GENESIS – SERIES NR 20 : Cast out that slave woman!
Scripture : Genesis 21
When the Lord is at work, it touches one’s heart. It is impossible not to react. It causes great joy when one realizes that it really is the Lord who is at work. Particularly when you discover that the Lord is keeping His promise. It brings joy and peace. It overflows.
If one imagine oneself in Abraham and Sarah’s situation, you can form a
picture of the great gratitude and joy they must have experienced when Sarah eventually – 2 decades since God had given the promise – became pregnant.
She was already elderly, and so too was Abraham. Seen from a biological point of view, it was impossible for her to become pregnant. Without a doubt they must have lost all hope. Sometimes the Lord’s promises cause a person to
wonder – it very often happens that way. But the Lord did promise – period! Many years ago. The Lord said…
The first 8 verses of Genesis are about the Lord who is at work. Yes, the
miracle-child is on the way in Sarah’s body! It would be Isaac! God’s Words of promise are literally to become flesh! And who besides the living God could
accomplish this? Because, humanly speaking, it was impossible! Isaac would
literally be born out of God’s promise. His birth would be the work of the
Holy Spirit – not an achievement by Abraham or Sarah.
The things reported in these verses are very significant. Because, since the
original-promise in Gen 3:15, the thought of DESCENDANTS was fundamentally
important in God’s plan of salvation. Indeed, God’s original promise was that a Saviour would be born out of Eve’s descendants. As time went by, the
promise gained more body. And we know now that He would definitely come
forth from the descendants of Abraham, but not through the descendants of
Abraham and Hagar’s son Ishmael. Ishmael was a symbol of MAN’S actions.
MAN’S doings. No, the Saviour would be born from the descendants of
Abraham as a result of the work of the HOLY SPIRIT. And therefore from Sarah – whose womb was barren – as a result of her old age. Therefore it was the Lord who had to bring about the conception. Isaac’s birth was by grace,
performed by God, through the Spirit – without the assistance of man and the actions of man. THAT is how the Lord’s church through all the centuries was established! Because the existence of Isaac was the cornerstone of the entire
church of God right up to us today in 2018, and into the future until the
second coming of Christ.
It is no wonder that there was no end to Abraham and Sarah’s joy. Indeed,
the name Isaac means “he laughs” or “he causes laughter”. It is a joyful laugh. God truly did keep His Word, He is faithful. He is at work, He truly lives, He is with us, we truly are His… That is the reason for the joy.
Years before, there was also laughter, but it was cynical laughter. First it was
Abraham who laughed when he heard that Sarah would become pregnant. And later it was Sarah who laughed when she overheard Abraham’s visitors telling him that she would have a child.
But this time Sarah laughed the laugh of faith (verse 6). She laughs about the Lord who does miracles. One does smile from ear to ear when the Lord enters your life and miraculously changes your direction and destination – and gives
your life a new purpose. That is for sure.
The true Christian Faith is the only faith on earth which is characterized by joy. A visible gladness. Because it is only true Christians who know the reason of true joy. Not because they remember Isaac’s birth, but because they got to
know the Greater Isaac. Jesus of Nazareth. Him, whose mother was a virgin.
Him, whose birth was from A-Z brought about by the Holy Spirit. Sarah’s
womb was barren and Mary was a virgin. The Spirit of God literally created a human being in her womb. The Son of God – who had no part of the curse
of the Fall. That is why He is called WONDERFUL (Is 9:6). Isaac’s miracle-birth
took place so that JESUS eventually could come to earth and change the
direction and destination of everybody who would ever settle their faith in Him. THAT is why Christians laugh with joy, and why the church is not filled with
gloom and dejection.
But we all know that it is not easy to maintain a life of joy. Sometimes the
Lord’s people want to cry with frustration. Because there are powers at work wanting to destroy our joy. Indeed, we are living in a fallen world, as Genesis 3 explained it to us. Sin leaves its mark everywhere.
It also happened in Abraham’s circle. The history of Abraham and his children
is one of joy AND sorrow, faith AND unbelief. Although he and Sarah were so thankful and glad, not everyone shared in it. Because not everyone who is
children of Abraham, are true children of Abraham! Only those who were out of faith in the promise of God, were truly his children, and not everyone who was biologically born out of him! At least – that is how the Lord regarded it.
Ishmael was Abraham’s biological son, and he also laughed. But his laugh was derisive laughter – full of resentment. And that brought about sorrow.
The Abraham-history shows us how sin and mistrust in the Lord and spiritual
cowardice and indifference always result in sorrow.
Ishmael was discontent because the arrival of the miracle-child came to upset his life. He was the only child and heir of Abraham, but now he feels hard
done by. He is feeling a powerless anger. Everything is Isaac’s fault.
Sarah too is unhappy, because she cannot endure Ishmael’s laughter. In
addition, Ishmael has always been a source of sorrow to her. He reminded her of her barrenness. He is a humiliation to her, to say the least. He is HER
husband’s child with a slave girl. And SHE was the instigator of the
But now there is Isaac, and the tables have been turned. Now Ishmael is
inferior. Yes, he is indeed Abraham’s son – but with a slave woman. But not
Isaac. And what if Ishmael, as the eldest, should claim Isaac’s rights? Sarah is green with envy. There is only one solution: AWAY with Hagar and Ishmael!
In the midst of the joy over the birth of God’s miracle-child, there is
underlying turbulence in Abraham’s family! Earlier Hagar also left, but that was before Ishmael was born (chapter 16). This time Abraham’s own child is
involved. And Sarah demands that HE must send them away! Into the desert!
