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O Lord, we ask because we are needy, that You might bless us as we read Your Word. Help us to pay attention. Our minds wander, our stomachs growl, we get restless in our pew. Give us grace. Give us eyes to see, ears to hear. May Jesus reign during this sermon and during the week to come, and for ages unending. In His name we pray. Amen.
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to Genesis 21. If you don’t have a Bible, there’s one in the pew. If you don’t own a Bible, and you need one at home, we’d love for you to take that Bible. But it is important as we come to the sermon each week that you would have a Bible if at all possible because the only authority for what I speak comes from these words and you want to follow along and we’re going to refer to different words in different verses and so you want to be able to see for your own eyes what’s going on here, as we come to Genesis chapter 21.
In Genesis 12, God thundered a sevenfold blessing upon Abram. This manifold blessing in Abram’s day looked for the fulfillment of two main promises, a promised land and a promised child. And since chapter 12, both of those promises have been threatened, threatened both by the foolishness of the patriarchs and threatened by the wickedness of the people around them; Sodom, Gomorrah, the eastern kings, and just as importantly, the bumbling efforts of Abraham and Sarah. All of these have threatened to frustrate or derail the promise.
But nevertheless, they’re God’s promises and they cannot be derailed. They are inviolable.
And this morning, we come to the resolution, at least the seeming resolution, the partial resolution, to the tension that has been building since chapter 11 verse 30, where it reads there, “Now Sarai was barren. She had no children.”
So how is it going to be that Abram will be a father of many nations and a great people, a multitude too numerous to count, more than the stars in the heavens, more than the sand on the seashore, that this man will be the father of a great nation when we have seen even from before the promise that his wife Sarai had no children?
And as if to highlight the difficulty of God’s promise, Genesis 16:1 reminded us again, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children.”
No matter how gracious God has been to Abraham, and He’s been gracious, He’s spared his life, and everywhere he goes, even despite himself, Abraham becomes richer and richer. When he lies to Pharaoh, when he lies to Abimelech, God continues to blessing, but all of this blessing will be for nought if he and Sarah do not have a child of their own. And that’s what we finally come to in Genesis 21.
You can see in your Bible in the ESV there are three headings. These headings are not inspired, but they give you the sense for three different narratives in this chapter: “The birth of Isaac,” then before verse 8 “God Protects Hagar and Ishmael,” and then before verse 22 “A Treaty with Abimelech.”
We’re going to work through each of these individually and then we’re going to end by trying to answer the question that was uppermost in my mind as I was studying this week, “How in the world do these three stories tie together?”
Because if you know Genesis, you know Genesis 21 is the birth of Isaac, and yet you can see just from the distribution of verses that that is not what the major, the majority of the verses are dedicated to, and so how do these three stories, how are they advancing the larger story of God’s grace and God’s promise? Why are we taking these three stories together when really shouldn’t our focus just be on the birth of Isaac? That’s what we’ll come back to.
But let’s move through each of these. So I’m going to read verses 1 through 7.
“The Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as He had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.””
What’s striking to me about these verses is that they don’t seem to focus on what you and I would focus on, or at least if someone was making a television show or a movie about this passage, it would probably focus on the personal drama. There would be a close-up of the wrinkles on Abraham’s face and Sarah in her old age.
Now I’m not 100 years old. How old was I when our last child… Well, I’m 44 so I guess I was just 43. It seems old enough. We found these old video cassettes. Back before you had smartphones and we recorded with a little camcorder when our firstborn was born 18 years ago, and you know if you have multiple kids, especially if you have a lot, the first child is just hours and hours videotaping nothing. There’s nothing. And by the time, you know, we’re going to look back with our ninth, did we have a ninth child? Oh, that’s right. She did go to school. We paid bills. There’s something. There’s just no real visual record of it.
So we finally, we sent these away and had them digitized so we could watch them. We hadn’t seen these for years and years and years, ’cause who has something to play these tapes. And we looked and you know what? We noticed we were really young, which means we’re not anymore. Not 100, not 90, but quite a bit older.
Now the camera here does not zoom in on their wrinkles. It does mention their age, but it’s to highlight what God has done. The other thing that you don’t see, if this were a movie production, surely there would be a close-in, and Sarah wouldn’t like it, but there’d be a close-in on ahhhh, the pushing and the pain of childbirth. How is this going to work for this old woman, to give birth? And there’d be a close-up shot of Abraham with his wrinkled, leathered hands holding this child and there’d be a close-up of the cooing baby and it would all be focused upon the baby and the crying and the tears and the precious sight of this newborn to this old couple.
