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A. ABRAHAM ARRIVES AT GERAR AND DENIES THAT SARAH IS HIS WIFE (Please read Gen 20:1-21:7).
“A donkey does not bump his foot twice against the same stone,” so is the saying; but Abraham …
Chapter 20:2 causes the reader to gasp for breath and to hurriedly turn back to chapter 19 to see whether he is still reading about the same person. Is this the same man with whom God had entered into a covenant in such a dramatic way, with whom He sat eating in front of his tent, the man who accompanied him to Sodom and Gomorrah and who had tried to persuade Him to spare the two cities; is it the same man who had been walking so intimately with the King of the universe, who was now trembling because of a little earthly king and who is now, for a second time, telling a lie that Sarah was not his wife, and that after he had paid so dearly when he had done this before?
You clean the lenses of your glasses and look more closely; certainly, this is indeed the same Abraham and no one else. And this incident was shortly after he had fellow-shipped with God in such an intimate way, for it was then that God had promised that they would have a child within the next year and the fact that Sarah was pregnant was not even visible in her body yet, or else Abimelech would not have taken her as his wife. So, let us try to calculate and say that this incident was within six months after God had appeared to him. “Abraham, hero of faith in the making, what happened to your faith? Has there been, during the 24 years that you have been in Canaan, any spiritual growth in your life? But certainly, you are that courageous man who went after the Canaanite kings and delivered Lot from their hands. Why is fear still playing such a major roll in your life?”
But then you think of your own life. You think of your own experience; how age old sins and weaknesses of which you were certain that they had been conquered, suddenly, unexpectedly popped up from behind a bush, overwhelmed and bruised you and left you lying in the dust: liquor, a cigarette, interest in the opposite sex, anger, pride, trusting in your own ability, these left you lying spread-eagled like a rag doll on a playground.
God again delivered Abraham and Sarah from their dilemma.
But God …. . He interceded again to get Abraham and Sarah out of the dilemma by appearing to Abimelech in a dream and warning him to return Abraham’s wife. This is now the second heathen king of whom we read, to whom the Lord spoke personally and not by means of a prophet. Had they after all, there in the heathen surroundings in which they found themselves, come to faith in the one and only God by the working of the Holy Spirit?
Abraham had also judged the people of that city too hastily, coming to the conclusion that amongst them, there was no fear of God. Possibly his experiences with God had lead to spiritual pride. “Therefore, he that considers himself to be standing, should take heed unless he falls.” (1 Cor 10:12). Once again Abraham, tugging Sarah by the hand, had to leave the palace in a hurry, blushing all the way back to his tent, after having received a stern rebuke from the king.
Abraham the prophet and intercessor.
This is the first time that we read of God referring to Abraham as a prophet (a spokesman for God) – an important office.
It is so humbling also to note that the Lord heard the prayer of His fallen servant and recalled the punishment He had spoken over the king and his people. How great is God.
B.BIRTH OF ISAAC (Please read Gen 21:1-8).
God kept his word.
The Lord kept His four-fold promise to Abraham up to the letter. He gave him a son; a son who Abraham himself had conceived; a son of whom Sarah was the mother and not a surrogate slave girl; a son born at a time God had prophesied it would be.
In this God reveals to us his absolute power and faithfulness to keep His word. Who of us can guarantee that He would do something or other for someone else 25 years from now and keep his word?
Abraham and Sarah too, can be praised for their share in what God and man together had accomplished. For 25 years, they had persevered in trusting God, sat together at night in front of their tent counting stars, praying and believing, calling one another by their new names (“father of a multitude of nations” and “mother of nations”) while their slave women, each having a number of little ones around them, giggled behind their backs. When speaking about their promised heir, they called him by name, speaking about Isaac as if he already was there. Often their faith had stumbled, given way to the pressure of the years, fell down, but staggered up again and continued, persevered until they were rewarded – after 25 years.
What is a sweeter reward than the reward of faith? Likewise, you and I will also, as we persevere right up to the end, one day stumble through the gate of heaven and receive the laurel-wreath for victorious faith (2 Tim 4:7,8).
Isaac was a child of faith and so also are we who, by faith in God the Father and his Son, was born again by the Holy Spirit.
Abraham circumcised their son.
Abraham called his son “Isaac”; in obedience to God. On the eight day, he circumcised him; in obedience to God. We often read that his faith caved in, but never that he had fallen short in obedience to God.
