Genesis 21

Sunday Morning Bible Study

April 15, 2007


Abraham and Sarah have been promised a son.  It’s been a long time since that original promise.  Along the way they tried to help God out by having Sarah’s servant girl Hagar sleep with Abraham.  What a mess that brought.  But the time has finally come.

Genesis 21

:1-7 Isaac’s birth

:1 And the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken.

:2 For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.

:3 And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him; whom Sarah bore to him; Isaac.

:4 Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.

The name and the circumcision are exactly what God told Abraham to do (Gen. 17)

:5 Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

:6 And Sarah said, "God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me."

:7 She also said, "Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age."

I find it interesting that the first time Sarah laughed, she was defensive about it, even denying that she had laughed.

(Gen 18:13-15 NKJV) And the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?' {14} "Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son." {15} But Sarah denied it, saying, "I did not laugh," for she was afraid. And He said, "No, but you did laugh!"

Now she’s telling everyone about her laughter. Perhaps she’s learned to laugh along with Abraham and God.

She finds it funny that she, a ninety year old woman, has given birth and has been nursing her child.

I think there’s a bit of maturity that comes attached with learning to laugh at yourself.

One of the marvelous things about this passage is about the keeping of promises.

Some people keep their promises, but it just takes a while.


A German farmer with relatives in the US promised them some fresh pork sausages made by hand from his very own stock of pigs. But as the weeks went by they gave him a call to complain that the package had not yet arrived. He told them, “Don’t worry. The wurst is yet to come.”


God keeps His promises

God always keeps His promises.  You can count on Him.
It may not always happen as quick as we want, but God keeps His promises.
It’s been close to 25 years since the promise was first made.
Along the way, Abraham learned faith – you have to trust God.
My call to ministry at 18 years old.  Waiting for full time ministry.  Waiting for becoming Sr. Pastor.  Took me 20 years.  It’s not fun to wait.
(1 Th 5:24 NASB)  Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
God makes a promise and He keeps it. After Joshua conquered the land for Israel we read:
(Josh 21:45 NKJV) Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.
Here’s one of God’s promises I’m counting on:
(John 3:16 NKJV)  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

:8-21 Ishmael kicked out

:8 So the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the same day that Isaac was weaned.

Children were usually weaned at three to four years old in Abraham’s day. Apparently it was a big thing for a kid to reach the age of being weaned.

:9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing.

scoffingtsachaq – There are two Hebrew forms of this word. The main form (Qal) means “to laugh”, and is the word used to describe how Abraham (Gen. 17:17) and Sarah (Gen. 18:12,13, 21:6) both “laughed” with the promise and then birth of Isaac.

The other form is an “intensive” form (Piel) and carries a little different meaning: “to jest; to sport, play, make sport, toy with, make a toy of”

Maybe the idea is this – Ishmael’s baby brother is named “laughter”, so he decides to make sure that everyone is going to be laughing, really laughing, at Isaac.

If baby Isaac is three years old, then Ishmael is about 17 years old (Gen. 17:25).

:10 Therefore she said to Abraham, "Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac."

Sarah isn’t happy with the way things are. She wants Hagar and Ishmael to go. There was been tension before between Sarah and Hagar when Hagar initially got pregnant (Gen. 16:4-6), but this seems to be the last straw.


The dangers of legalism

Paul uses this story to teach the Galatians a lesson about legalism.

The church in Galatia was made up of Gentiles. Even though they had come to know Jesus by simply trusting in Jesus, they had been deceived by false teachers who were going through the Gentile churches and proclaiming that all Gentiles needed to become Jewish converts if they were going to be truly saved. They were telling the people that they needed to be circumcised and that they needed to keep all of the Law of Moses in order to be saved.
This was a great controversy in the early church. The issue was – are we saved by grace or law?  Are we saved because of what we do for God or because of what God did for us?
Even today there are churches who put a heavy legalism over their people, making people think that if they smoke a cigarette that they are going to lose their salvation.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians was aimed at freeing the church from the bondage of legalism. Legalism puts people into the mindset of a slave, of bondage. Pay attention to the concept of “bondage”.
And so Paul writes,
(Gal 4:21-31 NKJV) Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?

Paul is going to teach a lesson drawn from the Law of Moses itself, from our passage in the book of Genesis.