We don’t get any of that. What does Moses, inspired by the Spirit, want us to focus on?
Well, look. It’s really very plain. Three times, three times it’s mentioned in the first two verses. Did you notice it? “The Lord visited Sarah as He had said… And the Lord did to Sarah as He had promised… Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.”
Three times in those opening sentences, “As God had said, as God said, as God promised.” The focus here is not on the sentimentality of the event, it is not even on the characters themselves, it is on the promise. It has been 25 years since they left Ur. It has been a long time even since they were promised this child. And so the emphasis is upon God delivering His promise.
It almost can seem anticlimactic. There was much more attention in chapter 18 to the announcement of the birth a year later than there is in detail on the birth itself. Because the point is so much not on all the messy details of a child being born but that it happened according to God’s promise.
We see also then an emphasis on Abraham’s obedience. He named the child the name that was given to him, Isaac. The only patriarch not to get a name change. Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Isaac because God gave the name from the very beginning, this one you call Isaac. Circumcised on the eighth day, the first time in the Bible we have a son circumcised on the eighth day. This is not a story about babies being cute or labor being hard. It is about seemingly impossible promises coming true.
And if you recall, Abraham had tried to finagle his way to the promise on his own terms. Remember attempt number one? “Eliezer of Damascus, he’s going to be my heir.” “Nope, that’s not the promise.”
“Well, what about this servant girl? I’ll try something with her and we’ll have a son together.” “No, that is not the promise.”
He almost blew the whole thing last week with Abimelech, when Sarah is put into the harem, likely, of Abimelech, but we read last week, several times emphasized, Abimelech did not lay with her, and here we have repeated, the child whom Sarah bore him. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son. This one was from Abraham and Sarah. Yes, the promise has come true. God came through even when it looked as if Abraham or Sarah or the nations or their enemies were going to thwart the promise. But God has done just as He said.
We’ll come back to that at the end.
Follow along here now with the second of these three stories, God Protects Hagar and Ishmael. Because it’s striking, you can see just from the layout of the verses, you have twice as much now about the other son as you do about the promised child. Why? We’ll answer that question.
Verse 8: “And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.”
“When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, “Let me not look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.”
No sooner is the promised child born than he becomes the source of a tremendous conflict in the promised family. You see in verse 8 he grows and was weaned, in that culture could have been anywhere from 1 to 3 years old and they have something of a party. And on the occasion, Sarah notices the son of Hagar the Egyptian doing something she doesn’t like. She’s called here again “Hagar the Egyptian.” It’s likely that this was part of the gift that Pharaoh had given to Abraham and Sarah when he lied and then left with great wealth, gave one of the servants.
Notice, and I think the language is deliberate, that Sarah has demoted Hagar. Was in chapter 16 a servant, a handmaiden, and now she’s referred to as a slave. Maybe she’s doing the same things but given a more demeaning title.
And Ishmael, you may notice, his name is not even mentioned in this story. He’s called the son, the boy, the child. And Sarah has such hard-heartedness she won’t even call Hagar by her name or Ishmael by his name. She says, “Cast out the slave woman with her son.” There’s a conflict.
Now what happened that made Sarah so upset? Well, look at this word at the end of verse 9: “Sarah saw the son of Hagar,” so Ishmael, “whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing.”
Now what is happening? You look in the ESV, there’s a footnote that says at the bottom, “possibly laughing in mockery,” and I think that is the sense of the word. Often this word is used with derision. So it’s the same word used in Genesis 19:14 where Lot is warning his sons-in-law about the judgment to come and they think he’s only jesting, he’s only laughing. It’s the word used in Genesis 39:14 and 17 where Potiphar’s wife accused Joseph of coming in to laugh at her, to mock her, to hold her in derision. It’s the word used in Judges 16:25 where it says Samson, remember after his eyes are gouged out, and he’s brought in, the word in English is “entertain,” but it’s the same word here, “to laugh, to mock.” He’s brought out to be there mocking entertainment, to play for the crowd.
So I think the footnote is right, that this is not merely laughing. That Ishmael, who remember is a teenaged young man by now, and the baby Isaac, his half-brother, that they’re just laughing and cooing with each other, but there’s some sort of mockery that takes place from the older son to his younger brother. Something that Ishmael does to Isaac that gives him sort of derision.
