Review of Last Week and how it connects to this week:
Last week’s lesson covered Genesis chapters 10, 11, and 12. We discussed how Genesis helps explain who the people were and from whom they came. It was important to “draw a line” from Adam to Noah, to Abraham, all the way to their current position in history.
Chapter 11 concluded with the descendants of Shem – one of Noah’s three sons. Abraham is descended from Shem. And then chapter 12 begins with the call of Abraham. God selects, Abraham one of the sons of Terah and gives Abraham some life changing instructions.
All of these lessons have taken us from Adam, to Noah, to Abraham and now to Isaac. The writer in Genesis is telling Gods people where they came from and how they got to where they are.
This week’s lesson comes from Genesis 18:9-15 and 21:1-7. Standard Commentary Titles the lesson “The Birth of the Promised Son,” Boyd’s and Townsend title it “Abraham and Sarah Birth God’s People”.
Background: The lesson begins with three men, one of whom seems to be The Lord God. In verses 16 and 22 these men appear to be ordinary humans. But in verses 1 and 13 one of them appears to be The Lord God.
At this point, Abram is 99 years old. Sarah is well beyond child-bearing age. This is not the first time Abram has heard that he would have an heir and many descendants. He has been promised this before. He’s already 99 so don’t tease him! Abram knows what God has promised him in the past. He heard it in chapter 12:2, 13:16, 15:4-6, 17:15-19, and here in chapter 18:9. So they’ve heard this before. And they believed it when they heard it the first time. That’s why they left everything they knew and most of what they loved back in Ur. In fact, they believed God so much, they tried to “help God” give them an heir through Sarah’s handmaid Hagar the Egyptian.
At this point, it is 24 years since Abraham left his father’s house. And 24 years later these three visitors show up and tell him next year Sarah will give birth. How many people know that sometimes, you have to wait? And sometimes, you have to wait a long time. Abram and Sarah show us that waiting can be hard to do. Waiting for your blessing, waiting for your healing, waiting for your wife or husband, waiting for your ministry, waiting for your graduation. Waiting can be HARD. It was 25 years before Sarah and Abram received the heir they had been waiting for.
So Isaac is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abram and Sarah. What we need to understand is the only way this promise is fulfilled is by Devine intervention (that’s important). Abraham can’t say “I did that by myself”. Sarah can’t say “I did that by myself”. God is the one who fulfills the promise to the people of Israel. So when the people of Israel look back to where they came from, they can only say that IT WAS GOD that brought us here.
Context: Abraham and Sarah are 100 and 90 years old respectively. They cannot produce children without the miraculous intervention of God. This helps the Hebrew people understand that God can do the impossible. Under ordinary circumstances this birth would be impossible. Notice also, under ordinary circumstances, the birth of Jesus would be impossible. So the point is, nothing is impossible with God.
Here the characters of the text are still dealing with situations that lead up to events that fulfill the covenant promise made to Abram. Abram has been promised an heir and many descendants. He has been told that his descendants would possess the land of Canaan. A land already occupied by Canaanite farmers. In this text, Ishmael is not named. Isaac would be born and his half-brother Ishmael would eventually be banished.
Note also the New Interpreters Study Bible tells us “While circumcision was taken as a distinctive mark of membership in the community of Israel, made up of the descendants of Abraham, it was in fact a widely practiced rite in the ancient Near East”. So for the descendants of Abraham circumcision is a sign of the covenant with God. But circumcision is not unique to the Hebrew people. Others practiced it also.
What takes place in these passages:
In this text we see 3 visitors appear to Abram. Abram demonstrates genuine hospitality by preparing a feast and you get the idea that he treats them with the very best he has to offer. And then one of them tells him “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son”. In Chapter 17, it is Abram that laughs. Here in chapter 18 it is Sarai that laughs. And if you put yourself in their shoes, you might laugh too. People don’t have babies when they are 90 years old. In chapter 21, Sarah indeed laughs, but it is laughter of joy. God has blessed her with Isaac. And finally after 8 days, Abraham circumcised Isaac.
Key Characters in the text:
God – It is not entirely clear if The Lord is one of the three visitors in verses 16 and 22.
Abraham – His name means father of a multitude.
Sarah – Gives birth to Isaac at 90 years old.
Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion):
- Patience: the quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.
- Skepticism: having an attitude of doubt. Doubtful about a particular thing.
Themes in this Lesson:
- Is anything too hard for God
- Hospitality – Hebrew 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
- I’ll believe it when I see it. (Of course, Abraham believed it when he first heard it).
- Who’s laughing now? (Sarah gets the last laugh)
Psalm 27:14 Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.
- What is the significance of circumcision today? See Gal 6:15 (15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature) and Deuteronomy 10:16
Concluding thought: God’s promise is not limited to our human probabilities or possibilities.
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:
Next week’s lesson deals with Isaac and Rebekah. Abraham arranges the marriage of Isaac. Isaac’s wife is to be taken from Abraham’s family that he left many years ago. Rebekah accepts the arrangement and God’s promises continue through the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah.