Rev. Ronald C. Purkey, an ordained Baptist minister, claims no originality for this Bible study outline.
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(Abraham’s Disobedience And God’s Blessing)
January 9, 2022
SCRIPTURE: Genesis 21:8-21
KEY VERSES: “And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to 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.” (Genesis 21:17-18)
INTRODUCTION: The life of a child of God is one of valleys and mountain-tops. Solomon expressed it as a "time to weep and a time to laugh." All of us have experienced this truth in our own lives, and we can certainly see it in a study of the life of Abraham. This chapter begins with a mountaintop experience...the long awaited birth of Isaac, the promised son (see Genesis 21:1-7).
But the same people who bring us joy can also bring us sorrow. Relationships can become strained and then change overnight, and we wonder what happened to a happy home. A Chinese proverb says, “Nobody’s family can hang out the sign, ‘Nothing the matter here.’”
The coming of Isaac into their home brought both joy and sorrow to Abraham and Sarah. As you look at the persons involved in these important events, you can learn some valuable lessons about basic Christian doctrine and how to live the Christian life.
I. TWO BROTHERS: ISAAC AND ISHMAEL (Genesis 21:8-11)
“And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned. 9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking. 10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son.” (Genesis 21:8-11)
INSIGHT: This is a picture of the conflict between the spirit and the flesh. Isaac and Ishmael had the same father (Abraham) but different mothers (Sarah and Hagar).
1. In Galatians 4:28-29, Paul makes it clear that Ishmael represents the believer’s first birth (the flesh) and Isaac represents the second birth (the Spirit). Ishmael was “born of the flesh” because Abraham had not yet “died” and was still able to beget a son (Gen. 16). Isaac was “born of the Spirit” because by that time his parents were both “dead” and only God’s power could have brought conception and birth. Ishmael was born first, because the natural comes before the spiritual (1 Cor. 15:46).
2. When you trust Jesus Christ, you experience a miracle birth from God (John 1:11-13), and it is the work of the Holy Spirit of God (John 3:1-8). Abraham represents faith, and Sarah represents grace (Gal. 4:24-26), so Isaac was born “by grace … through faith” (Eph. 2:8-9). This is the only way a lost sinner can enter the family of God (John 3:16-18).
3. It is worth noting that, in the biblical record, God often rejected the firstborn and accepted the second-born. He rejected Cain and chose Abel (Gen. 4:1-15). He rejected Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn, and chose Isaac. He bypassed Esau, Isaac’s firstborn, and chose Jacob (Rom. 9:8-13); and He chose Ephraim instead of Manasseh (Gen. 48). In Egypt, the Lord condemned all the firstborn (Ex. 11-12) and spared only those who were “twice-born” because they were protected by faith in the blood of the lamb.
4. Isaac pictures the child of God not only in his birth but also in the joy that he brought. Isaac means “laughter,” and this time it was not the laughter of unbelief (Gen. 18:9-15). In the parables recorded in Luke 15, Jesus emphasized the joy that results when lost sinners repent and come to the Lord. The shepherd rejoiced when he found the lost sheep, and the woman rejoiced when she found the lost coin; and they both asked their friends to rejoice with them. The father rejoiced when his prodigal son came home, and he invited the neighbors to a feast so they could share in his joy. There is even joy in heaven when sinners turn to God (Luke 15:7, 10).
5. Nowhere do we read that Ishmael caused great joy in Abraham’s home. Abraham loved his son and wanted the best for him (Gen. 17:18). From before his birth, Ishmael was a source of painful trouble (Gen. 16); and after he matured, he caused even greater conflict in the family (Gen. 21:9). The old nature is not able to produce the fruit of the Spirit, no matter how hard it tries (Gal. 5:16-26).
6. Notice a third comparison between Isaac and the child of God: He grew and was weaned (Gen. 21:8). The new birth is not the end, but the beginning; and the believer must feed on God’s Word and grow spiritually (Matt. 4:4; 1 Cor. 3:1-3; Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Peter 2:1-3; 2 Peter 3:18). As we mature in the Lord, we must “put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:9-11) and allow God to “wean us” (Ps. 131) from temporary helps that can become permanent hindrances.