Now the young boy isn’t perhaps tracking with this. He may be 1 or 2 or 3 years old, but within earshot of the parents. There’s something he says. Now confirmation for this interpretation is found in Galatians 4:29. Paul there is speaking of Isaac and Ishmael and Paul says, “He who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit.” So there’s something that Ishmael did, Paul understands it to be a kind of persecution. There’s some sort of mockery, some sort of derision, some sort of scorn directed from Ishmael to Isaac.
And you can understand quite apart from all of this spiritual things going on with election that through Isaac your offspring shall be named. Apart from all of that it’s just a very human story of two moms who are naturally going to be supportive of their sons, and you have Abraham in the middle.
Just one more evidence that even though the Old Testament doesn’t usually go out of its way to condemn polygamy, and this was not exactly polygamy as a wife, but it was taking a child from another union. You can see here the Bible showing how much of a mess this makes of their family, because Ishmael, of course, is just as much the son of Abraham as Isaac is the son of Abraham. Same father, different wife.
So Abraham sees Sarah, who begins to feel threatened, “Wait, this is my son, the promised son Isaac, and I don’t like the idea of him living together. Whatever Ishmael is doing to Isaac, Sarah says, “Honey, Abe, you’ve gotta get them out of here.” And Abraham doesn’t like that because this is just as much his son.
And God comes, perhaps in a dream that night, and says, “It’s okay. I’ll take care of them. This is part of my plan. You’re going to send them away.”
And so off they go. They send them off in the morning, into the wilderness with little more than some bread and water. And what we see is the principle of election at work, that the blessing will come through Isaac but we also see the principle of common grace, that even though Ishmael is not the child of promise, yet God still looks after Ishmael and Hagar. He promises twice that He will make a great nation out of Ishmael, “Whoever blesses you I will bless.” So the fact that this was a child of Abraham means he does inherit a kind of blessing even if it is not the blessing of the promised child.
They find themselves in a dramatic, desperate situation. They’re in the desert. They’re out of water. Verse 15, “She puts her son under one of the bushes and she walks off some distance, a bowshot.” Not so far that she doesn’t know where he is, but out of sight, out of ears. Why? Because Hagar’s sure they’re about to die. This boy is starving. She’s starving. They’re desperate, even more so for water. She figures, “I can’t be here when my own son dies of thirst. You sit down here, I’ll go over here, and we’ll both die.”
And she cries out, her son cries out, and God in His mercy hears both of them, and just as God, there’s a play on words here, what did God do for Sarah? He opened her womb. What does God do for Hagar? He opens her eyes, verse 19. “Sarah, you’re going to have a child you didn’t know you could have. Hagar, you’re going to see water that you didn’t know was here.” And just at their moment of desperation, God hears their cry. Opens her eyes, “There’s the water, give some to your son, take him up by the hand, you’re going to live.”
And so they do. They live in the wilderness, he becomes an expert with the bow. They settle eventually in Paran, which is a desert plateau in the Sinai Peninsula toward Egypt, and it makes sense, Hagar is from Egypt. She finds eventually a wife from Egypt for her son.
We see here, unfortunately, that sometimes God’s people are the persecuted, Ishmael persecutes Isaac, and sometimes as much as we’d not like to admit it, sometimes God’s people do the persecution. Sarah says, “Get rid of the woman, the slave woman, get rid of her son.” But God has mercy for the elect, and here He has some common grace even for the non-elect.
And surely we are meant to see that God is at work even in this situation where the Egyptian, when her son is threatened, are cast out in the wilderness, just like what will happen centuries later in Egypt when Pharaoh is threatened with the death of his firstborn son, finally he expels Israel out into the wilderness. The same thing will happen.
God has mercy upon His people and He shows His common grace upon Hagar and Ishmael as they cry out.
And then there’s a third story, and we’ll look at it very briefly, and they try to see what connects the three.
Verse 22, A Treaty with Abimelech: “At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army said to Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do. Now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my descendants or with my posterity, but as I have dealt kindly with you, so you will deal with me and with the land where you have sojourned.” And Abraham said, “I will swear.” When Abraham reproved Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized, Abimelech said, “I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, and I have not heard of it until today.” So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a covenant. Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock apart. And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs that you have set apart?” He said, “These seven ewe lambs you will take from my hand, that this may be a witness for me that I dug this well.” Therefore that place was called Beersheba, because there both of them swore an oath. So they made a covenant at Beersheba. Then Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army rose up and returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God. And Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines.”
