Introduction: We have had several weddings or engagements in our church family of late, including a wedding to be held in our church in a little over a week. With marriage under fire in today’s culture, and Abraham in Genesis 16-17 also struggling to understand God’s purposes in marriage in our recent Bible notes, it is appropriate for us to focus in our studies in Genesis this week on the subject of marriage.
Monday: read Genesis 16:1-4 and Psalm 127. It is sinful unbelief that prompted Sarah to ‘create’ a second marriage for Abraham in Gen. 16:2-3. The Bible is clear: ‘Sarah took and gave Hagar’ to be Abraham’s wife, whereas Biblical marriage is not invented by humans as a personal convenience: It is God who brings the woman to the man in Gen. 2:22. It is God alone who can ‘build’ human relationships that last. He designed the nuclear family built on one woman and one man to be united in the covenant of marriage. As Psalm 127:1 warns, only households built by God according to His purposes for marriage and family will be blessed.
Meditate and Pray: Bad marriage examples abound, including the author of Psalm 127 – Solomon – with his many foreign wives (1 Kings 11:1-4). However, give thanks for the solid foundation which you can have in your marriage: God’s standard has never wavered – even though great kings of the Bible fail to give us good examples to follow. From the very creation of the world, God has declared His will in this matter: ‘For this reason a man will leave his father mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.’ (Genesis 2:24) Even if you are not married, please pray for the young marriages in your church, that the Lord would guard them in an evil day when so many are under attack.
Tuesday: read Genesis 17:17-18:15. The root of unbelief that prompted Sarah in Gen. 18:12 to laugh at God’s promise of a Holy Seed also prompted her husband’s incredulity in Gen. 17:17. Neither husband nor wife could lift their eyes to God’s higher purposes for their marriage. Do you have a high view of God’s purpose in your marriage? What is the highest purpose for it? The answer is the same for us as it was for Abraham and Sarah. As one OPC pastor has put it: “Marriage is not simply an outlet to meet the sexual desires of Christians. Neither is marriage simply a means for procreating children. Rather marriage serves the purpose of being a living portrait of Christ and His Church. This means that husbands are to love their wives as Christ has loved the Church. Christ gave his life for the Church. Husbands, do you love your wives in this way? Can you use the word sacrifice in connection with the love that you show your wife? Do you give of yourself, time, money, attention, devotion, to your wife in a sacrificial manner?” (Rev. John Fesko)
Meditate and Pray: Abraham and Sarah would learn that God’s real purpose in keeping them together in marriage was that they both would welcome not just any child’s birth, but the Birth of The Promised Seed of the line of Jesus Christ, who would be born from baby Isaac’s descendants. Isaac was a holy sign pointing to the Birth of Christ. Eventually, Abraham learned to laugh with thankfulness for this birth, rejoicing in seeing the ‘Day of Jesus Christ’ (John 8:56) which Isaac’s birth promised. Give thanks to God for the good marriage examples which God has placed in your life. But even more important, see beyond the picture of earthly marriage to the portrait of how Jesus Christ loves each of you: as if you were His only wife, the wife of His youth.
Wednesday: read Genesis 18:10-15. Sarah’s laughter at God’s promise to give her a miracle child in one year’s time (Gen. 18:10) demonstrates how prone we are to rely on the frail arm of flesh and how slow to believe what the Almighty God promises. In Genesis 16:1-4, Sarah found little difficulty in believing that the dubious marriage of her husband to Hagar could provide the right kind of son to inherit all God’s blessings and promises. But now in Genesis 18:12-15 she finds it laughingly impossible to believe in God’s power to create the Promised Child. Such is the hardness of our hearts. We often fail to take account of God’s power and insult Him by our low view of His ability to keep His Word. No wonder God exposes Sarah’s laughter and confronts her about it despite her false denials that it ever happened (Gen. 18:15)!
Meditate and Pray: Let us confess that we often deny God’s power in our lives – and no where more than in our marriages. Take the disturbingly high rate of divorce among professing Christians for example: How many marriage bonds are broken today because ‘what God has joined together’ appears to our fallen minds to be too weak to withstand the present strains on marriage? When you or some Christian you know are tempted to take the easy way out through divorce, use the words of this hymn to hold on by faith (# 95 in our hymn book):
‘Though Troubles assail us and dangers affright, though friends should all fail us and foes all unite, yet one thing secures us, whatever betide, the promise assures us, ‘The Lord will provide.’’
Thursday: read Genesis 18:12 and 1 Peter 3:6. One of the most encouraging passages in the New Testament, when Christians are tempted to view their marriages as failures and their lives as lived in vain, is that of 1 Peter 3:1-7, where Peter encourages us to remember Sarah’s respect for her husband, calling him ‘master’, as an example for godly wives to follow. Clearly Peter does not have in mind some cowering fear of and submission to a husband who lords it over his wife – for the husband is then enjoined to ‘be considerate of his wife’ in 1 Peter 3:7. But of greatest encouragement is what Peter does not say about Sarah in 1 Peter 3:6. He graciously covers over and refuses to mention exactly when it was that she called her husband ‘master’: it was at the very moment when she was lying to the Lord about laughing at the announced birth of Isaac, as Gen. 18:12 makes clear: “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
Meditate and Pray: How gracious of God through the Apostle Peter to underline only what was exemplary of Sarah’s behavior in Genesis 18 – saying nothing about how she in unbelief failed by laughter and lying. How many marriages would be saved if husbands and wives would focus on the good fruit of grace in their spouses’ lives, instead of on their failings? But we are not like God in this. We remember the sins and failings of those we love, whereas God in His matchless grace forgets the sinful hurts we inflict on Him, and actually remembers and rewards our good works as if they deserved recognition, when they are actually ‘like filthy rags’ (Isaiah 64:6). Praise God now that ‘His ways are not our ways, neither are His thoughts our thoughts’ when it comes to forgiveness and love.
Friday: read Genesis 17:18-21 and 18:16-21. It is a sobering reality to consider where Abraham in his polygamy and sinful unions with women like Hagar might have ended up if God had not humbled him and refused to eternally bless the children Abraham so sinfully produced. Though Abraham actually struggles with the problem of multiple partners even after his failure with Hagar (see Gen. 25:6 which mentions Abraham’s ‘concubines’), God’s position is clear all along: He rejects Abraham’s efforts to produce Ishmaels instead of Isaacs and tells Abraham in Gen. 17:18-21 that Ishmael will not inherit the covenant blessing. In the same way throughout the Bible, God graphically demonstrates where those with multiple partners – in marriage or without – end up: with hearts ‘led astray’ even as Solomon’s was by his many wives (1 Kings 11:1-4).
Meditate and Pray: How much better is God’s plan for Abraham’s married life than his own cobbled-together household of many children: God is determined in the end to bless Abraham with a household ‘directed to keep the way of the Lord’ (Gen. 18:19). But this will only happen as God separates Abraham more and more from the immorality and culturally defiled marriage standards of those around him: such as the Sodomites (Gen. 18:20). Let us close with this prayer for our families and for our young people contemplating marriage:
‘Lord, help our children to ‘flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.’’ (2 Timothy 2:22). Amen.