Planning Without God Results in Godless Outcomes.

But when Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him heard of all the evil that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had done, they took all their men and went to fight against Ishmael the son of Nethaniah. They came upon him at the great pool that is in Gibeon. And when all the people who were with Ishmael saw Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him, they rejoiced. So all the people whom Ishmael had carried away captive from Mizpah turned around and came back, and went to Johanan the son of Kareah. But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men, and went to the Ammonites. Then Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him took from Mizpah all the rest of the people whom he had recovered from Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, after he had struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam—soldiers, women, children, and eunuchs, whom Johanan brought back from Gibeon. And they went and stayed at Geruth Chimham near Bethlehem, intending to go to Egypt because of the Chaldeans. For they were afraid of them, because Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land. Jeremiah 41:11-18 ESV

If you recall, at the close of chapter 40, there was an encounter between Gedaliah, the newly appointed governor of Judah and Johanan son of Kareah. Johanan and some other military leaders had come to warn Gedaliah of a plot on his life.

“Did you know that Baalis, king of Ammon, has sent Ishmael son of Nethaniah to assassinate you?” But Gedaliah refused to believe them. – Jeremiah 40:14 NLT

Johanan warned and Gedaliah ignored. And within days, Gedaliah was dead, murdered by Ishmael. But Johanan, rather than simply walk away with an I-told-you-so attitude, decides to avenge the death of Gedaliah and rescue all those Ishmael had taken captive. Johanan and his troops catch up to Ishmael at a watering spot near the town of Gibeon. We’re not told why Ishmael took this route, and it was not exactly a direct route to Ammon, where he was headed. But regardless of his motivation, Ishmael’s plans took him to Gibeon, where Johanah and his troops surprised them. Immediately, the people who had been taken captive by Ishmael turn on him and begin fighting alongside Johanan and his men. In the midst of all the chaos, Ishmael and eight of his men escape. But Johanan sets the captives free and takes them with him “to the village of Geruth-kimham near Bethlehem, where they prepared to leave for Egypt” (Jeremiah 41:17 NLT).

This last statement is significant. Johanan had already made plans for he and his troops to escape to Egypt. And now, he decides to have the recently rescued citizens of Mizpah join them. But where did he get this idea from? Why had he determined to make his way to Egypt? It would seem that he feared what King Nebuchadnezzar would do when he found out that the governor he had appointed over Judah had been murdered, along with some Babylonian soldiers. Johanan knew that the king of Babylon was not going to look kindly on this act of abject rebellion against his authority. So, rather than wait around to see what Nebuchadnezzar might do, Johanan decided to seek refuge from Egypt, a supposed ally of Judah. But notice what is missing. There is no indication that Johanan received a word from God to go to Egypt. This does not appear to be a divinely ordained plan. And any plan that lacks God’s blessing is ultimately doomed to failure.

This brings to mind another journey to Egypt made by Abraham and his wife, Sarah. There little trip was due to a famine in the land of Canaan. Abraham made the call to leave Canaan and journey to Egypt where they might find food and water. But again, there is no indication that God had given His blessing on this trip. And it ended up with Sarah nearly being guilty of have adultery with the the Pharaoh. It was only because God struck Pharaoh and his household with disease that this whole affair didn’t end up being a total disaster. Pharaoh discovered that Sarah was Abraham’s wife and angrily confronted Abraham for deceiving him. But rather than kill Abraham, he returns his wife to him and expels them from Egypt.

What about David? Do you recall the time he was attempting to escape from King Saul and decided to escape to Gath? This whole story has a what-were-you-thinking aspect to it. Gath was the hometown of Goliath, the great warrior who David had killed. And to top it all off, David had stopped at the city of Nob to get food and provisions. While there, he had taken the sword of Goliath that was stored there for safe keeping. This was the very same sword David had used to cut off the head of Goliath. So, David, the killer of the Philistine champion, shows up in Goliath’s hometown, wearing Goliath’s sword on his belt. And the Philistines can’t believe their eyes. The Philistine military commanders are highly suspicious.

But the officers of Achish were unhappy about his being there. “Isn’t this David, the king of the land?” they asked. “Isn’t he the one the people honor with dances, singing,

‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” – 1 Samuel 21:11 NLT

Waking up to his senses, David immediately realized the stupidity of his decision and came up with the desperate idea to feign insanity – literally.

David heard these comments and was very afraid of what King Achish of Gath might do to him. So he pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard. – 1 Samuel 21:12-13 NLT

It worked. They let David go. But his trip almost cost him his life. And his stop in Nob would end up resulting in the deaths of the priests who lived there. When King Saul caught wind that they had assisted David in his escape he had them slaughtered.

So Doeg the Edomite turned on them and killed them that day, eighty-five priests in all, still wearing their priestly garments. Then he went to Nob, the town of the priests, and killed the priests’ families—men and women, children and babies—and all the cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats. – 1 Samuel 22:18-19 NLT

None of this had been God’s plan. He had never sanctioned this little trip to Gath with a side stop in Nob. And because it was out of His will, it ended up resulting in needless suffering and death.

