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Old Testament Study - Genesis 21
Here, we continue our study in Genesis.
The Promise Fulfilled
1Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as
He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what He had promised. 2Sarah
became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time
God had promised him. 3Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son
Sarah bore him. 4When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham
circumcised him, as God commanded him. 5Abraham was a hundred
years old when his son Isaac was born to him.
6Sarah said, "God has brought me laughter, and everyone
who hears about this will laugh with me." 7And she added,
"Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet
I have borne him a son in his old age."
At last, the promise is fulfilled: "Now the LORD was
gracious to Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what He had
promised." God is faithful. Throughout the Bible we see evidence
of this, none moreso than here. Throughout our lives we have seen evidence
of this. God has never broken a promise of His, no matter how impossible
it may have seemed to fulfill His promises. In Abraham's case, more than
twenty-five years previously, God had promised Abraham: "I will
make you a great nation" (Gen. 12:2). God promised this despite
the fact that Sarah had been barren throughout their marriage, and Abraham
and Sarah were getting on in years. Many years passed in Abraham's eventful
life, yet no child. Abraham despaired, tried to take the matter into his
own hands (bearing a son through Hagar), but God was not in a hurry. He
waited for the right time to fulfill His promise. He waited until Abraham
and Sarah were both far beyond childbearing age, so that He would be glorified,
so that there would be no doubt in anyone's mind that Isaac was the work
of God, the specific fulfillment of His promise.
And God is not finished fulfilling promises. There are many promises to
us that He has yet to fulfill. We have the promise of heaven. Christ said:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in
me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have
told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you" (John 14:1-2).
We have the promise of being made to be like Christ. Paul said (by inspiration
of the Holy Spirit): "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly
await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that
enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly
bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." (Phil. 3:20-21).
We have the promise of Christ's return. Again, Paul: "For the Lord
Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice
of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ
will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be
caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other
with these words" (I Thess. 4:16-18).
We have, before us to look forward to, the fulfillment of these and many
more promises. The world scoffs at our faith in the promises of God. Peter
prophesied: "First of all, you must understand that in the last
days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.
They will say, `Where is this "coming" He promised? Ever since
our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation'.
. . But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day
is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord
is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient
with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance"
(II Peter 3:3-4,8-9).
Those of the world scoff at the promises of God because they have a limited
view of God (if they have any view of God at all). They don't think God
could make a glorious heaven; they don't think Christ could glorify our
bodies; they don't think Christ could come in glory and take possession
of the earth. Abraham is commended in the Bible for believing the promises
of God, and for believing that God had the ability to fulfill them: "Yet
[Abraham] did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but
was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded
that God had power to do what he had promised" (Rom. 4:20-21).
God uses His promises as schoolmasters. We learn about God through them.
We learn about God's love from His making the promise in the first place,
about His care for us through the goodness of the promise, about His perfect
timing in His choice of when to fulfill the promise, about His power from
His ability to fulfill the promise, about His faithfulness in His always
fulfilling His promises. We also learn about ourselves through the promises
of God. We learn what's best for us; we learn about obedience; we learn
Here in Genesis 21, Moses reenforces why there is no doubt that the birth
of Isaac was God's work. First, "Sarah became pregnant and bore
a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him"
We see here one reason that God visited Abraham in chapter 17, when He told
him: "But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will
bear to you by this time next year." (Genesis 17:21). This was
to establish the time that the promise would be fulfilled. After all, the
promise was first made 25 years previously. Unless God established the exact
time, who would believe that it was the work of God, after such a delay?
Then, "Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born
to him." The reader here is reminded of Abraham's age, which underscores
the impossibility (without God's help) of his bearing a son at this time.
Abraham wastes little time in showing his appreciation of God's fulfillment
of the promise: "When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham
circumcised him, as God commanded him." The circumcision was a
rite of dedication to God, signifying the foregoing of the flesh to live
a life in obedience to God. In chapter 17, God commanded Abraham: "For
the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must
be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money
from a foreigner--those who are not your offspring" (Gen. 17:12).
Obedience to God is difficult, and painful, at times. It must have been
hard for Abraham to offer his son up for circumcision (especially in those
times). But Abraham does obey the command of God, and in doing so, dedicates
his son to God. This is a prelude to the extreme obedience in the dedication
of Isaac to God that will be asked of Abraham in the next chapter.