We met Abimelech, which may not be a first name but a title, means “my father is king,” abi-melech. We met Abimelech last week, and here he is again coming to Abraham that they might strike a bargain. Abimelech comes in the position of strength. He comes with his military commander, so that may put Abraham on his heels. He comes and he reminds Abraham that you are sojourning in my land, and so he comes with his military commander to Abraham, who is a wealthy, powerful man, he has his own burgeoning nation with him, but Abimelech comes from this position of strength and he figures now is the time, let’s make a covenant together as you sojourn and live in the land here.
Verse 25. Abraham first brings his concern. He says, “Your men have stolen a well.” Here in the desert region, very little rain, water is life. And so for someone to seize one of the wells is a big deal. Abimelech immediately makes three excuses. One, I didn’t know. Two, you didn’t tell me. Three, this is the first I’m hearing of this.
But he believes Abraham, and Abraham offers these animals and so they literally cut a covenant. They kill these animals, they offer them up, and they strike a deal and they will live at peace with one another. Abraham plants a tree there, calls upon the name of the Lord his God, and Abraham is allowed to sojourn there in the land of the Philistines.
So what connects these three stories? Again, we would think if we were writing this script in Genesis, let’s be honest, we would do a lot more with the birth of Isaac, let’s get some more details there, let’s have the baby’s first steps, let’s have some birthdays, some celebrations. We’ve been waiting a long time for this payoff; let’s play with the child a little bit. But it’s just weaned, circumcised, next thing you know weaned and somebody’s giving him a hard time.
More on Isaac, less on Ishmael. And honestly, do we really need anything from this treaty with Abimelech? This they drank and they had wells and they were happy. Can we just get by with a verse? Why these three stories? What connects them?
Let me give you two big connection points.
The first one is that each of these three stories focuses in on a literary technique. There’s a play on words in each of these stories. It’s harder to see in English. You can see it very clearly in the Hebrew. Each of these stories has a central word that becomes the focus.
Let me show you want I mean. In the first story, and actually going through to verse 9, the focus is on the word “laugh.” Now a little bit about the Hebrew language in the Old Testament. Most Hebrew words come from a 3-letter root. So the different verbal forms change and you put something on the front or you put something on the back, but they come from a 3-letter root, and this one, “se-hoq,” is the word for laughter. Tsade, Het, Kuf are the three Hebrew letters, “se-hoq.”
It comes from, or rather is leads to, the name of the child Isaac. You can hear, se-hoq Isaac. Three times we have the name Isaac, which remember means “laughter.” Three times we have the word “laughter,” verse 6, “God has made laughter for me,” and then “everyone who hears me will laugh over me,” and then again we saw at the end of verse 9 that word, which we understand to be some sort of mocking or derision, is again a form of the word laughter.
So in this opening section, the focus is on this word se-hoq, that the one who was laughed at will have a child and laugh. The child of laughter will be born to the woman who laughed.
And then, in a turnabout of events, the other son will laugh at that son. Everything is revolving around this play on words for laughter, and it’s Isaac’s very name.
The second story has a different word, and it’s the word “hear.” You probably have heard this word before, Shema, hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. The Shema. Again, there’s a three-letter root, ___. It means “to hear.”
Twice, look at verse 17, “and God heard the voice of the boy and the angel called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy.”
Now what’s so significant about that? Remember I said Ishmael’s name is not mentioned anywhere in the story. He’s the boy, the lad, the son, but do you remember what Ishmael’s name, you can hear it there. Shema. Ishmael means “God hears.” Shema-el. The God who hears. Even though his name is not mentioned, his name is still proving to be true, that God will hear his cry. God hears the cry of his Egyptian mother Hagar. And so just as the first story focuses on laughter, Isaac’s name, so the second story focuses on shema, Ishmael’s name.
And then there is a third play on words, even more intricate and elaborate, in this third story. So I said the first se-hoq means laughter, shema means hear. Here’s the word in this third story: Sheba, ___, sheba. Shebe can mean “to swear” like to give an oath.
