Abraham: Genesis 21

Genesis 21
Genesis 21.
The power of God was now accomplishing what His mouth had promised. The child is born of Sarah, the son given to Abraham, type of Him, the Son, whom God sent forth, when the fullness of the time was come, to effect redemption, and be the center of all His purposes for heaven on earth, and the judge of all He will cast into hell.
“And Jehovah visited Sarah as he had said, and Jehovah did unto Sarah as he had spoken. For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac, being eight days old, as God had commanded him. And Abraham was an hundred years old when his son Isaac was born unto him. And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age” (vers. 1-7).
Thus was Isaac's birth the occasion of joy in measure, as his very name imports, when Sarah laughed no more in unbelief, as once (Gen. 18:12-1512Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? 13And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? 14Is any thing too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son. 15Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh. (Genesis 18:12‑15)), but in gladness of heart, as in the fellowship of all that hear of the goodness of the Lord. It is a lovely witness to the power of grace when faith thus gives the victory in what had been one's weakness, and sin, and shame. And so, if Abraham gives the name to his son, Sarah needs no prophet, but explains the mind of God in it for herself, and forever.
But another sight of the family of faith is next vouchsafed to us. “And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned. And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking. Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son. And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed” (vers. 8-13). Of this incident, which our light hearts might quickly pass over, the Holy Ghost makes a great deal in the two Epistles of the New Testament, which either assert or vindicate the fundamental truth of justification by faith.
The first occurs in Gal. 4, where the apostle is convicting the bewitched Galatians of their folly in departing from grace to law. If they desired to be under the law, why not hear the law? The two sons of Abraham should have had a voice to every believer. One was by a slave, the other by a free woman; one born after the flesh, the other by promise, as the mothers answered to the two covenants, Jerusalem that was in bondage with her children, and Jerusalem which is above, the free mother of the free. But this, though much, is not all; for after citing from Isaiah a marvelous testimony to the reckoning of grace during the desolation of Jerusalem, the tale of the child of promise is again used to show (1) that as he that was born after the flesh then persecuted him that was after the Spirit, so it is now; (2) that the sentence of scripture is, Cast out the bond-maid and her son; for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. Grace refuses partnership with law or flesh. The child of promise alone inherits.
It is the more instructive and important to note that in this transaction Abraham was weak, and Sarah strong. He did not give glory to God as she did; hence God called on Abraham to hearken to Sarah's voice, whatever might be the natural subjection of wife to husband—a subjection in which the apostle Peter expressly cites this very Sarah as an admirable pattern to Christian women generally. But here the weaker vessel was by grace the stronger of the two, and Abraham must not regard Sarah's feeling as the mere affronted pride of the mistress who could not brook the airs of aspiring and mocking Ishmael. She was in the secret of Jehovah more deeply than her husband; while he was allowing unduly the claims of flesh, and was grieved at the proposal of expelling the bondmaid's son from the house. But so it mast be according to God. Sarah was right. Her child was of promise, as the word was which declared Jehovah would return at the time appointed and Sarah should have a son.
It was not so with Hagar and Ishmael, though God would make a nation of him because he was Abraham's seed. But there must be liberty in the house for all that are of God, and no entangling with the yoke of bondage. Every remnant of law, world, and flesh must be expelled, and what was of promise alone abide. But it is all ever thus judged till the day of “a great feast.” Then comes the decisive moment, and what is of the flesh persecutes what is of the Spirit, and grace gives the Sarah’s to speak out, and God will have it heard and acted on, though an Abraham may be grieved: but then, and not till then, is the bondmaid cast out with her son. The Sinai covenant that genders to bondage and her child after the flesh can be no longer tolerated in the household of faith.
The second quotation is in Rom. 9:77Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. (Romans 9:7). The apostle is combating the pretension of the Jews to enjoyment of the promises by natural or national descent, so as to exclude Gentiles. This he establishes in the most conclusive way by an appeal to Abraham's own seed, Ishmael. If the promise necessarily falls to the seed of Abraham as such, the Ismaelites must be let in. As no Jew would allow of this, he must abandon his principle. It is a question of promise, not of fleshly descent but of His own sovereignty who had limited the call to Isaac. “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” Sovereignty therefore is the only source of hope for Israel, which is reasoned out still more fully in the chapter, and applied to Jacob, to the exclusion of Esau, though of the same mother as well as father, and even twins. But the same sovereignty of God is shown to be the sole resource for Israel at Mount Sinai, when all else had been ruin for the people as a whole by their worship of the golden calf: so completely were they silenced on the score of their own righteousness. Driven thus from the ground of law, as well as of lineal descent, on what could they fall back? On the sovereign mercy of God. This alone did, or could, save a sinner or a sinful people in entire accordance with Ex. 33:1919And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. (Exodus 33:19); but if they owned this, who were they to dispute that sovereignty calling Gentiles too, as indeed the prophets expressly declare that He would, when Israel became for a season Lo-ammi by their idolatry and their rejection of Messiah?
