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GENESIS 21:1-34
Series:  Abraham - Part Eight

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
March 26, 2017

We are at Genesis 21 studying the life of Abraham. 


Genesis is foundational - the beginning of what comes next.  In Genesis God lays out the purpose and pattern for what God is doing in His creation.


In Genesis God chooses Abraham.  Biologically Abraham becomes the father of a nation of Abrahams called to live by faith in God.  In the New Testament - spiritually we’re told that the church is spiritually descended from Abraham.  Each of us is called out by God to live by faith in God.


Abraham is the example of what that looks like.  What it means to follow God by faith through life - through all of what God is doing in His creation.


Anyone here ever go skydiving?


It’s been said that:  “If at first you don’t succeed then skydiving is not for you.”


This is Antti Pendikainen of Finland who jumped from a hot air balloon at 13,000 feet - without a parachute - on purpose.


Asked “Why?” Antti said, “I’ve always wanted to jump without a parachute, and now I’ve done it.”


Of course he had other people jump with him - catch him - and they had parachutes.


That was Plan A.  Plan B we assume was making a crater.


We are at Genesis 21 studying the life of Abraham and Plan A - by faith following God through life.


Verses 1 to 7 focus on The Birth of Isaac. 


Verse 1:  The Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as He had promised.  And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.  Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac.  And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.  Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.  And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.”  And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?  Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”


Let’s walk through these verses. 


Notice two things about the birth of Isaac.  First:  God’s fulfillment of His promise.  Timing is everything.


Verse 1:  The Lord - who?  The Lord visited Sarah as He - who?  The Lord had said, and the Lord - who?  The Lord did to Sarah as He - who?  The Lord had promised.

And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age
- not young - not going through mid-life - not even elderly - but older than dirt old - when Abraham was old - at the time of which God - who? At the time of which God had spoken to him. 


Back in chapter 17 we saw God tell Abraham, “This time next year Sarah’s going to have a son.  Name him Isaac.”  At the time designated by God that God said Isaac was to be born - he was.  (Genesis 17:15-21)


Why wait until Abraham is 100?  Why wait until Sarah - a woman who’s been barren all her life - why wait until she’s 90 - for this birth to happen?


Years of waiting - and heartache - and failure - waiting while they moved from Ur to Haran to Hebron - waiting for God to fulfill His promise of a son - an heir - movement towards the promise God made to Abraham of a dwelling with God - uncountable descendants - great blessing to Abraham and through Abraham to all the nations.  Why wait until it was naturally impossible for Sarah to bear children?


Why?  Answer:  So no man could possibly take credit for it - especially Abraham.  At the exact time God said Sarah would give birth to a child - Sarah gives birth to a baby boy. 


Who made all that happen?  God.  Who alone is able to accomplish what He wills to accomplish?  God.  Who alone is able fulfill His promises?  God.


Point being:  This is a God thing because this is something only God can do.


Second - notice Abraham’s obedience.


Way back in ancient history when I worked with Mount Hermon - working with Junior Highers - we used to sing a song - maybe you know this one.


We’ve sung it here before.  If you know it sing with me.  Please sing it with me. 


Obedience is the very best way,

To show that you believe.

Doing exactly what the Lord commands,

And doing it happily.


Action is the key,

Do it immediately,

And joy you will receive.

Obedience is the very best way,

To show that you believe. 


O.B.E.D.I.E.N.C.E.  (spell it)


Obedience is the very best way,

To show that you believe.


Back in Genesis 17 God had commanded Abraham:  You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.  He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised.  Every male throughout your generations...” (Genesis 17:11,12)


Circumcision - this marking of the body - is like a branding - a declaration of God’s ownership of that person.  God says that circumcision is the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham.  It’s not the covenant itself.  But the sign of something greater.


What was a physical cutting of the flesh to Abraham is really intended to show something of great spiritual significance - the circumcision of the heart - our mind - body - and soul - the core of who we are totally submitted to God’s ownership - God’s authority - His sovereignty over our lives.  Physical circumcision is the outward demonstration of a circumcised heart.  


To be a follower of Jesus Christ means that our hearts need to bear the sign of Jesus’ Lordship.  All of who we are is to be at God’s disposal - our living in total obedience to God.  The circumcision of our hearts.