"Abraham gave the name Isaac" (which means "he laughs")
"to the son Sarah bore him." This was the name chosen by God
for the child of the promise (see Gen. 17:19). Much laughter surrounded
the anticipation of Isaac, but the laughter was not always for the best
of motives. First, in chapter 17, Abraham laughed with joy and a bit of
incredulity at his having a child at such an old age. Then, in chapter 18,
Sarah laughed in unbelief of the promise of God. Here, though, Sarah laughs
with joy and praise for God for the wonderful gift in Isaac that she has
received: "Sarah said, `God has brought me laughter, and everyone
who hears about this will laugh with me.' And she added, `Who would have
said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a
son in his old age.'" In these verses, one can feel the joy of
Sarah overflowing, as she exclaims: "God has brought me laughter."
God has turned her laugh of unbelief into a laugh of almost speechless joy.
God is good. Blessed be His name!
Isaac's Birthright Protected
8The child grew and was weaned, and on the day
Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. 9But Sarah saw that
the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10and
she said to Abraham, "Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for
that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac."
11The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned
his son. 12But God said to him, "Do not be so distressed
about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you,
because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13I
will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your
14Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of
water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent
her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of
15When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under
one of the bushes. 16Then she went off and sat down nearby, about
a bow-shot away, for she thought, "I cannot watch the boy die."
And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.
17God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to
Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter, Hagar? Do not
be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18Lift
the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation."
19Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she
went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
20God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert
and became an archer. 21While he was living in the Desert of
Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.
All was well, seemingly, until "the child grew and
was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast."
Quite possibly, the great feast stirred feelings of jealousy in Ishmael.
Ishmael by this time was old enough[Footnote #1] to understand that he was
going to lose his birthright to Isaac. This caused him to mock, and even
persecute (cf. Gal. 4:29) Isaac. In turn, Sarah demanded: "Get rid
of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share
in the inheritance with my son Isaac." This is similar to the episode
in Gen. 16:7ff, where Sarah kicks Hagar out of the house for "despising"
her. This time, however, Sarah was right to send Hagar and Ishmael away,
for Ishmael was now old enough to take care of Hagar, and Isaac was the
rightful heir (chosen by God) to Abraham's fortune. It was normal in that
culture for the sons who were not recipients of the birthright to strike
out on their own (later, Abraham sends his other sons away in the same manner,
see Gen. 25:6).
Nevertheless, "the matter distressed Abraham greatly because it
concerned his son." Abraham was distressed because, naturally,
Abraham loved Ishmael very much, he being his first-born son. It seems that
part of Abraham wanted Ishmael, the work of his flesh, to share in the birthright
with Isaac, the work of God. However, God confirmed Sarah's decision: "But
God said to him, `Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant.
Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your
offspring will be reckoned.'"
Paul, with the best commentary on this passage, informs us that this episode
Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what
the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave
woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born
in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result
of a promise. These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent
two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are
to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia
and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery
with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our
mother. For it is written: "Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children;
break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are
the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband."
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the
son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the
Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the Scripture say? "Get rid
of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share
in the inheritance with the free woman's son." Therefore, brothers,
we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. (Gal.
And so, this episode, though it actually occurred, is also symbolic of the
conflict between spiritual birth vs. natural birth, election vs. ancestry,
inheritance by grace vs. inheritance by works.
God assured Abraham that Ishmael would be safe, and in fact, be greatly
blessed: "I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also,
because he is your offspring." Abraham then obeyed the command
of God, and sent Hagar and Ishmael away with provisions.
Given the meager provisions that Abraham gave Hagar and Ishmael, I believe
he expected the two to set up camp not very far from Abraham. Abraham, I
am sure, planned to continue to look out for them (as indeed he does, as
we shall see in the next section). However, Hagar, apparently greatly distressed
concerning, not only being sent away, but also seeing her son skunked out
of the birthright, decided to try and return to Egypt. She then (it seems)
got lost on the way "and wandered in the desert of Beersheba."
As they ran out of water, Ishmael must have collapsed, and so, Hagar
"put the boy under one of the bushes". She thought they
were doomed, and began sobbing. Although God had saved her when she wandered
in the desert previously (see Gen. 16:7ff), she did not call on God for
help. She apparently forgot about the salvation of God.