{22} For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman.

Hagar was the “bondwoman”, Sarah was a freewoman.

{23} But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, {24} which things are symbolic.

Ishmael was born because of Abraham and Sarah’s “fleshly” plan to fulfill God’s promise of a child to Abraham. They cooked up the plan of bringing another woman into their marriage, Hagar, and having her try to get pregnant.

Isaac was born simply by the work of God, God Himself fulfilling the promise to Abraham and Sarah.

For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar; {25} for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children; {26} but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.

The Galatians, just like us, have a choice of two paths.

We can choose a path of bondage, a path of trying to please God by keeping the Law of Moses, the Law which was given on Mount Sinai, the Law which was seen in Paul’s day in the earthly Jerusalem.

Or we can choose to follow the heavenly Jerusalem, a gift of God to Sarah, salvation by grace, not works.

{27} For it is written: "Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband."  {28} Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. {29} But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now.

In our story, Ishmael is “persecuting” Isaac. In Paul’s day the legalists were persecuting those who followed salvation by grace.

{30} Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman." {31} So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.

Just as Sarah told Abraham to kick Hagar out, Paul is encouraging the Galatians, and us, to get rid of legalism.

Be careful about allowing your relationship with the Lord to stray towards legalism, towards thinking you have to complete this list of do’s and don’ts to be pleasing to God. You are pleasing to God because He loves you and has paid for you and you’ve learned to trust Him. Cast out the bondwoman.

:11 And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham's sight because of his son.

displeasingyara‘– (Qal) to tremble, quiver

Abraham isn’t thrilled with the idea of sending his seventeen year old son away.

:12 But God said to Abraham, "Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called.

listenshama‘– to hear, listen to, obey


Obey your wife

One of the most difficult things in marriage is learning to how to make decisions…
This guy wanted a boat more than anything. His wife kept refusing, but he bought one anyway. “I’ll tell you what,” he told her. “In the spirit of compromise, why don’t you name the boat?” Being a good sport, she accepted. When her husband went to the dock for his maiden voyage, this is the name he saw painted on the side: “For Sale.”
Some of us men like to remind our wives of the Scripture:
(Eph 5:22 NKJV) Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
We will also sometimes remind our wives that in more than one occasion a man has gotten into trouble by doing what his wife asked –
Eve gave the forbidden fruit to her husband.
It was Sarah who gave Abraham the advice to have a child with Hagar.
But here’s the other side of the coin.
God specifically tells Abraham to do what Sarah is asking.
We need to remember that the command for wives to submit follows a verse that says,

(Eph 5:21 NKJV) submitting to one another in the fear of God.

Look at what she’s asking him to do –
If I was Abraham, I’d probably say to Sarah something like –

“Awe honey, you’re just being overprotective”, or,

“You’ve always been jealous of Hagar”, or,

“Hey, Hagar was your idea in the first place”

And if I was Abraham, I might tend to just rationalize her request away and ignore my wife.
But God says that her idea is exactly what needed to happen.
It may have come from her womanly, emotional logic. But it was the right thing.
“So what do I do? Do we do things her way or my way? I’m confused!”
Men, you are responsible to God to make your decision the correct way. Sometimes your way will be the right choice. Sometimes she will have the right choice.  Choose wisely.  Listen to God.

:13 "Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed."

Because Ishmael was a son of Abraham, God would take care of him.

:14 So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba.

:15 And the water in the skin was used up, and she placed the boy under one of the shrubs.

:16 Then she went and sat down across from him at a distance of about a bowshot; for she said to herself, "Let me not see the death of the boy." So she sat opposite him, and lifted her voice and wept.

:17 And God heard the voice of the lad. Then the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her, "What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.

Whose voice did God hear? Ishmael’s. Hagar was weeping, but Ishmael was praying.

There’s a line in an old hymn:

O what peace we often forfeit,

O what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer

I understand that there are times when we are overcome with the mess of the situation we’re in. But we need to learn to pray.

:18 "Arise, lift up the lad and hold him with your hand, for I will make him 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 lad a drink.