Look at this three times. Verse 28: Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock apart. Abraham [sic] said, “What is the meaning?” Then verse 29, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart? ” Verse 30, “These seven ewe lambs you will take from my hand that it may be a witness that I dug this well, therefore the place will be called Beersheba.”
Now look at the footnote at the bottom: Beersheba means “well of seven” or “well of oath.” This word sheba means both oath and seven.
So three times in this passage it means oath, verse 23, verse 24, verse 31. The same root can mean seven, and you see that in verse 28, verse 29, and verse 30. And three times the word Beersheba is used, verse 31, verse 32, verse 33.
There’s a play on words that this place Beersheba is the place of oath and it’s the place of seven. It’s the well where the seven lambs were slaughtered. It’s the well where the oath was made between Abimelech and Abraham.
And just to see one more level of intricacy. You hear all the threes, threes, threes? It’s a good biblical number. But seven. You could count up how many times is Abimelech used in this passage. Seven times. How many times do you count the word Abraham? Well, eight, but look, it’s actually seven. Because verse 33 is eight, that’s the eighth one, or the seventh of the eight, Abraham planted a tamarisk tree, but you go to the Hebrew and Abraham is not used, it’s simply the verb and it would be translated “he.” The English puts Abraham so we know that it’s talking about Abraham and not Abimelech, but in the Hebrew, yes, seven times Abimelech is used, seven times Abraham is used.
We are meant to see in each of these stories laughter, hearing, seven, and oath, that these stories come together as they each have this play on the Hebrew word. You say, well, that’s kind of interesting, but isn’t there a bigger significance other than some interesting literary device? Well, there is.
So here’s the second rationale that holds these disparate stories together. And this is what I scratched my head with during the week, and I hope you do this sometimes as you read your Bible. I have the privilege of getting paid to do this as I read my Bible and then to present to you. I just kept going back, well, why, I went on a long walk thinking, praying, why are these stories together? Why do we go from the birth of Isaac to then the trouble with Ishmael to then Abraham and Abimelech having to make this treaty?
Here’s why I think they’re all together. Remember what I said at the beginning? That the fundamental promise, the overarching promise is that I will be your God. But in earthly terms, the promise was these two things: A promised child and a promised land. And we might be tempted to think after the birth of Isaac, “We’ve made it. The promise has arrived. It’s been fulfilled. End of story. Let’s go home. Let’s celebrate.”
And as if to dissuade us from that notion, these next two stories remind us good news about Isaac, but the promise is not yet fully arrived, because what happens no sooner than the promised child is weaned and there is a conflict.
So the promised child is born, but it hasn’t solved the dynamics of the promised family. They still have to deal with the reality of Abraham’s earlier scheming. They still have to deal with the fallout of Sarah’s anger and jealousy. So Isaac is here, everything is going to be great in our family. Actually, it just got worse.
You ever experience that? I’m sure you’ve heard those stories. Someone goes off to school, becomes a Christian, comes home, everything gets harder. It happens sometimes.
So the promised child has come, but it hasn’t made the promised family all bliss.
And then what about the next story? Well, that’s to remind us that just because the promised child has arrived doesn’t mean that Abraham is just kicking back, relaxing in his golden land. No, he’s still a sojourner. He still has to deal with this pagan king.
Hagar and Ishmael are clearly sojourners. They’re kicked out, they wander in the wilderness. But lest we think that Abraham and Sarah and Isaac have finally reached their reward, the last story reminds us, no, they’re still sojourning, too. They haven’t reached the end.
And so here’s what it makes me think, as we draw this to a close. Do you ever find yourself, even on your best days, even when the prayers are answered, still find yourself hoping for more? Wanting more? Expecting more? Even the fulfillment of your dreams does not make the ache go away. No one wants to have their dreams unfulfilled, but you know what is sometimes worse than having your dreams unfulfilled? Is having your dreams come true and realizing that you’re still the same person and you still have the same issues inside you, and you still deal with the same sort of unhappiness. At least if your dreams are unfulfilled, you can just keep, you can just keep holding out, if only, if only… If only I had whatever it is, married, kids, grandkids, new job, cottage on the lake, whatever… If only I had that it would all come together for me.
Well, here Abraham and Sarah, after all this longing, they have the promised child. Family’s still got problems. They’re still looking for their permanent home.
