Abraham’s Family

Abraham received great promises and was told that these promises would be fulfilled through his son Isaac. Each family tree illustration on this blog will trace that special promise by using elliptical shapes to indicate descendants of this promise. Before we continue tracing the promise, let’s take a look at the other parts of Abraham’s family tree that impacted Abraham’s descendants down the road.

Abraham had two brothers, Nahor and Haran.

We’ve already met Haran through his son Lot, Abraham’s nephew, whom Abraham took in when Haran died. Lot’s family line plays into the story down the road. After being rescued from Sodom, Lot and his daughters lived in a cave in the mountains. Fearing that their blood line would be lost, the daughters plotted to get their father drunk and become pregnant by him. Evidently, Sodom lived on in their hearts. Things worked according their plan and they each had a son. The older daughter named her son Moab, basically meaning “from father” and the younger daughter named her son Ben-Ammi, meaning “son of my people.” The Moabite and Ammonite nations came from these two sons. Later we will see how they caused trouble for the descendants of Isaac.

Other trouble for Isaac’s descendants came from Ishmael’s line. Ishmael and Hagar were sent away and lived in the desert near Egypt. Hagar found a wife for Ishmael from Egypt. Ishmael had 12 sons that became 12 tribes. They settled near Egypt’s border.

After Sarah died, Abraham took another wife, Keturah, who bore him six sons. According to Genesis 25:6, Abraham also had sons through concubines. He sent these families to the east after giving them gifts.

The following lineage tree picks up where the last one (found in the “Introduction to Abraham” post) left off. Abraham’s father, Terah, descended from Shem, son of Noah. God promised Abraham that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. That promise refers to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Technically, Nahor and Haran were also ancestors of Jesus, but we are following the Promised lineage so I did not use elliptical shapes for them.

Galatians 3:7-9 explains, “Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (NIV)

Faith is believing what God says. What has God said that we need to believe? Contemplate the following scriptures:

John 14:6 – Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

1 John 2:2 – He [Jesus Christ] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

John 5:24 – “Truly, truly, I [Jesus Christ] say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”

If you recognize that you have sinned and lived apart from God, but you believe that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah Who takes away the sins of the world, then you can put your name in Abraham’s family tree. As a Believer, you are part of an eternal family that can never be broken.

Ishmael: God Will Hear

Now we must return once more to Hagar and her son Ishmael. Remember that Ishmael’s name, “God will hear,” came from God (Genesis 16:11). Ishmael would have been around 15 years old when Sarah gave birth to Isaac. We are told in Genesis 21:14 that Sarah saw Ishmael mocking Isaac and thus made certain that Hagar and her son were sent away.

This time Hagar wasn’t running away. She had been sent away and the angel of the Lord found her wandering in the wilderness of Beersheba (again, along the way to Egypt) sitting a bowshot away from her son Ishmael. She had run out of water and couldn’t bear to watch her son die so she separated herself from him and they both wept. But guess what…

God heard them and then asked Hagar this question

What is the matter with you, Hagar?

Hagar had good reasons to cry. She had needs and didn’t know how they would be fulfilled. She couldn’t offer her son what he needed to live. They both needed water and there was none around. Perhaps all those years she endured Sarah’s jealousy, she had endured for the sake of her son and now they had both been sent away and Abraham was no longer providing for them.

The angel of the Lord didn’t wait for an answer to His question. He went on with compassion to say, “Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” God restated His promise that she had heard years ago when she ran away the first time while pregnant with Ishmael.

Rather than scolding her, God offered compassion. He didn’t wait for her to come up with an answer to her woes, but rather reminded her of His promise to her. Hagar had either forgotten or disbelieved God’s promise that she would have many descendants.

Hagar and her son survived. God was with the boy as Hagar raised him in the desert. She later found a wife for him from Egypt. Ishmael went on to have twelve sons, noted in Genesis 25:12-18, and just as the angel of the Lord had said, Ishmael lived in defiance of his family.

We’ve probably all had our Hagar moments; times when we want to go back to the way things used to be. We may want to run away from our roles, escape from our difficulties or simply get back home, however we may define it.

