“Blessings for Ishmael and Isaac”
Lesson Text: Genesis 21:12-14, 17-21; Genesis 26:2-5, 12, 13
Background Scripture: Genesis 15-17; Genesis 21:9-21; 26:1-25
Devotional Reading: Hebrews 11:17-22
Genesis 21:12-14, 17-21 (KJV)
12 And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.
14 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.
17 And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.
18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.
19 And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.
20 And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.
21 And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.
Genesis 26:2-5, 12, 13
2 And the Lord appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of:
3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father;
4 And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;
5 Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
12 Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year an hundredfold: and the Lord blessed him.
13 And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great.
To explain the significance of God's generational blessings to both Ishmael and Isaac through the seed of Abraham.
To understand the superior blessing of Isaac over that of Ishmael even though Ishmael was born first.
To remember the importance of depending on the Lord in life’s most trying moments.
Moses Easterly Lard
Mary Lard was the mother of six. Her husband had moved the family to western Missouri, but his death from smallpox in about 1829 left her to rear the children alone. In 1830, she made one of the most heart-wrenching decisions that a mother can make. Deciding that there was no way she could feed six children, she told the two oldest sons that they would have to leave. She gave each a small New Testament and bid her farewells with quivering lips. As the boys walked away, they heard their mother scream, a sound they never forgot.
The boy named Moses never told what happened during the next few years. Did the two live off the land, steal, or work for others, perhaps living in barns or caves? Moses Lard had another problem: he could not read. He became an apprentice to a tailor and taught himself to read during that time. He would take letters from signs, put them together in different ways, and ask people about the sounds or the words that resulted.
Moses Lard eventually began to preach, and he caught the attention of Alexander Doniphan, later to be a hero of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). That man made arrangements for Lard to attend college. Lard graduated in 1849, age 30, as the valedictorian of the class, in spite of having to work to support his family. Lard's ministries included preaching, writing a commentary on the book of Romans, and being a debater and an editor. That's "not bad" for one who had to teach himself to read!
Today's lesson offers certain parallels in that it involves a decision to break up a family because circumstances seemed to require it. Even so, troubling family circumstances can yield good outcomes (Genesis 17:20; 25:12-18).
Times: 2062 B.C.; between 2025 and 2005 B.C.
Places: deserts of Beersheba and Paran; Gerar
Only four verses separate last week's lesson from this one. Since the backgrounds are therefore the same, the Lesson Background of last week need not be repeated here. Instead, we will pay some attention to the literary method that Moses used in writing the book of Genesis.
The first part of the book of Genesis is general history (what we also called primeval history, or history in its earliest stage). As Moses introduces new people or nations throughout this section, the emphasis very quickly moves to the person or entity that he intends to feature at that point. For example, Genesis 1:1 refers to the heavens and earth, but the next verse focuses immediately on the earth. Genesis 2 sharpens the focus to the first humans. The accounts of the first sin and the first murder are set forth in Genesis 3 and 4, but the goal is to get to another son of Adam and Eve—namely, Seth. Notice the focus on him in Genesis 5:1-3. In Genesis 5:6-26, we see repeatedly that a certain descendant "begat sons and daughters," but the only one mentioned by name in each case is the one leading to Noah and the flood.
After the flood, the biblical record gives information about the descendants of Noah's three sons—Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Genesis 9:18, 19). There are 70 founders of nations or people groups mentioned in the table of nations in Genesis 10. The incident of the Tower of Babel (our September 29th lesson) provides an explanation for the presence of different languages among the peoples of the world. After that, the emphasis quickly returns to Shem and his descendants (Genesis 11:10-26). The plan seems to be to move as quickly as possible to Abram, a son of Terah.
The second part of the book of Genesis could be called personal history. It is about people who have purpose in the plan of God to bring the Messiah into the world at just the right time (Galatians 4:4). This section of Genesis begins with Genesis 11:27. The focus is on the descendants of Abram that continue through Isaac, Jacob, and the latter's 12 sons. Others are mentioned as they take their places on the stage of history. In this light, the goal for Moses, the author, is to provide an explanation on how the nation of Israel came into existence.
Promises for Ishmael (Genesis 21:12-14, 17-21)
Children are usually weaned between the ages of 2 and 3. The weaning of Isaac when he reaches this age becomes the basis of "a great feast" for the family of Abraham (Genesis 21:8). Big brother Ishmael is age 16 or 17 (see 17:24, 25; 21:5), and he begins to mock little Isaac (21:9; see why 16:11, 12). Sarah, a protective mother of Isaac, her only son, demands that her husband expel Hagar and her son from the household (21:10). Abraham is reluctant to do so because Ishmael is his son (21:11). It is at this point that God intervenes.
God’s Intervention and Promise to Abraham (Genesis 21:12-14)
1. What reason did Sarah give for wanting to expel Hagar and her son Ishmael? How did God reassure Abraham during his grief over this situation (Genesis 21:12, 13)?
