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Genesis 21

21 Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

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

The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

22 At that time Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, “God is with you in everything you do. 23 Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you now reside as a foreigner the same kindness I have shown to you.”

24 Abraham said, “I swear it.”

25 Then Abraham complained to Abimelek about a well of water that Abimelek’s servants had seized. 26 But Abimelek said, “I don’t know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today.”

27 So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelek, and the two men made a treaty. 28 Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock, 29 and Abimelek asked Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?”

30 He replied, “Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.”

31 So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there.

32 After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines.33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. 34 And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.
(Genesis 21:1-34 NIV)

As we ended Chapter 20, we saw the Lord vindicate Sarah and restore her dignity and worth through both Abimelek and Abraham.  The chapter ends with the focus on Sarah.

As we begin Chapter 21, we see the focus continue to be on Sarah.  God keeps His promise to Sarah and gives her a son, and all the joy that comes with a baby.  There is much laughter – not at Sarah, but with Sarah and Abraham and Isaac, celebrating the birth of this long-awaited and promised little one.

While there was much laughter, not all of the laughter was joyful.  Moses shares insight into Ishmael’s heart – that of jealousy and mocking.  Ishmael had been the center of attention for 15 or 16 years – and now he was being supplanted by a newcomer, a toddler, as the family focal point.

Sarah sees Ishmael’s mocking of Isaac and speaks to Abraham again, demanding that Hagar and Ishmael leave.  Abraham is bothered by Sarah’s demand and does not immediately respond.  But God intervenes and tells Abraham to listen to his wife, as Isaac is the son of promise, and God will watch over Ishmael as well.

It’s interesting that there are two weanings that happen that day – the weaning of Isaac, feeding from his mother’s breast to feeding from her hand, and the weaning of Abraham’s heart, from Ishmael as the center of attention to Isaac as the promised son.

Abraham was likely a very good father, and cared for and taught his son Ishmael and held him in his hands and in his heart.  But Ishmael was not God’s promised son to Abraham, so Abraham had to unwind his heart from Ishmael and focus on God’s promised son – Isaac.  God relieved Abraham’s fears about Hagar and Ishmael’s well-being by promising to bless and make a nation out of Ishmael as well.  Abraham knew God’s heart and trusted Him to care for Hagar and Ishmael and let them go.

As we end Chapter 21, we see another side of Abraham as he interacts with the ruler of his host country, King Abimelek. Remember that Abraham is living in the land as an alien – no rights, no privileges except those given to him and his tribe by the king.  Contrary to Abraham’s original assumption, King Abimelek does fear God, and respects Abraham and gives him free reign to live anywhere in the land.

The world is watching, and Abimelek sees God blessing Abraham.  Abimelek goes to Abraham and asks Abraham to always deal in truth and kindness toward him and his descendants, not with lies and deceit and treachery.  In essence, Abimelek is asking for a peace treaty.

Abraham agrees, and uses the opportunity to test the authenticity of Abimelek’s offer by presenting an issue to the king – a dispute over a water well.  In a dry and arid land, water has great value, and access to water is a big deal.

Abraham does not take Abimelek to court, nor does he go to war over the well.  He simply talks to Abimelek about the situation.  Abimelek is unaware of the issue, and responds calmly to Abraham’s gentle confrontation.

In an uncharacteristic gesture for their day and culture, Abraham offers seven lambs to Abimelek as proof that he dug the well.  Abraham does not demand his rights, but rather offers grace and gifts as a way of showing he was telling Abimelek the truth.   The seven lambs were not a bribe, but an act of grace to show his heart.  God uses Abraham’s humility and kindness to seal the peace treaty and prolong Abraham’s blessing and sojourning in the land.

It’s interesting to note that Moses calls out that Abraham is living in the land of what will become the home of the Philistines, one of God’s and Israel’s most hated enemies in centuries to come.  But for now, Abraham enjoys peace with his landlord and neighbors.

There are many sermons to be preached and lessons to be learned from this short chapter and these stories… here are just a few:

  • joy and laughter over the long-awaited promise that God fulfills
  • the weaning,  the willingness to let go of the good so as to embrace God’s best
  • living in peace with neighbors, letting God’s glory shine through our everyday lives

What parts of these stories resonate with you?

What do you sense God speaking into your soul today?

Blessings,
~kevin

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