Genesis 21-23: A City Still to Come
January 8, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Finally, Isaac comes, and his name meaning laughter is apparent in the laughter that was given to Sarah at his birth, having borne Abraham a son in their old age (21:1-7). The son of Hagar (Abraham’s concubine) also later laughs, mocking Isaac (21:9). This is salt to Sarah’s wound, and she demands that Hagar and her son be put away (21:10). Abraham is not pleased (21:11), but at the intervention of God who promises to bless his son by Hagar, he does as he wife wishes (21:12-14).
Hagar is desolate. In a moment of extraordinary pathos, she leaves her son to die in the wilderness, and cannot look upon him as he dies and so goes a bowshot away to mourn in utter defeat (21:14-16). God again intervenes, rescues this little family, and begins to establish them (21:17-21). God is a God of mercy to all who call on him.
Abraham makes a treaty with Abimelech (21:22-34), showing Abraham’s wisdom interacting with the people of this land as he journeyed as a sojourner. Abraham has grown significantly since he lied to protect himself and Sarah.
Abraham, now, famously, is tested. He is asked to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen. 22). What an extraordinary thing this is! But as the New Testament tells us, reasoning that God could raise the dead and so God could still keep his promise (Hebrews 11:17-19), Abraham believes.
We must be careful to assert that this is a unique moment about a unique historical salvation message, not something to ever be imitated in personal life today in a literal sense. The uniqueness is made clear by the sacrificial animal—which from the point of view of the New Testament, it is impossible to read about and not think of the far greater sacrifice to come. God’s provision, by grace, at the last moment after Abraham has been tested.
Why the test? Because God is sovereign, he already knew what was in Abraham’s heart. The test was for Abraham, to show to Abraham that he really did believe God. When we are rescued by grace, purely through faith, not of our own merits, then God can ask anything of us.
Then comes tragedy for Abraham as his wife dies, and Abraham mourns (23:1-2), purchases a field for her burial (23:3-20). Abraham again shows wisdom, presenting himself as a mere sojourner (23:4), not, as they called him, a prince among them (23:6). Abraham’s actions indicate his continued faith in the promise. As the book of Hebrews puts it, “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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