Tag: Sarah

Story 41: The Battling Sons of Rebekah

Genesis 25

Abraham lost his beloved wife Sarah.  She had given him Isaac, the son of God’s promise, and through Isaac, God would keep His covenant with Abraham to raise up a priestly nation to the world.  Abraham married again to a woman named Keturah.  She gave Abraham six sons.  Yet God made it clear that the honor of being the father of God’s priestly nation belonged to Isaac.  Abraham left everything he owned to him, including the land.  Abraham loved his sons through Keturah, so while he was still alive, he gave them many lavish gifts.  Then he sent them away to a land far off in the east.  Those sons had their own children, and their children had even more children, so that after many years, whole tribes of nations came from her children through Abraham.  God surely kept his promise to make Abraham the father of many nations!

Abraham lived to be a hundred and seventy-five years old.  The Bible says:

 

“Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age,

an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.”

 

By that time, Abraham had lived in the promise land for a hundred years.  He had become a great leader of a powerful tribe.  At the news of his death, the whole region would have mourned the loss of this mighty, righteous prince.  His strength and honorable character had brought security and peace to the whole region, and his goodness was known by all.

Abraham’s honored sons, Isaac and Ishmael, took his body to the cave where Sarah had been buried.  So many years before, Abraham had bought it at great cost from the Hittites to bury his beloved wife.  Now his sons lay him down beside her, united at the death of their noble father.  And after Abraham’s death, God blessed Isaac.

Now, we know that Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, had come from Sarah’s maidservant Hagar.  She was an Egyptian.  Her son was not the one that God meant to grow into a priestly nation.  Still, God is compassionate, and he promised Hagar that Ishmael would also be the father of a great nation.  Curiously, he also promised that Ishmael’s descendents would be warlike and hostile.

What God said came true as it always does.  Ishmael had many sons.  They had many children also, and from their children came twelve tribal nations.  Ishmael lived to be a hundred and thirty-seven years, and then he, too died.  The descendents of Ishmael moved to an area near the border of Egypt to settle down, far from the land of promise.  And just as God said, they were a hostile group who in all of history could not get along with any of their neighbors.  If this was the way of Abraham’s first born son, what would happen to the son of the Promise?  Would he grow up to be warlike, too?  Would he have the violent, deceptive nature of the enemies of God, or would he stand in the beauty of Eve’s repentant transformation?  Would Isaac learn to live in dependence on God like his father?

Rebekah and Isaac married when Isaac was forty years old.  Time went on as Isaac oversaw the vast wealth he had inherited from his father.  After twenty years of marraige, Rebekah still had no children.  But they were wise to the lessons that God had taught Abraham and Sarah.  They did not turn to Rebekah’s maidservants or anyone else to solve this terrible sadness.  Isaac went directly to the LORD and pleaded with him for his wife.  His first response was to turn to God.  In his perfect timing, the LORD answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant.  Can you imagine how happy they must have been after that long wait?

Just as with Abraham and Sarah, it must have been difficult and painful to wait so long, but in many ways, that made it far more special.  This pregnancy was something they had thought about and looked forward to, hoping and praying over long years.  All babies are a priceless gift from God, but because of their waiting, Isaac and Rebekah knew that this pregnancy was a very special answer to prayer.  God was going to honor his covenant promise to Abraham!

This was no ordinary pregnancy in more ways than one.  There were twins!  There were two babies inside Rebekah, and she really felt it.  They were always fighting each other!  Poor Rebekah, it must have been very uncomfortable to have a mini war going on right inside her belly!  “‘Why is this happening to me?’” she wondered.  She worried if all their moving and shaking was dangerous.  What if she lost them both?  What if all that fighting caused a miscarriage?  So just as Isaac had prayed to the LORD for his wife, Rebekah went to the LORD and cried out to understand what was going on.  Both Isaac and Rebekah had learned to take their lives to the LORD.  They were totally dependent on him.  And he was faithful to answer.

The LORD said to her:

 

“‘Two nations are in your womb,

and two peoples from within you

will be separated;

One people will be stronger than the other,

and the older will serve the younger’”

Genesis 25:23

 

Well, that sounds strange.  What does it mean that two whole nations were really living in Rebekah’s womb?  Is that possible?  No, of course not.  But there were two baby boys in there, growing and fighting against each other.  One day, they would be born into the world.  They would grow to be strong men, and they would have families of their own.  God, who knows everything, knew the future of Rebekah’s sons.  He had designed the future!   The descendents of each of Rebekah’s sons would grow to become great nations.

Now, God knows everything.  He understands everything that had ever happened perfectly, and he knows everything that is ever going to happen. He could have explained many things to Rebekah about her sons, but he didn’t.  He simply told her that they would both grow to be powerful, but that the older son would end up serving the younger son.  That wasn’t a lot of information, but it was a very, very big deal.  And because God made a point of telling Rebekah directly, it was something she was supposed to honor.

In the ancient days of Isaac and Rebekah, the firstborn son was given many responsibilities.  It was the oldest son that took the place of the father in the family when he died, and it was the oldest that inherited the most.  He would also take on the role of watching over the rest of the family.  It was his job to protect the family honor and help each member in their time of need.  The oldest son’s mother, his brothers and sisters and their spouses, and his nieces and nephews could all call on him and expect his care and concern throughout their lives.  It was a great burden and a great privilege.

The younger sons were supposed to honor their older brother and respect his commands.  This held together the systems of order and loyalty in the early family clans of human civilization, and it was often true in the family of God as well.  But God told Rebekah that it would not be the same for her sons.  The older son would serve the younger.  That was a radical idea, but God is totally sovereign and in control.  He chooses among the children on earth who he will use for his purposes.  Long before Rebekah ever held her sons in her arms, she knew that her second child would be the one who God used to raise up his holy nation.

When the boys were born, the first child came out and everyone was shocked.  All they could talk about was how red and hairy he was.  He was so hairy that it looked like he was wearing animal fur!  They decided to name him Esau.

Rebekah didn’t have a lot of time after Esau  came.  The other son was following quickly behind.  In fact, the hand of the second son was gripping Esau’s foot as he came out!  So they decided to name him Jacob, because it means “heel.”

As the boys grew up, Rebekah and Isaac learned how very different each son was from the other.  Esau liked to go out to the wilderness and hunt.  Jacob liked to spend time among the tents where the family lived.  He was quiet.  Isaac enjoyed the meat that Esau brought him.  He enjoyed his big, burly son the best.  But Rebekah loved Jacob more, and she carried in her heart the promise of God.  In the future, the older would serve the younger.

One day, Jacob was among the tents cooking stew.  Esau had been out in the open country, probably on a hunt.  It is hard work, and when he came home he was so hungry that he had begun to feel weak.  He smelled Jacob’s stew and that only made it worse!  “‘Quick’” he said to Jacob, “‘Let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!’”