Prayer opens eyes

It seems that the well must have been there all along, but she didn’t see it.
And because she didn’t see it, she was weeping.
Ishmael prays and her eyes are opened.
Sometimes prayer changes our circumstances, sometimes prayer just changes us.
The prophet Elisha and his servant got up one morning to find that the enemy had sent an army and had surrounded the city where they lived.
(2 Ki 6:15-17 NKJV) And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" {16} So he answered, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." {17} And Elisha prayed, and said, "LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see." Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
I wonder how many times we are upset and afraid about our situation when all we need to do is pray and have God open our eyes to the answer.
Sometimes it’s not necessarily the answer we need to see as much as to see that God is going to help – we need to get a glimpse of those fiery chariots.
When Jesus made His way into Jerusalem one morning, He stopped at a fig tree and because there was no fruit on it, He cursed it. When the tree immediately withered, the disciples were blown away. Jesus responded:
(Mat 21:21-22 NKJV) …"Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' it will be done. {22} "And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive."

So often I approach this verse and only try to counter the false teachings of the “word-faith” teachers – their idea that you are the master and you can twist God’s arm into doing whatever you want.

But the truth is still this – we need to pray with faith. Mountains move when we learn to ask God for help. Problems wither when we learn to put the issue into God’s hands and Trust Him.

:20 So God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.

:21 He dwelt in the Wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

Hagar goes back home for a wife for Ishmael.

Wilderness of Paranthe northeast portion of the Sinai peninsula, perhaps 150 miles south of where Abraham is living.

:22-34 Covenant with Philistines

:22 And it came to pass at that time that Abimelech and Phichol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, "God is with you in all that you do.

:23 "Now therefore, swear to me by God that you will not deal falsely with me, with my offspring, or with my posterity; but that according to the kindness that I have done to you, you will do to me and to the land in which you have dwelt."

Abraham has been living in the land of the Philistines, of whom Abimelech is the king.

In the last chapter, we saw Abraham deceiving to Abimelech about Sarah, and as a result Abimelech’s household ended up cursed.

Abimelech has learned two things about Abraham:

He’s seen that God is close to Abraham.

He’s seen that Abraham isn’t always truthful.

:24 And Abraham said, "I will swear."

This “oath” is tied to the fact that Abimelech seems to not trust Abraham.

:25 Then Abraham rebuked Abimelech because of a well of water which Abimelech's servants had seized.

Water was a precious commodity. It’s the thing that sustained life in the southern deserts of Canaan. Apparently Abraham had dug a well but Abimelech’s servants had claimed it for their own.

:26 And Abimelech said, "I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, nor had I heard of it until today."

:27 So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them made a covenant.

sheep and oxen – In the last chapter, Abimelech gave Abraham sheep, oxen, servants, and 1,000 pieces of silver. Now Abraham gives Abimelech sheep, oxen, and ewe lambs.

:28 And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves.

:29 Then Abimelech asked Abraham, "What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs which you have set by themselves?"

:30 And he said, "You will take these seven ewe lambs from my hand, that they may be my witness that I have dug this well."

Abimelech gave a gift to Abraham as a witness that he hadn’t touched Sarah (Gen. 20). Abraham gives a gift as a witness that this is his well.

:31 Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because the two of them swore an oath there.

BeershebaB@’er Sheba– “well of seven”, or “well of the oath”; Beer (well) Sheba (seven or oath)

Beersheba is often referred to as the southern tip of Israel. The Scriptures describe Israel as “From Dan to Beersheba”, Dan being the far north, Beersheba as the far south.

The name will over time acquire different connotations to it. There are two main wells and five smaller wells, and some call it the “Well of Seven” because of the number of wells, or perhaps because of the number of ewe lambs Abraham gave.

Beersheba will become the chief city in the south, the “Negev”.

:32 Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba. So Abimelech rose with Phichol, the commander of his army, and they returned to the land of the Philistines.

:33 Then Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.

tamarisk‘eshel – A small tree with thick foliage and spikes of pink blooms. It’s an ideal plant for a desert place like Beersheba, making a place of shade.  Abraham was planning on staying awhile.

called on the name – He “invoked” the name of God, he spoke in worship the name of God.

the LORD, the Everlasting God – Three words used here, “Yahweh El Olam”, “The Becoming One”, “God”, “The Forever One”

:34 And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines many days.

stayed – KJV “soujourned” – we too are just pilgrims in this world.  We too are just passing through on our way to heaven…