This week’s reading: Genesis 21:1-34
When someone promises us something, it can be a very exciting thing. But when that promise is actually fulfilled, we can be so filled with overwhelming joy that we become speechless! This week, against all the odds, Sarah conceives and gives birth to the promised child. It should be clearly obvious to us that this can be nothing less than the hand of God over the lives of these two Saints. Abraham is 100 years old now and Sarah, long past her human ability to bear children, is 90 years old, and yet, what is too hard for God? (see Gen 18:14) When the promise does comes, there are things that must be dealt with for the sake of peace and for God’s Plan to move forward. So we read how Abraham has to dig in deeper to his Faith, and trust God to provide for both of his sons. Lastly, we will see that the Fear of the Lord definitely made an impact on the pagan neighbors of Abraham and how God brings peace through it. The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, after all, and it brings lots of joy with it too. (see Pr 9:10) Just listen to the joy in Sarah:
“Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.’ And she added, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’” Gen 21:6-7 NIV
O come and worship Him! When great things happen, we should all rejoice and give thanks to God. But when miraculous events are evident, this can lead us to praise God and worship Him. This might require being in such awe that we cannot even speak. You see, we can thank God for all the incredible blessings He pours down upon us. Blessing such as the people in our lives, the talents He has granted us and the ability to use our gifts to be a blessing to others around us. But we should never stop there. We should praise God for all He does on our behalf. And this includes all those things we might not even be aware of. We can praise God for opening up doors so we can get a particular job, or get into the college we had our hearts set on or even getting that parking spot when we are running late for an important appointment. These are things we might not attribute to God, yet they are most definitely gifts we receive by His hand. And these can be countless because, do we really know how many times has God closed a door that would have gotten us into deep trouble? Or how often does He stop us from saying something that could cause major rifts in our relationships? Or how many times has that item we really needed, but couldn’t afford, all of a sudden gone on sale? Not sure about that last one? Oh I can tell you an amazing story about when our family needed a wheelchair adapted van to transport my daughter around to medical appointments and such, and how God made the way for us when we just could never have afforded it. All these are examples of the countless ways God’s hand moves in our lives without us even realizing it. God is a most amazing Father, after all. He does not need our permission, nor our participation, to work in and through our lives…but my goodness, how much God really desires both! Let us make the time to take inventory of our day and thank and praise God…but again, let us never stop there. So while we thank God for what He gives us and praise Him for what He does for us, it is only when we seek the pinnacle of this relationship, where we simply worship God for Who He is, that joy will fill us up and overflow from us to those around us. Worshipping God because He IS Love, because He IS Faithful, because He IS Compassion, Mercy, Grace, Just, Good…oh I can go on forever, since all good and perfect things come from God Who is above all things in this world. (see Jas 1:17) When we worship God because He is God, our hearts almost explode within our chest. That is how I experience worship anyway, and I do believe this is where Sarah is on her own walk with God. She can hardly contain herself, and so, she literally laughs out loud! Incredulous, she points us to this Good Father Who truly can do anything. Then there is Abraham. I imagine that he is the one who is speechless here. We do not hear his words, but my goodness, I can see him on his knees, head bowed, arms stretched out wide, as he just worships the God Who has never failed him. This is the start of something that will rock the world…and Abraham sees it already. Even though this is but the first child God had promised Abraham, by Faith, Abraham “saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” (Heb 11:13) Because Abraham worshipped God, he already had the full joy of the promise of descendants too numerous to count, as well as knowing “all peoples on earth” would be blessed through him. The promise was just starting to be fulfilled, but that was more than enough for this great Hero of the Faith.
The old way will cause us problems. Sarah gives birth to Isaac and, after weaning him, Abraham holds a great feast to celebrate. (see Gen 21:8) Sadly, with this comes a conflict. Recall that Abraham and Sarah had this “bright idea” to bring about God’s promise, and as a result, Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant, had given birth to Ishmael. This happened 14 years prior to where we now are in their life’s story. Yet here we will see that when Isaac comes, Ishmael must go. At this festival, Ishmael begins to mock Isaac, and Sarah will have none of that! Once again, she turns to Abraham and demands he do something about the problem. Abraham’s concern for his first son and Hagar is more evidence that he is a good and kind person, and so he, naturally, takes the matter to God. God promises to provide for Hagar and Ishmael, and tells Abraham to listen to Sarah and send them away from their group. God’s promise would be fulfilled through this miracle child, not through the child of their own making, so Abraham, once again, trusts God, and with a heavy heart, obeys. Two things here: 1- we might think this is unfair, but we must take into consideration that Ishmael should never have been conceived in the first place. He represents mankind trying to control life instead of surrendering to God and trusting God to fulfill His promises. It is the same problem humans have been having since the Garden of Eden: will I just do whatever is right in my own eyes, or will I trust God with the countless things I do not understand? Will I live by works of my own Flesh or through the many Blessings of God? Will I lean on MMI or my Faith in God? This continues to be the human problem. We still think we know better and take things into our own hands and…and problems result. Here perhaps Ishmael thinks, as first born, he has rights over his brother, but he doesn’t. God ordains our position, not us. And God’s Plan has always been for the Messiah to come from the promised child, not from the works of man. (see Gen 3:15) God has always desired to do that which we humans just cannot do, to bring Salvation. It must be God’s Way or none of us would be saved, because what was required was a spotless Lamb of God, and only Jesus can fill that position. So here, sending away the work of the Flesh, which again Ishmael represents, is the righteous thing to do. And again, God has promised to care for them, so Abraham can rest assured that both Hagar and Ishmael will be fine. 2- Even though Hagar does obey God and return and submit herself to Sarah, her mistress, (see Gen 16:6-16), could Hagar still have had challenges with her attitude towards Sarah? She once tried to usurp her authority and position, and now Ishmael may have had that same desire. As the saying goes, the nut doesn’t fall too far from the tree, right? So removing them from Abraham’s group, allowing them to go make their own nation, would actually give them what they desired, wouldn’t it? Hagar would become the mistress of her own household with her son, Ishmael, as the leader of those who would come after him. So when Abraham sends them away and when the food and water he had given them finishes, God is right there to meet Hagar and the boy. “God was with the boy as he grew up.” (Gen 21:20) Ishmael is never forsaken by God. God provided safety and a home for them, and through Ishmael, the nation of the Arabs comes forth. God does not abandon him, but honors him as a son of Abraham.