Sometimes we feel as if our faith is like sand, slowly trickling through an hour glass, just a few grains at a time, but if we at least know what God wants us to do and do that wholeheartedly, we are still walking by faith.
If Abraham had not circumcised Isaac, it would have kept God from executing His plan by building a mighty nation through Isaac. The life of a Christian is like a row of flat stones laid into a river bed to pave a way to the other side. We need to take the steps of obedience carefully, one at a time, to arrive safely on the other side. Should we miss one because we are looking around at other things, we end up in the stream and there is a lot of splashing around to regain our position in Christ.
How about naming your next child, “Laughter”?
Sarah was 90 years of age when Isaac was born and remarked that God had caused her to laugh and that everyone who heard of what had happened to her, would laugh with her (Isaac means “laughter”).
The lips of Sarah’s mockers were now sealed. When her servant girls came to congratulate her, and looked into her sparkling eyes, they had to hang their heads in shame. Their children, however beautiful, were born by the will of man, but hers by the will of God; a wonder child, a heavenly child. There is a saying “He who laughs last, laughs most”. On top of it all, it was not necessary for her to resort to the assistance of a wet-nurse, because the Lord had renewed her body so completely, that she was able to suckle the child herself.
C. ABRAHAM SENDS AWAY HAGAR AND ISHMAEL (Please read Gen 21:8-21).
Sarah sees clearly while Abraham has a blind spot.
The friction between Hagar and Sarah had come a long way, from the time that Abraham had conceived Ishmael by Sarah’s slave, Hagar and Hagar had responded by looking down on Sarah. As the mother had done, so did her son Ishmael. Because he too was a son of Abraham, he was more forward with Isaac than what the children of the other servants would dare to be. He mocked Isaac – probably teased him for he was much older than him.
It was however not only this that upset Sarah; she was realizing that this friction between the two boys would increase as they grew older. Ishmael would, because he too had been conceived by Abraham, want to share in his father’s estate which would result in a much smaller inheritance for Isaac. But more than this; she also envisaged that Ishmael and his descendants would be jealous of Isaac and his offspring. This would result in a competition to be the real successor to Abraham. A serious enmity would develop that could result in Isaac not only loosing his legacy but also the land Canaan which God had promised not only to Abraham, but specifically also to Isaac (“For your offspring will be accounted as from Isaac.” Gen 21:12).
Sarah wanted to ensure that this would not happen and for that reason she insisted that Hagar and her son be sent away. The subservient little wife who twice had acceded to her husband’s request to tell a lie which had caused her to land up in the harems of two different kings, now took a stand against Abraham and fought for the rights of her son like only a mother can.
To banish Hagar and Ishmael from their lives, was very wrong in Abraham’s eyes. He loved his son Ishmael and also felt responsible to see to Hagar’s welfare. It was commendable of him to have this attitude, but he was looking at the situation from a human point of view. God had greater plans with this family. He wanted to build Himself a nation from Abraham’s posterity, from which Jesus the Redeemer of all mankind was to come and Hagar and Ishmael had to stand aside in order that this higher goal could be achieved. For that reason, God Himself spoke to Abraham, telling him not to consider it to be wrong to send away Hagar and Ishmael for this was not just Sarah’s idea, but His own will.
Abraham performs a painful operation to remove a threatening tumor.
The moment Abraham had heard of God, he obeyed and the very next morning he sent Hagar and Ishmael on their way, though it was very painful to him.
(Although the husband is the head of the home, he is to bring his wife’s advice to God in prayer. In this way, they make quite sure that they are carrying out the will of God.)
What a heart-breaking picture the Word paints to us of Abraham who, early the next morning, lifted a container of bread and one of water onto Hagar’s shoulder and pointed her and her son into the desert. When looking into his boy’s questioning eyes, was there anything he could say to comfort him, to put him at ease? What turmoil there must have been in Abraham’s heart as he stood there, watching them until they disappeared from his view? And the worst of it all was that he shared in the guilt of causing this to happen. It was not Hagar that had enticed him; it was he that had gone to her. It was he that had deviated from the will of God and he knew it full well.
The Lord, our wonderful Father, helps us to put right the mistakes of the past in order that we may proceed into the future without those burdens, but He does not spare us the bitter trauma that accompanies the correction, because He wants to teach us by this pain to walk carefully in His footsteps so as not to repeat our mistakes.
