Abraham and his Sons: Bound to Obey Genesis 21:1-20 and 22:1-19

October 19, 2014

Genesis 21:1-20 and 22:1-19

Abraham and his Sons: Bound to Obey


Intro:  I am going to speak a word.  Listen for the response you have.  Obey. 

Was your response, “Oh yes!” or “Let me think on that”? 


If we choose to live in relationship with God, we choose to live in obedience.  We agree to play by God’s rules as found in Scripture.  We agree to surrender our lives to Him.  This is not in anyway easy or simple.  And thought we may give it quick lip service, the living out of this obedience is a different matter altogether. 


Abraham is the example of faith God has given us to live by.  Moses told his story to inspire and embolden those people of faith who would come after him.  You are one of those people.  This true story about our ancestor, Abraham, is for your encouragement today.


Turn with me to Gen 21:1 as we look at the account of Abraham and his faithfulness to God in relationship to his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac.



How long are we willing to wait for the things God has promised us?  How long does it take until we give up and take matters into our own hands?  How long will it take us to believe that God answers our prayers and fulfills his promises exactly on time and in his best manner for us.



So it is all gladness and joy in the tent of Abraham and Sarah!  This miracle of birth is to be celebrated.  Abraham has taken God at his word.  He has been obedient in following God’s command to circumcise the child.  All is well in the tent of Abraham!  But meanwhile, in the tent of Abraham’s other son . . .



I get the feeling that Sarah still held a little bit of resentment towards Hagar for the pleasures she had given Abraham.  It seems she is bitter and angry even though it was she who had arranged for Hagar to be Abraham’s concubine.  Let this be another cautionary tale of what can happen when we take matters into our own hands and try to fix things for God.  This was not a satisfactory solution for either woman and I don’t imagine it made life incredibly pleasant for Abraham!



Of course Abraham is distressed!  This is his firstborn son we’re talking about!  And even if he withheld himself from feelings for Hagar, he loved his son.  But note this fantastic instruction from the mouth of God to Abraham!  “Listen to whatever Sarah tells you!”  This is revolutionary!  God told his best man to listen to his wife and do what she says!!  Wow!!  And every wife here just uttered the prayer, “Oh Lord, make it so in my house.”

Well, maybe that’s not meant to be a universal commandment but . . . it is very wise.  God knows what Sarah is convinced of.  It is through Isaac that God will fulfill his promises to Abraham.  And Abraham does what Sarah tells him he must do.



Can you imagine what it was like for Hagar?  She had been brought, as a slave, into a relationship with her master that she never expected.  She had a child by him and was led to believe that she was so much more than a slave.  And yet, her mistress, rife with jealousy lives with outward disdain for her and she knows she is unwanted, even if the child she bore is loved.  And in all this, she experiences the favor of God even though she is of a different tribe and belief system. 


I think there is an important point to take notice of here.  God doesn’t just bless his own people.  Sometimes he blesses others.  Sometimes he chooses to bless those who seemingly are against him.  This serves to remind us to be slow to judge.  God works in mysterious ways through mysterious means.  Our task is to keep our eyes and heart stayed on Him and trust that he has it all under control.  God knows what he’s after and we only think we know.  Let us hold loosely our judgments on what God is doing in and through the lives of others.  And let us make sure that we are living our own lives in faithfulness and obedience and learn to grow comfortable with the mystery of the way God does things that are beyond our understanding.



And that is what became of Ishmael and Hagar.  Ishmael is spoken of in genealogies and we discover that he has sons and that his daughter gets married off.  Other than that, he seems to disappear into history.  We will meet him again in chapter 25 when he joins Isaac to bury their father and we find that what God had spoken of him is true – he and his descendants “lived in hostility toward all their brothers.”


Islamic and some Jewish historians accredit Ishmael as being the father of the Arab nations.  Other Jewish historians site the children of Abraham’s second wife, Keturah in this role.  Ishmael and Hagar are central to Islamic faith.  In the Quran, Ishamel is identified alongside other prophets and as the forefather of Muhammed.  In other Islamic literature, Hagar is said to be the one who established Mecca during the time she and Ishmael were abandoned in the desert.  This and many other traditions have come out of the Muslim faith regarding Ishmael.  I share that with you just so you can be aware.


