Genesis | Chapter 21

Genesis 21:1-34

“The God who keeps His promises”

I. Intro.

II. Vs. 1-14 Laughter and sorrow

III. Vs. 15-21 A lesson in trust

IV Vs. 22-34 Water in a foreign land

I. Intro.

This chapter records three seemingly separate events recorded for us:

  • 1-14 The birth of Isaac
  • 15-21 The provision of Ishmael and Hagar
  • 22-34 The payment for a well in the land of promise

There is a common thread that deals not with the persons involved or the event but rather God who keeps His promises.

  1. In chapter 18 God promised Sarah and Abraham that they would have a son.
  2. In chapter 16 God promised that Ishmael would live to become a mighty nation.
  3. In chapter 13 God promised Abraham that the land that they were living in was to be his and his descendants after him.

In the 21st chapter all three of these promise are fulfilled. Abraham wrote in this chapter revealing how God is always faithful to keep His promises towards us, amazing how we forget this!

II. Vs. 1-14 Laughter and sorrow

Vs. 1 “And the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken.” What a glorious truth this verse holds for us, that God keeps His promises towards us based upon His faithfulness. In Num. 23:19 we read, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” If God promised based upon any other way, Isaac would not have been born. There are times that God chooses to promise based upon our faithfulness but most of the time God reveals to us that our faithfulness to obtain righteousness is worth less, as we are reminded in Isa 64:6 “all our righteousness’s are like filthy rags”.

Vs. 2 The first word we are told about Sarah back in 11:30 was that she was barren. In chapter 18:12 when she first heard that it was through her womb that the child of promise was to be born she laughed in unbelief and from a human standpoint at 90 years of age we would laugh as well. Yet the Lord asked her even though she was hidden inside the tent, “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?” The issue all boils down to Who you are depending upon to keep His word, (God or us). In Rom. 4:19 we read in the (ASV) that Abraham “considered his own body now as good as dead” which reveals that Abraham considered the impossibility of conception based upon his age and choose to disregard the circumstance and trust in God word, the opposite of what Sarah had done.

Thirty years have gone by since Abraham and Sarah had left Ur in chapter 12, they are now 100 and 90 respectively. Look at those words “at the set time”; and the “set time” was the time it took for Abraham and Sarah to both realize that you could not obtain God’s promises by the work and energy of the flesh. It 30 years for them to die to self, to learn to trust God and His Word and not themselves. In Romans 7:18 we read that, “.. I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.

Vs. 3-5 Isaac’s name was originally link to Sarah’s failure to trust God’s Word, yet in the end it becomes linked to joy in God fulfilling His Word in spite of our lack of trust. Paul wrote of this in 2 Tim 2:13 “If we are faithless, He remains faithful”. Sarah and Abraham could forever look at this child and when they would say his name (Isaac) they would be reminded that “when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10)

By circumcising Isaac at eight days as he was told to do in 17:12, 23 they show that Isaac belongs to the Lord and not them. This will be further tested as Abraham is asked to place the child of promise upon the altar of sacrifice.

Vs. 6-7 Sarah’s doubt has turned to joy as God has placed what the psalmist calls in 40:3  “a new song in my mouth; Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, And will trust in the LORD.” Sarah experienced something that she had lost hope of ever enjoying “motherhood”.  And in a way to show her that God is a God of grace as He has done this marvelous work in spite of her failure to trust Him. Can you imagine the ladies at the well as Sarah came strolling up carrying Isaac?

It is not our list of do’s and don’ts or our great victories in Christ that causes the world to want to know the God that we worship. It’s when they see missed up people who still fall on their faces and God loves them anyway. It is not our love for God that blows the mind of unbelievers rather it is His love for us! Sarah is blown out as Isaac suckles at her breasts, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.” We know for certain who wouldn’t have said it, SARAH! Yet now because of God’s faithfulness all proclaim His glory!

Vs. 8 Three years have passed since the birth of Isaac as that was the customary time that a child would be weaned. This event is another great reason to have a celebration. Christians celebrate reality because we know Him whose presence is brighter than the sun, whose love can find the most insignificant life and make them feel as if they are the most important person that has ever lived. What do you say Christian, “let’s party”!

