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Sunday, January 5, 2020

posted Jan 5, 2020, 3:58 PM by Site Administrator

ABRAHAM SENT OFF ISHMAEL

 

Genesis 20:1-21:34

Key Verse 21:14

 

Early 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 Beersheba. 

 

First, He will pray for you and you will live (20:1-18).Genesis chapter 20, verse 1 reads, Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar. Gerar ismodern day Gaza Strip in Israel where the Jewish settlers and the Palestinians have fought so far. Its original people were the PhilistinesAs Abraham moved into this area, he was afraid that the Philistines would kill him to take his wife. So he told Sarah to say that he was her brother. In the previous passage, we saw Abraham’s maturity – his hospitality toward the three guests, and his sincere prayer struggle for the people of Sodom testified that he was a great man; he grew to be God’s friend. But now in this chapter, we see him telling a lie, for he was afraid of the people in Gerar. Even though he had grown up as a great man of God, he still had a unique weakness, that was, the fear of people.When we see great servants of God like Abraham, we think that they are perfect. But, usually, they are not perfect. They too have their own unique weaknesses, and God bears with them. Because of his lie, Sarah was in big trouble - Abimelech, king of Gerar took her as his wife. How did God deal with his problem?

 

God did not say anything to Abraham about it. Instead, God dealt with Abimelech. God appeared to him in a dream, and said, You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman. Usually, God does not threaten anyone like this, saying, You are as good as dead! But this time, for the sake of Abraham and Sarah, God took this action - You are as good as dead. For the sake of protecting his friend Abraham, God was willing to go this far, changing his cool style. God gave Abimelech a direction to return Sarah to Abraham with a warning that, otherwise, he and all his men would surely die. Also, God said to him, He is a prophet. He will pray for you and you will live. Abraham being a prophet showed that he was not an ordinary human, but a divine being, deserving honor and respect. Also, Abimelech was king, but God showed him that actually his life was at the mercy of Abraham - only if Abraham prayed for him, he would be healed and live. In this way, God exalted Abraham highly so that Abimelech might show him proper respect and honor. Focusing on his fruitless life, Abraham might think that he had done nothing great for God; he might that he was nobody. But this passage shows that God deeply appreciated what Abraham had done for him, how he had struggled to keep God’s covenant in his heart. In God’s eyes, Abraham was really great. God wanted Abraham to be honored and respected, and even feared by others. This is how God sees and deals with those who love him and pursue Him. God says in the Bible, Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.” (1Sa 2:30) God is the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. Yet, He says that there are the people whom He honors! What kind of people are they? They are those who honor Him by living for Him, pursuing God's vision wholeheartedly. When some peoplelive for God and pursue him, they are no longer ordinary humans, but the ones whom God honors and He is very concerned about their names; He wants them to be exalted highly so that they may receive honor and respect, and that they may be loved and even feared. God honors those who honor Him. 

 

When Abimelech woke up, he was very alarmed; he called in his officials and told them about it, and they were very alarmed too. So, after discussing how they should deal with this matter, they came to Abraham with their gifts of sheep and cattle, male and female servants and returned Sarah to him. Abimelech also gave Abraham a thousand shekels of silver as compensation for Sarah. In this way, the Philistines treated Abraham very respectfully, and let Abraham live wherever he liked in their territory.

 

Living as a man of God in a foreign land was not easy for Abraham, especially, in such a violent and lawless land. But God was his good shepherd who watched over him. And God patiently bore with Abraham’s weakness.