And now, back to Isaac.


Genesis 22:1-2

I don’t think Abraham saw that one coming. Moses doesn’t record that he bartered with God for Isaac the way he did for Sodom.  But wouldn’t you imagine that there was some kind of conversation? At least in Abraham’s own mind? Or was Abraham completely accepting at this point?



Unquestioning obedience.  God has called Abraham to do the unimaginable.  Losing Isaac means losing all of the promises of God.  So what does Abraham have to believe in order to go through with this, no questions asked?  I think it is that God will be faithful to fulfill what he has promised, no matter what. 

Abraham also shows us an attitude of heart that we need to learn as God-followers:  Obedience to God at whatever cost.  Think about the things you are willing to give to God.  Do you set limits?  Do you offer things on condition that you receive some sort of perk for your obedience?  Are there things God has distinctly asked of you that you have ignored or put off?  If you hang around pastors long enough you end up hearing a lot of stories about how they refused God’s call to enter the ministry until they find themselves in it for their second and third careers either as commissioned lay pastors or returning to seminary in their 50’s and 60’s.  You have to ask, “Does it pay to disobey God?”  What is your gut response to that?  Mine is, “Duh, no!”  And yet . . . if we were to inspect my life closely we would find some places where that total obedience has not been lived out.  I am NOT a good example of total obedience, but Abraham is.  Me, I’m working on it.


Abraham obeys instructions that make no sense and are heartbreaking to think about.  But, he obeys.



Can you even imagine what is going on in Abraham’s heart and head?  Can you imagine what is going on in Isaac’s head?  This must have been the most terrifying moment in their lives.  They are right at the point of no return.  All of Abraham’s hope for a different way have been abandoned.  Then, just at the last moment . . .



This is the kind of story that makes your heart pound!  When does God show up?  At the last possible moment.  Have you ever had to wait that long to see God meet you in your need?  And at that moment, are you positive it was God that met your need and not your own doing?  Faith is not for sissies.  It requires a long obedience to a faithful Father who doesn’t always make sense from our perspective.


I often think about the way God called me here.  After some 18 months or so of doing “interim work” I knew God told me it was time to leave you.  And so I did.  Even though I loved you.  Then, some six months later God spoke in no uncertain terms that I was to return.  This to me was embarrassing!  He told me to leave and I did and now he wants me to come back?  What will the people of Rome think of me?  On my first Sunday back, it was Lucille Pennay who said, “Oh we never stopped praying that you would come back.”  That put any doubt to rest for me. 


Sometimes, living in obedience to God means you have to be willing to look like a fool.  Sometimes you have to extend out of your comfort zone and beyond what makes logical sense in your own mind.  Living in obedience always requires trusting God for the things you can’t understand.



God blessed Abraham further because he did not withhold what was most precious to him. 



What is most precious to you?  What are you most reluctant to entrust to God?  If you were to finish this sentence, “I will surrender everything to God, except ________.”  What would fill in the blank?  Some might fill it with their family, others with their finances, others their jobs, others a significant relationship.  But the truth is, that blank needs to stay blank.  We need to offer it all to God.  Held in our tight fists that person or thing is limited.  Offered to God, the possibilities are limitless.


I want to give you some time to converse with God on this topic. 

First, ask him to reveal what it is you are withholding from him.

Second, then dare to ask Him what he is requiring of you today.

The length of time and silence may become uncomfortable, but I encourage you to hang with this.  God calls us to be transformed into his image.  That only comes from growth in obedience.  If this is a growth moment for you, take it!  Pay attention.  Don’t deny God what he desires from you.


Let us pray:  Good and gracious God, faithful Father, please come and speak to our hearts.  Reveal to each of us what it is we are withholding from you . . .


Trustworthy Redeemer, show each of us what it is you require of us today.