How many millions of “Ishmael” children are not, in this day, missing the love and support of one of their biological parents because these had somewhere missed the will of God? Mother and child are together sent into the desert, or the mother decides by herself to rather choose that way out than to continue living together with the father of their children. Yes, the situation might have become unbearable for the parents, but a marriage normally gets worse because the couple’s relationship with God is breaking up. That is where it all starts.
I am just wondering whether Sarah had that morning been sitting in her tent, crying for the two people with whom she had lived for so many years but were now leaving her life forever? Was it also for her a traumatic experience or was she just gloating in it because she got what she wanted and because her problem was now solved? Possibly she might have relished the fact that she was now finally rid of “the other woman” in the camp.
Hagar and Ishmael’s footsteps directed by God.
Hagar too, was not without weak points; she tended to flee from her problems. Years before, she had fled from Sarah when she was badly treated by her, and now she flees from her dying child and sits down some distance away, crying.
Some of us also do this. Some children of God flee from their homes to the pub to still their pain with liquor and idle conversation. This is unwise, it solves nothing.
But Abraham must have committed Hagar and their son to God in faith and prayer and God saw her in her need. She, in turn, might have been embittered towards God because of what His two chosen people had done to her, causing her not even to pray for deliverance.
But the Lord Who looks down from heaven, heard the child’s woeful crying and spoke to Hagar, showing her where to get water. God always has a solution and He even went a step further and began to give effect to His earlier promise in regard to Ishmael (“God was with the boy” 21:20) and assisted him to become an archer so that he could fend for himself and also for the wife the Lord later provided for him.
If God is exceptionally good to some people (like to Abraham and Sarah) or has a special purpose for them, it does not mean that He is not also good to others (like to Hagar and Ishmael).
And if we are tempted to think that the Lord acted without compassion in this matter of Hagar and Ishmael, let us just close our eyes and look upon the cross to which God’s own beloved Son was nailed in order that mankind may be saved.
The two women and the two covenants.
This account of the two women and their sons, is a picture of a very profound spiritual truth namely of the difference between the Old-Testament covenant of the Law and the New-Testament covenant of grace. The Law bears slaves, but the Gospel bears children for God and citizens for heaven. Read more about this in Gal 4:20-31.
D.COVENANT BETWEEN ABRAHAM AND ABIMELECH (Please read Gen 21:22-34).
It is not clear why Abraham had, for a long period, dwelt in the Philistine area, because that was not part of the promised land although, at that stage, the Lord had not yet disclosed to Abraham where the borders would be. Possibly there again was a drought further inland.
Abraham’s presence had not past unnoticed by Abimelech the king of Gerar. Some time before, Abraham had feared that he would kill him for his wife, but since then, Abraham’s possessions, servants and slaves had increased considerably. A supernatural blessing of God was upon him and Abimelech acknowledged this, saying: “God is with you in all that you do” (Gen 21:22). For this reason, Abimelech feared him and approached him with the request that they enter into a covenant of peace with one-another.
In Acts chapter 5:13, we read that the first Christian congregation was both honoured and feared. May the Lord give that we as His children may likewise be prominent in our communities.
E. GOD INSTRUCTS ABRAHAM TO SACRIFICE ISAAC TO HIM (Please read Gen 22:1-24).
Man’s ultimate test of faith and love.
By this command, God was testing Abraham, affording him the opportunity to prove his faith and obedience and also to further develop it.
The Lord formulated His instruction in such a way that it would convey to Abraham that He was deeply aware of how great the sacrifice was that He was requesting of him: “Now take your son, your only son, whom you love, even Isaac,” (WEB). The Lord had in fact said to him: “I know exactly how precious he is to you and what I am asking of you”.
The Father saw Golgotha.
It is also significant that he was to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah, a journey of about 80 km. Moriah is where the God-city Jerusalem would later be built, and where the Father would hand over His only Son, Jesus, to be crucified for the sin of mankind.
Again we note that Abraham immediately obeyed God. Early the next morning, he prepared for the journey, taking firewood, and set off, taking along Isaac and two of his servants. Along the way, he left the servants behind, explaining that he and his son would go and worship and then return to them. He was quite convinced that the Lord would, by Isaac, give him innumerable descendants and therefore he firmly believed that God would raise him from the dead, Heb 11:17-19: “By faith, Abraham, being tested, offered up Isaac. Yes, he who had gladly received the promises was offering up his one and only son, to whom it was said, ‘your offspring will be accounted as from Isaac’; concluding that God is able to raise up even from the dead. ”.