To their death. What now? A desperate father and a jealous mother! And a
Then God began to speak! He is taking control! And evidently He is siding with Sarah. The Lord’s instruction is very clear: Hagar and Ishmael must leave!
Which was the beginning of a story of tears.
But now we must quickly say: The Lord God’s approach to matters is taken
from a divine perspective. He is first and foremost busy with things concerning His salvation-plan for His people in the world. If we do not understand THAT, we will not understand why the Lord gave such harsh instructions that Hagar
and Ishmael should be sent away.
When the Lord looked at Ishmael and Isaac – what did He see?
ISHMAEL = the product of disobedient people’s own plans – therefore, the flesh
ISAAC = the promised child. The product of God’s promise and brought about by the Spirit of God.
Isaac and Ishmael therefore, symbolize faith-trust and distrust. The battle
between light and darkness. Church and world. Flesh and Spirit. And the Lord maintains His church, in vain hell’s fury.
To the Lord, there was much more at stake than a jealous mother and
desperate father and defenceless child. His plans were greater. Much greater. In the end He gave Ishmael also a great posterity. But, when the Lord looked at Abraham’s family, He looked focused on the long term existence of His church on earth. And salvation of the church – through Jesus who was to come. And where THAT is concerned, faith and unbelief, flesh and spirit, cannot exist
under one roof! Yes, there was going to be tears. But the tears were not
because of an unfair God, but because of disobedient people. It is not the
Lord who should be blamed for all the tears in the world. The unbelieving
MAN makes his own bed.
The astonishing fact is that the Lord concerned Himself with the
fruit of man’s disobedience and independence from God.
How can it be? Should He not have washed His hands off them? According to human logic, yes. But, the living God is God, not a human. If Genesis was
a human invention, God would have finished them off. But, Genesis is 1) 100% the truth, and 2) inspired by the Holy Spirit. That is why we learn to get to know the Lord the way He really is!
What happens in chapter 21? The Lord does NOT deal with people according
to what they deserve, but according to His plan of grace with humanity –
which stretches into the far distant future. A plan which would culminate in a New earth, and everyone who is in Christ from all nations bringing honour and glory to the only true God.
Should we look in the NT at Galatians 4, we will see how in Genesis 21, the Lord was already busy to establish certain principles in dealing with Ishmael
and Isaac – principles which hold good through all the centuries.
ISHMAEL represents fallen mankind who, by their own works, try to remain
in God’s good books. It is the person who only outwardly belongs to the
church or religion, but has not received the Holy Spirit.
ISAAC represents the person who is a true child of Abraham: Who hopes in
Christ only through faith-trust, and is filled by the Spirit. This is the person
who belongs to the true church – not only outwardly, but also in Spirit and in Truth.
And these two principles cannot at all hold hands. Whoever lives by the Spirit, must say farewell to the Ishmael-principle. Sent away, as Abraham had to
banish Hagar and Ishmael. There can and must not be any unity between true followers of Christ, and the spirit of fallen man who is standing OPPOSITE the Truth, and is living according to totally different fleshly principles. It is a
matter of Spirit against flesh!
It is clear that Abraham lived in this way with the Lord, because non-believers could discern that the Lord was with him. We see this in the second half of
Genesis 21 where Abraham found himself in the region where the forerunners of the later Philistines lived. And a treaty is made over a well of water
between Abraham and the godless Abimelech.
At that time and in that world a water-well was as valuable as a goldmine is
A kind of dispute arose about the use of the water-well between the servants of Abimelech and Abraham. So Abimelech reached out to Abraham to make a friendship-treaty. Actually, it was a business transaction. There had to be
assurance that both parties would manage the water correctly.
Here we see therefore, a meeting between someone who does not know the
Lord and a believer. In our language: a worldling and a Christian. It is
something which happens everywhere: Christians have contact with unsaved
people. Christians doing business with people who do not know the Lord. It is an everyday occurance.
Three things occur to me: 1) The non-believer recognized the presence of the Lord in Abraham’s life, 2) Abraham planted a tree, and 3) Abraham prayed.
1 Abimelech recognized the Lord’s presence in Abraham’s life: The first thing
Abimelech said to Abraham was: “God is with you in everything you do”.
Naturally it was not the LORD to whom Abimelech referred, but to whatever
his concept of God was. Point is: he could sense something in Abraham which was different. What a great testimony of how the Lord makes a difference in the lives of those with whom He walks. It is something one would rather
expect in the NT, but here we see it in the heart of the OT.
2 Abraham planted a tree: Beersheba is situated about 50km south-west of
Jerusalem. There Abraham wanted always in the future to be reminded of the Lord His God. The tree was to be witness of that. His treaty with the pagan
Abimelech was not just an everyday event, but he regarded it in the light
of his walk with the Lord.
3 At the end of everything, Abraham worshipped the Lord: Yes, Abraham could close a business transaction with prayer. He could call on the Lord with a
clear conscience because he knew that the treaty that was made, was made
to the honour of the Lord – even though Abimelech was not a Christian.
Can you see how the spiritual principles that is evident in the first half of Genesis 21, play out in Abraham’s ordinary everyday life? The first 21 verses
illustrate the principles, and verses 22-34 show us a picture of the way a man, who lives with the Lord, negotiates with an unbeliever over water-rights.
And through it all we see that the Lord truly makes a difference in the life ofssomeone who is in Christ.
Translated by Marthie Wilson