Abraham takes Isaac - this child promised and delivered by God - and in an act of obedience that demonstrates trust coming straight out of the heart - an act of obedience that demonstrates that Abraham knows that it’s God alone who’s able to fulfill what He promises - in obedience - Abraham brings Isaac before God and circumcises his own son.


Bottom line - what we need to latch on to here is that the birth of Isaac is all about God fulfilling His promises.  God alone is able to fulfill His promises.


Going on - verse 8 to 21 focus on The Problem of Ishmael.


Verse 8:  And the child grew and was weaned.  And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.  But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing.  So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.”  And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son.


Notice the choice that confronts Abraham.


In verse 8 the child is who?  Isaac. 


In Abraham’s day a child was weaned at about the age of 2.  That would mean that Isaac was probably two years old and Ishmael would be about 16 or 17 years old.


In verse 9 we’re told that Sarah caught Ishmael laughing.


The word “laughing” in Hebrew is “tsachak.”  Same word Isaac comes from.  Isaac means “he laughs.”  In verse 6 Sarah “tsachaks” because of Isaac - this “laughter” that God has made for her.  In Hebrew it’s puny.


Here in verse 9, “tsachak” is not laughing with but laughing against.  The NASB translates it “mocking” - Ishmael laughing at Isaac.

Which isn’t hard to imagine.  Right?


According to the Old Testament - the culture of Abraham’s day - at age 20 a boy is considered a man - ready to marry - to defend the nation.  Ishmael is a man in training. 


For a teenager going from being a child to manhood - working at taking one’s place in the family order - Isaac must have a severe blow. 


For 15 plus years Ishmael has been the only son of Abraham.  An only child that Abraham probably doted over - cared deeply about - bought all kinds of great stuff for.  For 15 plus years there’s been no rival for his father’s affections.


Then along comes Isaac - “The Promised Child” - inheritor of all that is Abraham’s.  A tectonic shift in the household. 


It’s not hard to imagine Ishmael hating Isaac - making Isaac to be the punch line of the jokes going around the tent - putting him down at every opportunity.  Sibling rivalry on steroids.


Sarah notices this mocking.  Sees a competition going on for who inherits what.  Sarah tells Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son.”


“Cast out” is what you do to someone you despise.  Meaning:  “Throw ’em out like yesterday’s stinkin’ trash.”


Verse 11 - Sarah’s “request” was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son.

The word “displeasing” in Hebrew means something like “torn up inside” - “heart broken.”


From my own background - I’ve listened to accounts from mothers - during the Armenian genocide - as the Armenians were marched into the deserts of northern Syria to die.    As they marched - these mothers would have to decide which child to save.  There just wasn’t enough for all of them to make it - no water - no food - just the blazing sun and starvation.  Many of these mothers would choose to leave a child behind - usually a baby - often under the shade of a tree - and then keep moving - carrying the other child.  Trying to save at least one.  Which child do you leave behind - probably to die?


How is a loving parent suppose to choose between two sons he deeply loves?  Abraham was torn up inside.  Gut wrenching.


Maybe not to that extreme, but do you ever have times like that?  Where a situation is spiraling out of control - you’re caught between a rock and a hard place - and you’re not sure who’s advice to listen to - which way to turn.  And it’s just tearing you up inside?


Ever been there?  The problem of Ishmael is huge.


Let’s go on to verse 12:  But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman.  Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.  And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.”    


Notice God’s Plan.


Back in chapter 16 - Sarah proposed to Abraham that - since she was barren - and they needed a son to fulfill God’s promises - that Abraham take Hagar - Sarah’s maid - and have a child by Hagar.  A custom that was acceptable in those days.  Which Abraham did.  Which led to all kinds of conflict and ongoing problems in the home - and Hagar getting kicked out - exiled into the desert.


Here in chapter 21 all those old problems flare up again and Abraham is caught in the middle.


Ever have that happen?  Old conflicts - not dealt with - flare up - seemingly out of no where?  Just explode - tearing things apart.  Attitudes and actions - past sins - issues we haven’t dealt with - things we tried to bury long ago pop out at the worst possible moment.