God responded to the boy's crying, fulfilling the promise He made to Abraham
(and also Hagar, see Gen. 16:10) concerning Ishmael in verse 13. God gently
chides Hagar for not remembering His promises: "What is the matter,
Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there."
Then, God reiterates the promise: "Lift the boy up and take him
by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation."
It turns out that their salvation was at hand. Many wells in the desert
are hidden by brush. God directed her to a nearby, yet hidden well that
saved hers and the boy's lives: "Then God opened her eyes and she
saw a well of water." So often the blessings of God are at hand,
but our eyes just need to be opened to them. We sob in the midst of our
wanderings, forgetting the promises of God. As we forget His promises, we
count ourselves doomed. We even forget to turn to God in times of trouble,
failing to remember that our God is the God of Salvation. Despite our failings,
God reaches out to us, fulfills His promises, and opens our eyes to the
well-waters of blessings that surround us, even engulf us. What a gracious
God we have!
22At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his forces
said to Abraham, "God is with you in everything you do. 23Now
swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my
children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you are living
as an alien the same kindness I have shown to you."
24Abraham said, "I swear it."
25Then Abraham complained to Abimelech about a well of water
that Abimelech's servants had seized. 26But Abimelech said, "I
don't know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it
27So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelech,
and the two men made a treaty. 28Abraham set apart seven ewe
lambs from the flock, 29and Abimelech asked Abraham, "What
is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?"
30He replied, "Accept these seven lambs from my hand as
a witness that I dug this well."
31So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men
swore an oath there.
32After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelech and
Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines.
33Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he
called upon the name of the LORD, the Eternal God. 34And Abraham
stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.
When you walk with God, people begin to catch on that something
is different with your life, something is better. Yes, they see you go through
affliction, but they also see God's grace working to get you through the
affliction. Yes, they see you stumble in sin, but they see you repent and
turn back to God. For all things, you turn to Him in prayer; for all things,
you trust in Him to provide. As time passes on, the blessedness of the sum
total of a life lived for God becomes evident to those who witness it. Abimelech
witnessed Abraham's life, and was convinced. He said to Abraham: "God
is with you in everything you do."
Seeing that God was with Abraham, Abimelech desired peace with Abraham:
"Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely
with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where
you are living as an alien the same kindness I have shown to you."
Abimelech knows well the power of God from the episode in Genesis 20,
and from his experience, Abimelech developed a fear of God. However, rather
than make peace with Abraham, Abimelech would have done much better in making
peace with God.
Abraham agreed to have peace with Abimelech. Why wouldn't he? Abraham was,
of course, a man of peace. Abraham then used this opportunity to "complain
to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech's servants had seized."
Well-water, of course, was a very valuable resource to the nomads of
the desert, crucial to their survival. Also, there is reason to believe
that, for Abraham, there was more at stake in protecting this particular
well. It was very likely the same well that God opened Hagar's eyes to see
earlier in this chapter (vs. 19). That well was in (what was later to be
called) the desert of Beersheba (see vs. 14). And so, Abraham, in complaining
about the raiding of the well, was protecting more than his own water, but
also protecting and providing for Hagar and Ishmael.
The two men made peace, and confirmed the peace with gifts. Though outwardly,
it appeared that the peace sprang from the action of the two men, Abraham
knew that the peace was the work of God and a gift from God. And so, in
response, "Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there
he called upon the name of the LORD, the Eternal God." Here, for
the first time in the Bible, Abraham refers to God as "the Eternal
God" (El Olam). Throughout the events in this chapter, Abraham
learns of the faithfulness of God, that God never fails us, is always blessing
us and protecting us in more ways than we realize, that indeed He is our
Yes, Lord, we praise You for Your everlasting faithfulness, the unlimited
number of blessings that You constantly lavish upon us. Open our eyes to
Your blessings, just as You opened the eyes of Hagar. Give us patience to
wait on Your timing; fill our spirits with expectation for the promises
You have yet to fulfill. May Your Name be glorified in our lives. In the
name of Jesus we pray these things, Amen.
(We will continue our study in Genesis next month.)
1. Ishmael was probably about seventeen years old, since Abraham was 86
years old when Ishmael was born and 100 years old when Isaac was born, and
Isaac was probably three years old when he was weaned.
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