Jacob knew he had a chance to use this to get something he wanted.  He had been thinking about this for a long time.  He also knew how hungry Esau was when he came in from a hunt.  He said to his brother, “‘First, sell me your birthright.’”  Wow.  Esau was the firstborn son, and that birthright belonged to him.  It was a very precious, valuable thing.  It was a high honor.

In those days, the first son would inherit twice what all the other sons would receive when their father died.   For every two goats that Esau was supposed to inherit, Jacob would only get one goat.  But if Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, that meant that Jacob would be the one who received more.  Their father Isaac had received all of Abraham’s many animals and servants.  They were a very rich, princely family.  Jacob was asking Esau to trade hundreds of animals and great wealth in gold and silver for a bowl of soup.   But you know what?  Esau made the trade.

“‘Look, I am about to die’” he said.  “‘What good is a birthright to me?’”

Jacob wanted to make sure that he would really receive all the extra inheritance, so before he let Esau eat, he made him take an oath.  “‘Swear to me first.’”  Esau swore an oath to Jacob, promising the birthright to him.

Finally, Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil soup.  Esau gobbled up the food.  When he left, his stomach was full, but his birthright was lost to his conniving brother.

 

Story 38: For the Love of Sarah

Genesis 26

Abraham and his entire tribe continued to move as nomads through the land, waiting on and trusting in the promises of God.  Someday, God would fulfill his covenant and give all the land to Abraham’s descendants, and they would fill the land like the stars fill the sky.

While they were staying in the region of Hebron, which is a part of Canaan, Abraham’s beloved wife died.  She was one hundred and twenty seven years old.

Sarah had stood by Abraham in faith, venturing out into unknown and dangerous lands with him as they waited on the promises of God together.   When Abraham asked her to protect him by telling kings that she was his sister, she submitted to her husband, and she saw God protect her from her husband’s mistakes.

Sarah was a woman of great beauty, not only with her outward feminine grace that so beguiled kings, but through the dignity and strength of how she carried herself through life.  She waited in patient faith as she bore the disgrace and pain of being childless for twenty five years.  All the while, she trusted God’s promise for the heir that her body had not provided.   Mistake though it was, she was willing to give another woman to her husband in hopes of seeing God’s promise fulfilled.  But God had his own plan to provide, in just the time and way he said he would: through Sarah, the wife of Abraham’s own flesh.  Sarah lived to see her one and only son grow to the age of thirty seven.

The impact of Sarah’s faith on history is something so great that we can’t measure it.  Two thousand years after she died, Peter, the disciple of Jesus, wrote about her.  Here is what he said:

“Wives, in the same way submit to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.  Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.  For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.   They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master.  You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”

1 Peter 3:1-6

Peter described Sarah’s faithful life as his prime example of what is truly beautiful.  Those who have faith and do not fear, doing what is right, are Sarah’s spiritual daughters.  They become part of her family and her heritage of beauty to the world.  That was true during the time of Sarah and when Peter wrote those words two thousand years later.  Two thousand more years have passed and they are still true today.  God’s image of womanly beauty through the life of Sarah has stood true for four thousand years and counting.

In our story, the life of Sarah, Abraham’s great love, had come to an end.  Abraham went to her body and bowed over it in grief.  He wept and wept with sorrow.  He wanted to provide a secure and honored place to bury her in the Land of Promise, where they had journeyed so many years together.  The land was not his yet, but he had faith that it would be…it was the relentless, underlying belief that decided every choice he made.

Abraham rose from his place beside his wife and ventured out to visit the Hittites.  At the time, they were among the people who owned the Land of Promise, which they called Canaan.  Abraham went to see if he could purchase a piece of the land from them so he could lay his wife to rest.

God had blessed Abraham over many years of faithfulness.  He had great herds of animals and hundreds of servants that made up one of the most powerful, well trained armies in the region.    God had blessed him with great wealth through gifts from kings and the plunders of war.  Many of the wells for precious water throughout the region had been dug by Abraham and his servants over decades as they roamed the land.   Abraham and Sarah and all the people of their travelling clan had lived among the other nations for over fifty years.  The Hittite people of the region saw Abraham as a great prince, and Sarah was his queenly wife.  The death of this great man’s spouse was a very big deal to the Hittites.

When Abraham went to the gate of the Hittite village where business was done, the Hittite people gathered, eager to hear the famed man speak.  Abraham gave his request,  “‘I am an alien and a stranger among you,’”  he said.  “‘Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.’”

The Hittites replied, “‘Sir, listen to us.  You are a mighty prince among us.  Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs.  None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.’”

The Hittites gave Abraham, the princely foreigner, the right to bury his wife within the boundaries of their land.  That was a major victory for Abraham.  The people of each of these cities and clans held on tightly to their territory. Yet they graciously offered Abraham the right to choose from any of the tombs of their own families to take as his own.  They considered it an honor that this great man would have the grave of his family among them.

Abraham was deeply respectful of their offer.  He bowed down before the Hittite people who had gathered and said, “‘If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field.  Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.’”

Abraham would not let them give him a tomb for free.  If it came freely, they might take it back one day!  For Abraham, this tomb was a way of claiming the promises of God.  He wanted to establish a place in the Land of Promise that was the permanent resting place for his descendants, starting with the mother of the nation God had promised.  Abraham told the townspeople that he had found a piece of land he liked, and it belonged to a man named Ephron.  Ephron said to Abraham, “‘Listen to me, my lord, the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between me and you?  Bury your dead.’”

Wow.  Four hundred shekels was a lot of money.  In those days, a normal farm laborer might

make ten shekels of silver a year for his work.  He could work his whole life and never make four hundred shekels!  This was very valuable land, and Ephron had given a very high price.   Yet Abraham agreed to pay it.  He bowed low before the people to show his respect and thankfulness.  Then he weighed out four hundred shekels of silver so he could bury his Sarah in a place of honor and dignity.  Abraham had not only purchased the tomb, but all the land around it with a field of grass and tall trees.  Then he took the body of his beloved wife into the cave and laid her there.

God had promised Abraham the land, but the Lord had not given it yet.  Abraham had waited in faith all of those years, depending on God.  The first piece of the Land of Promise that belonged to Abraham was purchased for the love of Sarah.  By faith, he believed that one day, her burial site would be surrounded by the towns and fields of their offspring.

Story 35: Hagar’s Tears

Genesis 21:8-21

Years of joy went by for Abraham and Sarah.  Isaac learned to crawl and toddle around on his little feet.  When he was two or three, they weaned him from his mother.  To celebrate, Abraham threw a great feast.

At the banquet, Sarah watched on as Ishmael made fun of her beloved son with contempt.  This was no innocent play.  Sarah could hear malice in Ishmael’s voice, and she was overcome with fear.   It seemed to reveal his desire to dominate and demean her boy…he was a real threat to her child.

This was not just about the normal conflicts that arise between brothers.  This was about the status of these boys and their future.  Ismael was showing contempt for the true heir of Abraham.