You ever have this in life? When I was a kid on my birthday, it was always bittersweet. You know, we have birthdays all the time. We just put up a birthday banner at the beginning of the summer and we leave it up for months, ’cause just wait a few weeks, someone’s got a birthday. Birthdays are bittersweet, aren’t they? You look forward to it. Christmas is great, the holidays are great, but birthday, this says something about my selfish heart, birthday, well, that’s all mine. It’s my birthday.
Actually, Stewart Neely and I have the same birthday, so we’ll share it, by it’s my birthday. It’s the day where everyone’s special to me. And you look forward to that day and you find that sometimes as kids, you’re so looking forward to it and the presents you’re going to get, the party you’re going to get, and whenever it would come around to the turn of the clock to the next day past my birthday, ahh, even today I’ll come downstairs as the clock turns midnight, tell my wife, “My birthday will never be farther away than it is right now.” [laughter]
You put all of the expectations, this day, it’s going to be the great day, I’ve looked forward to it for a whole year, and then, yeah, it’s good and people say “happy birthday,” give you some cards, and you get some stuff and you get some food and then you’ve got the next day. It doesn’t quite deliver.
Or if you’ve had that dream of the brilliant family vacation. Yeah, how does that turn out? [laughter] You’re so glad when it’s over. Just how much do we have to pay you to take our kids in school? [laughter] But you want, and even when it’s good, you want to freeze-frame just that moment when all the kids are there and the grand, and everybody in the house and you’re just, you’re having the meal together and it doesn’t last. It’s never as perfect as you wanted it to be.
Or you look in church history, those great times we celebrate of revival, reformation, repentance, and they always come with controversy. They’re never as neat and tidy as we would want. You have some breakthrough for the Gospel and something goes wrong. Some good news in our country, something goes bad.
Remember at the beginning of The Incredibles Mr. Incredible says, “No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved. You know for a little bit I feel like the maid. I just cleaned up this mess. Can’t we keep it clean for 10 minutes?”
You feel like with that with your life? We just got it right. The promised child. But everything’s not better.
And there’s a profound lesson for us. Perhaps Abraham and Sarah were meant to realize the very best news of this good news has not yet arrived.
And maybe in your life you and I are meant to realize, perhaps the feeling that even our best days leave us aching for something more. Maybe you were made for something more. Maybe you’re not meant to find 100% satisfaction on any day in this life because you were made for more than this life.
You see what Abraham does at the very end? He plants a tree. Why do you plant a tree, Abraham? You haven’t inherited this land yet. A tree, put a flower, put down a vase, you can see it. A tree takes a long time.
But Abraham believes that he has a God who will be with him for a long time. El-olam, he calls him. The everlasting God. And so he plants a tree. I’ll be back. If I don’t see it, my kids will see it. Isaac will see it. My offspring will see it. I can’t see it, I’m not there, I’ve not arrived, my family’s still got problems. I’ve still not inherited the land. I haven’t gotten all the promises that God has made to me, but I’ll plant a tree because this is the everlasting God and He knows what He’s doing.
And it becomes the focal point. Not that Abraham worshiped the tree, but at that place a reminder of the God in whom he trusted.
Now we know 4000 years later that there was another child yet to come. There was another child of promise. It wasn’t ultimately Isaac, it was the Lord Jesus. And we know that this Lord Jesus is coming again. And there is a kingdom that is here and yet it’s not fully the kingdom that’s still to come. We live as children of the promise, and yet just like Abraham and Sarah, there’s something in us that says there’s gotta be more to come. The problems haven’t all gone away. My church isn’t perfect, my family’s not perfect, we know our country’s not perfect. When is it all coming together?
And we look to Abraham. Plant a tree. El-olam. The God who gave Isaac, the God who sent Jesus, the God who is coming again, tells us to believe, to trust, to obey, and to wait.
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, we thank You for Your many blessings. And we pray that You would give us grace to believe, to repent, to trust. As we turn our thoughts to that promised child, the Lord Jesus and His death on the cross, we are mindful of all the ways that we have doubted, all the ways we have fallen short, all the ways we have tried to fulfill the promise on our own terms, in our own time, all the ways we have been more like grass than trees. And we confess our sins before You. We bring before You our disobedience, our disbelief. Children of God, hear this good news, for all of us who are sorry for sins, who are hungering and thirsting after something more. Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me shall not hunger. Whoever believes in Me shall never thirst, for this is the will of My Father, so that everyone who looks on the Son, believes in Him, should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Thanks be to God. Amen.