Here we go beyond the passage which has given occasion to the apostolic argument. Still, looked at in the narrowest point of view, how fruitful is scripture, and how marvelously does He who wrote in the Old Testament use the facts and words of the New Testament! How self-evidently divine are both! Ishmael, like Israel after the flesh, cannot take the inheritance by law, but are cast out, though preserved of God.
It does not come within my present scope to dwell on God's dealings with Hagar, the comfort He gave her then and afterward as to Ishmael, or his subsequent history (vers. 14-21); though we may notice in passing that, as the bondmaid mother was an Egyptian, so the wife she took her son was out of the land of Egypt: law, flesh, and world go together.
But in the next section we see Abraham in his true place and dignity. “And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phicol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest: now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son's son; but, according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned. And Abraham said, I will swear. And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of a well of water, which Abimelech's servants had violently taken away. And Abimelech said, I wot not who hath done this thing; neither didst thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it, but today. And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech; and both of them made a covenant. And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What mean these seven ewe lambs which thou hast set by themselves? And he said For these seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me that I have digged this well. Wherefore he called that place Beer-sheba; because there they sware both of them. Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba: then Abimelech rose up, and Phichol the chief captain of his host, and they returned into the land of the Philistines” (vers. 22-32).
In the beginning of the chapter we saw that the servant abides not in the house forever: Ishmael and his mother are dismissed. The son abides always: Isaac is there, the heir of all.
Now we see that the Gentile king, who once inspired Abraham with guilty fear and became the occasion of a foul snare, not only seeks favor of the father of the faithful but is himself reproved. The power of the world acknowledged God to be with Abraham, and asks for a covenant between them. (Compare Zech. 8:2323Thus saith the Lord of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you. (Zechariah 8:23)). Earthly righteousness is now asserted, as before we saw heavenly long-suffering, save where a corresponding pledge of the coming kingdom came before us in Gen. 14, which concluded that series, as this concludes the later series. Here therefore the well of the oath is recovered and secured, and a grove or orchard is planted there, for the wilderness shall be glad, and the desert blossom as the lily; yea, there shall break out water and brooks, and there shall walk the redeemed. And Abraham “called there on the name of Jehovah, the everlasting God. And Abraham sojourned in the Philistines' land many days” (vers. 33, 34). He is in type no longer the pilgrim, but the head of the nations and heir of the world.
Thus the second division of Abraham's history terminates with the figure of the kingdom in manifested power of glory, when beauty is given for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
Gen. 22
The last chapter closed that series of divine dealings with our patriarch which opened with Gen. 15. We can readily see that it forms a natural conclusion. The long-promised heir is come; the legal covenant and the child of flesh are cast out; the prince of the Gentiles is reproved instead of reproving, and seeks the friendship of the father of the faithful, who plants a grove and calls there on the name of the everlasting God. Thus, as in chapter 16, we are brought again to a picture of millennial peace and power and blessing.
In Gen. 22 we begin another series of yet deeper character and moment-final too, as far as Abraham and Sarah are concerned.
“And it came to pass after these things that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham; and he said, Behold here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” It was the greatest trial to which God had ever put the heart of a saint. It was not tempting with evils any more than God is tempted with them. It was, on the contrary, His own good that was before God, who would make His friend the witness of it, while testing his confidence in Himself and His word to the uttermost. Isaac was loved as only a child so promised, born and reserved for a wondrous destiny, could be—to say nothing of personal qualities that must endear him to his parents. How the father's heart must have pondered on God's covenant with “thee, and thy seed after thee in their generations, for an everlasting covenant,” and the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession; especially after Hagar and Ishmael were expelled, and the word of promise came, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called!” The father was assured therefore that this son, and no other, was that of the promises. God could not lie; but He might and does try, and those most whom He loves best. So with Abraham now. God demands that the father shall offer up his only son for a burnt-offering on Mount Moriah. It was the shadow of His own incomparable and infinite gift, but only the shadow; for Christ really did suffer and die, and God the Father sent Him, in divine love, to be thus a propitiation for our sins.