  

Second, God has brought me laughter (21:1-7). Look at chapter 21, verses 1 through 4. Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham named him Isaac, and on the eighth day of his birth, circumcised him as God commanded him. God's promise for a son had come trueIt was a long waited son - 25 years. How happy they were! It was a glorious and victorious moment for this couple. The passage zeroes in on how each of them responded to this great blessing of God. How did Abraham the husband respond? The passage focuses on how Abraham, in the time of blessing, obeyed God's instruction: He named his son Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day according to God's instruction. He was not carried away by the joy of victory; he was not carried away by his own desires either; instead, in the time of blessing, as the head of the family, he kept God at the center of his family, doing everything God commanded him to do. Often, people conveniently forget about God when things go well with their life. When your dreams come true in the matter of marriage, having babies, and getting a dream career job, don't get carried away by such things. Instead, in the time of blessing, remember God who gave you such great blessing, and keepGod's command. Especially, all husbands, be men before God as the head of the family by obeying God's will.

 

How did Sarah respond to this blessing? Before mentioning about her response, the passage testifies that it was very personal grace given to Sarah, saying, The LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. For Sarah, it was indeed more than just having a victory in her life, but very personal grace of God she experienced, which she would never forget; she would be eternally thankful to God for this grace. Once Sarah expressed her fatalism and despair, saying to her husband, The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her. Who could understand her agony that she, all on her own, put her maidservant in the arm of her husband? She waited and waited for God to give her a son. But when she passed menopause, she finally gave up all hope for a son that even when God told her that she would have a son, she laughed with silly smile; she didn’t believe. But now she really laughed, saying, God has brought me laughter. She had been humiliated for the past 60 years; even her maidservant despised her. Who could understand her agony, her sorrow, fatalism and despair? Who could make her laugh? No one! But God brought her laughter, and made her smile brightly. She became a happy woman because of God. For her, Isaac her son, was God's seal of approval, like the sign of God's personal love for her, which all people could see very clearly, and no one could deny - she was not a cursed woman, but a blessed woman, loved by God so personally. So, in all things from that time on, she was confident in her words and actions - nothing to be ashamed of, because the sign of God's personal love for her, that was, Isaac, was there. She summed up her entire life testimony in two sentences and shared itsaying, Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age. In her words, there was confidence and charisma. In this way, she became a victor because of God's power and grace.

 

Having laughter, this is the expression of true victory in life. Many people struggle to grab what they wantthey pursue what they desire, and when they get it, it seems that they laugh. They find a seemingly promising job at a young age; they marry so early in their age. But usually, the laughter they have produced is not real laughter. Soon their laughter turns to quarreling, strife, and disappointment. At the challenges of life, their laughter disappears so quickly, and even turns into anger, depression and nightmares. How can we really laugh? How can we become real victors in our life, in this world? Sarah says, God has brought me laughter! When God brings you laughter, you are a real victor in life. Isaac was more than a son to Sarah; Isaac was the fruit of Abraham and Sarah’s 25 years of life of holding onto God’s promise – sometimes, they were about to be blown away; but somehow, they overcame all difficulties inwardly and outwardly; they held on it firmly as if it were their lifeline - they fought the spiritual battle of believing in God’s promise, and after 25 years of struggle, they finally ended up seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise; they won the complete victory. The victory was indeed sweet, and they really laughed.This is what Christian life is about. This is how we can be true victors in life, laughing loudly. Those who hold onto God’s word of promise and live by it look stubborn, and they look likelosers; sometimes, they go through painful moments of self-denial, weeping and mourning; but when God’s word is fulfilled, they are the ones who truly laugh. Jesus mentioned about this - how he wants his believers live their life, saying, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. He also saysRemain in me, and I will remain in you...If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit...Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love.(Jn 15:1-10) Holding onto God's word and living by it is what real Christian life is about. This is the narrow path, and narrow gate, and among so many God-believing people, only few find it. Hold onto God's word; remain in Jesus, and God will bring you laughter.