So, here we have Johanan leading a group of people to Egypt. He has not received a direct word from God. He has not heard anything from the prophet of God. It appears that he made his decision based on nothing more than fear and human reason – the very same motivating factors behind Abraham’s trip to Egypt and David’s journey to Gath. Making plans apart from God’s will can be life-threatening; not just to us, but to all those around us. But we all have a nasty way of coming up with our own Egypts and Gaths. We find ourselves in trouble and then start looking for somewhere to run or hide. We look for a way out, a way of escape. But unless that way comes from the Lord, it will always end up creating problems, not solving them. Now, you might say that Abraham ended up leaving Egypt loaded with gifts from Pharaoh. The passage in Genesis clearly states:

So Abram’s wife was taken into the household of Pharaoh, and he did treat Abram well on account of her. Abram received sheep and cattle, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. – Genesis 12:15-16 NLT

And when Abraham left Egypt, it clearly tells us:

Pharaoh gave his men orders about Abram, and so they expelled him, along with his wife and all his possessions. – Genesis 12:20 NLT

Abraham left wealthier than he had arrived. And the very next chapter reinforces this idea.

So Abram went up from Egypt into the Negev. He took his wife and all his possessions with him, as well as Lot. (Now Abram was very wealthy in livestock, silver, and gold.)…

Now Lot, who was traveling with Abram, also had flocks, herds, and tents. But the land could not support them while they were living side by side. Because their possessions were so great, they were not able to live alongside one another. So there were quarrels between Abram’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen. – Genesis 13:1-2, 5-7 NLT

What appears to be good fortune as a result of his non-God-sanctioned trip to Egypt, turned out to be nothing but a headache over time. The “blessings” he got for heading to Egypt without God’s approval would prove to be curses. His abundance of flocks led to disunity between he and his nephew Lot. And when he gave Lot the first choice of land to occupy so they could part ways, Lot took the best land. Then, before long, Lot ended up moving to Sodom. And, eventually, Abraham would be forced to rescue Lot when he was captured along with the other citizens of Sodom. All because Abraham had gone to Egypt, lied to Pharaoh, and received an extravagant dowry from Pharaoh so he could have Sarah as his wife. Our best plans apart from God’s blessing and direction are futile and will prove fruitless. And Johanan’s plan would prove to be no less so.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
Advertisements

The Providential Plan of God.

Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.

When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?” Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.” And he identified it and said, “It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard. – Genesis 37:25-36 ESV

After having thrown Joseph into an empty cistern, his brothers sit down and share a meal together. They weren’t exactly distraught over their actions or showing any signs of remorse. The only one to speak up and interrupt their meal was Judah, who offered an alternative plan that entailed selling their brother to Ishmaelite traders, rather than leaving him to die in an empty cistern. They could be rid of their brother, make some money, and not have his blood on their hands. It was a win-win proposition. So all the brothers agreed, except for Reuben, who had earlier convinced them to throw Joseph into the pit so he could sneak in and rescue him later. For whatever reason, he was not there when this decision was made. But everyone else was fully complicit and on board with this latest plan.

So they sold their younger brother to Ishmaelite traders for 20 shekels of silver. The Ishmaelites were descendants of Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar, the maidservant of Sarah. When Sarah realized that she was unable to provide a son to Abraham, she convinced him to impregnate her maidservant so that they might fulfill the promise of God. But once the child was born, Sarah changed her mind and demanded that Abraham get rid of the boy and his mother. And God told Abraham to do as Sarah commanded, saying, “ I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring” (Genesis 21:13 ESV). So Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away, providing them with water, but little else. When the water ran out, Hagar laid her son under a bush to die and then she cried out to God. Moses records, “…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.  Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’ 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. And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt” (Genesis 21:17-21 ESV).

This is an important detail in the story of Joseph, because of the connection between Ishmael and Egypt. His wife would be Egyptian and while his descendants would become Bedouins, they would develop an ongoing trading relationship with the Egyptians. So when the brothers of Joseph decided to sell him, they chose to do business with Ishmaelites, who just so happen to take Joseph to Egypt.

When Reuben returned and found Joseph no longer in the pit, he panicked. His brothers shared with him what they had done and took the news poorly. But yet another decision was made to concoct a story to tell to their father, Jacob. They took Joseph’s multicolored tunic, tore it and covered it in goat’s blood. And then they carried it the 70 miles back home and told their father that his favorite son had been killed by a wild beast. This news was devastating to Jacob. He was distraught and refused to be comforted. Perhaps he couldn’t stop thinking about Joseph’s dreams and wondering that had happened. Had the dreams not been of God? Had God’s plan somehow been thwarted by a random act of violence perpetrated by a wild animal? His favored son was dead and the dreams of Joseph had died along with him.

But there is something Jacob does not know. While his world had seemingly caved in on him, Moses reminds us that the story of Joseph is far from over.  “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:36 ESV). Joseph was not dead. Neither were his dreams. Because God was not done. The brothers of Joseph thought they had gotten rid of him once and for all. Any chance of them ever having to bow down to their younger brother had been completely eliminated. Or so they thought. Little did they know that they had actually facilitated the very thing they dreaded. They had helped set in motion a chain of events that would result in the fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams and the realization of their worst nightmare. Years earlier, when Sarah decided to give her handmaiden to Abraham, she had no way of knowing the outcome. She had initially hoped that Hagar would give birth to a son who would become the father of a great nation, and that is exactly what had happened. But not according to Sarah’s original plan. God had another plan in mind. The descendants of Ishmael would play a role in the future of the people of Israel. They would facilitate the sale of Joseph into slavery in Egypt. None of this was blind luck or the result of fate. The sovereign, providential hand of God was at work behind the scenes, orchestrating His plan and preparing the descendants of Abraham to receive the fulfillment of the promises He had made to him years earlier. He was going to make of them a great nation. The question was, “How?” And the answer was, “According to His providential plan.

Released From Self-Reliance.

