Great Moments in Bible History
God Keeps His Promises
It has been 25 years since God called Abraham and gave him wonderful promises. God has blessed and taken care of Abraham during all that time, but the main promises are still just promises. They have not been fulfilled. Back in Genesis 16 we saw how Abraham, at the suggestion of his wife Sarah, tried to “help God out” by having Abraham marry Sarah’s slave Hagar. Ishmael was the son of that marriage, but God later told Abraham that Ishmael was not the son that God would use to give him the promises. It has been 14 years since Ishmael was born and he is still Abraham’s only son. But in chapter 18 God visited Abraham and Sarah and promised that within a year Sarah would have a son. Sarah was 89 years old at the time, and past menopause. She had never been able to have children. The idea that she would have one at that advanced age was so preposterous that she laughed in disbelief. As a result, God told her the child would be named Isaac, which means laughter.
Today’s story starts one year after that over-the-top prediction. “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him” (Genesis 21:1-2). God is mentioned three times in those two verses. The author tells us that God did “as he had said,” “as he had promised,” and that it happened “at the time of which God had spoken.” This gives us a hint as to why God waited so long to keep this promise. He was demonstrating in the most dramatic way possible that God can be trusted to keep His promises. It does not matter how impossible it may appear to us. It does not matter how many years have gone by. God keeps His promises.
Abraham named the child Isaac, as God had earlier told him to do. Sarah knew what that name meant. She said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me” (verse 6). God had turned her laughter of disbelief into the laughter of joy!
It would be fun to be able to look in on that home in the days and months after Isaac was born. I’m sure if the camera had been invented back then he would have been the most photographed child around. What joy he must have brought to his elderly parents. But there are no joys in this life that are not mixed with some pain. As we will see in the next article, the pain in this case arose because of their lack of faith over 14 years earlier.
Past Decisions Have Consequences
We move forward in our story two or three years. “And the child grew and was weaned” (Genesis 21:8). Isaac was no longer an infant. No doubt by this time he was talking and running around. He was probably doing his share of the laughing in the home as well. “And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.” In an age when a lot of babies did not live to the age of two, this was understandably a wonderful occasion.
Yet not everyone was celebrating. “But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing” (verse 9). This was not the laughter of joy, but of mockery. Ishmael was 16 or 17 years old at this time. Up until Isaac was born he was Abraham’s only son. He was not happy about this little kid getting all the attention that he used to get. Sarah told her husband, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.”
Abraham was unhappy about his wife’s demand. It had been Sarah’s idea in the beginning for him to marry Hagar and have a son by her. Although Ishmael was not Sarah’s, he was Abraham’s, and Abraham loved him. Now Sarah was demanding that he kick the boy out. “The thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son.”
Then God spoke. He told Abraham to go ahead and do what his wife wanted, because “through Isaac shall your offspring be named” (verse 12). For years Abraham and Sarah had been waiting for God to fulfill His promises to them. Those promises were for their descendants. On their own they had come up with the plan to have children by Hagar. Surely that would fix things so that God could keep His promises. But God completely rejected their help. None of His promises would be fulfilled through Ishmael. Isaac was the one God would use to bless Abraham. God does not need our help and He never needs a backup plan.
I wonder how many of our own plans and decisions are just like that unfortunate plan of Sarah and Abraham. We might not admit at the time that we are trying to help God out, but later we can look back and see that we simply did not believe God. We were putting our trust in ourselves rather than in God and His promises.
Unfortunately, we cannot simply say, “That was then. Now I’m changed.” We may indeed be changed, but we still must deal with the consequences of past decisions. In Abraham’s case, he had the painful task of sending away his second wife Hagar and the son that he loved. “So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away” (verse 14). How that must have hurt Abraham.
Although Hagar and Ishmael are walking out of Abraham’s life, their story is not over, as we will see in the next article.
The area Abraham lived in was very dry. It was somewhat like the American southwest. There were no year-round streams. A stream flowed after a rain, but then quickly dried up. Travelers through that area depended on wells. Hagar had lived in that area for years, but somehow she was unable to find the well she needed. She was carrying a skin of water (the ancient equivalent of a water bottle), but it ran out while she was searching. The situation was desperate. She left her son under a bush. She herself went on another hundred yards. “She said, ‘Let me not look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept” (Genesis 21:16).
Although God had told Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away, it was not His intention to abandon them to die in the wilderness. “God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation’” (verses 17-18).
“Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow.”
Ishmael’s descendants will show up several times after this in the Bible stories. Ishmael was not the son of promise. In fact, he came about because of a lack of faith on the part of Abraham and Sarah. But he was Abraham’s son. It is encouraging to learn that God did not leave him to die in the desert but rescued him and made his descendants into a nation.
It was through Isaac, Abraham’s son of promise, that God would bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). Ultimately, that blessing would come through Jesus, the great-great-great... grandson of Isaac. And it is through Jesus that even Ishmael’s descendants will be blessed.