Or there are times when circumstances send us packing, through no desire of our own, and we see no future. Like Hagar, we forget what God has told us or else just flat don’t believe it anymore – if we ever did. We focus on the circumstances we see in front of us and then just can’t bear to look anymore. Instead of running away only physically, we run away emotionally, mentally and/or spiritually. We give up and prepare to lose everything.

In any case, what God has said, He will do. Sometimes, we have to be reminded that He is the God who has heard and will hear.

Obedience

Last week I talked about God’s promises being dependent on God alone and not on the obedience of Abraham or his descendants. So then, what is the purpose of obedience to God? To answer this, we will go back to the concept of “the way of the Lord” and the analogy of traveling along a road to a destination point.

Currently, I live in Illinois. If I wanted to take a trip to my old home-sweet-home (where buffalo really do roam) in Wyoming I would travel west and leave the green rolling hills of Illinois. I would see the terrain become flat and trees would become comparatively sparse through Iowa and Nebraska. As I got closer to Wyoming, I would probably experience some wind and see antelope along the sides of the road. The ground would be mostly tan in color with very little vegetation, but pine trees would show up and I would see rock formations in the distance. Then I would see mountains, part of the Rocky Mountains. I would experience a change in oxygen levels as I climb up in elevation. The air would be noticeably dryer than the air in Illinois. I would drive to the top of a tree-covered mountain and be able to look out over other mountains and across plains. I would reach my destination.

Whenever you travel along a road towards a physical destination you will see indicators (if you’re going in the right direction) that you are getting closer, similar to the indicators I described above. If I wanted to drive to Wyoming from Illinois and started seeing beach-front property, I would have a pretty good indicator that I was not on the right road.

Last week we talked about the Way of the Lord being a pathway that leads to the Lord Himself.

As we travel along that road, there are indicators that we are growing closer to the Lord. Those indicators come from God’s Spirit that He puts in our lives when we become believers. When Jesus said “I am the Way” (John 14:6), He wasn’t merely speaking about making a way, He was saying that He Himself is The Way. He is both the destination point and the road we must travel upon. He made that possible for us by giving us His Spirit.

When we believe, God gives us His Spirit as a deposit (Ephesians 1:13-14) until we can finally be with the Lord, the destination. Galatians 5:22-23 says that the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.” These fruits testify to Him, like road signs testify to a final destination. When others see those things in us, they see that we are traveling in the Lord’s way.

The Spirit works in our lives to impact our lives as a whole. There aren’t just one or two little improvements here and there. God’s Spirit brings about a whole-person change. These changes include:

  • A love for Scripture and desire to understand it
  • Ever increasing amounts of love, patience and gentleness towards others
  • Growth and a sense of what is right and wrong
  • Conviction about sin and a draw to be obedient to God’s desires, as explained in Scripture
  • An ever present sense of joy and hope, even in painful and difficult times
  • A sense of peaceful trust in God
  • A love for the Lord and a desire to be closer to Him

Obedience to God isn’t something a Christian has to work for or strive to attain. It is a natural result of being in a close relationship with God, just like it is natural for terrain to change as we travel on a physical road. We don’t change the terrain, it just happens as we go along the road.

Obedience isn’t about earning a spot in heaven, nor is it about maintaining our salvation. We sin. It’s what we do. But God rescues us. That’s what He does.

Obedience is for our joy and for our own good (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). Obedience brings us to a deeper understanding of Christ (John 14:21). We aren’t perfect, but we are growing to be more like God in righteousness and holiness (Hebrews 10:14, 1 John 2:1). And we shall finally be like Him (in perfect obedience and righteousness) when He returns (1 John 3:2).

Genesis 18:19

The New American Standard Version translates Genesis 18:19, “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”

Scripture makes it clear that the promises God made to Abraham were not dependant on Abraham, but on the Lord alone. God’s work was based solely on His will and not on Abraham’s ability to obey. And yet, Genesis 18:19 sounds like God’s promises to Abraham depended on the obedience of Abraham and his descendants. So, did God contradict Himself? Were the promises dependent on the obedience of Abraham’s family? Multiple scriptures say that’s not the case.  (Genesis 12:2-3, Deuteronomy 7:7-9, 8:17-18, 9:6; Isaiah 64:6). So, what is this verse really saying?