She was filled with anger.  How dare he treat her child this way?   The same disrespect that Hagar had shown Sarah was now showing up in her son.

Did Sarah consider the pain of Hagar…to be the unwed mother of Abraham’s first born?  Did the vulnerability of Ishmael occur to her…now that this new son had come along?  Did she see what this situation…a situation of her own making…was doing to others who had so little power?

Sarah went to Abraham and said, “‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.’”

Sarah wasn’t merely asking for Hagar and her son to be sent away.  In order to do so, they would have to relinquish their service.   As long as they stayed with Abraham’s household, the boy would have the right to claim inheritance from his father.   Abraham had raised Ishmael and made it clear that this was his son.  But if Hagar and Ishmael were freed, they would never be able to claim Abraham’s wealth against Isaac. Sarah was asking Abraham to grant them their freedom, but it was for her own selfish gain.

Rather than trust the Lord to bring about his promise…to raise up her son as the heir to God’s covenant with Abraham…Sarah panicked and acted out of fear and spite.

Imagine the despair of Abraham.  He loved his first born son.  They had spent thirteen years living among the their tents together.  How could he thrust them out into the desert alone?  Years ago Abraham and Sarah lacked the faith to believe that God would provide a child through Sarah.  Now Hagar and Ishmael would have to go through a terrible trial for their mistake.  Abraham took his deep grief to the LORD.

God came to his faithful servant as he agonized into the night.  He said, “‘Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant.  Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’”

These words reveal something interesting about the thoughts of God.  When God called Abraham, the call was not on Abraham alone.  The call was on his wife as well.  As husband and wife, they were one.  Sarah was an important part of God’s plan, and no other woman could stand in her place.  It was her child that would become the nation of God’s great promise to the world.  Her role as mother had tremendous value in the eyes of God…she was as irreplaceable as Abraham to God’s plan.  God told Abraham to honor her words in spite of the fact that they were marked by her brokenness and sin.

Then God spoke to Abraham about Ishmael and Hagar, “‘I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.’”

Wow.  That was a tremendous promise!  The Lord reigns in power over all, and he cared for Hagar, too.  He had made a promise to Abraham about his descendents, and it would be true for both his sons.  Ishmael’s descendents would grow into a mighty nation just as surely as Isaac’s would.  Abraham could trust that God would watch over and protect Hagar and Ishmael just as he had watched over Abraham for twenty five years.  They had a great hope that was grounded in the character of God…a great future lay before them.

Abraham listened to his LORD and trusted him to keep his promise.  He obeyed immediately.  Early the very next morning, Abraham brought Hagar and Ishmael out of their tents.  He loaded Hagar’s shoulders with food and water and sent them on their way.  Imagine the tearing on Abraham’s heart as he watched the two, small figures walking off into the vast wilderness.  A woman alone with her teenage son in a wild land of tribal nations who often lived in unspeakable sin.  Imagine his faith as he prayed for them and trusted them in the hands of God.  Imagine Ishmael’s confusion as his loving father sent him away with such sadness.  Why did he have to go?  Imagine Hagar’s fear as she stepped out onto the lonely sands.

She had nothing, but she brought with her the responsibility of a child.  Had she asked for this?

Hagar wandered out into the desert of Beersheba on her way back to Egypt, the land of her birth.  Along the way, she got lost.  She spent days moving in the wrong directions, not knowing how to find her way home.  She had been given plenty of food and water for the trip, but as the time stretched on, they began to run out.

How thirsty they became, and how her son suffered.  The days were long and the nights were cold, and there was no help.  Her son became weaker and weaker.   They weren’t able to go on.  Finally she set him under a bush. She walked away and sat down.  She was far enough away to so that she would not have to watch him die, but near enough to protect him and come to his body once he was gone.  Her heart tore in two with grief and despair.  Her body shook with the sobs of her overwhelming loss and sorrow.  And Ishmael lay there, near death, crying out to the God of his father.

God heard Ishmael’s cries.  The angel of the Lord came from Heaven.  The Lord heard, and he came.  He came to Hagar in the wilderness and spoke tenderly to her; “‘What is the matter, Hagar?  Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.  Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’  Then the LORD opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.  So she went and filled the skin with water and gave it to her boy to drink” (Genesis 21:17-19).

This wasn’t the first time the angel of the Lord had come to Hagar.  She had run away once before when Sarah’s treatment had grown so cruel she could no longer bear it.  She called out to the Lord, then, too.  After he came, she declared him to be “the One who sees me…” Utterly alone in the desert, a rejected servant sitting by a stream of water, she was seen by the God of the universe.

Now he had come again, and revealed a well of water that she could not find on her own.

The arrogance of Ishmael and the fearful selfishness of Sarah had caused this dark time for him and his mother, but his cry to God brought their salvation.  Once again, God came gently down to Hagar with great promises.

The LORD watched over Ishmael as he grew.  And God kept his promise to Abraham.  Hagar raised him in the desert and he learned to become a skilled archer.  And eventually, she found him a wife from the land of Egypt.

 

Story 33: Abraham and Abimelech and the Power of Repentance

Genesis 20

After the mighty hand of God came in judgment on the plains of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham moved his clan to a place called Negev.  While he was there, he explained to the people that Sarah was his sister.  Once again, as he had in Egypt, Abraham feared that men would treat him badly when they saw the beauty of his wife (see Story 21).  Once again, he put her at risk.  Though Abraham was unfaithful, God would stand in resolute faithfulness to His covenant promises.  The chaos created by humanity because of our weakness cannot thwart the strength of God in our history.

Abraham’s fears were not without reason.  Sarah was a woman of great beauty.  When the king of the city of Gerar saw Sarah, he wanted her to be his own.  And why not?  She was the sister of the wealthy traveler who had come to his region to live.  He did not understand that he was in danger of committing a great sin.

The Lord came to King Abimelech and warned him in a dream.  He said, “‘You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.’”

Abimelech hadn’t touched Sarah, so he asked God, “‘Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation?  Did he not say to me, “She is my sister,” and didn’t she also say, “He is my brother”?  I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.’”

God replied, “‘Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience.  That is why I did not let you touch her.  Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live.  But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die.’”

Wow.  Isn’t it interesting that God protected Abimelech from sin?  Isn’t it fascinating that it was because he knew Abimelech was innocent in his heart?  God understands the complexities of life in a very messed up and complex human world.  He gets the confusion of life around us.  We don’t see a harsh, legalist God here.  He stakes his judgment on the condition of our hearts and the nature of our intentions.

What would Abimelech do now?

The Bible makes sure we know that the very next morning, bright and early, Abimelech brought together all of his officials and told them about his dream.  He didn’t wait a few days.  He didn’t forget or disregard the voice of God because it came in the form of the dream.  And when he told his officials, he explained in in a way that made them take it seriously, too.  It filled them with fear.  They each had a reverence for this God who had come to their king.  Their counsel led Abimelech to take action.