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 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. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. – Galatians 4:21-31 ESV

One of the dangers of biblical interpretation is that of taking what was meant to be literal and turning it into an allegory. This is most often done with difficult passages. Because the Bible is made up of a variety of literary styles, such as history and poetry, and some passages are allegorical in nature, it can be tempting to take what God intended to be literal and to force upon it an allegorical meaning. Another thing that can make reading and interpreting the Bible difficult is that there are some passages that have both literal and allegorical messages within them. Paul provides us with a case in point. In his defense of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, Paul will use the historical account of the births of Ishmael and Isaac to explain the true nature of the law and man’s relationship to it.

Paul somewhat sarcastically asked his readers, who seemed to be set on living according to the law, why they refused to listen to what the law said. He then tells the story of the birth of Abraham’s two sons, found in the book of Genesis (located in the “law” section of the Old Testament). When a Jew referred to “the book of the law,” he was referring to not only the Mosaic law itself, but to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible as we know it today. The Genesis account tells of the birth of Ishmael to Abraham through his wife’s handmaiden, Hagar. This had been the result of Sarah’s attempt to help God fulfill His promise to give Abraham a son. The only problem was that it was not according to God’s plan. Sarah had seen her barrenness as a problem too big for God, so she had intervened and encouraged Abraham to have a child with Hagar, her handmaiden. But Paul pointed out that Ishmael, “the son of the slave was born according to the flesh” (Galatians 4:23 ESV). His was emphasizing that Ishmael’s birth was natural, not divine.  And as the son of a slave, his relationship to Abraham would be completely different than that of Isaac. God later told Abraham that Ishmael would not be an acceptable substitute or proxy as his heir. God had promised to give Abraham an heir through Sarah, in spite of her barrenness, and He did. God supernaturally intervened and made it possible for Sarah to conceive and bear Abraham a son. And Isaac’s birth was the direct fulfillment of God’s long-standing promise to Abraham.

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. – Genesis 12:1-2 ESV

As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her. – Genesis 17:15-16 ESV

And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” – Genesis 17:18-19 ESV

Ishmael, the son of the slave woman, was not to be Abraham’s heir. That right and responsibility would go to Isaac, the son of the promise. It is at this point that Paul reveals the allegorical or figurative message found in this literal, historical recounting of the births of Ishmael and Isaac. “Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants” (Galatians 4:24 ESV). What Paul is really providing us with is an analogy or illustration of what these historical events foreshadowed. Ishmael represented the covenant of the law given at Mount Sinai. Because Ishmael was born “according to the flesh” or, to put it another way, according to Sarah’s cunning and Abraham’s compliance, he was disqualified from becoming the fulfillment of God’s promise. The law, though given by God, was completely dependent upon man’s ability to live up to it. It was based on self-reliance. God never intended the law to bring about man’s justification or right standing before Him. It simply revealed and exposed the depths of man’s sinfulness. The law enslaved men under sin. It condemned them for their sin, but could do nothing to relieve them from sin’s control over their lives. That is, until Christ came. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV). At one point, Jesus had told the Pharisees, the experts in the Mosaic law, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36 ESV).

Paul was attempting to contrast Judaism with Christianity and compare life under the law with life according to faith. Paul wanted his readers to know that they were children according to the promise. They had been freed from the onerous task of attempting to keep the law in an ill-fated effort to earn a right-standing before God. Jesus Christ had died to set them free and justify them before God according to His works, not theirs. So why would they ever want to go back to trying to keep the law? Ishmael would not share in the inheritance promised by God to Abraham’s heir. And those who attempt to live by keeping the law through dependence upon their own self-effort, will not inherit eternal life, promised by God to all those who have placed their faith in His Son. The temptation toward legalism and self-reliance is alive and well today. The pressure to somehow earn favor with God through our own self-effort exists for all believers. But Paul would have us remember that we are called to live our lives by faith. We are to trust in God and His indwelling Holy Spirit, not our weak and frail flesh. We must learn to say as Paul did earlier in this same letter: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT).

Children of the Promise.

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 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. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. – Galatians 4:21-31 ESV

One of the dangers of biblical interpretation is that of taking what was meant to be literal and turning it into an allegory. This is most often done with difficult passages. Because the Bible is made up of a variety of literary styles, such as history and poetry, and some passages are allegorical in nature, it can be tempting to take what God intended to be literal and force upon it an allegorical meaning. Another thing that can make reading and interpreting the Bible difficult is that there are some passages that have both literal and allegorical messages within them. Paul provides us with a case in point. In his defense of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, Paul will use the historical account of the births of Ishmael and Isaac to explain the true nature of the law and man’s relationship to it.

Paul somewhat sarcastically asked his readers, who seemed to be set on living according to the law, why they refused to listen to what the law said. He then tells the story of the birth of Abraham’s two sons, found in the book of Genesis, located in the “law” section of the Old Testament. When a Jew referred to “the book of the law,” he was referring to not only the Mosaic law itself, but to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible as we know it today. The Genesis account tells of the birth of Ishmael to Abraham through his wife’s handmaiden, Hagar. This had been the result of Sarah’s attempt to help God fulfill His promise to give Abraham a son. The only problem was that it was not according to God’s plan. Sarah had seen her barrenness as a problem too big for God, so she had intervened and encouraged Abraham to have a child with Hagar. But Paul pointed out that Ishmael, “the son of the slave was born according to the flesh” (Galatians 4:23 ESV). Paul’s emphasis was that Ishmael’s birth was of the flesh or natural.  And as the son of a slave, his relationship to Abraham would be completely different than that of Isaac. God had told Abraham that Ishmael would not an acceptable substitute or stand-in as his heir. God had promised to give Abraham an heir through Sarah, in spite of her barrenness, and He did. God supernaturally intervened and made it possible for Sarah to conceive and bear Abraham a son. And Isaac’s birth was the direct fulfillment of God’s long-standing promise to Abraham.

