In chapters 18 and 19, we saw a comparison of the type of faith that both Abraham and Lot had.
Abraham's faith, although it had ups and downs, did have a direction. You could see improvement as he progressed in his faith. He accomplished certain things in the name of God through his faith (defeat of northern kings). His faith moved him to glorify God with his work, serve others and save others through his prayers (prayer for Lot). The result of Abraham's faith was that God answered his prayers and blessed his life and considered him righteous.
Lot's faith was real but he compromised with the world. As a result, his faith was weak, he made no progress spiritually, he accomplished nothing for the Lord and he lost everything in the end.
These chapters demonstrated that our lifelong relationship of faith with God includes not only Him forgiving and being patient with our failures, it also includes faith, service, trust and progress on our part. The next chapters continue the story of Abraham's walk with God.
Failure – 20:1-18
After the Lord and the angels visited Abraham to tell him that Sarah would conceive and later left to destroy Sodom, Abraham leaves for a trip to the capital city of the land of the Philistines near the Egyptian border.
Perhaps the destruction of the cities near him caused economic hardship in the area and he needed to open up new trade or other business dealings there. Eventually he ends up living in this area. He was a chieftain and had to support a large household and so this may have been the nature of the trip.
In verses 1-2, we read that he and Sarah use the same lie that they had told in Egypt for the same reasons. They were afraid she would be taken and that he would be killed. She was 90 years old at this time and in order to conceive God may have rejuvenated her to a point that this might pose a danger. We see that king Abimelech (a title like Pharaoh) took her into his harem to be his wife. It could have been sexual desire or the desire to form an alliance with a powerful chieftain like Abraham.
In the ensuing verses we see God deal with Abimelech.
- He inflicts a serious disease on his household and possibly his entire people (one where they would not be able to produce children).
- He prevents Abimelech from having sex with Sarah and warns him he will die if he does.
- He tells him who Abraham is and informs him that if he releases Sarah, Abraham who is a prophet will pray for him.
We also see what Abimelech says to Abraham.
- He rebukes him for deceiving him and jeopardizing the safety of his nation.
- He also rebukes Sarah and tells her that the covering she needs is her husband and that will be enough to protect her from the desire of other men (vs. 16).
- He gives Abraham money, livestock and the freedom to live anywhere in his land. This Abraham accepts not to offend him further.
Abraham for his part explains his conduct to the king and accepts the gifts and the rebuke because of his lie.
This is the last chapter containing information about Abraham before the birth of Isaac which will begin a new period in his life.
The Child of Promise
Chapter 21 begins by describing the time of the birth of Isaac. The word stresses that he was born according to God's promise. The fact that Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90 did not limit the promise. When God promises, He also enables: Sarah was able to nurse her son, and Abraham was even able to have six other sons with his wife Ketura after Sarah died.
Man's weakness cannot stop the fulfillment of God's promises. As was the custom of the time, when Isaac was weaned Abraham made a feast for his household and neighbors.
9 Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. 10 Therefore she said to Abraham, "Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac." 11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, "Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named. 13 And of the son of the maid I will make a nation also, because he is your descendant." 14 So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba.
- Genesis 20:9-14
Note that the old jealousy springs up and once again Hagar is sent away with her child. God promises to care for the woman and child but the promise of the seed was to come through Isaac. Note that this is the first time but not the last that Abraham has to give up a child that he loves.
15 When the water in the skin was used up, she left the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, "Do not let me see the boy die." And she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept. 17 God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. 18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him." 19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink.
20 God was with the lad, and he grew; and he lived in the wilderness and became an archer. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
Hagar is put into the wilderness with only a little food and water (perhaps so that she would learn quickly to trust in God). Soon they are lost and Hagar cries out to God for help, and He provides a well and safety.
In one verse the Bible summarizes how Ishmael became a hunter and how he married an Egyptian woman selected by his Egyptian mother. In Genesis 25 we find out that he had 12 sons and became a great nation just as God had promised.
Some interesting points about this section:
- The Muslim religion traces its cultural source to Hagar and Ishmael just like the Jewish one traces its source back to Isaac and Abraham.
- The rivalry described in this ancient text continues today as the Muslim world and Jewish nation are continually at odds and at war with each other.
- The Muslim religion has ceremonies done today that date back to this very event. The Muslim religion is set forth in three categories:
- Articles of faith (doctrinal creeds)
- Right conduct (moral conduct)
- Religious duty (worship)
"MOSLEM" is the anglicized version of the word MUSLIM which refers to a "true believer," a follower of the religion of Islam (means surrender).
Under the section of religious duty of a Muslim is the pilgrimage. Once in a lifetime a Muslim or his representative must go to the holy shrine at Mecca for religious observances.