 

Third, “Because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned” (21:8-21). Look at verses 8 through 11. On the day that Isaac was weaned, Abraham held a great feast. Probably all of his friends and townspeople were invited and Sarah prepared enough mouthwatering dishes for everyone at this feast - homemade lasagna, Korean Bar-Be-Que, and even fresh baked pumpkin pie for dessert. The feast held in honor of little Isaac was such an important and joyous event that everyone rejoiced together with Isaac and his family. But there was one person who wasn’t so happy. It was Isaac’s older half-brother Ishmael. So far, he was the only son who was to inherit everything of Abraham and Sarah. But when Isaac was born, suddenly, he became an illegitimate child, the son of slavewomanHe lost everything. By this time, he was about seventeen years old. He knew what was going on. He was jealous of Isaac, so even at such an early age, he began harassing IsaacSarah saw this and was angry. She said to AbrahamGet rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac. Her reason was totally personal - she really disliked the idea of Ishmael sharing the inheritance with Isaac; she would never let it happen. So, she asked Abraham to kick them out. At this, Abraham was greatly distressed because it concerned his son. To Sarah, Ishmael was that slave woman's son. But to Abraham, Ishmael was his firstborn son whom he had gotten in his old age. Just until a few year ago, he had been so happy and satisfied with him that he even thought that it was okay to live and die as the father of this one son; he thought that his life was even worthwhile because of him. But now he was asked to kick him out of his house! Abraham was distressed greatly. Look at verse 12. Let's read this verse together: 

 

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.

 

Abraham wanted his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael to live together in his home – how beautiful it would be if all his family members – Sarah, Isaac, Hagar and Ishmael - lived together in peace and unity; he was rich and there were many rooms in his house. But Sarah did not think that way-Ishmael should not stay with Isaac. Amazingly, God saw it in the same way. Even in God’s eyes, Ishmael should be sent off from Abraham’s home. God’s reason was, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. It meant that even though Ishmael was Abraham’s biological offspring, God would not consider him as Abraham’s offspring, because Ishmael was not from God, but from human thinking and compromise. Thereby, in the family of God’s covenant, there was no room for Ishmael to stay, and eventually, he should be sent off. Abraham’s desire was to take care of both of them very well, but God’s will was that Abraham would take care of Isaac only whom God sent, andsend off Ishmael, entrusting him in God’s hands, even though his heart was attached to him.

 

When we have both Isaac and Ishmael, we want to keep both of them, because both of them are important and lovely to us. But God wants us to take care of only Isaac who is from God and to send Ishmael offThen, God will take care of our Ishmael. As we serve God’s purpose, God sends many sheep to us – they are from God, and God’s will is that we should take care of them, because they will be reckoned as our offspring; they will be our real fruit according to God’s will and planThey will be our real family members - our sons and daughters, our brothers and sistersGod asks us to send off Ishmael by faith in him, so that we can focus on Isaac whom God sends to us.Through Isaac your offspring will be reckoned.

 

Who or what is our Ishmael? Our human dream for success in the world, our remaining compromise or love for the world. Our Ishmael can also be any human relationship such as boyfriend or girlfriend that conflicts with our new life in God. To Abraham, it was his own first born son; so, Ishmael can beeven our biological father or mother or brothers or sisters. People want intimate fellowship with God, talking to God and hearing from him directly. They want to do mighty works of God for God’s glory, even performing miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit. But to many of them, it ends as a wishful thinking, because they do not send off their Ishmael. With the elements of compromise in their lives and hearts, their spiritual growth has limit. God’s direction for us, as it was for Abraham,is to send our Ishmaels away, instead of holding onto them. And he promises that if we send them off, he will take care of them, because he knows our concern for them.

 