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. – Genesis 12:1-2 ESV

As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her. – Genesis 17:15-16 ESV

And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” – Genesis 17:18-19 ESV

Ishmael, the son of the slave woman, was not to be Abraham’s heir. That right and responsibility would go to Isaac, the son of the promise. It is at this point that Paul reveals the allegorical or figurative message found in this literal, historical recounting of the births of Ishmael and Isaac. “Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants” (Galatians 4:24 ESV). What Paul is really providing us with is an analogy or illustration of what these historical events represent or foreshadow. Ishmael represented the covenant of the law given at Mount Sinai. Because Ishmael was born “according to the flesh” or through Sarah’s and Abraham’s self-reliance, he was disqualified from becoming the fulfillment of God’s promise. The law, though given by God, was completely dependent upon man’s ability to live up to it. It was based on self-reliance. The law was never intended by God to bring about man’s justification or right standing before Him. It simply revealed and exposed the depths of man’s sinfulness. The law enslaved men under sin. It condemned them for their sin, but could do nothing to relieve them from its control over their lives. That is, until Christ came. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV). At one point, Jesus had told the Pharisees, the experts in the Mosaic law, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36 ESV).

Paul was attempting to contrast Judaism with Christianity and compare life under the law with the life according to faith. Paul wanted his readers to know that they were children according to the promise. They had been freed from the onerous task of attempting to keep the law in an ill-fated effort to earn a right-standing before God. Jesus Christ had died to set them free and justify them before God according to His works, not theirs. So why would they ever want to go back to trying to keep the law? Ishmael would share in the inheritance promised by God to Abraham’s heir. And those who attempt to live by keeping the law through dependence upon their own self-effort, will not inherit eternal life, promised by God to all those who placed their faith in His Son. The temptation toward legalism and self-reliance is alive and well today. The pressure to somehow earn favor with God through our own self-effort exists for all believers. But Paul would have us remember that we are called to live our lives by faith. We are to trust in God and His indwelling Holy Spirit, not our weak and frail flesh. We must learn to say as Paul did earlier in this same letter: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT).

God-Focused Faith.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. – Hebrews 11:17-19 ESV

There will be times when the life of faith seems illogical. By definition, it involves “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Faith has a future orientation. It looks ahead. It maintains an eternal perspective. And because of those things, on this earth, it will be tested. Abraham had been promised a son by God. There would be no plan B, not adoption of an heir, no acceptance of another son born through a slave girt. God had promised a son born by Sarah, in spite of Abraham’s old age and her barrenness. But God had also promised a multitude of descendants and a land in which they would live. And God kept His word.

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” 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.” – Genesis 21:1-7 ESV

God came through. When Abraham had celebrated his 100th birthday, God provided him with a son. He and Sarah had to have been beside themselves with joy and a deep sense of relief. They had waited so long. They had hoped for a son and now God had delivered on His promise. And they would enjoy every moment of every day with their young son, Isaac. Every time they looked at him, they would remember the faithfulness of God and realize that this young boy was the hope they had been waiting for for so long. Or was he? The day came when God gave Abraham the hardest choice he would ever make.

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” – Genesis 22:1-2 ESV

Can you imagine the shock? Can you begin to feel the sense of incredulity Abraham must have felt? As God acknowledged in His statement to Abraham, this was his only son, the son he loved. And now God was asking, no He was commanding Abraham to offer him up as a sacrifice. He was telling Abraham to take the life of his own son, his only son, the one who was the key to Abraham becoming the father of a multitude of nations. Or was he? You see, as much as we may be appalled at the idea of God commanding Abraham to make a human sacrifice, we must keep in mind that, as the Scriptures say, this was a test. It was God’s way of determining if Abraham had transferred his hope in God to his son. Had the gift he had been given become more important than the Giver of the gift? It is interesting to note the response of Abraham to this shocking news from God. The Scriptures somewhat matter-of-factly record: “So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22:3 ESV). He didn’t argue. He didn’t remind God of His promise. He didn’t accuse God of unfairness or injustice. He simply obeyed. While he probably did not understand all that was going on, he kept trusting God. When his young son asked him, “My father, behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7 ESV), Abraham calmly replied, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8 ESV). Whether Abraham was simply hiding the grim reality from his son in order to protect him or if he truly believed that God would provide a substitute lamb, we are not told. The very fact that Abraham ended up binding his son, placing him on the altar and raising the knife to take his life, gives us ample evidence that he was willing to go through with God’s command. In his heart of hearts, Abraham trusted God and believed that He could still keep all His promises even if Isaac had to die. In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us, “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead” (Hebrews 11:19 ESV).

Abraham passed the test. God sent an angel to stay his hand and prevent the death of Isaac. The angel of the Lord said to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Genesis 22:12 ESV). And then God miraculously provided a ram caught by its horns in a thicket, to act as substitute sacrifice. Isaac was spared. Abraham had shown that his faith was in God, not his son. He had proven that he trusted the Giver more than he did the gift. His hope was in God and he had full assurance and a strong conviction that God was going to do all that He had promised, and nothing, even the death of his own son was going to prevent it from happening. He had faith in God.