Abimelech called for Abraham and asked, “‘What have you done to us?  How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom?  You have done things to me that should not be done.’”

Abimelech and his people had a high and godly view of marriage.  The thought of violating the marriage covenant between Abraham and Sarah was horrifying.  How could Abraham have been so quick to give his wife away?

When we look at the role Abraham plays in human history, it is stunning.  Abraham was the great patriarch, the first man with whom God made His mighty covenant to change the world.  He would be described in the word of God as the great man of faith.  He would be famous for his faith for thousands of years across three of the world’s major religions.  In fact, he could be said to be the first founder of all three.  He was father of Judaism, which is the parent faith of Christianity, and Islam.  Yet in this story, as a normal man facing peril, he is righteously rebuked by a common tribal king for his lack of faith.

Abraham explained to Abimelech that he didn’t think Abimelech’s people feared the LORD.  He said that he was afraid that they would kill him so they could get to Sarah.  He told how he asked Sarah to show her love to him by telling everyone that he was her brother.

This was partly true.   Sarah was the daughter of Abraham’s father, but they had different mothers.  In those days, marriage within a family was a way of protecting and providing for their children.

In a way, Abraham was admitting that he had lacked faith.  He didn’t trust that God would watch over and protect him.  He tried to find his own way to save his life…even though it might cost Sarah greatly.  Once again, he had put the covenant at risk.  Sarah was to be the mother of God’s priestly nation, but here she was, living in the home of a foreign king.

Abimelech returned Sarah to Abraham.  In some ways, he was more protective of Sarah than Abraham had been.  Then he gave Abraham sheep and cattle, male and female slaves, and he offered Abraham his first choice of his lands.  He could live wherever he wanted in Gerah.  And for Sarah, he gave a thousand shekels of silver to Abraham for the offense of taking his wife into his harem.  That was an extravagant amount of wealth.    It would pay a hundred laborers to work for an entire year.  Sarah was well vindicated for this terrible violation of her safety and dignity.

How greatly Abraham had misjudged Abimelech, as well as God.  Abimelech and his men feared the LORD and listened when God came in a dream.   They responded immediately with repentant obedience and went out of their way to lavishly make things right.

It interesting to compare how different these people were from the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Story 23 and Story 32).  There is a reason that these stories are put right next to each other in scripture.  We are meant to compare them and look at the way God responded to each.  The comparison is meant to highlight important things about what draws God’s judgment or favor…it is meant to display the goodness of His ways when dealing with a wayward race and to teach us how we are to come to Him for right relationship.

The nation of Sodom (which was probably more like what we would consider a large village in our time) had become so corrupt that when two strangers came to visit their city, the men of the city laid siege to the home where they were staying and demanded their right to rape them.  Imagine the horrors…the violence, abuse, and toxic immorality…of such a place.  What these men did not understand was that these two visitors were actually the angels of God.  They had come to warn Abraham’s nephew to leave the city before they brought God’s fiery and cleansing judgment against the despicable culture that had plunged the entire community in utter, irreversible bondage.

But this wasn’t Abraham’s first encounter with the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  In fact, he had already saved their lives.  When Abraham rescued the people of Sodom and Gomorrah after they had been defeated by a foreign army, they tried to demand that he give them the booty from the war.  According to the rules of that time, the booty belonged to Abraham.  Though he was in no danger of captivity himself, he risked his life and the life of his men to rescue these ungrateful people, and the booty was proper reward.  It was a form of despicable ungratefulness to try to get it back.

The hardness of their hearts was already so complete that when God brought them a savior, they had no vision for repentance.  They could have seen the higher ways of Abraham and the strength it gave him to conquer kings.  They could have witnessed the honorable and godly relationship between Abraham and Melchizedek, the great priest of Salem, and been humbled by their dignity.  When God intervened, they could have been changed, but they weren’t, and it led to their total destruction.

Abilmelech and his officials did not make that mistake.  When God showed up, they repented.  They honored the God of Abraham, altered their behavior, and were saved from judgment.

Just as the Lord said, Abraham prayed for Abimelech and his household.  God had placed some form of curse on them, and his wife and the women of his slave girls could not have children.  God heard Abraham’s pray and the household of Abimelech was healed.  In the process, God restored not only Abimelech’s people, but the dignity and position of Abraham as the man of God’s choosing.

The faith of Abraham had failed.  When we see the heart of this godly man in the middle of his fears, it is easier to understand that he was very much a normal human.  All of the great, courageous acts and steadfast, ongoing faithfulness was done by a man who feared death and longed for peace.  His failure in this story highlights the fact that in all of the other stories, Abraham was having to make decisions in the quietness of his heart…he was having to choose faith instead of fear.

God knew about all of those hundreds of silent decisions to choose to trust Him, and He had grace and protection for Abraham when he failed.

Story 32: Sulfer and Fire

Genesis 19

 

Abraham had been bargaining with God.  It was a remarkable day all around.  The LORD had come with two angels to visit Abraham and his wife, Sarah, in order to bring them a message.  Within the year, old, aged Sarah would have a baby.  But this was not the only message they had to give.  The LORD explained to Abraham that because of their horrific corruption and sin, Sodom and Gemorrah were about to be destroyed.  These were two cities that lay on the plains below the hills where Abraham lived.  Lot, Abraham’s nephew, lived in Sodom.  Abraham beseeched the Lord, asking that if there were fifty, or thirty, or even five people left in the city that were righteous, God would relent from His judgment. And the LORD agreed.

The two angels left their LORD and Abraham and went straight to Sodom.  They arrived there in the evening.  The day was starting to cool off.  Lot was sitting out at the entranceway to the city.  When he saw the two men coming, he went to them and bowed his face to the ground before them.  How regal they must have been, the very messengers of God!

Lot invited the men to come and stay the night in his home.  They could wash their feet and get rest before leaving in the morning.

“‘No,’ they answered, ‘We will spend the night in the square.’”

Lot knew that was a bad idea for the men to sleep outside in his city.  Sodom was not a safe place at night.  He continued to insist until the men finally agreed to come to his home.  He baked them bread without yeast and they sat down for a meal.

Meanwhile, word spread throughout the city that two visitors had come to town.  The men of the city began to gather outside the door of Lot’s house with vicious plans.  Pretty soon, every last man, both young and old, was waiting there.  Every single male was prowling at Lot’s door.

Life in Sodom had grown so perverse and sinful that every one of them wanted to take the guests of Lot and be with them the way a man is only supposed to be with his wife.  They had no shame standing there together, demanding that Lot hand his guests over to them.  They were not only perverse, they were dangerous.  They boldly and angrily declared their right to violently force their desires on the visitors.  Imagine the mob…imagine the evil fury as they made their demands!

Lot knew what the men of Sodom were like.  This was nothing new.  He had bravely brought the visitors into his home to protect them.  They were under the roof of his house now, and now guarding them was his highest priority.  It was a matter of personal honor.

