Well, it’s quite the snowy day in New England. For those of you living in the region and unable to get to work, it’s a perfect day for a read of God’s word and a little follow up meditation of it. Let’s dive in to the birth of Ishmael, the covenant of circumcision, and the promise of Laughter — er, Isaac.
Genesis 16 contains the story of Ishmael’s conception and birth — Sarai’s attempt to “help” God out with His promise (did He ask for help?). In a world of polygamy, what Sarai proposed was normal enough — there were contemporary Mesopotamian (Babylon and Assyria) laws and customs that addressed Abram’s and Sarai’s specific childless circumstances. However, once Haggar (Sarai’s female slave) was given to Abram as a wife (concubine), and Haggar conceived, trouble broke out. The younger and more fertile (a really big deal in the ancient world) Haggar began looking down on Sarai. Sarai goes, at first, to Abram to resolve the problem; but Abram “passes the buck” back to Sarai — “She’s your servant, deal with her!” So, Sarai does — harshly. It causes Haggar to run away from home before being comforted and persuaded by God to return back to her mistress and home. But the competition and enmity continue long after this initial incident and “resolution”. With the advantage of “20/20” hindsight, we can see (and perhaps learn) that the family history might have had a happier outcome, if Abram had resolved this issue himself, as the husband, early on.
Fathers, take note; this isn’t the only time in the Bible that a husband’s or father’s lack of intervention may have ended poorly. Husbands and fathers (men in general) have taken a pretty big hit in societal respect in the last few decades. We’ve gone from “Father Knows Best” to a constant TV diet of “Father’s a childish idiot”. Of course, there are some men who deserve the rebuke — shame on them; but responsible study after responsible study demonstrate how crucial husbands and fathers are to families and how much the American family is missing as wives, children, and “progressive” social engineers dismiss, discount, and disrespect the man of the house. Healthy families have fathers who take responsibility, have wives who follow their lead, and children who obey them. Too simple a solution or not diverse enough? “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” Luke 7:35, NAS95.
From Genesis 17 onward Abram is known as Abraham. It is Abram’s 99th year and it is the year that the promise is going to materialize, and to mark this momentous, watershed time and covenant, “Exalted Father” became “Father of a Multitude”. Also as a perpetual memory nudge of this covenant, God gave the mark of circumcision. According to Gen. 17:11, it is a “sign of the covenant between Me and you.” Although it is practiced for several reasons today, its religious significance is to remember God’s covenant with Abraham. It is why circumcision was no longer required at the advent of the New Covenant (Heb. 8:13 / Rom. 2:28,29 / Rom. 4:10 / Gal. 5:2 / and more). The new mark of the new covenant is the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13/4:30), received at baptism (Acts 2:38) — just one more reason that baptism really is important.
Lastly, Genesis 18 announces the birth of Laughter, Isaac. In an interesting theophany, God comes to visit Abraham in three angels. As anyone of them spoke the text says that the LORD spoke (the capitalized LORD, indicating the personal name of the only true and living God, YHWH). Is this the first whisper of the “Three in One”?
But as Abraham entertains these special visitors they tell Abraham that he would be a father this same time next year! Through Sarah! As Sarah overhears it, she laughs; but later when confronted with it, she denied it. “Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Genesis 18:14, NAS95. Do we call God’s plans impossible?
Some do. In reference to God’s plan for the family, mentioned above. Some scoff at it as being irreparably outdated and impossible to work. Others scoff at a united church. At the applicability of an ancient text (the Bible) to a modern world. At the possibility that western sexual mores would ever return to a biblical standard. At modern men responding to the “old, old story” of the Gospel. Those who laugh will not be deterred — but they will be surprised.
See you tomorrow — Lord willing.