We can learn from everyone. So what are some practical things we can learn from this narrative that we can use in our own life? First, we must understand that, when God is doing something new in us, the old must leave. We cannot have both our way and God’s Way, since they are often opposite each other. We must desire to send away that old, MMI nature so we can live by the Promise, this New Identity in Christ. Again, when Isaac comes, Ishmael must go…or in other words, once we are given this New Creation Life in Christ, our old life must go away. It is when we attempt to continue to live that old MMI way, that we encounter struggles. Our old ways taunt us, keeping us from being all we can be in Christ. Since God is doing a new thing in our lives, we must be willing to let go of the old, because they are in conflict with one another, and so, only cause us troubles. Second, we must learn to trust God so that we do not lean on our own “bright ideas” and cause problems in our lives, as well as in the lives of those around us. Yet on those occasions when we do think we know better and step out ahead of God, know that God will even make provision for our self-motivated works of the Flesh. Third, we must never try to manipulate situations so that we can be placed ahead of someone else. We are to certainly work diligently to get ahead, but also to be content with whatever position God currently places us in. Trusting God also means trusting His Timing. Fourth, we must watch our attitudes around our children because they pick up on them, for good or bad. If, for instance, we tend to say negative things about another group of people, those sinful prejudices can be picked up by our children, and sadly, we only perpetuate ignorance and hatred. We must check our attitudes against God’s Love and teach by example. Lastly, trust that God really does work all things together for our good, if we love Him and are called to His purpose. (see Ro 8:28) When we choose to follow God’s way of Love and Grace, even our sins or that of others, God will use to grow us into His likeness. After all, how can we truly imitate His Love if we never encounter those who might be prejudiced against us? How can we ever learn to forgive if others do not do wrong by us? How can we ever learn to be content in our position, trusting this is where God wants us at this point in time, if we never struggle with those who are placed ahead of us? Everything in life, whether we mess up or others do, is meant for our good. (see Jas 1:2-4) The old way we used to live life, with us at the helm, only causes further problems. And even though God’s way is challenging, because it goes against that old MMI way, we will be so much more blessed when we simply return to God and submit to Him as our Loving Lord. This is what He desires for us, and it leads to a life filled with peace.
Making peace with those around us. In the end, we are to lead by example so that everyone around us may have the opportunity to know our Loving God. I am sure that King Abimelech was still watching Abraham and Sarah after that whole fiasco of being deceived by these two foreigners. I am sure he saw the impossible happen, as the elderly Sarah conceived, gives birth and weans this promised child. I am sure that Fear of the Lord that began earlier only became intensified. We hear this king say, “God is with you in everything you do.” (see Gen 21:22) And wisely, this king wants to live at peace with Abraham and his God. Abraham agrees to return the kindness he received from King Abimelech, as they come to terms and iron out a treaty. Abraham, once again, calls on the Name of the Lord. (see Gen 21:33) Another good lesson for us, my Friends: as we live our lives bearing witness to God, others must make up their own minds and hearts as to whether they will believe in Him or not. We do not force our beliefs on them, but we certainly live them out in public, unashamed. Then we pray that others will choose Jesus also. In the meantime, we must learn to get along with those who are willing to get along with us. Peace, unity, harmony. These are so very important to the Abundant Life, and Abraham secures these with his pagan neighbors and enjoys a long, prosperous life there with them. May we too seek to live at peace with those around us, as far as it concerns us (see Ro 12:18)…that means that we make sure we do all we can to forgive, as we seek to be understanding and compassionate towards everyone God places along our path, whether they are family, good neighbors or even our enemies. (see Lk 6:35) We cannot control what others do, but with God’s help, we certainly can control ourselves. So many wonderful lessons we can learn from this great Saint. And the more I study Abraham’s life, the more I can lean on God to help me implement what I am learning and…the more my life becomes abundant. Do you want that too? Then won’t you join me?
Until we meet again, keep lifting your eyes to God, He’s closer than you think.
<>< Peace, Diane