He courageously went outside his house and carefully shut the door behind him.  He stood before the filthy horde and said, “‘No, my friends.  Don’t do this wicked thing.  Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man.  Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them.  But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.’”

It is hard for us to imagine how dangerous the mob had become.  The tension of their willful anger filled the air. He couldn’t just walk away.  It would only make them worse.   He was forced to choose between protecting his guests and protecting his daughters.

When Lot chose to live in a wicked place with awful men, he chose to put his daughters at risk.  In the culture of his day, the highest priority went to protecting visitors to the home.    When Lot invited the men, it was with an understanding bound up in Lot’s honor.  They had no part in the wickedness of Sodom, and it was Lot’s job to protect them.  He was forced to make an offer that would destroy his own family.

When the men of Sodom heard Lot offer his own daughters, it should have shocked them.  They should have realized how despicable they were being.    But the hard-hearted men of the city were enraged by Lot’s words.  They screamed out that Lot had come to Sodom as a stranger.  Who was he to judge them?  This was their way of life, and Lot was getting in their way.

The mob knew they had more men on their side.  They could do whatever they wanted, and nobody could stop them!  So they viciously threatened to do the same to Lot as they were going to do to his guests if he didn’t hand them over.  Wickedness had completely deformed their souls.  They were filled with utterly savage violence and aggression.

The angels heard all that was going on.  They opened the door and grabbed Lot, pulled him back into the house, and slammed the door shut.  Then the angels struck the men who were struggling at the door with blindness so they couldn’t find their way in.  Imagine them blind and stumbling around, still filled with their lust and rage, yelling out threats as they felt along the walls, looking for the door.

Once Lot was back inside, the angels finally told Lot why they had come. The outcry against Sodom for its ongoing sin had been heard by God, and they had come to destroy the city.  They asked him if there were any more relatives in the city that he could save.  There were two men who were to marry his daughters.  Lot went to his son-in-laws and begged them to flee with him.  He warned them that God’s judgment was on its way.  But the men who were to marry his daughters only laughed.  They refused to believe him and treated it like a joke.

Early the next morning, the angels told Lot to take his wife and daughters and run.  If they stayed any longer, they would suffer for the sins of the rest of the city.  Lot paused for a moment, and the angels grabbed his hands and the hands of his wife and daughters and pulled them out the city gates.  How the LORD showed Lot mercy upon mercy, even when he resisted the help of His holy angels!

Once they were out of the city, the angels told Lot to flee to the mountains. Lot didn’t want to go there.  He argued and asked to be allowed to go to the next city.  The angel agreed, but told them to hurry.  The judgment could not begin until they were safely away.  Lot and his family hurried off, and God waited for them.  By the time they were safely away, the sun had risen. Then God began to throw down His judgment.  He rained burning sulfur down from Heaven onto the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  It fell down on the whole plain, destroying every human and killing all the plants.  God waged His wrath against the filth the people had brought and totally overthrew them.  Lot’s wife turned around to look, and the judgment of God came instantly.  She turned into a pillar of salt.

Early the next morning, Abraham came out of his tent.  He went to the place where he had stood with the LORD the day before.  He looked out over the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and saw a thick, dark layer of smoke.  The whole plain was like a furnace, broiling hot and smoking from God’s judgment.

God had agreed to spare Sodom if there were ten righteous people left in the city.  But the people of the city had become so depraved that there weren’t even that many.  Now Abraham understood the fullness of their filth.   But God remembered His servant Abraham and saved the life of his nephew.

When the LORD and his two angels came to Abraham’s tent, He came to give His righteous children a message of new birth and hope.  A son would be born to Sarah within a year!  But He also came to bring the message of Sodom’s doom and destruction.  It would be a mighty warning to Abraham and his descendants, and it would teach them justice.  They were never to become like Sodom.

Story 31: Pleading for Sodom

Genesis 18:16-33

 

 

Three visitors had come to visit Abraham.  He had provided them with a feast and honored their presence at his home.  These guests were truly worthy of such an honor.  For you see, two of them were angels, and the third was the LORD himself!  They had come to announce to Abraham and Sarah that a son would be born to them within the next year.  Their world was about to change.

As the men prepared to leave, they looked out from Abraham’s tent at the plains below.  There in front of them, off in the distance, was the city of Sodom.  It was also where Lot, Abraham’s nephew, lived with his family.  The people of Sodom lived morally filthy lives.  It was a place full of a corruption and abuse, where the vulnerable were all the more vulnerable and the powerful had few to stop them from doing whatever they wanted.  Abraham had already rescued Lot from capture to pagan kings (see Story 23).  In doing so, he and his men had saved the Sodomites and all of their animals and gold as well.  But Abraham refused to keep any of it for himself.  He would have no connection to them in any way.  He utterly rejected their ways…and they knew it.  His rebuke against them had no effect.  A testimony of God’s right, straight, pure ways had been given to these people by a man who had saved their lives, but they had not let it change them.  They continued on in their aggressive rebellion against God.

As Abraham and his exalted guests looked over the city, the LORD thought to Himself:

“‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?  Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations on earth will be blessed through him.  For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just…’”

 God had made a very special covenant with Abraham to become a great nation.  He longed for the children of Abraham to live as righteous people who would bless the world with their purity and goodness.  The nation of Sodom had done the opposite.  They lived in the deep dark filth of total sinfulness.  Their sin was not only perverse, it was violent.  The people had given themselves over to Satan, and they had become just like him.  They preyed on the weak and destroyed any hope of goodness.  Those who wanted to be good became targets of malice,  deception, and seduction.    The cry of the oppressed, those who suffered under the agonies of their wickedness, was heard by God, and now He was going to judge them.

Abraham was to become the father of God’s holy nation.  It was important that he understood God’s judgment on the wicked.     God had tremendous grace and compassion for all people of the earth.  He did not come in judgment easily or lightly.  It was always perfectly fair and just.  So God said something that would start a discussion with Abraham. It would prove two things.  First, it would show that Abraham was a just man with great compassion.  He was a lot like God.  Second, in the integrity of God’s perfect holiness and justice, He will not allow evil and wickedness to continue unchecked.  But when He judges, God takes great care to protect and watch over the righteous and the innocent. This is what the LORD said to Abraham:

 

“‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached Me.  If not, I will know.’”

 

Once the LORD said this, the two angels turned and began to walk towards Sodom, but the LORD stayed behind.  Abraham stood there in shock.  What was the LORD saying? Was he really going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah? He went to Him and said:

 

 “‘Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  What if there are fifty righteous people in the city?  Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?  Far be it from You to do such a thing–to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike.  Far be it from You!  Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’”

 

Wow!  God had shown Abraham His plan, and now we see Abraham’s passion for the goodness of his God.  His Lord was not like the other gods.  He did not unfairly punish the innocent!   Abraham interceded for the innocent in Sodom, arguing with God Himself!  Would God hold back His judgment if fifty people could be found in the city who were righteous?  A small city in those days would have about a hundred people, so fifty might have been about half the city.