To understand Genesis 18:19, we need to understand a little about the Hebrew language the verse was originally written in. We also need to know about the people this Scripture was written to: the Hebrews/Jews. We must gain some insight into Jewish thought and recognize the differences between how we think and how they would have thought when the Bible was written.

For example, think of a specific road. What is the name of that road? I can think of a few many of us have probably heard of: Interstate 80, Route 66, the Autobahn, the Beltway,…

Now, off the top of your head, can you think of the name of any road mentioned in the Bible? How about the Road to Shur (Gen. 16:7), the way to Ephrath (Gen. 35:19), or the road toward Bashan (Deut. 3:1)?   Almost every road mentioned in the Bible follows the same basic nomenclature: The road to … The way to…

Notice the difference? We name the roads themselves, but each Biblical name for a road was based on its destination point.

The Hebrew word translated “road” or “way” is the word derech, used many places in the Old Testament. It is the word used in the road names I just mentioned and also in the following verses:

For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are My ways (derech) higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9

There is a way (derech), which seems right to a man, But its end is the way (derech) of death. Proverbs 14:12

Notice that the destination is still the focus of any road. When God says His ways are higher, it’s not only His habits that are higher; it is His destination points too.

Earlier, we studied how Sarah wanted to help God fulfill His promises. Think of Sarah’s way. Her mind was focused on His promise that Abraham would have many descendants and nations would come from him. In her mind, the destination point was achieving a large number of descendants. Her means to get to that point was through Hagar. Now let’s compare Sarah’s way to God’s way.

Consider the phrase “the way of the Lord.” What is the final destination? The Lord! The way of the Lord is not just about God’s personality or the ability to abstain from evil; it’s about the Lord Himself and the path to Him. The phrase appears in many scriptures, but the first time it appears is in Genesis 18:19.

God promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him. We know that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, made salvation available to the whole world. Jesus was a descendant of Abraham. Not only did God give Abraham many descendants, but God also made salvation available to all people through one of his descendants. God’s destination point was Himself, to bring people to Himself. And his means was through the Messiah. Truly, God’s ways are higher.

If God’s only objective was to provide many descendants to Abraham, He could have given a child to Abraham and Sarah any time, but God waited until they were both very, very old. God waited until Abraham was “as good as dead” (Romans 4:19, Hebrews 11:12) before He provided the child. Why?

Everything in Abraham’s life pointed to the Lord. By waiting until it was humanly impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have a child, God was displaying His power to bring life into the world without the strength of a man. This would have been a fore-picture of the Messiah’s virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14, Luke 1:30-35).

God’s final destination point was Himself, to bring people to Himself and His means to get there was through the Messiah. God’s purpose in waiting until Sarah was old was to point to the coming of that Messiah.

Think about traveling along a road. If it is a good road, you’ll see road signs that tell you what is ahead. That is what the events in Abraham’s life were: road signs to show the world what was to come. The sign is not the destination, but just something to point to that destination.

Keepers of the Way

Now, getting back to Genesis 18:19… We need to understand another word in the verse. The word translated “keep” is the Hebrew word shamar. Consider the following verses that contain the word shamar.

  • Genesis 2:15 – God put Adam in the Garden of Eden to “cultivate it and keep it”
  • Exodus 22:10 – A man might entrust another man with his animals, to “keep” them for him
  • Numbers 31:30 – The Levites were to “keep charge” of the tabernacle of the Lord, to manage its physical components and the use of them

In each of these cases, the word shamar points to the entrusting of something physical to someone else. Shamar can also be translated as guard, protect or preserve. It can be used to describe a shepherd guarding a flock of sheep.

Let’s look at Genesis 18:19 again,

“For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”

What is the way of the Lord? It is the way that has a final destination to the Lord Himself. What would the means be? The Messiah. From where would the Messiah come? From Abraham.

Jesus Christ, born in the flesh, is the way to the Lord. (John 14:6) That physical body came through the generations beginning with Abraham.

