GENESIS 21, 22, and 23
Today’s reading is all about Births, Deaths, and Marriages! And about faith and failure too. At the end of yesterday’s readings (Genesis 21) Abraham, out of fear, repeated the same lie about his wife (not being his wife) that he had made previously to Pharaoh (Ch. 12); again, amazingly God graciously rescued him and topped up his bank account in the process! Notice again how severely both God and the all the surrounding pagan nations regarded adultery and also upheld the sanctity of marriage!
Then Isaac was born – a miracle child, a demonstration that when God promises something, he delivers! ‘Isaac’ means ‘laughter’ and was a daily reminder to Abraham and Sarah, who had both laughed rather cynically at God’s promise, that God generally has the last laugh (but in a good way)! God had been gracious to them (‘grace’ means getting good things that you don’t deserve) and, sadly, Sarah responds ungraciously by swiftly evicting her rival, Hagar, and Isaac’s rival, Ishmael. Abraham was greatly saddened to lose one of his sons like this, but God comforts him and promises to look after Ishmael’s descendants. Nevertheless, all the anguish could have been avoided if Abraham and Sarah had only been patient with God in the first place (Ch. 16).
In Ch.22, Abraham is apparently in grave danger of losing his other son too – effectively, now, his only son. God demands the ultimate sacrifice of him and, with it, the end of all hopes of God’s promises for Abraham’s descendants. What would you have been thinking in Abraham’s position? Well, I am convinced that Abraham wasn’t thinking that way; strangely enough, he knew that God’s command was in direct contradiction with God’s promises and there was really only one way out for God – resurrection! Hebrews 11:19 explains: “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death”. Abraham used his head and saw that God was ‘cornered’ – this is actually a good definition of faith – when God pretty much has to do a miracle – and Abraham, the man of faith, was certain of the outcome. If you want to see a miracle, find a definite promise of God for your life, and pray it back to him, requiring him to deliver (that’s intercession!). He did, and he still does!
What turned this event from a notable local miracle into a life-changing, world-saving encounter hangs on 22:8: “God himself will provide a Lamb”; Abraham was right, God did so then, and He did so many years later. As the Lord himself explained: “I swear by myself,declares theLord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,I will surely bless youand make your descendantsas numerous as the stars in the skyand as the sand on theseashore.Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,and through your offspringall nations on earth will be blessed,because you have obeyed me” (vv 16-18). In effect, God said: “…because you gave me your only son, I will now sacrifice my son for your sake, and for the whole world’s sake” – an exchange of sons, leading to eternal redemption for mankind!
Significantly, Mount Moriah, where this exchange took place is now the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where Solomon’s temple was built – also the original threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, that King David had purchased (1 Chronicles 21 and 2 Chronicles 3) to stop the plague. In addition, just outside its boundaries is the most likely place of the Christ’s crucifixion. So Abraham’s Mount Moriah was God’s Calvary.
Sarah died (Ch. 23) aged 127, when Abraham was 137 and Isaac 37. Abraham wept and mourned over his departed love and prepared to bury her in the land that God had promised him, and where he himself would be buried nearly 40 years later. This was the first piece of the Promised Land owned by Abraham – he lived as a tenant traveller in the remainder – and it shows his faith in the covenant of the Lord that he purchased a ‘deposit’ in advance. (The Holy Spirit is given to us as a deposit of our full inheritance too.) After some gentlemanly haggling, Abraham paid an exorbitant price for the burial cave and its field, but he was not too bothered since God refunded it 430 years later!