Genesis Chapter Twenty One, Man's Impatience vs. God's Timing

In our study of Genesis chapter twenty one, we look at the lasting effects of Abraham's decision to have a son in his own power vs. waiting on the promise of God. As we shall see, this decision has consequences that we live with to this day.

Genesis 21:1 & 2

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.

God kept His promise to Abraham and Sarah gave birth to his son. This is a reminder to us that God always keeps His promises and His timing is perfect. Like Abraham and Sarah, we have been promised a new life and are waiting on God's timing. Our struggle is just like theirs was and that is having patience and being content in the moment that we have.

Genesis 21:3-5

Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

Abraham did as the Lord had said and named and circumcised Isaac.

Genesis 21:6 & 7

Sarah said, 'God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me. ' And she added, 'Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.'

Sarah laughs at the wonder of what God has done and the obvious answer to her questions is God. He had promised them what seemed impossible and yet they now had a son to raise.

Genesis 21:8

The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast.

The custom was to wean children at two to three years of age. At this time, Abraham threw a big birthday party for Isaac.

Genesis 21:9 & 10

But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, 'Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.'

Although we do not know exactly what Ishmael was doing, we see that there was tension between him and Isaac. At this time, Ishmael would have been a teenager and was picking on Isaac. It seems harsh but Sarah tells Abraham that they must go and that Ishmael will not share in Isaac's inheritance. This reveals the heart of the matter and the problem that continues to this day. Ishmael was a child of man's efforts as it was Abraham & Sarah's plan to have a child through Hagar. God's plan was for them to have a son through Sarah but they had grown impatient and taken matters into their own hands. This struggle between man's efforts and God's plan continues even in the hearts of believers. Sometimes, we find it hard to believe that all we have to do is put our trust in the Lord and not try to work for our salvation.

Genesis 21:11-13

The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.'

The thought of sending his own flesh and blood (Ishmael) away was tearing him up and God showed up to speak to Abraham. He was told that what Sarah was saying was true and was His will. He also comforted Abraham by telling him that Ishmael would be a nation as well. Here, we have the root of the problem between Islam and Jews. Ishmael would become the father of a nation based on man's efforts (Islam) while Isaac would become a nation of promise (Judaism). The Jews were promised a Messiah and that Messiah was and is Jesus Christ.

Genesis 21:14

Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

Abraham listened to the Lord and sent Hagar and Ishmael away. We notice that he provided them with food and water and that reminds us that their descendants also have the opportunity of accepting Jesus Christ and returning to the family of God. Imagine the feelings of rejection and anger that this teenage boy must have felt. This damaged pride is the root of the problem and what the devil has used to great advantage in our world today. Today, it has progressed from mocking to murder but the cause is still pride. The answer is Jesus as He is the Prince of Peace and the only way to reconcile this broken family.

Genesis 21:15 & 16

When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, 'I cannot watch the boy die.' And as she sat there, she began to sob.

They were in the desert and their water had ran out. Hagar put Ishmael under a bush and went and sat down and cried. She was waiting for them to die and did not want to watch him go. It is interesting to note that they were at the end of their efforts with nothing else that any man could do for them.

Genesis 21:17 & 18

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said 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.'

At the end of their efforts, Hagar hears the voice of God's messenger. He assures her that God has heard the cries and that God has a plan for them. That must have been a comfort for two people that had been put away and were feeling rejected. It reminds us that God cares for all people.

Genesis 21:19

Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

Then, she saw God's provision for their physical need and they had water again. This is a reminder to us that God has a plan for each and every one of our lives. We do not have to be discouraged or jealous because His plan for us is different than someone else's.

Genesis 21:20 & 21

God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

The hand of God was upon Ishmael and he lived in the desert of what is known as Saudi Arabia today. He married a woman from Egypt and started his family and is considered to be the father of the Arab peoples. This is good for us to remember that God has opened the door for Arabs to come to Him. As with Isaac's descendants, the door is Jesus Christ and they, too, can accept Him as their Lord and Savior. The problem is that the feelings of rejection got in the way and so the descendants looked for another way to favor with God. The struggle between man's efforts and acceptance of God's provision continues today and is the root of the problem between Islam & Judaism & Christianity.

Genesis 21:22-24

At that time Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, 'God is with you in everything you do. Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you now reside as a foreigner the same kindness I have shown to you.' Abraham said, 'I swear it.'

Now, the king proposes a treaty with Abraham and Abraham agrees to it. We see that the king does this because he knows that God is with Abraham and he now fears God. This is a reminder to us that there can be no peace without the presence of God. In our world today, man is trying to create a Mideast Peace Plan but we need to remember this example of Abraham and Abimelek.

Genesis 21:25 & 26

Then Abraham complained to Abimelek about a well of water that Abimelek's servants had seized. But Abimelek said, 'I don't know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today.'

We see that, after the agreement, it was possible to settle their differences in a peaceful way. The same is true today, in that, other issues can be settled only after the acknowledgement that God is with Israel. It is also the same with us, as Christians. The persecution of Christians will continue until all men fear God and see that He is with us in all we do.

Genesis 21:27-30

So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelek, and the two made a treaty. Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock, and Abimelek asked Abraham, 'What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?' He replied, 'Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.'

Abraham provided the animals for the treaty ceremony (see Genesis 15). He also presented Abimelek with a good faith offering concerning the matter of the disputed well.

Genesis 21:31

So that place was called Beersheba because the two men swore an oath there.

The place where they made this covenant became known as Beersheba which roughly means "well of the oath".

Genesis 21:32

After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines.

The king had given Abraham Beersheba as a part of the treaty and so it was considered to be a separate land and no longer a part of his kingdom.

Genesis 21:33

Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God.

This small verse may seem somewhat insignificant but it contains a big lesson. The tamarisk tree grows in desert areas and uses a lot of water so it has very deep roots. When insects feed off of the leaves and branches, they give off a white residue that covers the ground. This is a somewhat salty residue that prevents other plants from growing and competing for the scarce water resources. Mesopotamian tradition held that the tamarisk tree served as a boundary between the unclean and the holy. Throughout the Bible, water is a symbol (picture) of the Holy Spirit. That Spirit is a boundary which designates us as God's children by its presence in us. Abraham would have been surrounded by Philistine territory but Beersheba would have been sort of an island in the midst of their idolatry. As Christians, we have a tamarisk tree of faith that separates us from the world around us and is fed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus told us (in John 13:35) that we would be known to be His disciples (Christians) by our love for others. This is a sacrificial love (like His) that puts the needs of the less fortunate above our own.

Genesis 21:34

And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.

Finally, we notice that Abraham stayed in the midst of the Philistines. Many Christians want to isolate themselves from the evil world around them but that is not what Jesus told us to do. Every day Abraham's neighbors would have seen the tamarisk tree and perhaps they asked about it and the God that Abraham worshiped there. The same thing will happen when people see our love for others. When they ask us why we are doing loving things for the less fortunate, we can explain that the love is from God through the power of the Holy Spirit.