First Mennonite Church
February 28, 2021
Abraham and Sarah: When God Handles Our Lows in Life
Text: Genesis 21:1-21
Finally, the long-awaited time came and the Lord did as he had promised to Sarah. She gave birth to a son. She was ninety years old and Abraham was a hundred. Abraham named the baby boy, “Isaac,” which means “laughter.”
We remember that both Abraham and Sarah had laughed at the idea of having children when the Lord told them they will one day (Gen. 17:17; 18:12). But after the birth, the name Isaac, “laughter” had a different meaning. It meant reason for jubilation; it meant the miracle of motherhood. Isaac, meant the joy of God doing the impossible, humanly speaking. But it appears as if the joy was not equally shared between Abraham and Sarah. Sarah’s joy seems more enthusiastic than Abraham’s and that maybe for two reasons. For sure, the birth of Isaac was Sarah’s vindication as a woman for the delight of being a mother. Sarah was ecstatic and over-the-moon with joy. She said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” And continued, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age” (Genesis 21:6-7). The other reason could be because Abraham was already a father to the 14 year-old Ishmael, thus, he was not as joyful as Sarah was.
Abraham fulfilled his duties as a father. He circumcised the baby, according to the requirements of the Lord for Abraham’s household and prepared a feast on the day the Isaac was weaned. We can assume that the Isaac might have been about 2-4 years old when he was weaned, and not as early as children are today. However, the festive occasion was short lived. Sarah saw something happening between Ishmael and Isaac that raised a serious concern and perhaps jealousy in her, as well. From the account in Genesis, we only see that Ishmael and Isaac were playing, but when Paul interprets this incident in Galatians, he says that Ishmael was harassing or persecuting Isaac (Galatians 4:29). It should not surprise us if by the age of fifteen or sixteen Ishmael could already be sharing his mother’s contempt towards Sarah and her baby boy.
On the same day of celebration, Sarah gave an ultimatum to Abraham: get rid of the slave and her son, for he will not inherit along my son, Isaac. This proposal pained Abraham deeply. He had loved Ishmael. Abraham would have been satisfied if Ishmael became the channel through which God would fulfill his promise of making Abraham the father of a great nation. In Genesis 17 when God reiterated his promise of a son to Abraham, he pleaded with God to establish Ishmael forever. But God told Abraham, his promise of a great posterity would not be through Ishmael, but through the son Sarah will have (17:18-22).
God re-affirmed Sarah’s position to Abraham regarding what should be done with Hagar and Ishmael. Yet, God gave Abraham this reassurance, “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” (Gen. 21:12).
Peter writes about Sarah being humble and submissive to her husband and that Christian women should look up to her as an example of piety. However, Genesis 21 paints for us a different Sarah, one who commands and who acts less than Christianly, if you will.
Early the next day Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away into the desert. At first glance, Sarah’s extreme measure to do away with Hagar and Ishmael seems harsh and inhumane. However, within that context, ancient laws decreed that children born to slaves and who would not become heirs should be set free to pursue their lives. So, early in the morning when it was the most opportune time to travel in the desert and when Abraham could give his heartfelt farewell without the interference of Sarah, he sent away Hagar and Ishmael.
Whatever provisions Hagar was able to take along, especially water, ran out. Her son, who by this time would have been in his early teens, was succumbing to thirst and dehydration. Under whatever kind of small bush Hagar could find, she laid her son there to die. And not wanting to see Ishmael die, Hagar move away, sobbing for their desperate situation.
It is very interesting that God’s intervention came in response to Ishmael’s desperate cry for water, not of Hagar’s (v.17). But an angel of the Lord spoke to Hagar, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.” And there, God reiterated the promise of making of Ishmael into a great nation. And then we are told that God opened the eyes of Hagar to see there was a well from which she gave the boy to drink and of which she drank and filled their water skin.
There are several lessons we can draw from this story.
If Abraham could have chosen what Moses should write about his Abraham’s life, there might be certain parts or incidents about his life that he’d prefer to keep out of the record. This might have been one of those. However, this story, as troubling as it may appear to us, was included in the Holy Scripture, both to make us aware that the God who chose Abraham did so not because Abraham was a perfect and flawless man, but that God’s faithfulness is not thwarted by human failures. God works with and through real people, with all they are, including their weaknesses and faults. The second reason, as Paul would write, is to leave behind for us a warning and instruction that we may not to repeat their mistakes (1Corinthians 10:11).
The other lesson we can draw from this account is that time will come when the errors and mistake of the past will haunt those who committed them. In this case, the Hagar and Ishmael case was initiated by Sarah and Abraham gave in to it too. So, both of them brought the trouble upon themselves, even if it took 14-16 years to come to haunt them. In their desperation of not having children Sarah and Abraham took matters into their hands to solve that problem. Sarah gave her maid to Abraham that through Hagar they might have a child. And as soon as Hagar became pregnant, Sarah became the first casualty; the maid held her mistress in contempt. But once Isaac was born, the problem exploded and immediate and drastic action had to be taken and those who suffered the most were Hagar, Ishmael and Abraham. However, what this story shows is that doing what is right, not always but often, is painful. Only after Ishmael was out of the picture in Abraham’s life, could the Lord test Abraham to offer his son, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there . . .” (Genesis 22:2).
Still yet, another lesson we can draw from this story is God’s goodness and faithfulness only becomes evident after we go through difficulty. Fulfillment of the promise to Abraham and Sarah only came after they had gone through personal crisis. That was true also when Joseph was sold over to Pharaoh. Joseph’s disappearance was heartbreaking to Jacob. However, Joseph’s position in Egypt help Jacob and his household survive the terrible drought. Job’s latter greater honor and prosperity only came to him after his great ordeal. Job’s faith in God was the only thing that sustained him during his trying years.
One final lesson we can draw is that God never fail us. Sometimes his solution to our problems are right before our eyes but because we are so engrossed with our problems we cannot see God’s answer. Hagar had her vision blurred by her tears and she could not see that close by there was a well. In the following paragraph after our passage for today, Abraham was so afraid of Abimelech, that he tried to appease him with gifts, when in reality, Abimelech was fearful of Abraham because Abimelech knew that the God Almighty was protecting and prospering Abraham. How often times our fears are not real, but only in our head.
My loving brothers and sisters, what is happening in your life right now? Is anything of the past catching up with you now, creating tension in your family relations, stress over finances, or health issues? Are desperately crying to God to rescue you or your loved ones like Hagar did? What are you afraid of that keeps you awake at night?
This story reminds us that the cries of those who belong to God will reach Him. His answers might not be spectacular or miraculous, as we sometimes expect or demand. Many times the answer will be that which, later we would realize, has been obvious and close to us, but because our vision had been so blurred, we had not seen it before.
My dear friend, do you belong to this God? Do you call on his name? If you have come to trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ on your behalf, then you do. And if you do, God cares for you. Those who belong to God need not fear, for He is with them; indeed, He is in them. And, wonder of all, He deals with us in grace. Even at our darkest hours, He remains faithful and His promises true. Amen!
 The Code of Hammurabi, Law #164, Harold Stigers, A Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), p. 185.