Introduction: We rejoice this week to see God’s long-awaited promise come true in the birth of Isaac (Gen. 21:3), whose name comes from the root meaning, ‘laughter.’ Moreover, God brings Abraham a long period of rest in the land of his much-feared neighbors, the Philistines (Gen. 21:34). In this way, God reminds us of His promise to give us room and breathing-space in this hostile world to live for His glory: ‘The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.’ (Psalm 16:6)
Monday: read Genesis 20:11-13 & 26:7. Abraham had a great fear of Philistine aggression: strong enough to make him lie about Sarah. Years later, Isaac would fall into the same sin with his wife Rebekah out of fear of Philistine jealousy in Gen. 26:7. Bill Harrell writes about such paralyzing fears which bring out the worst in us: ‘Our fears exaggerate our dangers, demonize our neighbors, and diminish our grasp of the wisdom, power and love of God.’
Meditate and Pray: Ask God to give you a much bigger view of His protective presence in your life. We are never as vulnerable as we imagine, and we must not trust our own estimate of the dangers we face. Have you learned to ‘laugh’ with God at the threats of the wicked (Psalm 2:4)? Our hymn writer reminds us that, with Christ as our Sacrifice for sin and our Risen protector, we can laugh at our foes: ‘On the Rock of Ages founded, what can shake thy sure repose? With salvation’s walls surrounded, thou may’st smile at all thy foes.’ (# 345 Trinity Hymnal, Isaac Watts)
Tuesday: read Genesis 20:14-18 & 26:16, 26:26-27. We see the Philistine military brass come to Isaac’s tent after sending him away in Gen. 26:16. Isaac’s danger among the Philistines is real. So too are the dangers which we face in this evil world. We may well fear for our loved ones just as Abraham and Isaac feared for their wives. But how are we to avoid being controlled by such fears and allowing them to lead to sinful distrust and even lies? The answer is to remember that God has the power to make Abraham’s foes act entirely opposite of what Abraham feared. Behold in Gen. 20:14-16 the Philistine King heaping gifts on both Abraham and Sarah!
Meditate and Pray: Thank God that His arm is so long that He can reach into the lives of unbelievers to restrain them from harming us, just as He afflicted all the women of the Philistines in Gen. 20:17-18 in order to protect Sarah from being violated. Ask God to help you to distrust the voices of fear which clamor for your attention. Understand that whatever thought process grips your mind, if it is not rooted in faith, it is sin (Romans 14:23).
Wednesday: read Genesis 21:1-13. One of the darkest corners of Sarah’s life must have been being forced to claim that she was Abraham’s sister rather than his wife. Gen. 20:13 portrays Abraham as demanding from Sarah cooperation in this lie. She is the victim of Abraham’s self-preserving plan to put his own interests before that of protecting his wife. We see the same selfishness in Gen. 21:1-11. This time, after the birth of Isaac, Abraham cannot bring himself to reduce his harem for the sake of the safety of Isaac, the child of promise. He disagrees with Sarah’s instinct that Ishmael and his mother must go. Only after the Lord miraculously makes clear that Sarah is right does Abraham finally obey in Genesis 21:12-14.
Meditate and Pray: There is real grace in the end for all who fear the Lord: most of all for Sarah in our story: she by faith has the courage to stand up to Abraham in Genesis 21:10 after many years of appeasing his selfishness, and God honors her by answering her prayer for the safety of her family. Be encouraged: God is on your side when you cry out to Him for the lives of your children, (Lamentations 2:19).
Thursday: read Genesis 21:14-21. God’s will is to separate Hagar and Ishmael from the covenant child Isaac. Clearly neither Sarah nor Isaac were safe as long as they dwelt in competition with Ishmael and Hagar. The hostility of the mother Hagar (Gen. 16:4) had now passed on to the son Ishmael (Gen. 21:9). Even sadder is that Hagar now appears to have turned her back on the importance of marriage within God’s covenant, as she now seeks a bride for her son from her pagan relatives in Egypt (Gen. 21:21). In this way, both mother and son become symbols in the New Testament of the external, merely outward religion of bondage to the law instead of the real spiritual life of faith (Galatians 4:21-31).
Meditate and Pray: There is no painless way for Abraham to harvest the bitter seeds of Genesis 16 and the forbidden birth of Ishmael. The ‘sins of Abraham’s youth’ come back as part of his bitter inheritance, but thank God that there is a way for us to pray even when the painful reminders of past failures flood into our minds: ‘Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.’ (Psalm 25:6-7)
Friday: read Genesis 21:22-34. There is no excuse for Ishmael’s mockery of Isaac in Gen. 21:9 or the lack of apparent effort on the part of Abraham to restrain his son. If the Philistine Abimelech could recognize the Lord’s hand of blessing in Abraham’s life (Gen. 21:22-23) then Ishmael should have been taught to respect God’s blessing on Isaac’s birth, instead of pouring scorn on God’s answer to Abraham’s and Sarah’s prayers for the Son of Promise. Bill Harrell writes on this passage: ‘Ishmael derived wicked glee from casting ridicule upon his brother, upon the faith of his father, Abraham, and upon the word and work of God.’
Meditate and Pray: It is a tragic mistake to mock God’s only plan of Salvation. How tragic that Ishmael failed to see that, if he had but rejoiced in the birth of Isaac and grown to believe in the Savior to be born from Isaac’s line, then the promise of Genesis 12:3 could have been his: ‘All peoples on earth will be blessed through Abraham and Isaac.’ Thank God for His grace in opening your eyes to the blessing of the Miracle Seed of Promise, Jesus Christ, when many respond only with ridicule to the Miracle Birth of Christ: ‘Why was I made to hear your voice, and enter while there’s room, when thousands make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come?’ (# 469 Trinity Hymnal)