Now, Abraham knew just how bad Sodom was.  His concern was not for all the wicked who would perish.  Their own choices had brought judgment on themselves, and it was right for God to punish them.  Abraham’s concern was for the righteous who would be judged with them.

God’s care for the righteous was far deeper and more powerful than Abraham’s.  God had started the conversation to prove the goodness of Abraham’s character, not His own.  As Abraham defended the innocent, his own purity and righteousness was allowed to shine.  His desire for justice drove him to argue with God!

The LORD knew this story would be told for many generations.  Abraham’s children would tell it and retell it to their children, and they would learn important lessons.  They would see the character of Abraham, the honored father of their beloved nation.  They would learn that he thought the lives of righteous men were valuable and worth protecting.  These things would become set as high values in the culture of God’s holy nation.  It would influence the hearts of the people and the decisions of their kings for hundreds of years.  Over a thousand years later, the descendants of Abraham would have a saying:

 

“‘Whoever is merciful to his fellow beings is without doubt of the children

of our father Abraham; whoever is unmerciful to his fellow beings

certainly cannot be of the children of Abraham our father’”

(From the Talmud in Betsah 32b)

They would also learn from this story that God was just.  He valued the lives of the righteous so much that He was willing to hold back judgment against wicked people to protect the few that were innocent.  He could be trusted to judge rightly, and His punishments were fair.    When God’s judgments did come, everyone could be sure they came with good reason.

As Abraham stood with the LORD overlooking Sodom, he could not imagine that the people of Sodom were so wholly and completely wicked that there was no one there worth saving.  God was willing to work with him to prove the truth about the depths of their sin.

The LORD agreed with Abraham’s request.  He said that if fifty righteous men could be found in Sodom, He would spare the whole city.  The next time Abraham spoke, he came with greater humility.  What if there weren’t fifty?  He said, “‘Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty?  Will You destroy the whole city because of five people?’”

The Lord agreed with Abraham.    It was more important to hold back judgment for the sake of the few who are righteous than it was to punish the wicked.  If forty-five righteous people were found in the city, He would not judge them.

But Abraham wasn’t finished.  He knew Sodom was a very wicked place.  So he asked if God would hold back His judgment if there were only forty righteous people in the city.  God said He would.  Then Abraham asked the same thing if there were only thirty righteous people, then twenty!  Each time, God showed the greatness of His mercy as He agreed to Abraham’s requests.  Finally Abraham said, “‘May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more.  What if only ten can be found there?’”  The Lord looked at His compassionate servant and said, “‘For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.’”  And so the LORD went on to do His work, and Abraham went home.

What would happen to the city of Sodom?  Would the angels find ten righteous ones there?

 

 

 

Story 30: Entertaining the Angels of God

Genesis 18:1-15

Three angels visiting Abraham by Johann Lucas Kracker (1752 – 1776) from Premonstratesian cloister in Jasov in Jasov, Slovakia.

One day, Abraham was resting out by the entrance to his tent.  It was the time of day when the heat grew to its worst. Abraham sat looking out on the glorious trees of Mamre where he and Sarah had chosen to live.  They were far from the cities of immorality and shame that his nephew Lot had found so attractive.  Abraham looked up and noticed that there were three men standing close by.  Abraham lived in a region where visitors did not come very often.  When they did, they had often journeyed long distances.  It was considered a great honor to serve them and show them hospitality.

Abraham jumped up and rushed over to the men who had been travelling in the terrible heat.  He bowed low to the ground in front of them and said, “‘If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by.  Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree.  Let me get you something to eat, so that you can be refreshed and then go on your way–now that you have come to your servant.’”

The men agreed.  Abraham hurried to Sarah and told her to make some bread.  Then he ran to pick out the best, most tender part of meat from a calf and gave it to a servant to prepare.  He went and got some curds and goat’s milk.  These were delicacies in Abraham’s day, and showed the high honor Abraham was giving these men.  How attentive Abraham was to his noble guests.  This was a lavish meal for a nomadic family living in tents!  As they ate their banquet feast, Abraham stood nearby and waited on his guests under a tree.  The men asked him where his wife was.

Abraham said, “‘There, in the tent.’”

What the Bible says next is interesting.  These three men who came to visit Abraham were no mere humans.  Two of them were angels.  One of them was the LORD.  Wow.  Those are some pretty important houseguests.  The Lord said to Abraham, “‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah, your wife, will have a son.’”

Now, Sarah was inside the tent listening in on the conversation.  When she heard what the LORD said, she started laughing to herself.  Didn’t this Man know how old she was?  Didn’t he see that Abraham was not a young man?  It was too late for them to have children!  She said to herself, “‘After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?’”  Oh, the precious heart of a woman.  Even as she lacked faith in God Himself, her heart longed for the treasure of a baby in her arms.

The LORD knew exactly what was going on in Sarah’s mind.  He said to Abraham, “‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Will I really have a child, now that I am old?”  Is anything too hard for the LORD?  I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.’”

Oops.  When Sarah heard that, she was scared.  She lied and pretended that she hadn’t laughed.   But the LORD argued with her.  He could read her mind!  He said, “‘Yes, you did laugh.’”  God restored her back to honesty with His rebuke.  He showed her that He could read her thoughts.  He understood her doubts.  And surely the LORD who could read her mind could also give her a child.

Story 29: The Son of God’s Choosing

Genesis 17

The human race had plunged itself into a terrible situation.  God created humanity to live in perfect harmony with Himself.  We were to live in a perfect Garden Temple called Eden, which means “pleasure.”  But the first humans, the ancestors of us all, rebelled against the one limitation God had given them.  They sided with God’s enemy, and in so doing, subjected the whole race to his bondage.  Yet even as they rejected God’s way, He had a plan to draw them back, a design for human history that would provide a ransom for the souls of humanity.  Abram and Sarai were at the center of God’s plan.  He chose them to be the ones through whom He would bless the nations of the world.  Their offspring would be His holy priesthood, and somehow, they would bring salvation.

Yet there was a problem.  Abram and Sarai had no children.  Sarai was barren.  After many years of waiting on the Lord’s plan, they grew impatient, and sought to have a child through Hagar, Sarai’s servant.  They lost faith in God’s plan and took matters into their own hands, violating the sacred covenant of marriage in the process.  Abram and Hagar had a son named Ishmael.

Thirteen years passed after Ishmael was born.  Many things must have happened in their lives over those years.  Still Abram and Sarai were without a child.  What ache did Sarai live with as she watched her maidservant raise a son before her eyes.

By the time of this story, Abram was ninety-nine years old.  The LORD appeared to him again.  He said:

“‘I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’”

When Abram heard this, he fell down with his face to the ground before the LORD.  God continued to speak:

“‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.  No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.  I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.   I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.  The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; I will be their God.’”

