Abraham and Isaac: Part One
Genesis 12:1-21:19


In Genesis 3 we saw that Adam and Eve brought the curse upon the world, not just upon the world of men, but upon the entire physical universe. With the coming of Abraham we see God beginning to lift the curse by promising to bless through Abraham all the nations. Moreover, God promised Abraham that He would make of Abraham a great nation. In order for this to occur, Abraham was going to have to have at least ONE son.

In this lesson we are going to see God beginning to fulfill His promise to Abraham. The emphasis is going to be on GOD fulfilling His promise, not Abraham fulfilling God's promise, but GOD fulfilling His own promise. It is important to learn the principle that God is the One responsible to fulfill His own promise and not us. Too often when we believe that God has promised to do something, we feel like He needs our help. Well, He doesn't. The bottom line is this: if God made the promise, then He and He alone is responsible to fulfill that promise. He may and does use us; however, the emphasis always fall primarily upon Him. In this lesson we shall first see Abraham taking matters into his own hands--and lousing everything up, and then we shall see Abraham allowing God to fulfill His own promise in His own way and time.


The Problem

In Gen. 12:1-3 God promises to make of Abraham a great nation. By this He did not mean that He was going to raise up a mighty army for Abraham so that he could gain a nation by conquest. Rather He meant that He was going to give Abraham and his wife Sarah a son, who in turn would have children, etc., until finally Abraham's descendants would form a great nation. According to God how many descendants would Abraham eventually have (Gen. 13:16)?

When God made this promise to Abraham, did God specify how Abraham was going to have this son?

When God promised a son to Abraham, did He specify who was going to be the mother of Abraham's son?

At this time Abraham is married to his half-sister Sarah. There is a problem with Sarah being the mother of Abraham's son. What is that problem (Gen. 16:2; Heb. 11:11)?

What is the main problem with Abraham being the father of a son (Heb. 11:12; Rom. 4:19)?

[Some are going to claim that all the fault lay with Sarah and not with Abraham since Abraham will have children long after he turns 100. After Sarah's death, Abraham will have numerous children through his new wife Keturah. While it is true that Abraham does have children AFTER he turns 100, it does not mean that he was able to have children right BEFORE he sired Isaac. A miracle occurs in the meantime in his body which results in a son being born. It is most likely that this was a miracle which just kept on giving. Another more famous example of this revolves around the resurrection of Jesus. The force which hit Jesus' tomb was so powerful that not only was Jesus raised from the dead, but several OT saints were raised from the dead. Just like the miracle of Jesus' resurrection spilled over, so this miracle in Abraham's body spilled over.]

The couple is first childless. The reason they are childless is that (1) they are too old to have children and (2) Sarah is barren. They simply are not going to have children. In one sense it was good that Sarah was barren. What did Abraham do which could have messed up the true identity of his son (Gen. 12:10-20)?

If Sarah had not been barren, she could have been impregnated by Pharaoh. Then things would really have gotten messy, especially if there was a question about the true identity of the father.

Sarah Takes Matters Into Her Own Hands (Gen. 16:1-16)

Apparently Sarah knows about the promise God gave to Abraham. Now Sarah is not a meek, mild woman. Just like Abraham is head of a great clan, so Sarah is for all practical purposes the "queen" of this great clan. She is imperial in her approach to life. In order to "help" God fulfill His promise to Abraham, what does Sarah suggest to Abraham (Gen. 16:2)?

According to Gen. 16:2 why does Sarah want Abraham to have relations with Hagar the slave?

Apparently the custom was that if a woman sent her slave to have sexual relations with her husband, then the child born would legally belong to the wife and not to the slave. When Hagar agrees to the plan, she sleeps with Abraham. Hagar gets pregnant. How does Hagar's attitude change towards Sarah (Gen. 16:4)?

How does Sarah respond (Gen. 16:5-6)?

Hagar flees from Sarah's presence. The angel of the Lord appears to Hagar. What happens then (Gen. 16:7-16)?