There’s conflict between Ishmael and Isaac - between Sarah and Hagar - there’s conflict within Abraham.  How is a head of a household - a community - a husband - a father suppose to sort through all that?


When we looked at chapter 16 we saw that Abraham’s major mistake was that he listened to Sarah without listening to God.  Remember this?


Abraham followed Sarah’s advice which - if Abraham had listened to God - he would have known that what Sarah was telling him to do was not what God wanted.  Abraham trusting himself rather than trusting God.


Déjà vu with a difference - here in chapter 21 - in the midst of Abraham’s heart level distress - notice that God is telling Abraham to listen to Sarah.  That He - God - has it covered.  The God who fulfills His promises has a plan for Isaac - and God has a plan for Ishmael.  Go with God’s plan.


Plan A is trust God - faithful obedience.

What’s Plan A?  Trust God - faithful obedience.


Going on - verse 14 - notice Abraham’s response.


Verse 14:  So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away.  And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.


Looking at the map - Abraham and the tribe are probably at Beersheba.  Which today looks like the top picture.  Hagar and Ishmael headed south to what is called the wilderness - or desert - think dry - hot - lots of sand - the wilderness of Beersheba.  Which is the bottom picture.


When Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael off on this journey into the endless beach what does he give them.  A little bread and some water.  Whatever Hagar is able to carry.


Shoot - Ishmael is a strapping young lad of 16.  Load ‘em up with stuff to carry.  Give ‘em a donkey and send ‘em out in style.  But a little bread water for endless nowhere - that doesn’t sound much like something a loving father would do.

Point being - what’s understood by Abraham - is who’s going to take care of Hagar and Ishmael:  God.  Who’s going to fulfill His promises?  God.  For Abraham this is a huge step of faith.  To load them down with all kinds of supplies would have been plan B - trusting self - not God.  Why?  Because God said He had it covered.


When did Abraham send them out?  First thing in the morning.  Abraham gets up - gets the stuff together - sends them out.  Why?  Obedience - following Plan A - Trust God - faithful obedience.


Point being…  God doesn’t have a Plan B.  We do. 


Plan A is to trust God - faithful obedience.  Plan B is anything else.


We all struggle with this.  Plan B is our loosing sleep at 3 in the morning - tossing and turning and ruminating over scenarios and situations - thinking that things depend on us in order to work out.


Plan B is our getting angry about what gets done to us and depressed that we have no control over any of it.


Plan B is those conversations we imagine having with people where we set them straight about things and justify our actions.  Arguments where amazingly we always come out on top.


Plan B is our using our God given time and money and efforts focused on living doing what we want to for ourselves with only a token consideration for what God desires of us.  Our being more committed to ourselves than being committed to Christ and His Church.

We struggle because we like to keep our options open.  In what we tell others - especially on Sunday - and in our minds we’re trusting God for Plan A.  But in our hearts we’re hanging on to Plan B.  Keeping our options open isn’t the kind of faith and obedience that God desires from us. 
Isn’t it amazing how our Plan B always comes up empty - always leads to epic failure.

Bottom line being:  If we really want God’s best for our lives - if we’re really going to live by faith and obedience in God - we’ve got to cut loose from Plan B. 


Abraham’s response is to go with Plan A - Trust God - faithful obedience.


Going on - Verse 15:  When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes.  Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, “Let me not look on the death of the child.”  And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.    


Hard to imagine this.  Isn’t it?  This is way beyond where most of us live.  There’s no way to save your child.  Waiting for death.  Ishmael’s - yours.  Unbearable hopeless. 


Going on - verse 17:  And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar?  Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.  Up!  Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”   


Who heard the voice of Ishmael?  God.

God’s question:  “Hagar, what troubles you?”  Is He kidding?  Look around.


Let’s understand the question:  “Hagar, why are you working on Plan B?”  “Hagar, fear not, God has heard Ishmael’s voice.  God knows where Ishmael is - and where you are.  Get up.  Take him by the hand.  Move forward.  Trust Me - and I will make him into a great nation.”  Plan A.


Which is what God had promised Hagar when Ishmael was born.  Who’s going to fulfill His promise?  God.


Verse 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 boy a drink.  And God was with the boy, and he grew up.  He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow.  He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.