Upon being given such a harsh command, what did Abraham do? Look at verse 14. Early 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 Beersheba. Abraham didn’t question or plead with God concerning this sensitive and very personal matter. Instead, early the very next morning, he gave Hagar and Ishmael one gallon of water and a sack of lunch, and sent them off into the desert as God had told him to. In the eyes of ordinary people, he looked very cruelOne of my students during this Bible studyexclaimed, Oh my goodness, he is a cold-hearted person! No, he was not a cold-hearted person. In order to obey God’s word, he denied his feelings and emotions. Indeed, Abraham was fighting a fierce battle. How did Ishmael feel when his own father was kicking him out only because he had a new son? He was confused; he felt betrayed and was angry at him; he did not want to see his father's face at all; maybe, he hung his head low; or he was staring at him with his eyes glowing with anger; or he screamed at him, saying, I hate you. I will never see you again. When Abraham saw his firstborn son suffering so terribly this way, or getting angry at him, his heart was broken. But he did not live by his feelings and emotions; he did not live by his human nature either. Instead, he lived by God's word, denying himself and doing what God wanted him to do. Even at such great pain, he did not back out; instead, he continued his obedience to God's direction and sent them off into the desert, swallowing all related misunderstanding, sorrows and pains by himself. He was not an ordinary man; he was not a silly emotional or humanistic man at all; he was a warrior who went his way despite all challenges. We are reminded of how Jesus, despite all difficulties and pains, proceeded his way and obeyed God's command - he was a mighty warrior. God says in the Bible, My righteous will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him. If God's people shrink back because of some difficulties or pains or sorrows, God will not be pleased with them. (Heb 10:38) At this, Hebrews 10:39 conclusively says, But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

 

How could Abraham do this? How could he send off his firstborn teenage son, Ishmael into the desert with just a lunch sack and a gallon of water? He could do so because of two reasons. One reason was because God had promised him that, when he sent him off, God would take care of him and bless him. Abraham believed in God's protection and care for Ishmael. So, he didn't need to give Ishmael a lot of food or many camels, but just a lunch sack and a gallon of water - God would take care of him. The other reason was because of God's blessing on Isaac. God promised him that God's covenant blessing would be given to Isaac and God's covenant people would be reckoned through Isaac. In order to secure this blessing of God's covenant on Isaac, Abraham was willing to send off his firstborn son Ishmael into the desert. This much, Abraham pursued God’s covenant blessing on Isaac. Here, we see the importance and value of God's covenant blessing. It is the most precious treasure we have. In order to secure this blessing for us, we are willing to send off anything or anyone that is in the way. We are like a farmer who found a treasure chest buried in his rented field - what does he do once he finds the treasure chest in his rented field? He goes home, sell everything he has and purchases the field. While he sells everything he has, people think of him crazy, but he knows what he is doing and he is overjoyed when he secures that field. We are like a merchant who found the pearl of the greatest value; it was for sale, and it seemed that no one really recognized its true value. So what does he do? He goes home, sells everything he has and purchases the pearl. God's covenant blessing is like that - it is a token that brings us into real intimate fellowship with God, a token that will bring us into true friendship with God; it is a token that will bring to us great inheritance in the kingdom of God. We value this blessing above all other things. We must take care of Isaac whom God sends, because through him, our offspring will be reckoned.

 

It was a turning point for Abraham that, as he sent off Ishmael, he got rid of all elements of human compromise from his life of faith. In order to live for God and pursue God's covenant blessing, he even sent off his own firstborn son into the desert - it showed his heart's complete decision that he would live for God alone and that nothing or no one would stand between God and him any longer. He crucified all human nature and passion so that he would live for God alone. Abraham fought a fierce spiritual battle and won the victory. 

 

In verses 15 through 21, we see how God took care of Ishmael. At first, they suffered for a while even to the point of giving up everything, even the hope for survival; they wept a lot. But God was always at the right time. He took care of them, helped them and made them prosperous.

 

FourthAbraham called on the name of the LORD, the Eternal God (21:22-34). In verses 22 through 32, we see Abraham’s second encounter with Abimelech, the king of Gerar.Abimelech with his army commander Phicol came to Abraham and said to him, God is with you in everything you do. Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show kindness to me and the country where you are living as an alien the same kindness I have shown to you. When Lot spoke, the people of Sodom laughed at him. They didn’t respect or revere him at all. But people recognized Abraham as God's servant and came to respect him. Now Abimelech king of Gerar wanted to make a peace treaty with Abraham, asking him for kindness to him and his descendants. At this, Abraham responded, saying, I swear.Then, he complained to Abimelech about a well of water, which Abimelech's servants had seized, which Abraham had dug. Then, at Abimelech's apology, Abraham initiated two contracts - one for the peace treaty and the other for the well he had dug. At their first meeting with Abimelech, Abraham had been shaking in fear, without being able to say anything when king Abimelech even took his wifeBut now Abraham stood as an equal to the king of Gerar, making his opinion very clear to him and initiating contracts with him. This shows that as Abraham continued to live by faith, he came to overcome his unique weakness, that was, his fear of worldly people, especially, those who had political power. That was a true victory Abraham experienced in his life of faith. 