The Birth of Isaac (Gen. 21:1-21)

Twenty four years elapse since the time God called Abraham to follow Him. Although Ishmael was born to Abraham and the slave Hagar, he and Sarah have had no children. Abraham is now 99 years old, while Sarah is 89. God appears to Abraham and promises him what (Gen. 18:10)?

How does Sarah respond (Gen. 18:12)?

God though is true to His promise; one year later Sarah gives birth to Isaac (whose name means "laughter").

A problem though emerges between Ishmael and Isaac. What does Ishmael do to Isaac at the festival Abraham gives to commemorate Isaac being weaned from Sarah (Gen. 21:8-9)?

How does Sarah respond to this taunting (Gen. 21:9-10)?

How does Abraham feel when Sarah gives him this advice (Gen. 21:11)?

What does God instruct Abraham to do (21:12)?

Sarah drives Hagar and Ishmael away from the camp out into the wilderness. Soon their water supply runs out. In order not to see Ishmael perish from thirst, Hagar moves on ahead so that she won't see her son die. An angel though appears to Hagar and promises her what (Gen. 21:14-19)?


The Promise

Paul draws several principles from the story of Isaac and Ishmael. The first principle is that of promise. Just like Abraham's relationship with God is based upon a promise from God, so our relationship with God is based upon a promise He has given us--to have a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. Just like Abraham did nothing but exercise faith to make this promise a reality, so we too are to do nothing except to exercise faith in order to make this promise a reality. Faith is ALWAYS integral to our relationship to God. (See Romans 4).

The Miracle of Resurrection

The second principle that Paul draws from the birth of Isaac first is that of miracle. Abraham and Sarah were placed in a situation in which they were entirely helpless. The only thing that could give them a son was a miracle. In the same way God is wanting to operate in our lives in such a way that the only explanation for it has to be a miracle. If a non-Christian can live the life you live, then you have NOT experienced the Christian life. It is to be the result of a miracle and nothing less. His Spirit lives in us to give us a life which must have the only explanation, God did it.

Describe the way Abraham responded when he realized he could not have children and yet after God had promised him that He would have children (Rom. 4:18).

Hope is essential for a successful Christian life. It is not hope that this event is going to occur, that I am not going to lose my job or my money. It is hope that God is going to take care of me in an ultimate sense. One day I will see Him face to face and enjoy Him forever. It is a confident hope that God is more concerned about my situation than I ever will be. Moreover, it is a confident hope that He is going to make all things work together for my good by making me like His Son Jesus (see Rom. 8:28-31).

The only appropriate way to respond to a promise is faith. According to Heb. 11:6 if we do not have faith in God, what is it impossible for us to do?

The truth though is that as long as there is Jesus, there is hope.

Notice though that this is not just any ordinary miracle which God performed upon Abraham and Sarah. According to Heb. 11:11 what was true about Sarah's body?

According to Heb. 11:12 what was true about Abraham's body?

According to Rom. 4:19 what kind of miracle did God perform in order to produce children from Abraham's body? The miracle of creation, of healing, or of resurrection?

This is the key miracle God performs in His people. Too often we think that the resurrection involves only the resurrection of the body on the last day. Resurrection involves more than just that. It also involves the resurrection of the spirit. The Bible claims that before we were saved, we were dead spiritually (Col. 2:13; Eph. 2:5). We experience a real deadness in our hearts and in our spirits. When we accept Jesus though, He raises us from the dead spiritually by placing a new spirit within us, one created by His Spirit and one which is in His image.

Too often we fail to acknowledge the fact that we are spiritually dead and need God to resurrect us spiritually. We turn to education to make us better; we try to get the best jobs to make us better; we try to move in the best circles to make us better; we try to achieve fame to make us better; etc. All along what we are doing is this: we are like those zombies in the horror movies. It's just that this time the zombies are a bunch of educated, rich, sophisticated, famous zombies. They are rich, etc.; but they are still zombies. We must let Christ come into our lives and give us a new spiritual nature, and then we must follow Christ so that we can experience the life He has died to give us.

