twice, and affirmed, “Now I know that thou fearest god, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Genesis 22:11, 12). Abraham had fully demonstrated his faith in God. He respected God for Who He is and valued Him above all else. Because he respected God, he trusted Him and obeyed Him. God did not require Abraham to sacrifice his son; He had provided His own sacrifice. A ram, caught by its horns in a bush, would become Isaac’s substitute (v. 13), even as Christ became the sinner’s substitute on Calvary.
IV. Confirmation of the Covenant – (Genesis 22:15-19). Nothing can annul the Abrahamic Covenant, but faith is required for individual participation in it. So, in these few verses God promised Abraham that He would:
(1) Bless him,
(2) Multiply his seed,
(3) Cause his seed to possess the cities of their enemies, and
(4) Bless all nations through his Seed (Christ), the promised Savior of the world.
V. The Burial Place – (Genesis 23:1-20)
When Sarah died in Hebron at the age of 127, Abraham sat beside her lifeless body and wept (Genesis 23:1, 2). The unspoken memories of a lifetime were in those tears. The wife of his youth had been his lifelong companion. She had traveled with him, toiled with him, shed tears with him, laughed with him, and shared with him his faith, his dreams, his daily life. His life and hers had been intertwined. Now death had abruptly torn them apart, leaving Abraham not merely alone but with part of him forever gone. “Abraham stood up from before his dead …” (v. 3). He had things to do. Life would still go on. We cannot bury ourselves, the living, with the dead. Abraham accepted Sarah’s death and went on living; God was not through with him. Abraham needed a burial place for Sarah. He spoke to the sons of Heth (Hittites) to intercede for him with Ephron that he might purchase a portion of ground on which was the cave of Machpelah (vv. 4-9). Ephron’s offer to give him the land was only the empty gesture of oriental custom. In fact, Ephron drove a very hard bargain; he said the land was worth four hundred shekels of silver, which of course was what he expected Abraham to pay (vv. 10-16). The average cost of a field was only four shekels, and a fertile garden cost only forty shekels of silver. Abraham became the certified owner of the field and the cave (vv. 217-18). That was all the land Abraham ever owned in the land of Canaan. Was he disappointed that he himself never possessed Canaan? No, because he had never expected to. He knew that the promise of the land would be fulfilled in his descendants sometime in the future. He needed no guarantees other than the promise of God, and nothing is more certain than the eventual possession of Canaan by the nation of Israel: “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins” (Romans 11:26-27). The millennial Kingdom will surely come and fulfill the promise God made to Abraham! When Abraham died, Isaac and Ishmael laid his body next to Sarah’s in the Cave of Machpelah (Genesis 25:8-10).
When people say with a sigh, “Promises, promises,” it’s often when they’ve been disappointed by someone who failed to keep a commitment. The more it happens, the greater the sadness and the deeper the sigh. Have you ever felt that God doesn’t keep His promises? It’s an attitude that can subtly develop over time. In Genesis 8 we read how the flood destroyed the world and how God remembered Noah in the ark. It was only those who were with Noah in the ark who remained alive. God remembered them and He sent a wind to dry the waters so that they could leave the ark. God also remembered Hannah when she prayed for a son (1 Samuel 1:19). He gave her a child, Samuel. After God promised Abraham, “I will make you a great nation? (Genesis 12:2), 25 years elapsed before the birth of his son Isaac (21:5). During that time, Abraham questioned God about his lack of a child (15:2), and he even resorted to fathering a son through his wife’s handmaiden (16:15). Yet, through the ups and downs, God kept reminding Abraham of His promise to give him a child, while urging him to walk faithfully with Him and believe (17:1-2).
When we claim one of God’s promises in the Bible, whether it is for peace of mind, courage, or provision of our needs, we place ourselves in His hands and on His schedule. As we wait, it may at times seem as if the Lord has forgotten us. But trust embraces the reality that when we stand on a promise of God, He remains faithful. The assurance is in our hearts, and the timing is in His hands. Thus, our unchangeable God remembers us wherever we are, because our concerns are His concerns, and our pain is His pain. As mere mortals, we may be faint and weary, but our heavenly Father is all-powerful. Our feelings may fluctuate, but He is unchangeable. Even creation itself is a record of His faithfulness. That’s why we can sing these words from a hymn by Thomas Chisholm, “Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest, sun, moon, and stars in their courses above, join with all nature in manifold witness to Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.” What an encouragement to live for Him! Our strength for the present and hope for the future are not based on the stability of our own perseverance but on the fidelity of God. No matter what our need, we can count on the Father’s faithfulness in His promises.
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided,
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me! – Chisholm
He who abandons himself to God will never be abandoned by God.