LIVING BY FAITH
"Faith Is Rewarded By God"
Jerry A. Collins
When someone tells you to ‘just hang in there’ they mean that eventually you will get rewarded. That in time things will begin to go your way. Just keep doing the right thing and it will pay off. And more often than not, that is what happens. The deal you have been negotiating, the relationship you have been building, the job you have been doing, the study you have been completing, the steps you have been taking, have paid off. You did hang in there and were rewarded for the perseverance.
God tells us ‘to just hang in there' when it comes to waiting for the fulfillment of His Word and promises to us. And when His Word is fulfilled, His promises accomplished, it confirms that all along His Word is reliable. That He will do just as He said He would do. In our passage, the Lord provides for the promised seed. That birth of Isaac fulfills Gods Word to Sarah and Abraham, confirming to everyone that His Word is reliable. With the fulfillment we will learn that we must remove anything that threatens Gods continued work of blessing and favor in our lives. Because the real issue is the struggle between faith and unbelief. God wants to strengthen our faith in His Word both while we are waiting for its fulfillment and after the provision.
1. When God Fulfills His Word We Respond With Obedience and Joy 1-8
A. Fulfillment at Appointed Time 1-2
In these verses the message is that the Word of the Lord is reliable. It is reliable because God did just exactly what He promised He would do. Three times we read that the Lord ‘had said’, ‘had promised’, ‘had spoken’. Here the Lord ‘took note’ and ‘did’ what he said He would do. Here is divine intervention into the life that shapes and altars destiny. This is the same word used in Genesis 50:24 to announce the future fulfillment of the promised deliverance from Egypt of Gods people. Here, too, divine intervention will alter and shape the destiny of the Israelites as they leave Egypt and make their way to the Promised Land. That intervention builds on this intervention. We also read that this happened at the ‘appointed time’. God is never too early nor too late. This birth happened right on schedule nearly 25 years after it had been announce to them. It can be difficult to accept God’s plan. It had been difficult for Abe and Sarah. It can be difficult for us too. The answer is not to go ahead of God and take for ourselves but to wait until he supplies, holding fast to His Word that is reliable.
B. Fulfillment provides opportunity for obedience 3-5
Here the focus is on the response of Abraham. Abraham names his son and performs the rite of circumcision. Both of these were acts of obedience to the Lords previous commands (vs. 4; 17:11, 19). We have seen a consistent obedience from Abraham going all the way back to his calling in Genesis 12:4. The name "Isaac’ is repeated three times in these verses reintroducing the significance of his birth and naming ‘laughter’. This three-fold naming corresponds with the three-fold reminder of God’s intervention in 1-3 to point out that just as the Lord had provided the child according to His Word, so too did Abraham do to Isaac according to His Word. Our obedience compounds into further obedience as the Lord confirms His Word to us. In other words, faith begets more faith and God strengthens it as we believe and He answers. No faith does not beget more faith. You have to have faith to start with. James tells us in 1:6-8 that "But he must ask in faith without any doubting for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man unstable in all his ways." It is an affront to God when we doubt His Word. We may do that because God's timetable is not ours and God's way of providing is not our way. God expects to be trusted.
C. Fulfillment prompts rejoicing 6-8
Now the focus is on Sarah's response. Here is the display of how those who waited in great expectation for the fulfillment of the Lords promise rejoiced when the time arrived. The child's name would be a reminder of Gods faithfulness rather than of the parents unbelief as was the case in Genesis 18:15. In contrast to the doubting laughter described in 18:12, Sarah's laughter here was full of praise and admiration for the Lord. She now was exonerated and could leave the former things, including her unbelief and scheming, behind her. For the New Testament writers, the coming of the promised seed in the person of Jesus Christ paralleled the birth of Isaac as no other fulfilled promise could (Gal 3:19; Luke 1:68). For us too is joy and dedication when God fulfills His promises to us. Those promises may be protection, provision, preparation, preservation promises to us and when we recognize God's hand we rejoice for what he has done! Just like Sarah we are grateful and jubilant to God.
2. We Must Remove Anything Threatening Gods Program In Our Lives 8-21
A. God approves removing the threats 9-13
Here is the first crisis to the continued blessing of the fulfilled promise. Now with the promise fulfilled comes a threat to it’s continuing. Here Ishmael is ‘mocking’. In each case this word is used in OT it describes an activity that had been misinterpreted. On the surface the activity may have seemed harmless but Ishmael probably did not take the child or the promise seriously. Possibly indicating ‘scorn, derision or ridicule’ in this case. Ishmael may have been playing with Isaac, but if he was permitted to continue his real effort would have been to supplant this new heir. The contrast between Sarah's ‘laughter’ at birth of Isaac and Ishmael's ‘mockery’ of Isaac signifies the response of faith to the promise of God and unbelief in Gods plan that Isaac should be the heir of it here. The truth is that faith and unbelief are incompatible. That which trifles with Gods work must be removed so that the faith can prosper under Gods blessing. Sarah’s plan is to expel Hagar and Ishmael by first lowering her status to handmaid in Genesis 16:1 and now by distinguishing Ishmael as ‘her son’ from Isaac ‘my son even Isaac’. While Abraham was grieved over this situation the Lord approved of the plan. This crises and its resolution was a serious promise but God alleviated the impact on Abraham by promising to protect and provide for them. This story is used by Paul in Galatians 3-4 to illustrate that Ishmael was born according to the flesh through a slave wife represents the law which was meant to bring us to Christ. Isaac born according to the promise and was the heir represents Christ as the promised seed. Once the promise was fulfilled, the old order was done away with. Now that the promise has come in Christ, we who believe are joint heirs, we are children of the promise, and we are the spiritual seed of Abraham. To go back under the law would be to deny the fulfillment of the promise and to live according to the flesh from which we have been delivered. Further, in our Christian experience, the flesh struggles against the spirit making a mockery of it sometimes for unbelief attacks belief. We are advised to cast out those things of the flesh that undermine and threaten the freedom in Christ, the promised seed. Unbelief encroaches upon our faith and we can doubt God, scheme, and be overcome with fear. This person cannot expect anything from the Lord James tells us. The struggle will be constant and will continue but we have the sure Word of God full of promises we can count on, pray for, rely upon and wait to be fulfilled. Everything in Gods timetable but He will do as he promised He would.
B. God is the God of outcasts 14-21
God's approval of sending Hagar away was not a sign of abandonment of Ishmael but of protection of Isaac. Abraham did the same thing near the end of his life with all of his other sons in order to preserve the inheritance of Isaac (25:6). (Picture of English throne 13th-15th centuries with rivals to throne threatening occupants and occupants killing, murdering or overthrowing them). God had not abandoned Ishmael; he had provided for the resolution of a tension that could have no other resolution. God desires to be the God of the outcast, the rejected, the abused, the dying. The plight of Hagar draws sympathy for she was an unfortunate woman caught in web of Abraham's and Sarah’s faltering efforts to achieve their destiny. She was abused and a rejected woman who with the birth of Isaac was suddenly very much in the way. Their deliverance by God though evokes hope for God did not let them die in the wilderness but gave them new life and a great future. They foreshadow Israel's wilderness journey for they too would be sent out of Egypt and face tremendous needs in the barren wasteland. God would honor His Word to them too and preserve them for their destiny.
1. Wait patiently on God to fulfill His promises to you.
2. Watch prayerfully so that you are not overcome by worry, doubt or fear.
3. Walk faithfully honoring your faith in Gods promise to answer.
4. Work diligently to build His kingdom until He returns as He promised.