The Wilderness of Paran is here.  Looks like this today.  Lovely if you like rocks and sand.


Notice that Ishmael does grow up.  Reading ahead in Genesis - Ishmael goes on to live to the ripe old age of 137.  He gets married and fathers a ginormous number of descendants - kings and nations descend from him.  There is hope and a future.  Which is what God promised in the first place.


Notice that God comes through for Ishmael - and Hagar. 


Abraham has a problem:  What to do with Ishmael once Isaac the Promised Child finally arrives.


The bottom line is that God has that covered.


When Abraham is torn apart.  When Hagar is waiting to die.  In the worst of what we’ve got going on in our lives.  Who’s going to fulfill His promises?  God.


Meaning:  Go with Plan A - which is?  Trust God.


Verses 22 to 32 focus on Abraham’s Covenant with Abimelech.


Verse 22:  At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army said to Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do.  Now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my descendants or with my posterity, but as I have dealt kindly with you, so you will deal with me and with the land where you have sojourned.”  And Abraham said, “I will swear.”


We all remember Abimelech?  Yes?


Abimelech is the guy we saw last Sunday that Abraham lied to about Sarah - saying that Sarah was his sister - leaving out the “She’s my wife” part.  God caused Abimelech and his people to go impotent - caused the women to become barren. 


God tells Abimelech that Abraham lied.  Tells Abimelech what to do to get out from under God’s judgment.  Restore Sarah to Abraham.  Which Abimelech does.


Then Abimelech goes even farther - gives Abraham parting gifts - door prizes of sheep and oxen and servants - oh my.  And Abraham’s choice of whatever land he wanted.  Which is probably how Abraham ended up living in Beersheba pasteurizing his flocks.  In the end Abraham - God’s man - prays for Abimelech and his people and God heals them.


All’s well that ends well.  Everyone lives happily ever after.  Wrong.


Here in chapter 21 Abimelech shows up with Phicol - commander of his army.  It’s a tense situation with an obvious demonstration of power.  Abraham is God’s man.  Abimelech acknowledges that.  But there’s an unstated problem.


Probably the issue is the potential conflict between Abraham who’s rich and powerful and has flocks and Abimelech who’s rich and powerful and has flocks - both of whom are dwelling in pretty much the same area.


Abimelech needs to know if he can trust Abraham - otherwise it may mean war. 


So Abimelech asks, “Abraham, can I trust you?”  A legitimate question given Abraham’s track record.  Abraham’s reply, “I swear that you can.”  A powerful oath binding Abraham to honesty.


Let’s go on.  Verse 25:  When Abraham reproved Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech's servants had seized, Abimelech said, “I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, and I have not heard of it until today.”   


At the flashpoint of the conflict is this well which was probably the one dug by Abraham’s men and commandeered by Abimelech’s servants.  The Bible is real people in real time in real places. 


How important is a well in the midst of a desert?  How important is water to us here in the Central Valley - especially in August - when people start using the “D” word.  Remember the drought?


This is a major issue with serious consequences - maybe even worth fighting over.  A very deep subject.  Can you dig it?  Those are really bad.  Oh well.   


Going on - verse 27:  So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a covenant.  Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock apart.  And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs that you have set apart?”  He said, “These seven ewe lambs you will take from my hand, that this may be a witness for me that I dug this well.”  Therefore that place was called Beersheba, because there both of them swore an oath.  So they made a covenant at Beersheba.  Then Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army rose up and returned to the land of the Philistines. 


Beersheba literally means “Well of the Oath” or “Well of the Seven.”  Abraham using seven ewes to set out an agreement for them to swear to.


This is a pretty straight forward.  Right?  If you accept the ewes then that means ewe - pun intended - that mean’s you agree with me.  We dug it.  They seized it.  It’s really ours.  We get to use it.  And everything is cool between us.


We’re together?


Here’s what we need to grab on to:  There is a significant difference in the way that Abraham is dealing with Abimelech here and the way he’s dealt with Abimelech in the past.


Abraham is eye ball to eye ball with Abimelech and Phicol - discussing what is of crucial importance to his survival.  A lot of lives are hanging in the balance here.  Even God’s covenant promise and plan for Abraham and his descendants and us.


