Summary: Abraham, Sarah, Ishael, and Hagar represent faith and promise, spirit versus flesh, and grace versus Law. Abraham shows faith by letting his son Ishmael go forever.
Some of you have had the pleasure and/or pain of participating in a step-family. On rare occasions this works out really well and goes smoothly, but most of the time it’s very hard and all the parents and children involved, have major adjustments to make both lifestyle wise and emotionally.
It’s often hard for one parent to discipline the other parent’s children, hard for a parent to love somebody else’s children, it’s hard for the children to say goodbye to one parent and be expected to love the new one just because mom or dad does. There can be jealousy, anger, mistrust and so many other dynamics that must be dealt with.
Now our story with Abraham and Sarah and Hagar may not be what we think of as a typical step family, but the dynamics are similar. Abraham has a baby with another wife, he loves the boy from Hagar, but despite her best efforts Sarah can’t get herself to love Ishmael. Hagar and Sarah at best tolerate each other for several years. Imagine a step family where all the parents live together.
Then Isaac is born and it’s like bringing in a new step-brother, and Ishmael, only a teenager, is clearly going to have a hard time loving this kid who everyone is making a big fuss over, when he has been the center of attention for so long. Not to mention that this is their own biological child. Oh how hard it is for the step kids to compete when the new couple has their own child together.
Emotions and human nature make these situations difficult even when there are the best of intentions on all parts. And so it should be difficult I guess, this is not God’s design. Not that you can’t make it work, or should feel guilty for a failed marriage, but simply it’s not God’s design, so it may not work out as smoothly as if it was. Of course many marriages don’t go very smoothly even when there is no step-family involved.
So as you listen to this story today, think about it from those terms, how hard it would have been for all the people in this scenario to be loving and stay Christ like. Of course in our situation in Genesis we need to throw in direct disobedience and lack of faith in God’s promises, that led to this situation. So let’s begin with:
I. Abraham and Sarah: Faith and Promise (vv 1-7)
Look at the components of God’s promise here. He visited Sarah as he had said, he did to Sarah as he had promised, and he did it at the time He spoke of. It’s all about God fulfilling his promise as he said, and in His timing.
Now immediately Abraham follows the Lord’s instructions to a tee. Has he finally learned his lesson? He names the boy Isaac and has him circumcised on the eighth day “as God had commanded him”.
The next few verses confirm the miraculous nature of this event as Abe is 100 years old, making Sarah 90. God miraculously made them capable of having children and Sarah’s even able to nurse. Even in those days of slightly longer life spans now, this would have been biologically impossible. God wanted them as good as dead, so he could really reveal his miraculous power. Their faith sort of released God’s power, as can ours.
Now were they perfectly faithful while waiting through these 25 years since the original promise? No. I’m sure none of us would have been either. But we do see how waiting strengthens us, gives us time to grow, allows God to train us like an Olympic athlete who has to train hard and wait four years before getting a shot at the prize. Hebrews 6:12, “through faith and patience we inherit the promises”.
Their faith may not have been perfect, but they did continue to believe the promise even though they had times when they doubted. Really what this shows is that God’s promises are not dependent on our faith, but when the time is right, on his agenda he fulfills them, regardless of our situation. When God wants to build our patience and our faith he gives us promises, sends us trials, and tells us to trust him.
Why does God tell Abraham to do what Sarah says? Because he was the one who said “yes dear” to Sarah’s disobedient plan before, and this was the result of that. This is a bit of an irony God uses here. God is basically saying, “Hey buddy you didn’t take responsibility before, and got yourself into this mess, why should I let you make the decision this time? Here’s your consequence, you will not see your first son again.” We are forgiven but that does not negate the consequences of our sin.