Vs. 9 Thirteen years between the two brothers and it appears as though the change in Ishmael’s status with in the family was revealed by his actions towards Isaac. You will not read of their names together after this chapter until the 25 chapter as they together bury their father Abraham. The Hebrew puts it this way, “And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, always scoffing.” In Gal 4:29 we read that “he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit”.  The word “persecuted” in the Greek comes from the root word that means to “pursue aggressively” or to “aggressively cause another to suffer”. This was not name-calling but a continual physical pursuit that was becoming increasingly serious. Paul’s words in Galatians indicate that what was behind this action was works verses grace, that Ishmael’s position of have earned his status was against Isaac’s which was by grace. The world has no problem with religion in fact humanism is the world’s largest religion with man as its object of worship. What the world hates is faith that is based upon a relationship with God. Christianity is simply people who have trusted in God’s work on our behalf and not any work!

Vs. 10 Sarah makes it clear what she wants done and the reason for it, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac.” This bound woman would not have had a son had it not been her suggestion (16:12). For 17 years Sarah was reminded of her attempt to obtain the promises of God in the energy of the flesh. She finally sees what God had tried to reveal to her all along that only the offspring born by way of grace can be heir of God’s promises there is no room for the work of the flesh! We are prone think of salvation through grace alone but sanctification through a combination of grace and the work of the flesh. Paul makes it clear in Rom. 4:4 “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt”, folks God will be a debtor to no man!

Vs. 11 Abraham loved Ishmael for 13 years he was the only son he had, the thought of ridding himself of the son of his self-effort meant that he had to trust God to take care of the son by way of grace. This is true in the spiritual realm as well as we have become accustom to maintaining our relationship with the Lord in the energy of the flesh.             Even though there may be no real fruit and living in Christ has become harsh and cold we have been doing things this way for so long we have so much time infested. No matter how many years we have tried to live our Christian life in the energy of the flesh it will never be pleasing to the Lord, just as Cain’s work was not an acceptable sacrifice.

Vs. 12 God’s solution is that which Sarah suggested, “Get rid of the fruit of the flesh!” There will never be a peaceful coexistence between the old nature and a heart of grace. Works will always seek to earn the blessings that only grace can give! Notice God’s affirmation of this in the words, “in Isaac your seed shall be called.” The word “seed” is singular thus it speaks of Jesus and Isaac becomes a type of Jesus by way of which man will be saved. Salvation and sanctification is through the “Seed” of grace, not through the “seeds” of works and grace.

Vs. 13 Here we see the mercy of God towards Ishmael based upon Abraham’s relationship with God through faith. Even though Ishmael was through the flesh of human effort God vows to bless him because of he is Abraham’s son. This points out the reality that much of God’s blessings upon our service is Him blessing not our

self-effort but rather blessing our relationship by faith to Him.

Vs. 14 Abraham loved Ishmael more than life but he shows He loves the Lord greater still. “What do you love more than life?” What old fleshly habit do you keep holding on too? Are you waiting for it to leave on its own accord? The flesh with its habits won’t desire to die, instead you will need to get up early and send it away.

At first glance it appears as though Abraham is being very tender as he sends them away until you realize that he was a very wealthy man and sends then away with only enough provisions to last a few days. Why did he not give them camels to ride upon and loads of donkeys to carry supplies? The answer is in God’s promise of verse 13, Abraham trusted what God said but knew that Hagar and Ishmael did not know this. To teach them to be dependent upon man instead of God would be far more crewel. The lesson they would learn is that they must not trust in self-effort or that which man supplies but only in the Lord can they put their trust.

III. Vs. 15-21 A lesson in trust

Vs. 15-16 Verse 14 described Hagar’s and Ishmael’s journey as “wandering” which suggests that it did not take long for them to use up their provisions. Abraham was used to teach them the way to go to the One in who all blessings flow. Ishmael was 17 years old when Hagar in her anguish threw him down by the shrub to die. She could not bear to be with him upon his death but as a mother could not be far from his cries either. She had gotten the end of herself with no hope in herself of resolving her despair, blinded by the situation, overwhelmed to the point of pity by her love for her son. Yet back in chapter 16:10 she heard the angel of the Lord say, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.” God’s promise to her and her son 17 years ago and all she needed to do was recall upon God to remember His promise. But the flesh and works she represents can’t see it being done unless it is through their effort. An attitude of works can never comprehend anything being done by trusting God to do what He said He would, so when things go wrong there is only fear and despair. What a difference there is between Hagar and Abraham:

  • Hagar looked at her living son and saw death because she would not look at the living God.
  • Abraham, looked at the living God through the deadness of his and Sarah’s bodies and saw life!