Abraham, instead of caving in on his faith - like we’ve seen him do in the past - lying and deceiving his way out of the situation - Abraham pledges to be honest.  And Abraham goes right to the heart of the issue - the well.


There’s no Plan B here.  Keeping his options open.  Trusting his whits and wisdom and working.  Only Plan A - trust God.  Because Abraham knows - Who will fulfill His promises?  God.  Who will take care of Abraham?  God.  Go with Plan A.  Which is?  Trust God.


There is so much strength in that for us.  When we realize that our security - our well being - the solutions to our lives - don’t depend on us.  That when we’re following Plan A - God has already negotiated life for us.  That we come to the issues of life - we’re not coming in our strength alone - but in the strength and approval of the Almighty God of creation.


Which brings us to the bottom line of what we need to hang on to - processing all of this for ourselves.  Verses 33 and 34 show us Abraham’s Heart.


Verse 33:  Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God.  And Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines.


Verses 33 and 34 tie together Abraham’s Covenant with Abimelech - the birth of Isaac and the problem of Ishmael.  What’s here in these verses is the bottom line of what’s been in Abraham’s heart through all this - what Abraham has learned about trusting God.


Verse 34 tells us that Abraham sojourned in the land of the Philistines.  We know that down the road of history there is ongoing conflict between the pagan Philistines and Abraham’s descendants that’s legendary.


To “sojourn” means to stay as a guest.  Meaning that Abraham is still a nomad - a wanderer with sheep.  His descendants haven’t inherited the Promised Land yet.  Abraham is a sojourner - living in a desert - amidst a pagan people.


In the midst of present and potential drama Abraham planting a Tamarisk tree in the desert is a sign that Abraham is trusting God for God’s provision of water - the basic of what’s needed to sustain life.  God’s Plan A has the issue of the well covered and everything else. 


There - by the well - by the tamarisk tree he’s planted - there Abraham calls on the name of the Lord - the Everlasting God.  God Everlasting in Hebrew is “El Olam.”  It has the idea of extending from time out of mind in the past through time out of mind in the future.  The God who is always.  God who is perpetual - permanent - enduring.


That’s perspective on who God is and who we are.  God our creator who creates out of nothing everything that is - including us.  We being a collection of atoms created out of nothing and held together solely by the will of God.  For His purposes.  For His glory.


Moses wrote - Psalm 90:1,2:  “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.  Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God.”


God Everlasting is the only one who is capable of accomplishing whatever He wills for His people - from eternity past to eternity future.  With God Everlasting there is no need for Plan B.  Trusting in God Everlasting - Abraham plants a tamarisk tree and dwells secure in the land of the Philistines.


Processing all that...


In John chapter 6 - Jesus is teaching a large crowd of people - a crowd of people that had been following Him - many from the time Jesus had fed them five loaves of bread and two fishes.  Jesus had been teaching this growing crowd about Himself.  The crowds are just eating this up - what Jesus is teaching.

Then Jesus starts teaching about Himself being the Bread of Life - the way to eternal life.  Starts explaining that He’s God - the God.  Starts hinting around that He’s going to die and live and go back up to heaven.  And people are starting to get a tad freaked out by this.  Some of the disciples start to wander off.  The crowd gets smaller.


Finally Jesus turns to the twelve disciples and asks them, “You don’t want to leave Me too.  Do you?”


Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.”  (John 6:66-69)


“Where else would we go?  Without You we’re toast.  There is no Plan B.  We stay with You.”


Thinking about the stress and struggles of our lives and how we’re dealing with all that.  Question:  How has Plan B worked for you?


It’s easy to follow Jesus when He’s demanding of us what we’re willing to give.  But circumcise our child - give God total authority over the life of our child - trust God with the child we love - place our life - livelihood - our future in God’s hands - our marriage - our career - our past histories - the deepest struggles - the drama of our lives - to place all that in God’s hands whatever He may ask us to do or wherever He may lead us - to trust God without clinging to our Plan B - just in case we don’t like Plan A - that’s the heart level bridge that we see Abraham crossing here in chapter 21.


That’s the heart level bridge we need to cross if we’re going to experience the presence and power of God Everlasting in our lives.


Who will fulfill His promises?  God.  What is Plan A?  Trust God - faithful obedience.






Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®  (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.