In Genesis 21, we have a front-row seat for watching God at work — and not just in one person’s life, but several.
From Sarah’s perspective, we see that God has finally fulfilled the promise he made to her — that she would have a son. Thing is, Sarah had to wait 25 years for this promise to come to pass. For most of us, that’s a really long time — and over the course of a quarter century, it might be hard for us to continue to have faith that the Lord will do something in our lives. But the length of time really isn’t the point here; it’s the idea of waiting on the Lord for however long he calls us to wait. The cool thing is when God’s promise was fulfilled in Sarah, she was 90 years old — far past the age when women give birth. A miracle. And when it finally happened, Sarah was so tickled that the boy was named Isaac — which literally means “laughter.”
Waiting on the Lord can be really difficult. It can bring about disappointment with God when things don’t go our way or happen fast enough — or occur as we hope they might. But as Philippians 1:6 promises, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Even if a promise of the Lord takes years and years to come to pass, we must not miss what God will do in our lives during that period of waiting as we continually exercise faith in his goodness and care for us.
From Abraham’s perspective, he’s dealing with a painful reality — a reminder that the presence of Ishmael, the son he had with his slave woman Hagar, is the result of his human (i.e., faulty and short sighted) solution to a divine promise. And years later, as Isaac was weaned and the older Ishmael laughed at him, Sarah wanted him gone. This pained his father Abraham, but the Lord told him to do what Sarah asked. In a deeper way, this shows God pruning something from Abraham’s life so that he can enjoy God’s promise — that Abraham’s offspring shall be named through Isaac, and even that the Lord will make a nation through Ishmael.
Indeed, in our own lives there have been — and perhaps still are — things the Lord wants us to let go of so that we can clearly see and enjoy the promises he has for us. The task of letting go is never easy, but it’s also a step of faith God wants us to take. What is the Lord telling you to let go of in your life today? Just as he was up to something really special in Abraham’s life, God is also up to something special in your life — but you have to let go of things that are inhibiting your growth.
From perspective of Hagar, who was sent away with Ishmael, what else could she do but weep in the wilderness and assume she and her son would die there? And weep she did. But as difficult as that circumstance was, we discover that God (again) demonstrates his love for Hagar and Ishmael, as Hagar lifts up her eyes and suddenly sees a well. Water in the desert. Life.
Of course, we know full well that God directed Hagar and Ishmael being sent into the wilderness, but a longer view reminds us (again) that a lot of misguided human decisions led to this moment — particularly Ishmael being conceived in the first place. As a slave woman, Hagar didn’t likely view any of it as very God-directed, either. But again, God is always at work, usually unbeknownst to us, and the same was true in the case of Hagar and Ishmael, as the angel of the Lord told her, “Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
Finally, as Pastor Scott shared in his second shorter sermon Sunday, the two other people in this divine play — Isaac and Ishmael — have perspectives of sorts to share with us as well, and they’re found in Paul’s retelling of their circumstances in Galatians 4. Paul is talking to his readers about the promise of freedom we have in Jesus Christ — a far cry from the life of spiritual slavery they had been living. But the questions Paul poses to the Galatians he asks us today: Are you going to continue to live as though you are slaves, in bondage to sin (Ishmael)? Or are you going to live as free people — people of the promise — rooted in Christ (Isaac)?
Much of life is based on how we perform — what we do well and what we don’t do well. Our schools are based on performance. Our jobs are based on performance. But God is not performance based. However, it’s easy and typical to turn to the notion of God loving us based on how we perform. And when we’re in that spiritual state of mind — chained to slavery of a performance-based view of God — we will spend our lives in fear and in pain and hopelessness amid our problems. But if we approach the Lord based in the truth of his unconditional love for us — holding fast to his very promises of forgiveness and adoption into his eternal family through Christ— we will live as free people. So, today — and for the rest of our days — let us hold fast to that promise.