Sarah’s contempt was so great that she refused to address the Egyptian servant and her son by name. Moreover, Abraham’s wife was determined to prevent Ishmael from being a co-heir with Isaac in the family inheritance (Genesis 21:10). Perhaps Sarah also remembered her previous run-in with Hagar (Gen. 16:3-6).
Nevertheless, God's words of reassurance and direction to Abraham served as a timely and needed intervention during Abraham's grief. God told Abraham (perhaps in a dream or vision) not to be upset about the situation involving Hagar and her son. It was the divine will for the patriarch to do what Sarah demanded, even though it seemed harsh and inconsiderate. The Lord explained that He would fulfill His covenantal promises through Isaac (Gen. 21:12), “for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” Isaac is indeed the son of the covenant. This fact contradicts the Islamic belief today that the covenant of promise goes through Ishmael. Many Arabs today trace their lineage back to Ishmael. Thus, in a sense, the struggle between Ishmael and Isaac continues today in the Arab-Israeli tensions.
Hagar has been uprooted once already from familiar surroundings since Abraham is no longer in Egypt (Gen. 16:1). Hagar tried to leave previously, of her own volition, because Sarah made her life miserable (16:2-16). This time, however, Hagar is being expelled.
What Do You Think?
What can your church do to assist dysfunctional families? What will be your part in this?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Prevention (premarital counseling, etc.) l Intervention (family systems counseling, etc.)
2. What did God tell Abraham about Ishmael? How did Abraham respond (Genesis 21:13, 14)?
Abraham's fears about what will happen to Ishmael are relieved: God said because Ishmael is a son of Abraham, the descendants of Ishmael will become a “nation.” Ishmael is a primary ancestor of many Arab peoples today (compare Genesis 25:12-18; 1 Chronicles 1:29).
Abraham obeys God's instructions without delay (Gen. 21:14). “And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.”
Little did Abraham realize that his obedience was preparation for an even greater test when he would have to put Isaac on the altar.
The Danger of Impatience
Troubled, dysfunctional families are far too common these days. The evidence of such trouble is often seen when a spouse—usually the wife—is found to be suffering from abuse. The abuser may use physical violence or the threat of it to exert control. The threats are themselves psychologically abusive.
The relationships within Abraham's family were troubled. We see abuse on the part of Sarah in Genesis 16:6 against Hagar. After Sarah bore Isaac, the child of God's promise, the stress between the two women reached a boiling point—again. Sarah demanded that Abraham "cast out" Hagar and Ishmael (21:10).
No doubt, Abraham thought he was doing the right thing (or, at least, the best thing in the circumstances) in sending the two away in order to restore peace in the home. Today this might be considered domestic abuse or, at least, "failure to support." But God was there to provide and protect when Abraham was not. We keep in mind that all this anguish could have been avoided had not Abraham and Sarah decided in their impatience to "help" God's plan by deciding to conceive a child by Hagar. Do you ever try to move faster than God wants you to? —C. R. B.
What Do You Think?
What are the limits of "tolerance," if any? Why?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Within families (Judges 11:1, 2; Acts 16:1) | Within the church (John 1:14, 17; Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:7, 8)
In relationships with unbelievers (1 Corinthians 5:9, 10; 15:33) | Other
God’s Encouragement and Promise to Hagar (Genesis 21:17-21)
3. How did God provide for both Hagar and Ishmael’s needs (Genesis 21:17-21)?
Eventually the “bottle of water” ran out. Hagar, being filled with despair over the deplorable situation facing her and her son, shoved the adolescent under one of the nearby shrubs (Gen. 21:15). By this time both of them were weak from dehydration and facing death. Hagar decided to abandon her son, for she could not bear to see him die. As she sat across from him about a bow shot (that is, around 100 yards) away, she began to sob uncontrollably (v. 16). Likewise, Ishmael started to cry. God, being fully aware of the circumstance, had His angel from heaven call to Hagar and ask what was upsetting her. The Lord’s messenger then told her not to be afraid any longer, for God had heard the sound of Ishmael’s crying (v. 17). The mother was commanded to stand up, help the adolescent to his feet, and take him by the hand. They would not die that day, for God intended Hagar’s son not only to live but also to become a great nation (v. 18).
At that moment, God enabled Hagar to see a well of water. In turn, she went over to it, filled her container, and gave Ishmael a drink (v. 19). God’s favor rested on Ishmael, the son of Abraham through Hagar. Ishmael lived in the wilderness and “became an archer” (v. 20). This implies that he learned to survive by the expert use of his weapons. Ishmael eventually settled in the Desert of Paran. The region of Paran is in the Sinai Peninsula, which is just east of Egypt (compare Numbers 10:12). Ishmael needs a wife in order for him to become a great nation, so in a culture of arranged marriages, his mother turns to her native Egypt to meet that need (compare Genesis 24:1-4).
The rest of the story for Ishmael has several factors of interest. Genesis 25:7-9 states that Ishmael and Isaac are together again to bury Abraham when he dies at the age of 175. At that time Ishmael is age 89 and Isaac is 75. We can only wonder about the conversations and the farewells that took place!