God had asked Abraham to do the unthinkable. He had commanded Abraham to take the life of his only son, his most precious possession. Isaac had not been simply the fulfillment of a long-awaited dream, but he was the hope of God’s promise of multitude of descendants taking place. Or was he? You see, the problem we all face is the tendency to take our eyes off of God and place them on things other than Him. Isaac was not to be Abraham’s hope. He was just a boy, who would grow up to be a man. But Isaac would not bring about the fulfillment of God’s promises. Only God could do that. No man or woman will ever be able to bring to fruition the promises of God. For the divine will of God to happen, it must be accomplished by God Himself. We must never take our hope off of God and place it on anyone or anything else. Abraham’s test was one of allegiance. It was a test of his hope and, ultimately, a test of his faith. Now that he had a son, was he going to transfer his hope to Isaac and off of God? He passed the test. His faith was in God. His assurance of things hoped for was in God. His conviction of things not seen was in God. He had an eternal perspective that would not allow the illogical and seemingly unthinkable to deter his faith in his faithful God.

Faith Is Not A Commodity.

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. – Hebrews 11:11-12 ESV

The line, “even when she was past the age” is a bit of an understatement. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was way past the age of being able to conceive. She was close to her nineties and, on top of that, she was barren. We read in Genesis 18, “Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah” (Genesis 18:11 ESV). And when they were given the news from God that they were going to have a son, both Sarah and Abraham expressed doubt. When God had told Abraham that he would make the father of a great nation, Abraham’s response was, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Genesis 15:2 ESV). The only solution Abraham could see was using one of his household servants as an heir. Sarah’s solution was to give Abraham her Egyptian household servant to impregnate. “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her” (Genesis 16:2 ESV). And, of course, Abraham took her up on her offer. But God had other plans and informed Abraham once again what He intended to do. “I will bless her [Sarah], and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her” (Genesis 17:6 ESV). Abraham’s response? He laughed. And he said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Genesis 17:17 ESV). But God confirmed His promise and assured Abraham that the impossible would happen. Some time later, when God appeared to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre, God gave him exciting news. “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son” (Genesis 18:10 ESV). And Sarah, eavesdropping at the door to the tent, “laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’” (Genesis 17:12 ESV). She had doubts, reservations, and a bit of a hard time seeing how any of this was going to happen. The circumstances surrounding her life seemed to strongly contradict what God was saying.

And yet, Hebrews says, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive.” This seems like a gross exaggeration of the facts. Both Abraham and Sarah laughed at the news of God’s plan. Both came up with alternative options, plan B’s, to help God out. And yet it says that Sarah had faith. I think the problem is that we tend to put the emphasis on Sarah’s faith, rather than the object of her faith. It says that by faith she received the power to conceive. All Sarah could do was trust the power. Her faith did not bring the power into existence or make the results of that power come about. She had to stop trying to do things on her own and simply rest in the power of God’s promise. She had to take her eyes off the circumstances, her old age and barren condition, and trust God. It was by faith that Sarah had to wait for the miracle of conception and the fulfillment of God’s promise. Remember how this chapter started out. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Genesis 11:1 ESV). Sarah had longed and hoped for a child for decades. She had desperately desired to have a baby, but had been forced to give up on that dream because of her condition. But when God promised to give she and Abraham a child, she had one recourse: to take what God said by faith. She was forced to trust God. He was going to do what He had promised to do and He was not going to accept any alternative solution, no matter how well-intentioned. Eleazar and Ishmael would not suffice. Adoption was not an option. Sarah was going to have to trust God. And so it says, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive.”

Sarah had to come to grips with the fact that God was faithful and that He was powerful. He had the character and the power to back up what He said. And it says she “considered him faithful who had promised.” After all her conniving, doubting, whining and self-sufficient planning, Sarah determined to trust God. She decided to put her faith in the one who had promised. And in God’s perfect timing, “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him” (Genesis 21:1-2 ESV). She placed her faith in God and He came through. “And Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.’ 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’” (Genesis 21:6-7 ESV). Sarah’s faith did not make any of this happen. Her faith was simply a confidence and conviction that the one who promised it would happen had the power to make it happen. She put her hopes in His hands. She put her fears and doubts on His shoulders. She quit worrying and started believing. She stopped trying to take matters into her own hands and  left them in the highly capable and powerful hands of God. Our problem is not that we don’t believe what God has promised, it is that we somehow think He needs our help in bringing it about. Faith is about giving up and resting on God’s faithfulness and sufficiency. It is about reliance upon His power, instead of our own. It involves putting our hope in God rather than allowing the circumstances surrounding us to suck the hope out of us. Faith is less a commodity than it is a state of being. It is a place to which we come when we are ready to take God at His word and rest in the reality of His power to do what He has promised. “Therefore from one man [and woman], and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”

The Logical Vs The Impossible.

And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” – Genesis 17:18 ESV

Back in chapter 15 of Genesis, Abraham had expressed some concern with God regarding His plan to make of him a great nation. As far as Abraham was concerned, God’s plan had a couple of significant flaws: He and his wife, Sarah, were old, and she was barren. So he had suggested Eliezer, his servant, as a possible stand-in for the heir-apparent. But God would have nothing to do with it. That was not His will and He made it quite clear. “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir” (Genesis 15:4 ESV). So there would be no substitutes accepted. Then, to drive home His point, God had taken Abraham outside and had him look up at the stars. God then said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5 ESV). Point made. Case closed. And we’re told, “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6 ESV). Abraham got the message. He knew that God was going to give him a son, an heir, and from that son would come a great nation. Abraham believed the promise of God and was considered righteous by God for doing so. He expressed faith in God even thought he could not see the outcome of the promise. He had no proof, no evidence, other than a glance into the nighttime sky and a word from God. But that was enough.