Vs. 17 “God heard the voice of the lad.” The Lord calls out from heaven in response to Ishmael’s cries not Hagar’s doubt. God always hears the cry of a heart that wanders in the wilderness no matter whether their wandering is by their own doing or someone else’s. The words, “What ails you, Hagar?” is literally “What is this to you, Hagar?” is to open her heart to God’s love. Hagar loved her son to the point that it had blinded her to God’s love for her son. She is reassured that God sees her son in his present condition and that she is not to fear.

Vs. 18 God gives a threefold action plain to lift her spirits:

  1. Arise”: She had seated herself in despair and she need to change her mental position from doubt to trust.
  2. Lift up the lad and hold him with your hand”: Hagar needed to move towards that which she feared (the death of her son) as it was this that brought doubt.
  3. For I will make him a great nation”: Finally in the Lord’s affirmation of what he told her in chapter 16:10 she needed to see why she was in despair to begin with failure to trust His Word.

Notice that her situation did not change until she responded in obedience.

Vs. 19 The spiritual truth is that the eyes of the heart must always be opened before we will see His provision for us. The Lord is always our only source of refreshment as we travel through the wilderness of this life. Is it not amazing to be so close to times of refreshment when we are dying of renewal and yet be blinded to it?

Vs. 20 “So God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness” the promises made to Hagar and Ishmael were fulfilled on the same basis as Sarah’s God’s faithfulness to keep His word and not their faithfulness to trust Him. In chapter 16 we read that Ishmael would “be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him.” Yet the Lord was with him as he appears to have chosen to live in the wilderness and became an accomplished hunter.

Vs. 21 Finally we are told that he made his home “Paran” which is the eastern part of the great wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula next to Egypt. It is in Egypt that Hagar finds a bride for her son thus the Ishmaelite are both the root and branch of the Egyptians not of the Arabs. Egypt is a picture of the world in scripture and thus Ishmaelite’s would take after their mother and not their father. What a contrast as faith moves steadily closer to God and the flesh moves away from grace and steadily closer to the world.

IV. Vs. 22-34 Water in a foreign land

Vs. 22 Chronologically it appears as though this took place before the time of Hagar and Ishmael’s departure, somewhere after Isaac’s birth. Abimelech is a title meaning ruler, not a person’s name. He is accompanied by Phicol, which means mouth of all and was most likely a title of a person that commanded Abimelech’s army (Gen. 26:26). They come to make a treaty with Abraham based upon the observation that “God is with you in all that you do” as seen in the Lord’s work through the birth of Isaac. This statement suggests that their observation was made based upon seeing the Lord work in behalf of Abraham in everyday life. This statement was not based upon Abraham always being faithful and deserving God’s blessings yet God still poured out His blessings upon Abraham. It was God that was with Abraham and not Abraham that was always with God that inspired them to make a treaty.

Vs. 23-26 The reason for this was that Abraham had not always treated Abimelech with honesty. The doors have been opened by Abimelech to mention a situation dealing with a well of water. It may have even been the well the Lord had showed Hagar. In a land with almost no rainfall wells were extremely valuable and ownership went to the one that dug it, thus it would have been Abraham’s. Abimelech seems to know nothing about the seizing of the well.

Vs. 27-34 An oath is made and ratified by the giving of seven lambs for a well that Abraham already owned. These well have been found 12 hours southwest of Hebron and back up what we see here. Here again we see the Lord fulfilling His promise as this is the first land that Abraham owned in the Land of promise the second will be in chapter 23 where he purchases a plot of land to bury Sarah. Abraham plants a “tamarisk” tree that is an evergreen, as a memorial of the peace the Lord had brought him based upon his relationship with Him. Here he calls upon the Everlasting God as he praises the God who does not change even when we are not faithful towards Him.