We must read Abraham’s story with our own in mind. What have we learned from his journey? Those cultivating a life of faith must…
- …be set apart from the world, to God, and for His glory (Genesis 12.1-4).
- …begin with a proper perspective of God and upon godliness (Genesis 12.5-20).
- …deny self and choose the path of separation (Genesis 13.1-18).
- …be courageous enough to see beyond today and serve the King of Peace (Genesis 14.1-24).
- …persevere and imitate those who have already received the promises (Genesis 15.1-21).
- …refuse to compromise and live lives of conviction (Genesis 16.1-16).
- …be properly motivated for a daily commitment to God (Genesis 17.1-27).
- …develop intimacy with integrity in order to effectively intercede on the behalf of others (Genesis 18.1-33).
- …be intolerant of sin (Genesis 19.1-38).
- …acknowledge and confess carnality before our Heavenly Father (Genesis 20.1-18).
Genesis 21 brings us to the realization of a promise God had made to Abraham through the provision of a son, namely Isaac. Yet Sarah’s solution through her handmaid Hagar and the subsequent birth of Ishmael continues to create problems. Hagar and Ishmael are both driven away from the homestead and into the wilderness where God continues to provide for both.
Isaac: The Promised Son (21.1-7)
God promised an heir all along. He had asked, “Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18.14). Now in clear, unmistakable terms God keeps His promise “as He had said”, “as He had spoken”, and at the set time “of which He had spoken.”
The Lord visited Sarah. This marks a momentous event. God will visit the children of Israel and look upon their affliction when they are in bondage in Egypt. Luke 1.68 tells us that the Lord God of Israel “visited and redeemed His people.” Later, after Jesus raises the widow’s son, great fear comes upon all, they glorify God and say, “…God has visited His people” (Luke 7.16). The birth of Isaac points to an even greater birth: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given…” (Isaiah 9.6a).
This passage reveals that Sarah laughs a second time. The first time she laughed, it was a nervous laughter years ago when God had revealed what He would do. She laughs now out of sheer joy, and we laugh with her some four thousand years later. When she asks the question, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?” She acknowledges that only God could be at work in her life. And, indeed, only God could be at work in delivering the promised son.
Sarah desired to see God work in her life, but she hardly believed it possible. Sometimes it is easy for us to ignore the fact that God is at work in and through us. Other times, we take credit for what He has done and strut in arrogant opposition to Him. Be careful with this. As James Dixon wrote, “We seldom consider that a request to see God work in our lives may be a request for testing and trial.” This is exactly what happened to Sarah, and God made her laugh!
Ishmael: The Parting Son (21.8-21)
Ishmael scoffed. You won’t settle what is meant by this by merely studying the lexical meaning of the word. Was Ishmael cruel toward Isaac? Was he arrogantly asserting his own position as the oldest son and, therefore, the rightful heir? Was he simply being immature, showing a lack of respect? Whatever the answer, Ishmael simply did not understand his place in the house of Abraham. It was also some form of persecution because Galatians 4.29 makes that clear. Isaac was the heir and Ishmael was not. So Sarah has Abraham send Ishmael and his mother away into the wilderness. But God meets them both in their distress. He will not only care for Hagar and her son; he will make good on His promise to make a great nation from Ishmael.
Sarah sinned when she gave Hagar to Abraham back in Genesis 16. Abraham sinned by not leading Sarah and fostering security in the promises of God. Ishmael sinned in scoffing at the plan of God. Sin brings judgment. When Hagar realized she carried Ishmael, she despised Sarah. Things were never the same. Abraham gave Sarah the power and discretion to handle the situation with Hagar. So in a spirit of vindictiveness and retaliation, Sarah treated her without mercy for her insolence.
Sarah sought for a solution to a problem. But because she acted independently of God, an avalanche of consequences came crushing down on Abraham’s family. Sarah sought for blessing and happiness but found only struggle and misery. Hagar had to return to Sarah, which must have really been a humbling experience. She must submit again to Sarah, but she must have struggled to maintain a good relationship with her. Now in Genesis 21 Sarah casts out Hagar and Ishmael for good.
Abraham was very displeased. This was his son that had been cast out. God had told Abraham in Genesis 17.20: “I have blessed [Ishmael], and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.” And God would do exactly what He had promised. Only Abraham could not be a part of Ishmael’s life. Ishmael would have to be entirely entrusted to God. God will use this event in Galatians 4 as a portrait for the salvation He now offers:
Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband.” Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free (Galatians 4.21-31).