Which brings us to today’s passage. Time had passed. Abraham and Sarah had gotten older. Sarah was still barren. Little had changed in their circumstances. Other than the fact that God had made a covenant with Abraham and told him that his offspring would end up living in a foreign country where they would be slaves, but then would return to live in the land 400 years later. In the meantime, Sarah had come up with her great plan to give Abraham a son through her handmaid, Hagar. The result of this less-than-godly plan, which Abraham wholeheartedly endorsed, was the birth of Ishmael. The logic of Sarah and Abraham was sound. God had promised to make of them a great nation. He had said that it would be through a son born to them. So they decided to help God out. By Abraham having a son through Hagar. But once again, this was NOT God’s plan. And God would patiently reconfirm His plan with Abraham. He told him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:4-8 ESV). God went on to reassure Abraham that He was going to give him a son of his own. “And God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her’” (Genesis 17:15-16 ESV). God made Himself perfectly clear. He was going to give Abraham a son through Sarah, not Hagar. He was going to do the impossible. And what was Abraham’s reaction? “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’” (Genesis 17:17 ESV). None of it made sense to Abraham. It sounded ridiculous, far-fetched, impossible. Even for God.

It was at this point that Abraham uttered his small, seemingly innocent prayer. “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” It was as if Abraham was saying, “Won’t you reconsider?” He believed God was going to bless him and make of him a great nation. He even believed God would do it through one of his own offspring. He just didn’t believe God could do it through Sarah. But God had made Himself clear. He had said He would bless Sarah. He had said that Sarah would bear a child. And then to make sure Abraham got the point, God said gave Abraham an answer regarding Ishmael. “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac” (Genesis 17:19 ESV). God had a plan and He didn’t need Abraham’s help. He simply needed Abraham to trust Him. Sarah’s barrenness was not a problem for God, it was simply an opportunity for Him to display His power. Rather than trying to convince God to settle for Ishmael, Abraham needed to be praying that God would bless Sarah. Instead of wasting his time trying to get God to accept the logical, Abraham needed to be asking for and expecting the impossible. Jeremiah the prophet wrote, “Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17 ESV). Abraham believed God could bless him and make of him a great nation. But he struggled believing that God could do it through an elderly, barren woman. Too often, our prayers are based on human reasoning and bolstered by logic. We limit our expectations of God based on what we can see and understand. But as God would eventually tell Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18:14 ESV).

Pessimistic Prayers.

“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” – Genesis 15:2-3 ESV

God had just promised to protect and provide greatly for Abraham. “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (Genesis 15:1 ESV). This is not the first time that God had promised to bless Abraham. When God had first called Abraham to leave his home in Ur and head to the land of Canaan, He had said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3 ESV). Some time later, when he arrived in the land, Abraham received yet another promise from God. “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7 ESV). But from Abraham’s perspective, there was a problem with God’s plan. He and his wife, Sarah, were both old and, to make matter worse, she was barren. So Abraham was having a bit of a hard time figuring out how God was going to make all this happen. He wanted to believe God, but the circumstances of life didn’t seem to be in God’s favor.

For Abraham, the key to God’s promises being fulfilled was obviously tied to offspring. Without kids, it was going to be hard for Abraham to father a great nation. And what good was the promise of land without children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to occupy it? Which is what led Abraham to ask, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless…?” For Abraham, the problem was pretty clear. He had no kids. He and his wife were old. She was barren. But he DID have Eliezer, his chief servant. In Abraham’s way of thinking, this foreign servant must be the obvious solution to the problem facing God. He didn’t seem to consider that God might do something miraculous or impossible. Even though Abraham addressed God as “Lord God”, which means “Sovereign Lord”, he seemed to be having a bit of a difficulty in thinking that God had this situation under control. So he gave God some advice. A little bit of helpful counsel. “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” God had failed to deliver on His promise, so Abraham decided to give Him a helping hand and an alternate solution to the problem.

How easy it is for us to doubt God. We want to believe Him, but when we look around us and consider the impossible nature of our circumstances, we begin to wonder if He can really deliver on His promises to us. Things can look bleak and foreboding, so we begin to wonder if God has thought things through. Has He really considered all the options? That’s when we can begin to give Him alternative options. We suggest new scenarios and cleverly devised schemes to help God out. We see this lived out in the very next chapter of Genesis, when Sarah comes to Abraham with a plan to provide him an heir through a highly questionable means. “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her” (Genesis 16:2 ESV). In Sarah’s mind, God was responsible for her barrenness, so He must have wanted her to come up with another plan for fulfilling His promise to her husband. And Abraham bought into it without an argument. “And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” (Genesis 16:2 ESV). Ishmael was the result of this man-made plan. But like Eliezer, Ishmael was not to be the fulfillment of God’s promise. It sounded like a great plan at the time. It seemed logical and reasonable. But it was not what God had in mind.

Too often we settle for less than what God has promised because we are pessimistic and doubtful in our prayers. We try to solve seemingly impossible problems by human means. We attempt to give God help. Rather than wait on God, we determine that second-best is better than nothing. A foreign servant is better than a flesh-and-blood son who’s never going to show up. A son born by an Egyptian maid-servant trumps the son your barren wife is never going to have. But neither of these options were what God had in mind. Abraham’s prayer revealed his pessimistic outlook on God’s ability to fulfill what He had promised. God hadn’t come through. He and Sarah were still childless. She was still barren. The promise was still unfulfilled. Time was running out. God needed help. But God knew exactly what He was doing. His timing was perfect. His plan was without flaw. He was in control.

