Genesis 21-23
(The LORD Provides)
January 6th



Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verses

Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” And she said, “Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

- Genesis 21:6-7 (NRSV)

Summary of Chapters

These chapters describe the Birth of Isaac, a call for Abraham to sacrifice him, and the separation of his two sons.

Chapter 21 describes how the LORD finally fulfills the promise regarding Abraham’s heir and allowed Sarah to conceive and give birth. The 100-year old Abraham named their newborn son Isaac and had him circumcised on the 8th day, as commanded by God. Abraham did everything God told him to do regarding his son, but at some point God asked Abraham to sacrifice the child.

This section of Genesis also records the outcome of multiple conflicts that Abraham managed during the time period between the birth of Isaac and the sacrificial test. The most significant conflict took place within the family when tension and jealousy developed between Sarah and Hagar over their respective sons. Because of this conflict, Abraham decided to send away Hagar and Ishmael, but God promised to make a nation of Ishmael.

There was also conflict with the neighbors over a well, but Abraham graciously offered payment for it, even though he believed that he had already owned it. This gesture resolved the dispute.

Chapter 22 records the near sacrifice of Isaac. When God told him what he had to do, Abraham immediately headed to Mount Moriah (which later became Jerusalem) with the child and a pile of wood for the sacrificial fire. In faith, Abraham explained to Isaac what he expected to happen:

    And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?

    And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

    - Genesis 22:7-8 (KJV)

Abraham's faith was vindicated as an angel of the LORD stopped Abraham just before he put the knife to his son. At that moment, Abraham saw a ram caught in the bushes. Subsequently, God declared that Abraham demonstrated his fear of God and he once again reiterated his promise regarding the many descendants of Abraham to come.

After 127 years, Sarah passed away. Abraham negotiated a purchase of land for the burial and was granted his request because of his longstanding relationship with the Hittites.

Reflection and Application

The stories in this section are among the most significant in Genesis. The experiences of Abraham’s two sons are referred often throughout the Bible, as well as in ancient art, in songs, and other places.


Ishmael is generally recognized as the father of many of the Arab nations or tribes, which fulfilled the promise from God that he would establish a great nation:

    "And Ishmael? Yes, I heard your prayer for him. I'll also bless him; I'll make sure he has plenty of children—a huge family. He'll father twelve princes; I'll make him a great nation. But I'll establish my covenant with Isaac whom Sarah will give you about this time next year."
    - Genesis 17:20-21 (MSG)

From the perspective of the Islamic faith, Ishmael is considered one of the important patriarchs and is assumed to be a forefather of Muhammad (1). Consequently Abraham is acknowledged as the spiritual forefather to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, who collectively make up more than 4 billion people living today.

One of Paul’s references to Abraham and his sons is found in his heated letter to the Galatians. In chapter 4, Paul uses the story of these two sons to illustrate the difference between bondage to the law and freedom through faith in Jesus:

    These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written (Isaiah 54:1):

    “Be glad, barren woman,
       you who never bore a child;
    shout for joy and cry aloud,
       you who were never in labor;
    because more are the children of the desolate woman
       than of her who has a husband.”
    Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise.

    - Galatians 4:24-28 (NIV)

Isaac was a son of faith – delivered by God as promised to two very elderly people, an accomplishment that would be impossible for humans to accomplish on their own. By contrast, Ishmael was the product of people who tried to fulfill God’s promises through their own human effort.

By the age of 100 Abraham had made a number of mistakes, but had developed the wisdom to follow God’s commands when he heard them, regardless of how bizarre. Many of the prophets who followed him showed the same strength of faith, as we shall read later. However, none of them were asked to sacrifice a son. In contrast, the prophets often pointed out this type of act as a hideous pagan ritual committed by the enemies of Israel.

Notice what Abraham said when he prepared to scale the mountain for the sacrifice with the fire and knife in hand: He told his servants to wait at the bottom and stated that we would return. He also declared to Isaac that God would provide a sacrifice and trusted in God even until the very last moment. God wants us to trust him in the same way that Abraham did. The beginning of our wisdom is fear of God and trust in his word. We will hear this theme repeatedly in future books.