When Isaac enquired where the lamb was which they would offer, Abraham replied that the Lord would provide for Himself. That was a wise answer, and that was the truth. Isaac then carried the fire-wood on his back, like Jesus would later carry His own cross to Golgotha. At the place which God indicated, Abraham built an altar, laid the wood on it, bound his son Isaac and laid him onto the wood.
Isaac offered himself.
How old would Isaac have been at that stage? Probably old enough (in his 30’s) to have made his own decision as to whether he was willing to be sacrificed as a burnt offering. The reason for this viewpoint is that he was a picture of the Lord Jesus Who had acquiesced to be sacrificed: “Therefore when he comes into the world, he says, ‘Sacrifice and offering you didn’t desire, but you prepared a body for me. You had no pleasure in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book it is written of me) to do your will, O God.’” (Heb 10:5-7 & Ps 40:7).
Secondly, it is unthinkable that the Lord would want a child that could not understand why this was to be, go through such a traumatic experience. God never forces decisions upon us; he declares his will and leaves it to us to decide.
(To be very down to earth: If Isaac had been a young boy, he would have run away from his elderly father at top speed, as soon as he saw that he was taking up the rope to bind him and lay him on the altar!)
“Where the heart goes, the man follows,” (Joyce Meyer).
Abraham then took up the knife to slaughter Isaac. He had reached a final decision to sacrifice him as a burnt offering to God. In his mind it had already been done – there was no doubt or hesitation that he would go through with it. Isaac had also, by faith, given himself to God and his father in obedience to be sacrificed.
Man’s ultimate victory of faith and love.
Abraham had previously, on a few occasions, doubted and failed his tests of faith. God however had continued to speak to him and encouraged him to continue trusting and obeying Him. Now Abraham had passed the greatest contemplatable test of faith, namely to sacrifice his son as a burnt offering to God, believing that God would raise him from the dead and return him to him, his father. In this, God had also demonstrated His all surpassing power to change the heart of man into His image.
The test of faith which Adam and Eve had failed in paradise, Abraham had now, in a much greater way, passed on Moriah. With the exception of Jesus’ offering of Himself on the cross, this could possibly be the greatest deed of faith ever accomplished by man.
At that moment the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven saying: “Don’t lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” To fear God means to stand in holy awe of Him; to have an exceptional faith in Him and a deep love for Him.
The Father provides his own sacrificial ram.
Then Abraham saw a ram of which the horns got entangled in a bush and took it and sacrificed it.
The Lord had intervened so that Isaac was not sacrificed, but when God’s Son was laid down on the cross at Golgotha and the Roman soldier picked up the hammer to drive the nails through his hands and feet, the Father had to turn His face aside, allowing them to proceed, because there was no substitute ram kept in readiness to die in his stead. Jesus Himself was the substitute ram, not only for Isaac but also for you and me. Abraham then named the place, “The Lord will provide”.
The Lord God was overwhelmed by His friend Abraham’s trust in Him, his obedience and his unselfish love, so again He spoke to him audibly, confirming His earlier promises, this time doing so with an oath.
All of us would be glad to have God speaking to us as He did to Abraham, but remember, He does not only give promises but also commands. Sometimes He commands us to bring painful offerings. The question is: Am I willing to be obedient in all things as Abraham was? Are there any outstanding sacrifices in my diary? Had God spoken and I not obeyed? Sometimes that is the reason why the Lord no longer speaks to me – He is waiting for me to do as He had requested before.
F. DEATH AND BURIAL OF SARAH (Please read Gen 23).
God had achieved His purpose with Sarah in that she bore a child of faith for Him. She probably also felt at peace having played her assigned role. It is a privilege to be able to take leave of this world in such a way.
Abraham, a shining light in a dark country.
Abraham had come to dwell in this country as an unknown immigrant, but by his exemplary conduct, even the heathen respected him as a prince (monarch) of God.
The people of God need to glorify his Name in being the light of the world wherever He directs their footsteps (Matt 5:16).
Regarding the piece of land he bought: although the Lord had given all of the land of Canaan to Abraham and his offspring, he was willing to pay the full purchase price for this piece of ground. He was a fine businessman but also an honourable businessman.
G. ELIEZER GETS REBEKAH AS WIFE FOR ABRAHAM (Please read Gen 24:1-67).
Abraham wanted to ensure that Isaac would marry a believing wife and sent his servant to his God fearing relatives in Mesopotamia to find him a wife. Isaac’s father was very rich and most girls would have been more than willing to marry him, but he waited on God though he was at least more than 36 years of age.
Isaac’s marriage was also important to God, because He wanted to build a nation for Himself. To do that, it was important that both father and mother of each successive generation would believe in Him, so that they could raise their children in the fear of God and build up a God-fearing generation. Such a wife was only to be found amongst Abraham’s relatives.
The Lord does not allow a Christian to marry a non-Christian. To wait on God for the right spouse is always the best (1 Cor 7:16; 2 Cor 6:11 -18).
The “ambassador” who Abraham sent on this mission of faith, probably was his most trusted servant and spiritual friend, Eliezer (see Gen 15:2) and he had to travel up to Haran and then down towards to the present day Persian gulf with his ten camels and fellow servants to get to Nahor’s place. Had he not been a humble man who sought God’s will and honour, his master would not have entrusted him with this very important task, as well as with so much riches.
Hearing from God.
Eliezer asked God to point out the woman of His choice to him by way of a pre-arranged sign, and God did so. At that time it was expected of a woman to present her container with water to strangers. Rebecca however, did more than that and, “walked the second mile” by offering to also water the camels. (A camel, when walking long distances, will drink as much as 50 liters of water at a time – therefore 500 liters were required for the 10 camels). This was no small task and Rebecca displayed the attitude of a servant by offering to do it. Eliezer was not looking for a beautiful or a rich wife for Isaac, but for a virtuous woman, a woman of character and he found such a one in Rebecca.
A glittering presentation by an absent bridegroom.
He then presented the girl and her family with expensive gifts. This was not to bribe her with riches, but to convince her of the greatness of Abraham, his master, so that she would be willing to entrust herself to him. The Lord also confirmed to Rebecca and her relatives in other ways that this matter was of Him, for indeed it was a great step of faith to accompany a group of unknown men to a distant country and there to marry a bridegroom she had never seen before and settle with him in a country she did not know. The many camels and riches was the guarantee that he would be able to take good care of her, but then there also was Eliezer’s saintly bearing and his intimate knowledge of Abraham that said more than words could describe. In the end, Rebecca herself had to decide whether she would accept the offer or not. Apparently she did this without reservations. What a romantic marriage. God is the author of romance.
In the end they were all satisfied: firstly her family, secondly Eliezer who saw her as a gift from God’s hand and lastly, Isaac the bridegroom who had waited so long for a wife. He must also have been very pleased when she later removed her veil and he saw what a beautiful woman the old man Eliezer had selected for him. This couple never divorced although their marriage experienced some heavy storms.
It is for a good reason that Scripture often cautions us to, “wait on the Lord”.
This account is also a picture of the Holy Spirit, sent into this world by the Father to select a bride for His Son, Jesus Christ. Whosoever replies, “yes,” to his offer, becomes part of the heavenly romance and is on the way to the riches above.
H. ABRAHAM’S OTHER CHILDREN AND HIS DEATH (Please read Gen 25:1-18).
Abraham married a second wife, Keturah (seemingly after Sarah’s death) and had another 6 sons with her. How wonderfully had God strengthened his body.
During his lifetime, he gave gifts to the sons of his second wife and sent them away, each to a different area in order that, at his death, Isaac would be his only heir; a wise decision and action.
Ishmael conceived 12 sons who became patriarchs to 12 tribes, just as God had promised.
Abraham died at the age of 175 years and was buried with Sarah in the cave of Machpelah. Ishmael did well by not bearing a grudge because he and his mother had been sent away from Abraham’s camp, and attended his father’s funeral, together with his half-brother, Isaac.
I. CLOSING REMARKS.
Abraham had fulfilled his God given role on earth and could enter in peace into his eternal rest. Scripture devotes 13 chapters to Abraham’s battles of faith in his relocating to Canaan, the conception of Isaac and procuring of a wife for him and only half a chapter to the rest of his life, because God wants to teach us, who follow after him, how to walk by faith. He is, as it were, the father of all believers.