Genesis 17:4-8

Abram was given a new name.  It was a mark that the promises the LORD had given His servant before were growing.  God was filling in the details and showing Abraham just how great and awesome His promises truly were.  This covenant would bring whole nations and kings…it would be everlasting!

Then God gave Abraham a sign that would be the symbol of His covenant.  Abraham and every man who descended from him was to be circumcised.  Circumcision is a quick but painful operation.  A small piece of extra skin is cut off of a male’s private parts.  Every male in Abraham’s family or his servant’s family was to have this operation done as a sign that they belonged to the LORD.  They were part of His covenant blessing.  Most of them would have it done when they were infants, when they were eight days old.  They would hardly know what was happening to them.

It was a high honor, marked out in their very flesh, that they were to remember at all times!  Each descendant of Abraham had to chose to follow after God with the same faith as Abraham.  Whoever did not keep the sign of the covenant by being circumcised would be cut off from the people.  It was a breaking of the covenant itself.

Then God told Abraham that He was changing Sarai’s name.  It would now be Sarah.  God promised that He would bless her, and she would give birth to a son.  This son would become the head of twelve tribes, or clans, and from them whole nations would come.  Her role as the mother of the coming nation of God was high and honored.  The Lord had watched her go through every trial of faith with her husband.  She had carried the shame of her barren state as she waited on the Lord for His promises.  She, too, had remained faithful.

But when Abraham heard this, he threw himself onto the ground and started laughing.  Sarah was ninety years old!  Abraham was almost a hundred!  How could this be?  When it came to childbearing, their bodies were as good as dead!  It was impossible.  So Abraham reminded the Lord about Ishmael.  Perhaps God should use him.

Abraham did not yet fully understand that his Lord was the one who could call things into being that were not (see Romans 4).  Abraham was limiting his imagination to the things that a human could do.  God has no such limitations.  If God made the stars and the earth from nothing, surely He could raise up a nation out of nothing!  Surely He could make a child, even from the bodies of an aging couple!  God was able to bring life from the death of old age.

The fact that it seemed impossible was part of God’s plan.  Everyone would know that this was a miracle.  It was clearly something only God could do.  All of the surrounding tribes and villages, all of the towns where Abraham had visited and even saved in war, would know that something different was happening in the lives of God’s covenant family.  This was a power and a provision there that would shake their understanding of the world.  When the LORD began His holy nation through this child, the whole region would be gossiping and wondering how it happened.  It was a testimony and an opportunity to follow the God of Abraham.

God knew how impossible it was for Abraham to have a child and said, “‘Nevertheless.’”  Then He told Abraham that a son would be born to Abraham and Sarah the very next year. Abraham accepted the unique plans of his LORD and stepped out in immediate obedience. That very day, he circumcised himself and Ishmael and all the servants of the house.

Story 28: The Grief of Faithlessness: The Plight of Hagar and Ishmael

Genesis 16-17

Abram and Sarai had taken some major risks in obedience to God.  They had left their own land and all of their comforts to become Bedouins, journeying to the land of Canaan, trusting that God would one day give it to their descendants so that they could bless the world.  They had hung all of their hopes on His promises.  Eleven years later, Abram and Sarai still had no child.  In the eyes of everyone around her, Sarai’s barrenness was seen as a great weakness and failure.  She was costing Abram a family.  She was disgraced.

Sarai began to grow impatient for a son for her husband.  If the LORD was not going to bless her own body with a child, perhaps He would bless someone else.  So she made a plan.  They were not the plans of God, and they were not built on faith.

Sarai went to Abram with her idea.  Sarai had a servant named Hagar who tended to all of Sarai’s personal needs.  Perhaps if she gave Hagar to her husband, her servant would give birth to a son!  In the time of Abram and Sarai, this was common.  When a wife could not have children, another woman, usually a slave or a servant, would be brought to the husband.  The child from their union would then become the adopted child of the husband and wife.

Abram agreed to do what his wife suggested.  Apparently, Hagar agreed to take part as well.  It was a way of helping Sarai out of her disgrace.  So Abram and Hagar came together, and Hagar became pregnant.  A child was on the way.  It would seem that everything was going just as Abraham and Sarah had planned.  The only problem was that there were things they did not anticipate when they stepped outside of God’s plan.

Now that Hagar was with child, her attitude toward Sarai changed.  The disgraced wife of Abram had given him no child, but now she was providing one for him!  She began to carry the pride of her pregnancy around like a crown.  The most painful loss of Sarai’s life was now being thrown in her face every day…and by her own maid.   Hagar treated Sarai with contempt in her own home.  She treated Sarai as if she had replaced her as Abram’s wife and head of Abram’s household.

Sarai’s attempt to solve the problem  of her barrenness in her own power was unraveling into a nightmare.   She went to Abram and said, “‘You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering.  I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me.  May the LORD judge between you and me.’”

Even though Hagar was Sarai’s special maidservant, Sarai turned to her husband and handed Hagar over to him.  Sarai yielded the situation to Abram, honoring his position of authority and giving him the responsibility to make it right.  It was his role to put an end to this destruction.   It was his job to create the right order in their home.  He had to protect their marriage and Sarai’s position as his wife.  Then she appealed to God as her protector.  He was watching over Abram and would hold him responsible to his role as Sarai’s husband.  All of this took great faith, for Sarai had to let go of her own control and trust others to end her pain.  What if they failed?

Abram said to his wife, “‘Your servant is in your hands.  Do with her whatever you think is best.’”  Instead of handling a situation where his wife was clearly in over her head, Abram excused himself from the mess and let the burden fall on Sarai.

The way Sarai responded is the darkest mark on her character in the story of her life.  Sarai turned the tables and began to mistreat her servant.  Now it was Hagar’s turn to be miserable. Who knows the harsh words or beatings Sarai gave.  Who knows what abuse Abram allowed.  The tensions that come up in a home when the most tender things are at stake can tear apart the integrity of the finest heart.  Whatever the sins of Sarai and Abram, they were harsh enough that Hagar would rather risk death in the desert than live with the torments of her mistress.  She fled away from the home of Abram and Sarai out into the wilderness.

God was watching as all of these sad events unfolded.  How differently these women could have treated each other.  The angel of the LORD came to Hagar as she sat near a stream in the desert.  This is the first time in the Bible that someone was visited by an angel.  When they came to earth, it is because they were sent on a mission from God.  They come as His holy messengers.  What an honor to receive such special attention from the Divine King!

It is remarkable that in the Bible, God’s first message from an angel was to this weeping servant woman.  What does it teach us about the character God?  In all of ancient literature, with all of the other religions and idol worship that was going on, thiswas the only time a divine being spoke to a woman by name. She had great worth in his eyes.  See how gently he came:

 

He said, “Hagar, servant of Sarah, where have you come from, and where are you going?’”