The Sadducees of Jesus' day claimed that there was no such thing as the resurrection since the OT never said there was. According to Paul though such a passage claims that there will indeed be a resurrection. In fact the birth of Isaac is the first picture/mention of resurrection in the Bible. The resurrection of the body will occur since we have experienced the resurrection of the spirit. Our resurrection would be incomplete if God only raised the spirit. Since God completes what He starts, then we can be confident that He will also raise us bodily from the dead.

The Struggle Between the Flesh and the Spirit

The next principle from this passage is that of the conflict between the spiritual person and the non-spiritual person. Paul claims that there are only 2 kinds of people in the world, the spiritual person who follows the leadership of the Holy Spirit and the fleshly person who follows his own agenda and walks in his own strength and power. According to Gal. 4:23 Ishmael represents which person--the spiritual person or the fleshly person?

According to Gal. 4:28, 29 Isaac represents which person--the spiritual person or the fleshly person?

According to Gal. 4:29 what kind of relationship will the fleshly person have with the spiritual person?

Be careful about saying the spiritual person will not be in conflict. The truth is that the spiritual person is going to be in conflict. He can't help it unless he lives only around other spiritual persons. According to Paul conflict has the benefit of doing what (1 Cor. 11:19)?

Unfortunately the conflict a spiritual person undergoes is not necessarily between him and a non-spiritual person. It can be a conflict within himself or between himself and himself. According to Paul what 2 forces wage war WITHIN the Christian (Gal. 5:17)?

When you follow the Spirit, your new nature within you is energized; however, you still have the OLD YOU living within you, the OLD YOU you were born with. The Old You is not willing to give up control of your life. He had control for all those years, and until Christ returns or you die, you are going to have to deal with this OLD YOU.

One of the classic books in Christian literature is Pilgrim's Progress. In this book John Bunyan details the pilgrimage Christian has to take before he can get to the Celestial City (Heaven). Even though he has victories over the Giant of Despair, the Slough of Despond, the Lord over Vanity Fair, and Apollyon, Christian almost blows it at the end. Between the land of earth and the Celestial City runs a river which Christian must cross to get to the Celestial City. As he steps into the river, Christian begins to sink. All the guilt and fears of his past sins are pulling him down into the bottom of the river, leading to certain death. Even at the end of his life, the old Christian within him refuses to give up. Christian's friend Hope though talks Christian back to faith in Jesus so that he makes it safely across the river.

Another example that is taken from true life is that of William Carey, the father of modern missions. This man taught himself Greek and Hebrew. He later went to India as a missionary; after seven years he had only ONE convert for all his labors. (We would fire a pastor if that was the best he could do.) He felt led to establish the William Carey college which had as its purpose the training of Indians so that THEY and not whites would reach India for Christ. After translating the Bible into ELEVEN different Indian dialects which he taught to himself, he established a publishing company so that he could print Bibles and other Christian literature in the Indian dialects. While all this was going on, his wife was in the house going crazy because of the stress in their life. Tragedy struck though whenever fire destroyed the publishing house. All his works went up in flames. Carey was in dire straits. Europe though learned of this tragedy; the fire which broke out in Carey's publishing house swept throughout Europe, resulting in the launching of world missions like never before.

Even though Carey was a great man of God, he still had to battle with the OLD CAREY which still lived within him. Towards the end of his life, people would see Dr. Carey weeping at his desk in his library. When they would ask him what the problem was, Dr. Carey responded: "How can I ever face a holy and righteous God?" The doubts came not from the Holy Spirit within him but from his old self.

We too will struggle until the day we die or until Christ returns. This should not cause us to despair though. There are many non-Christians who do not struggle within themselves. Why? Because they have only one nature, the old nature, which does not struggle with itself. The struggle within us though tells us that the Holy Spirit DOES live within us because it takes 2 to struggle, the Holy Spirit and our old nature. The struggle, therefore, proves that we are truly God's sons and daughters.

What is wild about all this is that the conflict between Isaac and Ishmael is seen not only in the conflict between spiritual people and unspiritual people, or just between a person and himself. Today THE hot spot of the world is Israel. It is the center of the conflict between the descendants of Isaac (the Jews) and the descendants of Ishmael (the Arabs). Abraham and Sarah by their unbelief did more damage than they could have possibly ever imagined.