March 26, 2014

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

                       

Lesson II.C.5: Promise of a Son by Sarai. Gen. 17:15-27.     

 

Genesis 17:15-17-27 (KJV)

 

15 And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.

16 And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.

17 Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear ?

18 And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!

19 And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.

20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.

21 But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.

22 And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.

23 And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him.

24 And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.

25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.

26 In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son.

27 And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him.

 

Commentary

15 And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.

Sarai means “my princess” which would imply that her honor was confined to one family only; but “Sarah” signifies “a princess”, specifically, of multitudes; or, signifying that the Messiah would come from her. The Messiah would be the Prince of the kings of the earth.

 

16 And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.

Abraham had assumed that his descendents would come through Ishmael, but God has now ruled out that possibility. If old Abraham is going to be a father of nations, then Sarah is going to be a mother of nations. Abraham is looked upon as “father Abraham” by Jews, Mohammedans, and Christians.

We must not minimize the place of Sarah in God’s great plan of salvation. Like her husband (and all of us), she had her faults: but also like her husband, she trusted God and accomplished His purposes (Heb. 11:11{4]). She is not only the mother of the Jewish nation (Isa. 51:2{5]), but also a good example for Christian wives to follow (1 Pe 3:1-6{6]). The Christian husband should treat his wife like a princess, because that is what she is in the Lord.

Motherhood should be esteemed and sought after, and children should be received as a gift from God to be enjoyed. In a selfish society too many people see motherhood as a barrier and children as a burden. In fact some people see children as such a burden that they destroy them before they have a chance to be a blessing. I believe that abortion is the great sin and shame of our time, and I pray that God will stop this profound evil.

The womb of a mother is a holy of holies where God is at work (Ps. 139:13-18). How tragic that we turn that womb into a tomb, that holy of holies into a holocaust.

 

17 Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?

Abraham fell on his face, which was an expression of his great humility. The more honor and favor God shows us, the lower we should be in our own eyes, and the more reverent and submissive before God. Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (Jn. 8:56). Just as he saw heaven in the promise of Canaan, so he saw Christ in the promise of Isaac.

The significance of Abraham laughing is conveyed in the name that God gives his son through Sarah—Isaac (v. 19), meaning “he laughs.” Abraham knew he would be a father (12:2{9]; 15:4{10]), but this is the first mention that his barren old wife would be the mother. Old Abraham just laughed. This is not the laughter of unbelief. There is no suggestion here of unbelief but rather the evidence of wonder and great gladness.  Old Abraham was hardly able to comprehend such an astonishing announcement. His laughter, I think, was the laughter of just sheer joy that this could happen. You may have had the same experience that I have had. Every now and then in our lives, God does something for us that is so wonderful that we just feel like laughing. You don’t know anything else to do but to laugh about it. God has just pledged something unheard of. There was “the deadness of Sarah’s womb,” and Abraham was “dead” as far as fathering children is concerned. Have you ever noticed how Paul described this? “As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver (Rom. 4:18-21{11) through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness." Actually, it would have seemed strange if Abraham had laughed at the idea of a man his age fathering children, when his own father was 130 at his birth. Sarah would die when he was 137, but he was able to begat sons long after that (23:1-6). Paul states that when he was 100, “He considered not his own body now dead (25:1-6).

Three different occasions of laughter are associated with Isaac’s birth: Abraham laughed for joy when he heard his wife would give birth to the promised son; Sarah laughed in unbelief when she heard the news (18:9-15); and Sarah laughed for joy when the boy was born (21:6-7).

And then, all of a sudden, a thought comes to Abraham like an arrow to his heart. He thinks of a little boy who was his, a boy by the name of Ishmael.

 

18 And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!

Abraham was suddenly struck with the thought that Ishmael might be abandoned and forsaken by God due to the preference that God has given to the son that would be born to Sarah: therefore; he makes this request{1] of God, O that Ishmael might live before thee! From the human point of view, we can understand why Abraham interceded for Ishmael. Abraham is attached to Ishmael. He was fourteen years old when Abraham sent him away a little later on. I do not think Abraham ever saw him again. Whatever you may think of Ishmael; he was Abraham’s son, and Abraham loved him. It broke his heart to have to give him up. Again, from the human point of view, we can sympathize with Ishmael. After all, it wasn’t Ishmael’s fault he was born! It was Abraham and Sarah who sinned, and not the boy.

I am of the opinion Abraham thought many times. “I made a great mistake by taking Hagar as my wife.” You see, that was a sin that not only plagued him, but there has been trouble in that land ever since, because Abraham sinned. Don’t tell me that sin is a little thing or that sin is something that you get by with, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). A man does not reap something similar; he reaps something very much like that which he sowed. And Old Abraham is certainly reaping: O that Ishmael might live before thee!

This is an example for Christians to follow: Whatever we care about, and whatever we fear, we should spread it out before God in prayer. It is the parents duty to pray for each one of their children, and Job did, who would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts" (Job 1:5{2]). The thing we should desire the most from God for our children is, that they might live before Him; that is, that they would love and serve Him, and have the grace to live decent, moral lives.