God’s response to Abraham’s doubt and pessimism was simple, yet direct. “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir” (Genesis 15:4 ESV). In other words, God told Abraham, “I don’t need your help.” Then God took Abraham outside and said, “‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’” (Genesis 15:5 ESV). God reconfirmed His promise. He let Abraham know that He was going to come through in a major way. And that object lesson from God had an immediate impact on Abraham. “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6 ESV). Abraham would go on to doubt God. He would buy into his wife’s less-than-ideal suggestion to have a son by her maid-servant. But he was learning to trust God. He was learning to take God at His word. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Faith is a learned trait. It comes from waiting on God. It results when we stop looking at our circumstances, the things we can see, and start relying on the promises of God that we can’t see. He doesn’t need our help. He simply asks that we trust Him.

Genesis 21-22, Matthew 11

Faith In A Faithful God.

Genesis 21-22, Matthew 11

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. – Genesis 21:1-2 ESV

God can be trusted. This is the story of the Bible. He is faithful to His Word and always does what He says He will do. But the greatest test for mankind and especially those who call themselves the people of God is to learn to trust God and take Him at His Word. Too often, we place our hope in the promises made by God and fail to worship the promise-maker. At this point in the Genesis story we see God miraculously fulfilling His promise to Abraham and Sarah to give them a son. God does as He had promised. In spite of old age and barrenness, a son is born to them. With the birth of Isaac, Abraham and Sarah finally have the longing of their heart and the fulfillment of their dreams. God has blessed them. But He also has a dramatic lesson for them to learn.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God was faithful to His Word. He delivered on His promise – “at the time of which God had spoken to him.” In other words, at just the right time, God did what He had always intended to do. Part of the lesson of faith Abraham and Sarah were to learn is that God works on His own schedule, and His timing is perfect. Faith requires dependence on the wisdom of God and a willingness to wait on the timing of God. God always does what is right and He does it right on time. The same would be true of another “son” to be born. Paul writes, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV). When the appropriate time had come, God sent His Son. God is never late. His timing is perfect and He works His divine plan to perfection.

But while God had fulfilled His promise to Abraham and Sarah, He had another valuable lesson for them to learn. He knew that their tendency would be to make the long-awaited promise, Isaac, more important than the one who had the promise possible. There is no doubt that, as proud parents, Abraham and Sarah would have had dreams and aspirations for their new son. They knew he was the hope of their future and the key to all of God’s promises being fulfilled. They held in their hands the tangible proof of God’s faithfulness. But their faithful God was going to test their faith and demand that they let go of that for which they had so long waited.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Once Isaac had arrived on the scene and Sarah had seen God’s promise fulfilled, she began to have second thoughts about Ishmael, the son Abraham had had with Hagar, Sarah’s maid servant. Suddenly, Sarah’s plan didn’t look so good. Ishmael was a constant reminder of her unfaithfulness. Not only that, he posed a threat to Isaac, representing a potential competitor for the family inheritance. So she determined to get rid of Hagar and her son. She demanded that Abraham send them away, and God told Abraham to comply with his wife’s wishes, assuring him that He would take care of them. He even promises Abraham,” I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring” (Genesis 21:13 ESV). It seems that what Sarah determined to do out of a spirit of jealousy and anger, God would use for blessing. And yet, Sarah’s plan to use Hagar as a means to fulfill the plan of God in her own way was going to eventually create a problem for the people of God. She could send Ishmael away, but she would not eliminate the threat. His descendants would eventually produce the Arab nations that have long been the antagonists of the people of Israel. These descendants of Abraham would prove to be the persistent enemies of the descendants of Isaac. All because Sarah had been unwilling to wait on God and determined to take matters into her own hands.

But the real lesson in this passage appears to be God’s desire for them to learn to worship Him alone. He knew that they had made Isaac the focus of their lives. He had become their everything. He was the answer to their dreams and the hope of their future. They had what they had so long waited for. So God demands that they give it up. He commands Abraham to sacrifice that which He had provided. They must let go of the promise and obey the promise-maker. This was the ultimate test for these two. But God wanted to know whether Isaac meant more to them than He did. Were they putting their trust in Isaac or in God? Abraham’s obedience and faith was tested and he passed with flying colors. His willingness to do what God had commanded proved that His trust was in God. He believed that God would fulfill His promise even if Isaac, the fulfillment of that promise, was somehow eliminated. Abraham’s faith was in the promise-maker. His trust was in God, not that which God had given. What an invaluable lesson for each of us to learn.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

When Jesus appeared on the scene, He came as the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Messiah. He was the long-awaited Savior of Israel. He was the descendant of David and the rightful King of Israel, and the disciples followed Him believing that He was all that He claimed to be. Jesus told His followers, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV). Those words spoke to them of rest from oppression, freedom from Roman rule, and a change in their current status as an enslaved people. But their Messiah was to die. Their promise was to be gruesomely eliminated on a cruel Roman cross. The one for whom they had long waited was going to be killed right before their eyes. The Son was going to be sacrificed. But Jesus had told them that He would die and He had warned them that His death was a necessary part of God’s plan for their future redemption. His death would secure their eternal life. His sacrifice would satisfy God’s just punishment for their sin. Their promise was going to have to die, so that their faith would be in God, the ultimate fulfiller of all promises. Their faith had become ill-placed. They had made a god out of their concept of the Messiah. They were looking for Jesus to be their political Savior. They wanted Him to be their earthly king ruling from a physical throne in Jerusalem. They wanted to be set free from physical oppression. But God had more in store for them. He wanted them to trust Him and His plan for them, not their perverted version of that plan. Their dreams had to die. The promise to which they had clinged had to be wrenched from their hands. Jesus came to offer them a different kind of rest, a release from a different kind of burden. But they would have to trust God. And the same is true for me today. I can still twist the promises of God and try to make them about my comfort, pleasure, and fulfillment in this life. I can make my walk with Him all about my happiness, instead of my holiness. I must continually place my version of the promise on the alter and worship the one who made the promise in the first place. I must trust God and worship Him. His plan and timing are perfect.