The lineage was passed from Abraham down through his children, his household, and eventually fulfilled in the Messiah. Consider Hebrews 10:20 that speaks about the “new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,”

In Genesis 18:19, God said that He chose Abraham, his children and his household to “keep the way of the Lord.” God wasn’t merely talking about obedience; God was talking about the way to get to the Lord. Abraham and his descendants were entrusted with the coming Messiah. In order to fulfill that promise, God maintained the line of Abraham’s descendants. As we shall see in studies to come, no matter how difficult things became for the nation of Israel, God always made certain that there was a remnant to continue Abraham’s line.

Completing the Thought

We’ve studied two main thoughts to help us understand this verse. Now let’s look at the verse and incorporate the ideas we’ve just learned. We will take it bit by bit and analyze it…

“For I have chosen him, […]”

God clearly chose Abraham.

“[…] so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord […]”

Put the ideas we just studied together. Abraham and his line were charged with keeping the lineage that would lead to the Messiah, Jesus the Way. Think of what Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the Way […]”

“[…] by doing righteousness and justice, […]”

I would translate this a little differently. The word translated “by doing” is based on the root word “asah” meaning to make, work, fabricate. The root word is preceded by the Hebrew letter “lamed” (our “L” sound) which indicates “to” or “for.” So instead of translating the phrase “by doing righteousness and justice” I would translate it “for making righteousness and justice.”

This would align with the rest of Scripture that clearly shows that righteousness and justice come from the Lord. When the Messiah came, He fulfilled God’s requirements for justice and His righteousness was imparted to us who believe. God literally made righteousness and justice for us by bringing Jesus Christ into the world.

 “[…] so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”

What had the Lord spoken about Abraham? God told him he’d be the father of many nations, that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan and that in Abraham all nations of the world would be blessed.

He’d given many promises to Abraham, but can you think of another thing that God had specifically spoken about Abraham? Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham believed and God declared Abraham righteous. Each of God’s promises in Scripture was written in the Hebrew form of language that we would understand as past tense. So, when God gave a promise it was already pronounced “done” even if it hadn’t occurred yet by our understanding of time. God, the Creator, is greater than time and space.

God’s promise of a Messiah was as good as done when Abraham heard it. Salvation then was the same as salvation now: through faith in Jesus Christ. People in the past didn’t have all the understanding we have available to us now since we can look back on history; however, believing what God says has always been the determining factor in having a close relationship with God. His sacrifice, Jesus Christ, covered Abraham even though Abraham was before Jesus on the timeline.

Galatians 3:8 explains, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations will be blessed in you.’” Abraham heard the gospel, believed and was considered righteous.

A Perspective Change

After reading this, you may have a different perspective of Genesis 18:19. Before, it might have seemed to emphasize obedience whereas now it emphasizes God’s work. Perhaps you’re asking: What is the place of obedience? We will discuss obedience in the next post.

Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do…?

It is the lowest place on earth.

At approximately 1,371 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea is the unquestioned lowest place on earth. The second lowest place is Lake Assal, Africa, at 512 feet below sea level in Africa.

At a depth of 130 feet, the Dead Sea is six times as salty as the ocean, and the salt collects at the bottom of the Sea. There are no marine creatures in the Sea at all; any fish that wanders into the Dead Sea dies quickly, coated with salt. If you placed your hand in the waves, and let the shore come and go across it, you would find a rim of salt forming along your hand within minutes. Mineral salts are in abundance because the Dead Sea has no outlet which means that the only way water leaves the Dead Sea is through evaporation, and the salts are left behind to accumulate.

4000 years ago (around the time of Abraham), the geography looked a little bit different. Abraham was living at the Oaks of Mamre, to the west of the Dead Sea, when the Lord asked him the questions we have studied thus far.

The men got up to leave and Abraham walked with them. The Bible says they “looked down toward Sodom” (Genesis 18:16). Morally speaking, Sodom was the lowest place on earth. Sodom and its neighbor Gomorrah were known for their immorality, violence and utter godlessness. Genesis 19 gives us a glimpse into their depravity.

The Lord said…

Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed?

To answer this question, we have to answer another question: What was it the Lord was about to do?

The Lord continued by saying, “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” (We will discuss this verse in the next post.)