Genesis 25:12-18 specifies that Ishmael has 12 sons and names them. The general regions where they live are listed. Ishmael will die at the age of 137, and the promises made to Abraham and Hagar indeed come to pass.
What Do You Think?
When did you see a plan fail, only to end up with a good (or better) outcome because it did? What did this experience teach you about God?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
At work | At church | During a move | Other
Blessings for Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5, 12, 13)
Isaac experiences many important events prior to the blessings listed in the next segment of today's printed text. His famous near-sacrifice is recorded in Genesis 22. The chapter that follows tells of the death of his mother at age 127, when Isaac is 37 years old and still single (compare 17:17 with 23:1). Abraham sends a trusted servant back to his relatives to secure a wife for Isaac (24:15), and that servant returns with Rebekah, who marries Isaac when he is 40 (25:20). She is a granddaughter of Nahor, Abraham's brother (and also a great-granddaughter of his other brother, Haran; see 11:29). Isaac at age 60 becomes the father of twins, Esau and Jacob (25:26).
A famine in Canaan then prompts Isaac to move his household elsewhere. The latter part of Genesis 26:1 seems to indicate that Isaac is already in Gerar. Isaac may intend this place to be no more than a stopover on the way to Egypt, but it ends up becoming a more permanent place of residence, as we shall see.
4. Where was Isaac headed when the Lord appeared to him (Genesis 26:2-5)?
There was a famine in Canaan that prompted Isaac to move his household and head for Egypt (Genesis 26:2). Gen. 26:1b indicates that Isaac is already in Gerar, the capital city of the Philistines, and was looking to get help from Abimelech. Isaac and Rebekah were living at “Lahairoi” at that time (25:11), which means they traveled about seventy-five miles northeast to get to Gerar. Again, Isaac may intend this place to be no more than a stopover on the way to Egypt. However, God directed Isaac not to move to Egypt (26:2). Instead, the patriarch was to remain in Canaan (v. 3).
If Isaac had any misgivings about abiding in Canaan during a time of famine, the Lord reassured the patriarch that God would be with him. In particular, the Lord would protect Isaac and enable him to flourish in Canaan. Moreover, God promised to give the land to the patriarch and his descendants. This was a confirmation of the solemn pledge the Lord had made previously with Abraham (v. 3b). God now vowed to fulfill the same covenantal promises to Isaac. Specifically, the Lord would ensure that the patriarch’s descendants would be too numerous to count, God would enable them to obtain Canaan as their homeland. Finally, they would become a source or channel of blessing to “all the nations of the earth” (v. 4). The latter is ultimately fulfilled in the Messiah, through whom God’s spiritual blessings are made available to believers from all nations.
The Lord explained to Isaac that all these covenant promises would come to pass because his father, Abraham, “obeyed” (v. 5). God blessed Isaac for Abraham's sake, just as He has blessed believers today for the sake of Jesus Christ.
What Do You Think?
What personal stories can you tell of someone's faithfulness producing benefits for a future generation?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Regarding a minister | Regarding a teacher | Regarding an ancestor | Other
The Manifestation of God’s Blessings (Genesis 26:12, 13)
5. Why was it that God blessed Isaac even though he had many faults (Genesis 26:12, 13)?
The Bible never disguises the weaknesses and failures of its characters. Instead, Scripture presents them as real people. For instance, Isaac was a deceiver! (see Gen. 26:7-11). How could the Lord bless somebody who claimed to be a believer and yet deliberately lied to his unbelieving neighbors? Because God is always faithful to His covenant and keeps His promises (2 Tim. 2:11-13); and the only condition God attached to His promise of blessing was that Isaac remain in the land and not go to Egypt.
In turn, the Lord blessed the patriarch’s’ obedience by enabling him to reap an abundant harvest (Gen. 26: 12). As time passed, Isaac grew in material wealth. Furthermore, his prominence and influence in the area increased (v. 13).
God also blessed Isaac because of Abraham's life and faith (Gen. 26:5), just as He blesses us for the sake of Jesus Christ. We'll never know until we get to heaven how many of our blessings have been "dividends" from the spiritual investments made by godly friends and family who have gone before.
POINTS TO PONDER
1. God is the Master at taking away our sorrows and replacing it with hope! (Genesis 21:12-14, 17-21; John 3:16).
2. Obedience always leads to blessings! (Genesis 26:2-5, 12, 13; Hebrews 5:9; 11:8).
It's Not a License!
It is good to be reminded of the promises and blessings for Ishmael and Isaac, for we know that neither were perfect in the sight of the Lord. Little is known about Ishmael, except that as a teenager he mocked his little brother. God still made promises to him. Isaac, for his part, seems to have been a godly person. His lie to the people of Gerar is a blemish on his record, but God still blessed him.
It is also good to know that God loves sinners and, blesses them (us). But the fact that God blessed others after they sinned is not to be used as a license to justify sin. God forgives, but genuine repentance comes first.
Thank You, Heavenly Father, for blessing the generations who helped bring the Messiah into the world. May I do my part in sharing the good news about Jesus so that others may be blessed. In His name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
When blessed, remember the source.