The shrine at Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is considered holy for two reasons:
- It is the place where the KAABA is kept. A large square building covered by a black silk cloth (4 stories high). Inside is a meteorite that fell in the region in the Middles-ages and considered a sacred sign from Allah (the Muslim name for God). This black stone is kissed or touched by the pilgrims as they proceed around the building in circular fashion.
- It is also said to be near the place where Hagar was lost in the desert with Ishmael, the father of the Arab people.
- Part of the pilgrimage sees them running between two hills, shaking their shoulders, seven times in imitation of Hagar frantic at being lost in the desert.
This along with prayers, teaching, fasting and almsgiving make up their religious pilgrimage to Mecca.
4. Another interesting thing about this story is that it reveals to us another "type".
A type is a person, place, thing, or situation that prepares us for a person, place, thing or situation that God wants to reveal to us in complete truth. For example: the ark = the church.
Hagar and her actions do not signify anything for us as Christians but her relationship with Sarah is a type for another more important and ongoing relationship and that is the conflicting relationship between the principle of law and the principle of grace and the results of each.
Paul refers to this in Galatians:
21 Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23 But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24 This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. 27 For it is written,
"Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear;
Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor;
For more numerous are the children of the desolate
Than of the one who has a husband."
28 And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. 30 But what does the Scripture say?
"Cast out the bondwoman and her son,
For the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman."
31 So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.
- Galatians 4:21-31
A. Hagar represents the Law, and her descendants are those who follow it (Jews and Muslims and all who try to be saved by the Law). Her descendants are born of the flesh in that they are great and numerous but not the ones through whom the promise would come. Her people try to justify themselves with the Law (study the Muslim religion and you will see how legalistic it is). Paul refers to Jews who try to justify themselves with the Law.
Their natural earthly home is Jerusalem (even today they control the spot where the temple was) and they fight for control over it with the Jews. They began by persecuting the children of the promise and continue to do so throughout history. They began as slaves and are still slaves of sin and ignorance to this day.
B. Sarah represents grace and her descendants are those who rely on faith in Christ to save them. Sarah's descendants began as a gracious promise fulfilled by God's power, not man's nature. Her descendants exist because God wanted His promise to be carried by her generations.
Her people are justified because they believe in God, not because they perfectly obey God's laws. (The core of the Christian faith is justification by faith, not law. This is the complete opposite of Islam).
A Christian's true home is the New Jerusalem in heaven. Earth is simply a pilgrimage. A Christian's temple is his body and God dwells within him, not in a building. Christians have been persecuted for being God's children. Christians began as free, they continue to live as totally free of condemnation and darkness: they are children of light.
Hagar and Sarah's relationship and what happened to them in their lives and descendants are a type that demonstrate the difference between the results of those who live under law and the results of those who live under grace.
Verses 22 to 34 recount an agreement made between Abimelech (the king that originally took his wife) and Abraham.
The king wants a non-aggression treaty with Abraham and Abraham agrees with the condition that he have the right to a disputed well site. Once this matter is settled, Abraham gives the king seven ewe lambs signifying the completeness of their agreement and the ownership of the well.
Abraham names the place Beersheba (well of the oath or well of the seven) and returns home in the land of the Philistines. He will live here one day but only when Isaac is grown up and Sarah is gone.
1. Never too old to sin
Dr. James Baird Sr. once told his class that as you grow older the type of sin you commit changes but sin is always a problem for the human being. Abraham was 100 years old but his habit of lying about his wife was well engrained and caused him problems even at this late date in life.
The key is to deal with sinfulness now and not think we will "grow too old" to be subject to temptation and sin, or that simple aging leads to holiness. Denying sinfulness is an effort at any age. One is never too young to start and never too old to stop sinning.
2. Mountain tops lead to valleys
People, especially young people, think that life starts low and simply gets better (an influence of evolutionary thinking). The truth is that we started perfect and then fell and now our pattern is up and down.
This is especially true in the Christian life: mountaintop experiences are usually followed by valleys of darkness. Abraham had been visited by the Lord and angels in person, had saved his nephew again, had been rejuvenated to the point where his sex life was active and productive: he was on top of the world and then he lied and went crashing down.
This pattern happens in the church as well. When things are going great, momentum, growth, great enthusiasm, you can be sure that Satan is working overtime to divide the brethren or bring sin into the camp to make things come crashing down. When you are at the peak, slow down and be cautious, it is easy to fall.
3. His time – not your time
God accomplished everything for Abraham in exactly the time He said.
We need to understand that since God is in charge of everything (even how long and how much Satan can operate), He is also in charge of time. It is not only His time for religious things or prayers… everything runs on His time: the rain, the good, the evil, the beginning and the end. Our job is to cultivate an appreciation for His timetable and develop patience.
God always knows how long things will take and how long we have. He never forgets the time, He is never late, He never wastes time, He is always aware of the time you have left. We will become much less stressed if we realize that the world operates on His time, not ours.