Father, thank You for the promise of Your Son. But forgive me for making salvation all about me and my own selfish pleasure. Your plan is far greater than my comfort and convenience, just as Your plan for Abraham and Sarah was far greater than their enjoyment of a son. They had to learn that Your promise was far greater than one small boy. It was far more involved than just their short-term enjoyment of having a son of their own. Give me a future perspective that allows me to see beyond my own blessings and recognize that Your plan is far greater than I could ever conceive. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Genesis 17-18, Matthew 9

God of the Impossible.

Genesis 17-18, Matthew 9

Is anything too hardfor the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son. – Genesis 18:14 ESV

God had made a covenant with Abram. He had promised to give him many offspring and produce from his line a great nation, more numerous than the stars in the sky. The only problem was that Abram and Sarai were both old and, on top of that, she was barren. From Abram and Sarai’s perspective this wonderful promise from God sounded great, but appeared impossible. Unless Sarai could get pregnant, the whole thing would be a pipe dream. But over and over again, we read of God restating His covenant promise to Abram. He keeps on confirming His original vow to Abram. “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (Genesis 17:6-7 ESV).

God even commands Abram to seal their agreement with the sign of circumcision. Every male in Abram’s family would be required to undergo circumcision, as a continuing sign of the Abrahamic Covenant to all of Abram’s descendants. This rite would physically set them apart and visually remind them that they had been spiritually set apart by God for His purposes.

And yet, Abram would continue to focus on the seeming roadblocks standing in the way of God’s promises ever being fulfilled. He and Sarai were old. She was barren. It was all impossible.

What does this passage reveal about God?

But God reminded Abram of something that every child of God must wrestle with as they live their life in this fallen world. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14 ESV). It’s interesting that God put it in the form of a question, because Abram’s mind was full of other similar questions at that time. Earlier, when God had reconfirmed His promise to make of Abram a great nation, He had even changed his name to Abraham, which means “father of a multitude.” God was going out of His way to let this man know that He was serious about His promise. But “Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’” (Genesis 17:17 ESV). It all seemed too impossible to Abraham. The circumstances of his life were stacked against him and the odds were not in his favor. His wife Sarai had a similar response to the promise of God. “So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?'” (Genesis 18:12 ESV). As far as Abraham and Sarah were concerned, the realities of life outweighed the reliability of God’s promise.

They even attempted to help God out by coming up with their own solution to the problem. Sarah gave Abraham her maid servant as a surrogate. He impregnated her and she gave birth to a son. But that boy was not to be the heir to the promises of God. Their solution was not acceptable to God. They were to learn a valuable lesson on the power and faithfulness of God. He always does what He says He will do, because He can do what He says He will do – no matter how impossible it may appear to be from our limited human perspective. Is anything too hard for God? No.

What does this passage reveal about man?

When Jesus appeared on the scene hundreds of years later, He would be the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. He would be the “seed,” the offspring who would bring blessing to all the nations. And He would continue to demonstrate that God was the god of the impossible. His very presence on earth as Immanuel, God with us, was a reminder that God could do the impossible. The birth of Jesus was impossible, with Mary, His mother, having been a virgin at His conception. Jesus’ earthly ministry was all about the impossible. Matthew records miracle after miracle performed by Jesus – impossible events that revealed Jesus’ divine nature and unlimited power. Chapter nine of Matthew reveals Jesus restoring the ability to walk to a paralytic, raising a young girl from the dead, healing a woman suffering from constant blood loss, giving sight to two blind men, and casting a demon out of a mute man, restoring his capacity to speak. All impossible acts that amazed those who witnessed them.

Men and women, suffering from all kinds of diseases and disabilities were restored by Jesus. But as impossible and improbable as each of these things were, there was something even more amazing Jesus did that reveal the limitless power of God in the lives of men. When Jesus healed the paralyzed man, He said to him, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2 ESV). He forgave sin. And the Pharisees were appalled and accused Jesus of blasphemy, because only God could forgive sin. He was claiming to do what only God can do – the impossible. And as great as the healings were that Jesus performed, the greatest miracle was His ability to bring forgiveness of sins to men. Up until that time, all forgiveness had been temporary at best. Even the sacrifices made in the Temple could only forestall God’s judgment, not eliminate it. That’s why they had to offer sacrifices on a regular, ongoing basis.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3-4 ESV). Jesus came to do the impossible: provide a one-time sacrifice for the sins of men. “But when Christhad offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12 ESV). God is a god of the impossible and improbable. He is always doing what we don’t expect and can’t understand. He is not limited by our doubt and hampered by our circumstances. Nothing is impossible for Him.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

But doubting God comes easy to most of us. I find it easy to look at the circumstances surrounding my life and conclude that they pose too great a barrier for God. They are too big. But I have to constantly remind myself that my God is great. He is the God of the impossible. He is the same God who gave Abraham as son and mankind a Savior. He is the God who made of an old couple a great nation. He gave mankind a Messiah. And He saved me and forgave me of my sins. He provided life when I was facing a death sentence. He restored me a right relationship with Himself – something that would have been utterly impossible for me to do. Nothing is too great for God. Nothing.

Father, what an invaluable lesson for me to learn, and I am faced with it each and every day of my life. I am constantly tempted to doubt You. I am constantly prone to see You as limited in Your power. But nothing is too hard for You. Help me to believe that in my own life. Help me to see You at work in my life, demonstrating Your unlimited power through the impossible circumstances of life. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org