We are children of the freewoman. Christians are similar to Isaac in that we experience supernatural birth. We are a part of the fulfillment of God’s promise to mankind. Unto us a Son is given! We should not live as those enslaved. As Ishmael persecuted Isaac, those according to the flesh persecute those according to the Spirit. Those according to the flesh are true legalists. They believe that what they do merits favor with God and will gain them an inheritance. We should cast out the legalist from our assembly even as Abraham cast out Ishmael. The legalist will not share in the inheritance with the legitimate sons and daughters of God. Those who believe they can won’t! But is it possible for a genuine Christian to revert to legalism? Yes! And when he or she does, they ought to be confronted. They ought to repent and trust fully in Christ for sanctification as they did for justification. We are children of faith not children of the flesh.
1. Those born according to the flesh will persecute those born according to the Spirit.
We could not apply this text in Genesis 21 in this specific way if Paul did not do so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 4. Genesis 21 is instructive in showing us the heart of man. Those born according to the flesh will persecute those born according to the Spirit. It will always be this way. As a matter of fact, a Christian walking in the flesh (condition) even though he is in the Spirit (position) will often persecute his own brother or sister in Christ.
Anyone born according to the flesh or walking in the flesh just cannot endure the fact that anyone could walk according to the Spirit and be blessed and favored by God. Jesus says in John 15.19: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” That we call ourselves saints or elect ones in Christ is enough to provoke the hatred of the world. Ishmael mocked Isaac. Israel mocked the Christ. Those in the flesh mock the true sons and daughters of God. “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (1 Timothy 3.12).
2. Those born according to the Spirit are true children of the promise.
We are justified by faith; therefore, we are no longer bound under the tutor (Galatians 3.24-25). We are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus. If we are Christ’s, then we are truly heirs of the promise (Galatians 3.29). As children of the promise, we must escape the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Peter 1.4). We must cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7.1). As Christians we are empowered by the Holy Spirit of God to demonstrate the righteousness of the Son of God for the glory of God. Anything short of this goal is not normal Christianity. We must truly be Spirit-fed and Spirit-led Christians. True Christians evidence the fruit of the Holy Spirit. If they don’t, they will have no personal assurance that they are children. We won’t be assured of that fact either. There are always weeds among the stalks of wheat.
3. Those who are sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father shall share together in the inheritance as saints of light.
For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light (Colossians 1.9-12).
Only the saints in the light are partakers of the Father’s inheritance. He will cast out all others. There is neither Jew nor Greek in God’s economy of grace. All are one in Christ. Anyone who refuses Christ will not participate in the inheritance which awaits us in Heaven above. Those who stand on the promises will alone find a solid foundation for their hope, namely the confident expectation that Jesus is coming to take believers to be with Him forever! What great assurance! We will not be disinherited. We cannot be. We have so much in Christ! There is so much yet in store for us. It is simply unreasonable for us not to live for Him.
Parents must endeavor to keep their families together for the glory of God.
Every family is dysfunctional. Dad acts like an imperial dictator. Mom wallows in self-pity. The children are lazy and rebellious. Family members take one another for granted. Children scoff and mock when it comes to their siblings. Not much has changed in 4,000 years. Our joy can turn to sorrow in a hurry.
As parents, we must endeavor to keep our families together in spite of all of this. We must avoid rashness and unreasonable demands. We must respond with the same compassion and mercy that governs our Heavenly Father when we sin against Him. If we must correct our children, let us temper that correction with genuine prayer. Let us not be extreme in our response. We can be excessively permissive and excessively autocratic. Both are hurtful. Ask yourself, “What does the Scripture teach?” Pray for discernment.
The most severe correction should be reserved for scoffing at the will of God in family life. Meet children head-on when they don’t pay attention to and make fun of your Bible time together. If they don’t take seriously the things of God, we cannot let it pass. If they must pluck out an eye or cut off an arm to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, so be it. What we must be careful of is to make sure we don’t correct our children for our pleasure and convenience. We cannot discipline our children in anger for this very reason. It is not for our profit, but for His (and theirs)!
All of us who are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father are secure.
Jesus said of His true disciples, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10.28-29).
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.35-39).
It’s not the privileges in store. It’s not the possessions we hold. It’s the promises we have. Rely on the promises of God. Read the Bible not just for a list of duties before God and man; read it to receive the promises of your Heavenly Father. Let this sink in as you read it: The Son of God loved you and gave Himself for you (Galatians 2.20).
“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” (Ephesians 2.19).