Then the Lord told Abraham about his plans to examine Sodom and Gomorrah, which implied an impending judgment from God. Abraham would have been looking out toward Sodom when he heard this and he knew God would follow through with His plan. Abraham’s heart may have fallen to his stomach when he heard this because he knew a man who lived in Sodom – his own nephew, Lot.

Abraham’s nephew Lot had moved to Sodom, and while he was living there Lot had gotten himself into trouble and Abraham had rescued him (Genesis 14), but for some reason Lot had moved back. Now he was about to need rescuing again.

The Lord showed kindness to Abraham by revealing what He was about to do and Abraham pleaded with the Lord for the few righteous that might be found there. After hearing Abraham’s petitions, God spared Lot and his two daughters from the destruction brought on Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot escaped to a small town called Zoar, which still exists in Israel.

The following day Abraham looked out over the city, and it wasn’t there. Scripture says that fire from heaven rained down upon it (Genesis 19:24) and the cities, the valley and everything that grew on the ground was destroyed. The exact locations of Sodom and Gomorrah are unknown, however, I tend to agree with those who speculate that the southern portion of the Dead Sea now covers the place where the towns used to be. It would be appropriate that the people farthest from God used to inhabit a place that is now the farthest from heaven.

God’s question reveals a relational depth between the Lord and Abraham. Abraham believed, was declared righteous by God and was actually called “God’s friend” (2 Chronicles, 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23). What an amazing position! Abraham had just been told he would have a son through Sarah and many nations would come from him. Now, the One who promised to create nations through Abraham would display His power to destroy nations. Abraham’s faith was already in place, but now the Lord would give him some visual evidences of His sovereignty over all nations of the earth.

Is anything too difficult for the Lord?

In her defensiveness, Sarah didn’t seem to pay any attention to God’s other question,

Is anything too difficult for the Lord?

We see yet another question from God unanswered. Sarah raced to defend herself about her laughter and gave no thought to God’s power. It wasn’t Sarah that would be accomplishing this miracle, it was the Lord, the Creator, the One who gave her life and formed her in her mother’s womb.

Her beliefs at that moment were based on her circumstances, what she knew of herself to be true and what she knew of the nature of things. Her eyes were on herself to “make life work” through human strength, and she gave up on God when those human resources (physical health, youth and strength, strategic thinking, etc.) were spent.

While she may have thought that it was impossible to have a child because of her own body, she was actually lacking an understanding of the God of all Creation. Her laughter was a direct affront to the character and Person of God. Truly, is anything too difficult for the Lord? This wasn’t about her at all. This was about Him. And it still is.

If God makes a promise that doesn’t require any action on our part, then we should sit back and watch to see what God will do. When we apply human reasoning and twist His promises into something “possible” for us, then we are denying His power. Again, is anything too difficult for the Lord?

God chose Abraham and promised him that through him all nations of the earth would be blessed. Looking back, we know that that blessing came in the form of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Everything in Abraham’s life was a foreshadowing of the coming Messiah, including the birth of Isaac. God’s purpose wasn’t simply to give Abraham a great number of descendants, but also to provide a Savior and to do so through the miraculous birth of a son. Romans 4:19 and Hebrews 11:12 both point out the fact that Abraham was “as good as dead” since he and Sarah were both so old. God displayed His power to bring a child into the world regardless of human ability. The miracle of the birth of Isaac was a foreshadowing of the miraculous virgin birth of Christ.

Abraham’s life was to be a testimony for the world to see. God’s promises, His prophesies, give us the chance to watch for the Lord and see His work in the world. God gave physical examples to foreshadow things to come. By telling us what He would do and then fulfilling that word to us, He has proven Himself right. He has displayed His power so we can recognize that He is the Lord and there is no other like Him.

Can the Lord give a child to people who are so old they are “as good as dead” (Romans 4:19, Hebrews 11:12)? Can the Lord bring a child into the world through a virgin? Is anything too difficult for the Lord?

We face all sorts of impossible situations in our lives that we have no control over. We may pray for miracles that God seemingly won’t answer. Sarah had probably prayed for years to have a child. God answered when she was an elderly woman and had given up on the idea. He had a plan for Abraham and Sarah that testified to His sovereignty. Each situation, whether joyful or painful, is designed to give us an opportunity to know Him better.