Look at verses 33 and 34. Let’s read these verses together:

 

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.

 

After this event with Abimelech, king of Gerar, something amazing happened in Abraham’s heart. Usually, when something great happened, Abraham built an altar to the Lord as an expression of his thanks to God. When he was really reallythankful, then, he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. But this time, something really really reallygreat happened that he did something totally different - he planted a tamarisk tree and there he called upon the name of the LORD, the Eternal God. Tamarisk tree is a slow-growing evergreen tree in the Middle East. When you plant a tree, you do it not for yourself, but for your next generation. Also, it was the first time that Abraham had called God by this name, the Eternal God. Through experiencing victory in God in his practical life, he came to know God who is eternal. It meant that his eyes were opened to see who God was - the Eternal God - God lives eternally; He remains eternally. Abraham realized that all other things such as humans, property like the well and even precious sons and daughters were temporary, remaining in the world just for a while, and then, going away, losing all their value, meaning and purpose, but God would remain forever. Even he himself would stay on earth for a while and would be gone sometime later, but God would remain there forever. Only God is great and only He carries real meaning and purpose, while all other things eventually lose their meaning, purpose and valueSo far, Abraham was so concerned about his life, his son, and his desire; he built an altar to the Lord whenever God did something good for him such as encouragement or promises. But now, in view of God who is eternal, the value of the things of this world and humans faded away in his eyesThings of this world lost their grip on Abraham whatever they might be. His focus changed from the things of humans and himself, to the things of God who is the Eternal God. Abraham graduated from the things of humans and entered the world of God who is eternal. Verse 33 is indeed a glorious statement. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God.

 

This passage shows us the key characteristic of ourChristian life, that is, spiritual growth, very well. Christian life is the life of experiencing God personally, and thereby, opening our eyes to who God is more and more. When our eyes are opened to God as we experience God, we begin to see things in a different perspective than before, and there, our value system changes and our hope also changes. That’s how we grow in God continually. This knowing God personally through experiencing God is the real essence of our Christian life. Without this knowing of God personally, then, we just do Christian activities, at best being nice to others; such a Christian life has no real power, and it is boring. The question is how we can know God more and more. When we think about Abraham’s case, we see that his great understanding of God as the Eternal God had not come to him without any cause. Instead, we see that it came to him as the result of his sincere struggle to obey God’s words, even the command of sending off his firstborn son Ishmael. Sending off Ishmael was not something he did one time and forgot about; instead, it was something he thought about so much and, with this, he thought a lot about fundamental things of life such as what life is about, what is truly important, and who his God was – so many things. And also experiencing personal victory over his weakness helped him know God more. Through all these struggles and experiences, his understanding of life deepened, and finally he could see who his God was – the Eternal God. Jesus says, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Let’s pray that we also may have the same kind of sincere struggle before God by holding onto Jesus’ teaching. This struggle of holding onto Jesus’ teaching, this struggle of obeying God’s commands despite challenges and pains, will lead us to knowing God more and more. As a result, we will enjoy freedom from all things in life.

 

The Lord has brought me laughter! Let’s pray that this may be our testimony too. It is through Isaac your offspring will be reckoned. Let’s accept this plan of God and send off Ishmael. Our God is the Eternal God. With this understanding of God, we can graduate from the things of humans and enter into the world of God.

 

One Word: Through Isaac Your Offspring Will Be Reckoned

 

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