 

19 And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.

God is not going to accept Ishmael. He was born from a union that He did not approve. Abram should not have had a son with Haggar. Don’t say that God approved of polygamy just because it is recorded in the Bible. He did not approve of it at all.

Compare Sarah’s reaction in 18:12{12], when she learned that she would have a child, to Abraham’s reaction. There is a decided difference in the causes for laughter in the two instances.

 

20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.

We might say that Ishmael received common blessings, while Isaac will have covenant blessings reserved for him. Many good things are often given to the children of godly parents for the parent’s sake.

From the spiritual point of view, Ishmael could not replace Isaac or even be equal to him in the covenant plan of God. God had already promised to bless Ishmael (16:11{6]), and He kept his promise (25:12-16{7]): but the covenant blessings were not part of Ishmael’s heritage. Isaac was to be the heir of all things (25:5-6{8]; Rom. 9:6-13).

Observe, even the number of Ishmael’s sons—12—were predicted. Ishmael did not get a new name because he represents the flesh and the flesh cannot be changed. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (Jn. 3:6), and always will be flesh, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom 7:18). “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing” (Jn. 6:63). The old nature can be disciplined, subdued, and even to some extent controlled; but it cannot be changed. Until we receive our glorified bodies in the presence of the Lord, the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit will continue (see Gal. 5:15-26).

 

21 But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.

God adheres to the promise He has made. God is not going to be deterred or deferred from keeping His promise. He is going to do the exact thing He said He would do. He speaks as if Isaac were already born and living with them. He speaks of things that are not as if they are—and Isaac will be born next year. The revelation is also given that the birth of the long-awaited son is only a year away.

 

22 And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.

In other words, Abraham, you might just as well keep quiet. God has already decided this. Dear reader, there are things we might as well stop asking God for. There are times you have said enough and don’t need to say any more. Sometimes people keep pestering the Lord in a prayer when they already have the answer—which, of course, is No! God says to Abraham, “Let this alone now. This is enough; you don’t need to mention this anymore. I have not accepted it (His marriage to Haggar, and the child they had together), and I don’t intend to.” God is going to hear and answer other prayers of Abraham. We will find that God listens to Abraham. However, as far as His covenant is concerned, He is making it with Isaac, not Ishmael. That is settled, and Abraham might as well stop trying to change God’s mind. There are a lot of people today, I think, that maybe God doesn’t intend to hear or answer at all. I try to be very careful of what I ask God for, because I want to feel like there is a reasonable chance of God hearing it and answering.

 

23 And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him.

Abraham acted in complete and utter obedience when he and Ishmael were circumcised; he did as God said, and did not ask why; God’s will was not only a law to him, it was a reason. He did it simply because God told him to. And obedience was not limited to himself, but was imitated by his household, so we may conclude that some members of his household were believers in the true God. This is a good example for the head of a family; they and their family must serve the Lord.

 

24 And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.

25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.

26 In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son.

27 And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him.

Circumcision is the badge of the covenant which God has made with Abraham. Someone will ask, “Why was Ishmael included?” Hasn’t God promised that Ishmael is going to be a great nation also? He is included in it in that sense, but he is not the one God promised to Abraham in the beginning. He is not to be the father of the nation that God will use and the nation through which the Messiah will come.

Let us take from this remarkable instance of obedience a reminder that the true circumcision is that of the heart, performed by the Spirit (Rom. 2:28-29{3]). The evidence of true faith is prompt, unreserved obedience in the most difficult situations; and if we have this kind of faith, we can be confident that God is our God.

There is a spiritual lesson here for all who would seek to live by faith: When God is preparing a bright future for you, don’t cling to the things of the past. Ishmael represented the past, Isaac the future. Ishmael symbolized man’s fleshly way of accomplishing something for God; but Isaac was a miracle baby, born by the power of God. Ishmael brought dissension into the home, but Isaac brought laughter. If you have an “Ishmael” in your life, yield it up to God. God has a perfect plan, and what He plans is the best. It may pain you to give up your cherished dreams, but God’s way is always the way.

The Lord’s Plan to Reach and Bless All the Nations Is Moving toward Fulfillment.

 

 

scripture reference and special notes

 

{1] (Phil. 4:6) Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

{2] (Job 1:5) When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." This was Job's regular custom.

{3] (Rom. 2:28-29) For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

{4] (Heb. 11:11) Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

{5] (Isa. 51:2) Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.

{6] (1 Pe 3:1-6) Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.

{6] (Gen. 16:11) And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction.

{7] (Gen. 25:12-16) Now these are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham's son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah's handmaid, bare unto Abraham: And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam, And Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa, Hadar, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah: These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations.

{8] (Gen. 25:5-6) And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac. But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.

{9] (Gen. 12:2) I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing.

{10] (Gen. 15:4) And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir."

{11](Rom. 4:18-21) who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, "So shall your descendants be." And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.

{12] (Gen. 18:12) Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, "After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?"

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