We read further in Genesis to find that Sarah did have a child that next year. He was named Isaac, meaning “laughter, to mock, to play, jest, sport.” God had told Abraham years before that the child’s name would be Isaac, meaning “laughter.” Now perhaps Abraham knew why.

Why did Sarah laugh…?

Last week we read about Sarah’s reaction to the Lord’s statement that she would have a son. Her private laugh turned out to not be so private! The next thing she overheard as she listened from the tent was the Lord asking:

Why did Sarah laugh, saying, “Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?”

I imagine Sarah popping out of the tent to give her fear-motivated defense, “I did not laugh.” But this wasn’t just laughter, it was casual mockery from disbelief. And the One who made the ear, heard it. The Lord replied, “No, but you did laugh.” He didn’t have to hear an audible chuckle to know her heart of disbelief.

Her laughter came from the idea that she was to produce a child as an elderly woman, and she knew she couldn’t. God knew she had wanted to have a child and had tried, but at this point her abilities were depleted.

I find it interesting that the Lord asked Abraham this question rather than Sarah, though He knew Sarah was listening. Why did He ask Abraham instead of Sarah? Abraham was the head of the household and one of his responsibilities was to encourage his wife’s faith. While no one can control someone else or force anyone to believe, there is still a certain amount of responsibility we each have to be a light. As a married couple, Abraham and Sarah were one, so her disbelief was very much a part of his life.

When we laugh in disbelief over what God has told us, we are really mocking God Himself, His promises, His character, His reality, and His sacrifice.  When God calls us to do something, and we claim that it’s impossible, we are actually proclaiming our disbelief in His power and His sovereignty.

Sarah’s laughter in this context is indicative of disbelief. To answer the question “Why did Sarah laugh?” we need to answer why she disbelieved. Why does anyone disbelieve? If there is anyone in the Bible associated with faith, it’s Abraham. And here was his wife, displaying disbelief. What was the difference between them?

We’ve already seen that Sarah’s thoughts were directed towards “helping God” because she didn’t trust Him to fulfill His promises without her. She tried to manipulate circumstances based on her own human reasoning.

Abraham on the other hand is called a friend of God (2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23). Abraham believed what God said and Abraham loved God. Granted, not all of Abraham’s actions were righteous, but he loved God and believed.

Faith is about being close to God. Our faith is founded on Scripture. Understanding Him strengthens our faith. Hearing Him enables our faith. Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” If we have an active desire to study His word and know and love Him better, we will act on that desire and our faith will be strengthened. Every time we push aside an opportunity to be with Him, we are pushing aside time to grow in faith.

If our hearts desire to know Him, not just know about Him, He will give us the faith we need.

Where is Sarah your wife?

In Genesis 18, we find Abraham residing near the Oaks of Mamre, a large group of trees located about 19 miles southwest of Jerusalem. I imagine that this would have been a delightful place to pitch a tent: shade, trees, water. The topography in the region of Canaan (which includes Israel today) is quite varied. Abraham would have been near 3000 ft in elevation and surrounded by Oaks. Looking to the east, he would have had a view of the land which was mostly desert mountains and in the distance, the Dead Sea. To get a visual, Google search “Judean Wilderness” and look at the image results.

Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent when he looked up and saw three men. He ran to meet them and acted as a servant to them, providing food and refreshment. Sarah was instructed to quickly make some bread cakes while a servant prepared a choice calf. Abraham served curds and milk and the calf, and stood nearby as the men ate. One of those men was the Angel of the Lord.

The men asked…

Where is Sarah your wife?

Abraham replied plainly that she was in the tent. But, as we have seen before, whenever the Lord asks “Where…?” the question is probing for an answer much deeper than a physical location. “Where” can be about the heart, identity, position and attitude of a person.

We read that Sarah was listening to the conversation from the tent when she overheard something she didn’t expect. “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.” Her response: a private laugh.