Abraham was only “tried"; still he was tried most severely, and by grace endured the trial, and was blessed accordingly. There was no delay in giving up his son to God, any more than he had doubted of God's word that he should have a son of Sarah when both were as good as dead.
“And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, as took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt-offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you” (vers. 3-5).
The moment was come when Abraham must challenge his heart for the last time, counting on God to make good his promise, and give him back that very Isaac to be the heir of all assured to himself, and the channel of blessing to all families of the earth. God must raise Isaac assuredly, as his own mind was made up to sacrifice him at God's bidding “And Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. 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” (vers. 6-8).
Unconscious prophet of a truth too well (too little) known, Abraham anticipates exactly what God has done in the gospel, of which this very scene stands out, in some respects, the most eminent type. Guilty man, in his heart of hearts, thinks all depends on some atonement he is to make, even if he also, in ever so orthodox a manner, confesses our Lord Jesus as a Savior. But this he confesses for all the world: for himself to get the benefit, he really trusts to a sort of compounding for his sins. He hopes to give up his sins, most of all, and that God will be merciful. Such is the gospel of the largest part of Christendom, where it is not even an avowed confidence in life-giving ordinances, and saving rites and works of goodness. What a contrast with “God will provide himself a lamb!” What grace on God's part! What a call for faith on man's! “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be of grace.” Nor could any other way suit either. Sins are thus borne and judged, and forgiven to the believer but yet to God's glory, while His grace reigns to eternal life. Anything else would depreciate God, as it would exalt the sinner, for which certainly Christ did not die; but suffered once, Just for unjust, that He might bring us to God; and this He has done for every believer cleansed from every sin by His blood.
“So they went both of them together; and they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of Jehovah called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jirah: as it is said to this day, In the mount of Jehovah it shall be provided” (vers. 9-14). Thus was Abraham fully tried, and God magnified and honored by his simple-hearted trust in Himself. Yet not a drop of Isaac's blood was shed. God remains God. He spared not His own Son, but gave Him up freely for us all. In all things Christ has the pre-eminence.
Still Abraham shines brightly in the scene, and God marks His appreciation of it. “And the angel of Jehovah called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, and said, By myself have I sworn, saith Jehovah, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son; that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (vers. 15-18).
Gal. 3:1616Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. (Galatians 3:16) casts fresh light on the blessing here pronounced. The blessing is twofold. In verse 17 it is Jewish, and consists in a countless progeny, which possess the gate of their enemies. In verse 18 no number is attached to “thy seed.” This, accordingly, is what the Holy Spirit contrasts as “the seed” of Abraham to which the promises were made. “He saith not, And to seeds as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” Thus the Seed with no number or multiplicity annexed to it is shown to be Christ, typified by Isaac, risen again from the dead in figure, who blesses all the Gentiles, as now in the gospel, contradistinguished from the numerous Jewish seed, who are to subject the nations and rule over them, in the age to come. The Seed risen from the dead has evidently broken the link with life or relationship on earth, and is in a wholly new condition wherein He is able to bless the Gentile as freely as the Jew. This Christ is doing now, as the epistle proves, wholly apart from law or circumcision which suppose the flesh and the Jew still under the probation of God, and so in effect deny the cross.
We see accordingly how harmonious is the teaching of Heb. 11:17-1917By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: 19Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. (Hebrews 11:17‑19) with Galatians Christ is the true Seed of Abraham, and this not only of promise but, as dead and risen. It is, thus the promises are secured; it is thus also that they open out to all the nations or Gentiles; even as it is written, In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. The Seed dead and risen is as free to bless the Gentile as Jew. Both were lost in rejecting Him; but He is risen from the dead, and God is pleased to bless in Him not only the Jew but all the Gentiles. The Seed of the woman is the Son of Abraham risen from the dead after being offered up. And the blessing is unconditional grace, independent of the law which came in long after the promise and for a wholly different end, as the apostle argues and proves to the bewitched Galatians. Law can only bring a curse on those who take that ground for their souls with God. Blessing is by faith in virtue of Him who died and rose again, and can thus in pure grace reach the believer, spite of flesh, law and world, which ensure only condemnation for sinful man. But Christ is dead and risen, and the blessing is confirmed in Him by God's oath to all the nations. So much the more awful will be the lot of all who despise Him, trusting in themselves, in others, or in aught else!
The rest of the chapter (vers. 20-24) calls for no particular notice now. It was meant to prepare the way for Rebekah, by showing her relationship with Abraham's lineage, in view of a still closer tie.
W. K.