The faithful descendants of Abraham trusted that the LORD would provide an eternal savior for them one day. Their faith was rewarded with the arrival of Jesus, who, like the ram caught in the bushes became the sacrifice in our place. Today, January 6th, is the day that many Christian people celebrate the Three Kings Day or Epiphany, in recognition of the arrival of the three kings who sought and found the baby Jesus in order to worship him and deliver gifts. This event represents the introduction of Jesus to the Gentiles (non-Jews) of the world. We can find the story of the three kings in the Gospel of Matthew: Matthew 2:1-12 (NIV), "The Magi Visit the Messiah."

Abraham showed patience in trusting God and was patient in dealing with his neighbors. His long-term reputation of trustworthiness created the opportunity for him to make treaties and other arrangements with other tribes and families. If we demonstrate long-term patience and integrity, then we will find that our negotiations will progress more smoothly than they would have otherwise.

In a sermon on this story, the Reverend Sam Schreiner surmised that God tested Abraham to see if he valued his son more than he valued God. Schreiner provided a thorough background on Abraham based on the previous chapters of Genesis and discussed cultural references to this story. For example, he made mention of the perspective of Bob Dylan (1941 - present) as written in the opening lyrics of the song titled “Highway 61”

    Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
    Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
    God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”

    - Bob Dylan

Dylan took artistic license in assuming Abraham's questioning of God, because in the scriptures Abraham never appears to have wavered in his faith. He had learned to trust God in faith rather than through logic. With this model of strength of faith in mind, Rev Schreiner challenged his audience to consider what we might value more than God and consider if that something is a possession that God wants us to sacrifice (2).

The 16th century theologian, Martin Luther (1483-1586) addressed this topic of self-sacrifice on at least one occasion. He was quoted saying, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all; but whatever I placed in God's hands, that I still possess.”

And last but not least, the 17th century painter Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606 - 1669) addressed this story in two versions of his painting titled, "The Angel Prevents the Sacrifice of Isaac." The original version from 1635 is on display at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia and the later version, from 1636 can be found in the Alte Pinakothek museum in Munich, Germany. When you gaze at either painting you get a sense of Rembrandt's interpretation of how close Abraham came to following through, in faith, of the sacrifice of Isaac. In the later version, you can see in the background a ram, caught in the bushes, who would be the physical sacrifice in place of Isaac. If you don't have a chance to travel to one of these museums you can observe a representation of these paintings online at artbible.info:

"The Angel Prevents the Sacrifice of Isaac" (1635)
"The Angel Prevents the Sacrifice of Isaac" (1636)

For further reflection on the story of Abraham and Isaac, you can click the play button below to hear a complete audio version of Schreiner's sermon on Abraham and Isaac:

"Surprising Son of Abraham," Genesis 22:1-14
Sermon by Rev. Sam Schreiner



For further reflection and celebration of the three kings visit to Jesus click the object below to hear a sacred version of a well-known song:

"We Three Kings," performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir


Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What blessings have you received when you waited for God’s timing for an important answer?
    2. How does Abraham’s story change your ideas on effective negotiation with other people?
    3. What are you willing to sacrifice in recognition that you value God more than this other aspect of your life?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us to sacrifice what is important to us and do what is important to you.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Peace for all of Abraham’s children

    Footnotes

    (1) "Ishmael," wikipedia.org, 1/5/12
    (2) Schreiner, Rev. Samuel "Surprising Son of Abraham" Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT 12/6/2009



    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Genesis 24-25 (Isaac and Rebekah).

    Comments and Questions
    Some people have asked about the capitalization of LORD in the Old Testament. The reason it appears that way in most versions of the Bible is in order to be consistent with the Hebrew scriptures. Where the Hebrew had YHWH (Yahweh), the English version has LORD.

    The New Testament in English is a translation from Greek and does not encounter the same challenge. There is more of an explanation at gotQuestions?org, "a volunteer ministry of dedicated and trained servants who have a desire to assist others in their understanding of God, Scripture, salvation, and other spiritual topics."

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