This is the real answer to where Sarah was. She was in a state of disbelief. She had long since given up any hope of having her own child. She had tried to reason her way through the promises from God, which had brought Ishmael and with him, turmoil. Her belief in God’s promises “working out” just didn’t exist anymore. And now she would have a son. Right.  Last time she checked she was an elderly woman with an even more elderly husband. Their childbearing years were way past. Sarah laughed.

Her beliefs may have mirrored parts of the land: barren and dry. It’s hard to make anything grow in a desert, and it’s impossible for an old woman to have a child.

Next week we will study two more questions concerning Sarah. For now, think about your state of belief. Is your belief in God like a barren wilderness or is it joyfully fruitful? Where are you?

Abraham

Abraham is best known as the man God considered righteous because of his faith. (Genesis 15, Romans 4, Galatians 3, Hebrews 11, James 2). When God told Abraham something, Abraham believed Him. That is the heart of faith: believing what God says.

Let’s rewind a bit and go back to the time before Ishmael was born, when Abraham was still named Abram. Abram received revelations and promises from God, specifically those in Genesis 12:2-3, 12:7, 15:1-21:

  • From his bloodline would come a great nation
  • His name would be great
  • God would bless those who blessed him and curse those who cursed him
  • Through Abram, all peoples on the earth would be blessed
  • His descendants would be given the land of Canaan
  • God would be his shield and reward
  • His descendants would be slaves in another country for four hundred years, but would come out of that slavery with great possessions

Genesis 15:6 states that Abram believed God and God “reckoned it to him as righteousness.” In other words, God considered Abram righteous because he believed what God said.

Our concept of a righteous person generally involves ideas of goodness. We imagine that a righteous person is one who is kind to others, helps the poor, doesn’t lie or gossip, and certainly never ends up on the evening news associated with some sort of scandal. Yet, that’s not the case with the man whom God declared righteous. Abram was involved in at least two scandals that would have made the tabloids back then. Twice he told royalty that Sarai was his sister rather than wife (Genesis chapters 12 and 20) and God interceded before the men involved could touch her. Abram sure didn’t seem filled with faith when he took Hagar as a wife in order to help fulfill God’s promise. Abram was just a man who sinned like any other. The thing that set him apart was that God chose him and Abram believed what God said. We see that Abram sinned both before and after being declared righteous.

It was after he was declared righteous that Hagar became pregnant and gave birth to Ishmael. But God had more to say to Abram. None of the promises mentioned in the list above required anything from Abram. They were based solely on God and not Abram’s actions, obedience or belief. When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to him and confirmed His covenant with him, adding a few more specifics:

  • His name would no longer be Abram, but rather Abraham (meaning “father of many”)
  • Kings would come from his line
  • The whole land of Canaan would be given as an everlasting possession to his descendants and God would be their God

The Lord then told Abraham that his wife Sarai would be renamed Sarah, she would have a son and would be the mother of many nations and kings would come from her. Abraham laughed to himself and asked God to give Ishmael the blessing. God already had a specific blessing for Ishmael, but this blessing and covenant were for the son that Sarah would give birth to. 

In the next few weeks, we will look at the questions God asked to Abraham.  We will see that God’s questions testify to His sovereignty and power. And we will understand how God’s promises to Abraham are being fulfilled even today.

Running Away

Hagar’s answer to God’s question was fairly plain, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” Upon closer inspection, we see that there is more to the question, but her answer had a single focus: get away from Sarai. Let’s look at each part of God’s question.

God’s question began with Hagar’s own name. First and foremost, the Lord addressed her individually as a person. He spoke to her directly and sought to reason with her. Hagar wasn’t given the promises of Abram. She was a simple maid, and yet, God sought her out and called her by name.

After addressing her by name, God mentioned her role. For a moment, think about the titles God didn’t use here. Hagar was many things besides just Sarai’s maid. She was also Abram’s wife.  She was a daughter of Egypt. She was a mother of a child on the way. But God chose to use the title “Sarai’s maid” in this case. I suspect it’s because that is the very thing that Hagar was running from. God knew of the friction between Hagar and Sarai. If Hagar believed that God was sovereign she might have recognized that He had a plan for her as Sarai’s servant, difficult though it was.

