Well thank you for once again joining me, I am your host Randy Duncan. If this is your first time listening, thanks for checking out the podcast. This is a verse by verse Bible study, and we are making our way through the book of Genesis.
In the last episode, we completed chapter 20, which saw Lot’s two daughters get him drunk, have sex with him, and thus both became pregnant by their father. We discussed how ironic it was that down in Sodom, Lot was willing to have his daughters sexually violated, and yet here we see Lot being sexually violated by his daughters.
We also discussed Abraham getting into a jam when Sarah is taken by Abimelech. But once again, God comes to his aid by threatening Abimelech’s life if he did not return Sarah. Which brings us now to chapter 21.
1 The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. 2 And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.
Now let’s not just quickly read over this without remembering a couple of things. First, this promise from God to Abraham and Sarah has been 25 years in the making. They have been hearing about this promise from God for 25 years now. And they have experienced disappointment, frustration, and at first, laughing unbelief. And so now here we are, the promise fulfilled. The birth of Isaac marks a new stage in the unfolding of God’s plan. So you would think there would be a long description of the birth of Isaac, but no, two short verses, and then we move on. Almost like it is no big deal!
Remember, at this time, Abraham is 100 years old, and Sarah is 90. Sarah had been unable to have children her whole life, and now she was past menopause. But I guess if we keep in mind who made the promise, we shouldn’t be surprised. In fact, maybe God waited on purpose until after menopause to fullfill his promise, so that there would be no doubt at all that this birth was a result of divine intervention, a supernatural, miraculous birth. I will come back to this in a few minutes when we wrap this chapter up.
3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac 4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” 7 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.”
So Abraham keeps the command that God gave him by naming his son Isaac. In English we say Isaac, in Hebrew, it is actually pronounced Yitzak. But the name means “laughter”, and it is a pun with the previous laughter of unbelief and now the laughter of joy that Abraham and Sarah have expressed. Incidentally, Isaac is the only patriarch who doesn’t have his name changed by God. Remember, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, he will change Jacob’s name to Israel. But God named Isaac before he was born
In V7, where Sarah says “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age” actually reads in the Hebrew as a short little poem she has composed. But that is not something we pick up in English.
8 And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9 But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. 10 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.” 11 And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son.
So Isaac grows and is weaned, which occurs at different ages in different cultures, sometimes 2 years, sometimes 3 years of age. In ancient Israel it was normally 3 years. And this marked the completion of the first significant stage of life because of the high infant mortality rate. So at this time, once the baby was weaned and had reached this age, the parents felt much more confident that the child would survive, and so it was therefore a festive occasion, and a party would be thrown in the child’s honor.
As is so often the case, during the good times, there is always a “but”, and verse 9 begins with a “but”. We are enjoying a feast celebrating Isaac, BUT, Sarah saw Ishmael laughing. And she tells Abraham to “Cast out the slave woman, Hagar, and her son, Ishmael, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.”.
Now the first question that comes to mind is, “What is so wrong with Ishmael laughing? So wrong that Sarah wants him and his mother sent away? Well, the Hebrew word used here for “laughing” is (saw-hack’), and although the Hebrew root does mean “to laugh”, the verb form used here means laughing as in “to mock” “to laugh malevolently, maliciously, rather than just playing innocently. And so it is more indicative of something done in bad taste. Also keep in mind that Ishmael is 14 years older than Isaac. So if Isaac is 3 years old here, then Ishmael would have been 17. So this isn’t two pre-Kindergarten kids down on the floor playing with blocks or anything.
In fact, this episode is even mentioned by Paul in Galatians 4. Pauls writes 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. And listen as Paul continues in V29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now.
So Paul confirms for us that Ishmael persecuted Isaac. And it also validates the reason for Sarah’s concern, and her desire to have Ishmael and Hagar cast out.
Well, how does Abraham respond? He is upset. He is distressed. After all, Ishmael is his son. And he had been the only son he had known for 13 or 14 years before Isaac was born. And, ironically, Ishmael was conceived with Hagar, remember, at Sarah’s prompting. It was her idea! No doubt Abraham loved Ishmael very much. And so Sarah’s demand to have Ishmael sent away causes him a great deal of stress.
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. 13 And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” 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.
So God tells Abraham to do as Sarah has told him. God also tells him to not worry about Ishmael, that he will make a nation of Ishmael because he is Abraham’s son. And I am sure it must have been very difficult for Abraham, nevertheless, he does send Ishmael and Hagar away. And perhaps his conscience is helped by the fact that God has assured him Ishmael will be ok, that God will bless him and make a nation of him. That would have at least provided Abraham the assurance that he would be taken care of.
And knowing that, Abraham loads Hagar and Ishmael up with food and water, and sends them away. It tells us that he provides them bread and with a skin of water. A skin was basically a container made out of animal skin, and was equal to about 3 gallons.
15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. 16 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. 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. 18 Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” 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. 20 And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
So Hagar sets out, but wanders along the way, and the water runs out. And the situation must have gotten pretty dire, because apparently Ishmael is near death, and so she abandons him under a bush, because she doesn’t want to watch him die. And she lifts up her voice, and begins to cry.
And God hears her, or more precisely, heeded. Which, ironically, is what the name Ishmael means. Remember, an angel had told Hagar to name the child Ishmael, which means “God will hear”. And so an angel reaches out to Hagar and asks her what is wrong, which of course is a rhetorical question, since the angel knows full well what is wrong.
The angel tells Hagar that God has heard the voice of the boy, and so to get up, take Ishmael by the hand and get him up as well, because God will make him into a great nation. God then opens her eyes and she sees a well of water, where she refills her water. So once again, God steps in and resolves the issue and keeps his word. It goes on to tell us that God was with Ishmael as he grew, he becomes an expert with the bow, and eventually takes a wife from Egypt.
BTW, the tradition of the Ishmaelites being professional marksmen is mentioned in Isaiah 21:17, where it mentions the bows of Kedar’s warriors. Well Kedar was a son of Ishmael.
And with that, there is a shift in the narrative, as we see another episode involving Abraham and Abimelech
22 At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army said to Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do. 23 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.” 24 And Abraham said, “I will swear.”
Now, the presence of Phicol, an army commander, suggests that this was a military expedition. But this whole scene here, just seems a bit out of place considering we have been discussing Ishmael and Isaac. So it makes you wonder why this is even included in scripture.
Well, as Sarna notes, clearly this encounter is not told for its own sake, but for some other reason. It projects a fresh image of Abraham. His dream of having a son has now been fulfilled, he knows God has promised him many descendents, and so his confidence is high. He no longer projects an image of evasiveness in dealing with royalty like he did previously with Abimelech and Pharoah in Egypt. Now, he negotaites as an equal.
And Abimelech and his commander admit and see that God is with Abraham in all that he does. And so they want to make a treaty with Abraham. They want a treaty to deal honestly with one another. They want a mutual non-aggression treaty. And Abraham agrees.
25 When Abraham reproved Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized, 26 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.” 27 So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a covenant. 28 Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock apart. 29 And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs that you have set apart?” 30 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.” 31 Therefore that place was called Beersheba, because there both of them swore an oath. 32 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. 33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God. 34 And Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines.
So Abraham calls Abimelech out for his servants seizing a well that Abraham had dug, and not allowing him access to water. The first time Abimelech’s men took something of Abraham’s, it was his wife, Sarah. This time, it was a well. I’m sure Abimelech remembers what happened the last time. And so he responds, “I don’t know anything about this”. You didn’t tell me. I haven’t heard about this until just now”!
The last time these two met, it was Abimelech who sent Abraham off with gifts. This time, however, Abraham is sending Abimelech away with gifts. And the seven ewes are evidence to everyone that the well is Abraham’s, just like the gifts given earlier by Abimelech demonstrated to everyone that Sarah’s honor had not been violated.
And with this, the two men make the treaty.
Now, I want to conclude this episode by revisiting the birth of Isaac. And this may actually be the most important takeaway of the chapter.
There are some really interesting parallels between the birth of Isaac and the birth of Jesus. First of all, the birth of Isaac had been promised by God. Likewise, God told the nation of Israel that a virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son. And the angel Gabriel told Mary she would have a son.
Also, there was a time interval between the promises and the fulfillment of those promises. For Abraham and Sarah, it was 25 years. For the nation of Israel, it was many, many generations from the promise until the birth of Jesus
Next, the announcements of their births seemed impossible to both Sarah and Mary. Sarah, as we have learned over the last few chapters, was unable to have children, and was also well beyond child bearing years, and had even gone through menopause. Mary was a virgin, so she too thought this was impossible. Sarah laughed at the possibility, Mary simply asked “How is this possible, seeing as how I have never been with a man”?
Both Isaac and Jesus were named before they were born. God told Abraham and Sarah to name their son Isaac, the angel told Joseph to name his son Jesus.
Both of the births also occurred at God’s appointed time.
So in each case, their births were miraculous. There was nothing natural about their births. They weren’t normal. They weren’t natural…they were both supernatural.
The birth of Isaac is a picture of the resurrection of Jesus. Both Abraham and Sarah’s bodies were dead relative to child bearing. And Jesus was executed, dead, and buried. But in each case, God steps in and brings life to that which was dead.
And the same holds true for us. Those of us who have trusted and placed our faith in Christ. We were once dead, and now we are alive. Ephesians 2:1 tells that “ you were dead in trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world,…4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved
As the saying goes, “Jesus didn’t come into the world to make bad people good, he came to make dead people live….