“‘I am running away from my mistress Sarah,’ she answered.

“Then the angel of the LORD told her, ‘Go back to your mistress and submit to her.’  The angel added, ‘I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.’

The angel of the LORD also said to her:

 

‘You are now with child and you will have a son.

You shall name him Ishmael,

for the LORD has heard of your misery.

He will be a wild donkey of a man;

His hand will be against everyone

and everyone’s hand will be against him,

and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.’”

 

Who was this God?   He had come to speak to a lowly servant woman, an outcast, someone that nobody in her culture or world would have any time for?  Who was this LORD that saw her crying in the desert?  Hagar wondered at his tender care.  She said: “‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’”  And she was right.  Though she was a woman and had no great importance in the eyes of the world, she could trust the God of the universe to look on her with love.

The angel of the LORD explained to Hagar that this son would truly be blessed.  He would be as a wild donkey, so passionate for freedom that he would not easily share life with others.  He would also be the father of nations.  Yet he was not the son of God’s covenant promise with Abram.  That could only come through his sacred marriage with Sarai.

Hagar obeyed God and returned to Abram and Sari.  She gave birth to a son.  Abram was eighty six years old.  Hagar must have told Abram what the angel said, for Abram named him Ishmael.  His name meant, “God hears.”  I wonder if Abram and Sarai felt convicted by the LORD when they realized that God listened to the cries of Hagar as much as He listened their own?

Sarai was the true wife of Abram.  They were one flesh.  When God called Abram, Sarai’s life was wrapped in that calling.  It was through their marriage and their union alone that God would bring about His great and precious promises.  But that required radical faith, a faith that had to increase with time.  Sarah was seventy five years old when Ishmael was born.  As they waited on the LORD and watched their bodies age, their trust in God had to intensify.  They had to believe in Him for the impossible.  Would this man and woman of God bear through the final stages of their testing?  Would they take hold of the faith that God meant for them to have?

Story 21: A Trip to Egypt: There and Back Again

Genesis 12:16-20

Abram had moved out in faith because of the promises of God. The LORD told him to leave his country and his father’s household and go to an entirely new land.  God was going to raise up so many descendants for him that they would become an entire nation.  That nation was to be a part of God’s plan to bring salvation to the entire world.  But Abram was not alone on his journey, and he was not the only one who had to show tremendous trust in what God said. His wife Sarai would have to faithfully move out into a world that was very different from her own as well. They would have to put their hope in God together, acting as obedient partners in God’s work, reflecting the image of God in their love and support for each other.

They made the long journey to the land of Canaan. They were nomads, living in tents that were easy to pick up and move. They herded their flocks and herds with them, careful to stop in places where there would be plenty of water to drink and grass for their animals to graze on. They stayed in the hill country that fringed around the land of Canaan, careful not to threaten the tribes and nations that already lived there. Along their dusty path, Abram built altars of grateful praise to his God. They were monuments to the LORD, and monuments to Abram’s faith. He did not fight, fret, or manipulate for the land. He did not try to invade them on his own. He stood in faith, believing he would receive it freely from the hand of God.

They had been living in Canaan for some time when a severe famine came. Any famine is a terrible thing, as it means that there is not enough food to go around. Perhaps the famine came because there hadn’t been enough rain for the crops of food. Or perhaps a disease had come to destroy the plants or animals of the region. Whatever caused it, it was dangerous. Many people could starve to death. Many others would grow weak and ill.

Can you imagine the sense of responsibility and fear that Abram felt? Here was his precious wife, his nephew, their servants, and all their animals, and all of them depended on the wisdom of his leadership to survive. Did he wake up in fear at night, imagining his beloved wife having to go without food? Did he picture his animals growing skinny and weak? The Bible doesn’t say exactly which horrors drove Abram to fear, but we do know that he was overcome by those fears.

Abram gathered up his tents and moved his family down to the land of Egypt. The mighty Nile River was there. When every other region went without water because the rains had stopped, Egypt could rely on the vast flow of water that constantly poured through the Nile’s riverbanks. Their farms crops and their animals were often healthy and strong in the worst of times. The Nile was so important to the Egyptians that they worshiped the river as a god. In many ways, Abram was doing the same thing. In his fear of famine, he did not trust God to provide for him in the land of promise. He left the place of God’s calling to go where there was help that he could see and understand. Faith is believing in what cannot be seen. Abram was not standing in faith.

As they traveled closer to Egypt, Abram began to worry about something else. His wife was radiantly beautiful. He knew that other men would desire her, and he knew how vicious they might become towards the man she was married to. He was afraid. Here was another chance to take his fears to God, to show his trust and faith in the LORD. Instead, he turned to Sarai and put the burden of his fears on her. He said, “‘I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, “This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.’”

Sure enough, when they arrived in Egypt, the surpassing beauty of Sarai became known far and wide. Word spread as far as the high officials of the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They went to their king and told him that a great beauty had come to live among them. The Pharaoh sent for her. When he saw her, he agreed with the rumors…she was ravishing. And since everyone had been told that Sarai was without a husband, the Pharoah took her to live in his palace.

Meanwhile, Abram was treated very well for giving the king his sister. He received sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels, and human servants in gratitude for giving the Pharaoh such a lovely gift. What was Abram thinking? Sarai had become a part of the royal harem! The Pharaoh wanted to come to her as a man should only come to his wife!

Abram had put his wife at terrible risk. He had put God’s promises in danger, too. God said that He would make a great nation through Abram, but in God’s eyes, Abram and Sarai were one flesh. They were married, and the promise of the covenant was to come through their united flesh. It was meant to happen through the love they shared in their marriage. Sarai had a sacred role to play that was every bit as important as Abram’s! But now Sarai was at risk to have a child from a man that was not her husband.

Imagine how Sarai felt as she sat alone in the palace, waiting for the king to come. What was she going to do? Was she mad that Abram had forced her to protect him? Did she feel betrayed that he had not protected her as a husband should? And how was God going to come through?

The Lord is patient. As Abram struggled to become a man of faith, God would help him along the way, especially as he faltered and failed. God would not let Sarai be violated by the Pharaoh of this idolatrous nation. The covenant was unbreakable. God sent a serious disease to infect every member of Pharaoh’s house. Imagine the entire palace writhing in discomfort. They all wondered what they had done to deserve this plague.  Then Pharaoh discovered that the painful infliction had come because he had taken the wife of Abram.  So the Pharaoh called for him. He said:

“‘What have you done to me…Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?   Why did you say, “She is my sister,” so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!’” (Gen. 12:18b-20)

Wow! Now Sarai was safe, but the wrath of the Pharaoh was against them…and he had every right to be angry! Abram took Sarah and everything they had and left Egypt. With all the riches given to him by the Pharaoh, Abram had become a very wealthy man. He had added great amounts of animals and silver and gold from the Pharaoh.

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