Next, God asked about Hagar’s past and her planned future. Where had Hagar come from? First and foremost, she had come away from Sarai, but she had also come from the land of Canaan, the land promised to Abram and his descendants. She was discarding her role as a servant and getting away no matter what it took. I can’t say that I blame her; any of us might have done the same thing in her situation. She’d been sold off as a slave and given to a woman who thought her God “needed help.” That doesn’t sound promising at all.

The Lord finished His question by asking Hagar where she was going, but she didn’t say. If we look at a map we can see that she was heading in a southern direction. Why would she go that way? She knew there was a desert there. Why would any pregnant woman go to a desert? Before we invoke temporary insanity caused by anomalous estrogen levels, let’s contemplate the geography of the area. At the time, Abram was in the land of Canaan the land promised to his descendants, which includes modern day Israel. This is the region Hagar would have begun her journey. Now, think about where she was going.

Remember where Hagar was from originally; she was probably one of the slaves given to Abram and Sarai during their time in Egypt. It’s a good guess that she was planning to go “home” to Egypt. So she wasn’t just running away from Sarai, she was running to Egypt, back to a world she knew, even though that world had sold her as a slave. Maybe she forgot that part. Or maybe she thought anything would be better than her current situation.

When we find ourselves in difficult situations, we often try to go back to what we know, whether it was that great or not. We don’t always stop to converse with God and ask ourselves, “Who am I? What is my role? Where (or what) am I running from? Where (or what) am I running to?”

Running away can take many forms. It can be a literal physical running away. It can be an emotional or mental withdrawal. It can be pushing away and ignoring spiritual conviction. But whenever we run away – even if we don’t realize it – we are running toward something else, something else that may put us in a very bad situation.

Is there something in your life (a role, person, activity) that you are running from? What or where are you running to? We hear of people who run from their family life and bury themselves in their career or work, justified by the excuse that they are providing an income. Some people run away from their responsibilities in the name of comfort or inability while others bury themselves in responsibilities that really aren’t their own. People can withdraw emotionally and avoid other people or activities because they are running away from conflict or possible rejection. We have an amazing amount of creativity when it comes to finding excuses for avoiding uncomfortable situations.

When we run away from something without God’s direction, we find ourselves running toward disaster. We sear our consciences by ignoring the responsibilities we’ve left behind or we are proud and/or angry that we are taking on responsibilities that we shouldn’t. We run away emotionally and perhaps find ourselves feeling angry, depressed, fearful or guilty more frequently. We run away mentally and lose the ability to feel anything or be convicted. We may develop insecurities and a fear of failure. Then we run to anything that will help alleviate those feelings.

I’m not talking about running away from ungodly situations or people nor am I talking about getting out of an abusive relationship. If you are in an abusive situation I recommend that you talk with a few believers to get insight and protection. There are serious and truly abusive and sinful situations that we should all run away from. God does not call us to be in abusive situations. But be cautious what you run toward after you escape the sinful situation.

It is true that Sarai was mistreating Hagar, but both women were at fault because as soon as Hagar knew she conceived, she began to despise Sarai. We can’t know all the details, what was said between them and how, but we do know that God had an answer for the situation. The angel of the Lord instructed Hagar to go back to her mistress and submit to her, and Hagar was also given a promise. The angel of the Lord said,

“I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count […] Behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son; And you shall call his name Ishmael, Because the Lord has given heed to your affliction. He will be a wild donkey of a man, His hand will be against everyone, And everyone’s hand will be against him; And he will live to the east of all his brothers.”

Hagar returned to Abram and Sarai and gave birth to Ishmael, whose name is normally translated as “God hears” just as God had heard Hagar in the desert. Her son would not only be a man through whom many descendants would come, but also a reminder that God hears. Perhaps every time Hagar saw her son, she remembered how God had heard her in the desert.

The name “Ishmael” in Hebrew is a verb in the imperfect tense and may also be translated as “God will hear.” And Hagar found out; God would hear again. Her experience with the Lord wasn’t just a one-time thing to remember and commemorate by naming her son Ishmael. We will take a closer look at this later with another one of God’s questions to Hagar. God’s ability to hear would continue, and she could hold on to His promise of that.