7. The mother weans the child because she loves the child and wants it to be free to grow up and not be dependent on her. But the child interprets her actions as an expression of rejection and hatred. The child clings to the comforts of the past as the mother tries to encourage the child to grow up and enter into the challenges of the future. The time comes in every Christian life when toys must be replaced by tools and selfish security by unselfish service (John 12:23-26).
8. Like every child of God, Isaac experienced persecution (Gen. 21:9; Gal. 4:29). Ishmael was apparently an obedient son until Isaac entered the family, and then the “flesh” began to oppose “the Spirit.” It has well been said that the old nature knows no law but the new nature needs no law, and this is certainly illustrated in Abraham’s two sons.
9. Jewish children were usually weaned at about age three, so Ishmael was probably seventeen years old at the time (Gen. 16:16). What arrogance that a boy of seventeen should torment a little boy of only three! But God had said that Ishmael would become “a wild donkey of a man” (Gen. 16:12), and the prediction came true. The flesh and the Spirit are in conflict with each other and always will be until we see the Lord (Gal. 5:16-26).
10. When, like Isaac, you are born of the Spirit, you are born rich (Gen. 21:10). Isaac was the heir of all that his father owned, and God’s children are “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Abraham cared for Ishmael while the boy was in the home, but “Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac” (Gen. 25:5).
11. Finally, Isaac was born free while Ishmael was the son of a slave (Gal. 4:22). Freedom is one of the key themes in Galatians (Gal. 5:1) and one of the key blessings in the Christian life (Gal. 4:31). Of course, Christian freedom does not mean anarchy; for that is the worst kind of bondage. It means the freedom to be and to do all that God has for us in Jesus Christ. “No man in this world attains to freedom from any slavery except by entrance into some higher servitude,” said Phillips Brooks; and that “higher servitude” is personal surrender to Jesus Christ. No one is more free than the child of God who delights in God’s will and does it from the heart.
II. TWO MOTHERS: SARAH AND HAGAR. (Genesis 21:12-13)
“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.”(Genesis 21:12-13)
INSIGHT: Sarah and Hagar picture the conflict between grace and Law.
1. Sarah was wrong when she told Abraham to marry Hagar (Gen. 16:1-2), but she was right when she told Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael out of the camp. The Apostle Paul saw in this event an allegory involving the Law of Moses and the grace of God (Gal. 4:21-31). Sarah represents grace (the heavenly Jerusalem), and Hagar represents Law (the earthly Jerusalem under bondage). The lesson is simply that God’s children are to live under the blessings of grace and not the bondage of Law.
2. The conflicts in Abraham’s home could have been solved four ways. Isaac could have been sent away, but that would mean rejecting the promises of God and all that God had planned for the future. Isaac and Ishmael could have lived together, but that would mean constant conflict. Ishmael’s nature could have been changed to make him more agreeable, but that would have required a miracle. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6), and it always will be flesh. The only solution was to send Ishmael and his mother out of the camp and make Isaac the sole heir.
3. When you consider the facts about Hagar, you will better understand the relationship between Law and grace in the Christian life.
4. To begin with, Hagar was Abraham’s second wife. She was added alongside Sarah. Likewise, the Law was “added” alongside God’s already existing promises and was temporary (Gal. 3:19, 24-25). God did not start with Law; He started with grace. His relationship to Adam and Eve was based on grace, not Law, even though He did test them by means of one simple restriction (Gen. 2:15-17). The redemption of Israel from Egypt was an act of God’s grace, as was His provision, the sacrifices, and priesthood. Before Moses gave the Law, Israel was already in a covenant relationship with God (“married to God”) through His promises to the patriarchs (Ex. 19:1-8).
5. Second, Hagar was a servant. “Wherefore, then, serveth the Law?” Paul asks in Galatians 3:19, and he gives the answer. The Law was God’s servant (a “schoolmaster” or “child tutor”) to keep the infant nation of Israel under control and prepare them for the coming of the Redeemer (Gal. 3:24-25; 4:1-5). The Law was given to reveal sin (Rom. 3:20) but not to redeem us from sin. Grace does not serve Law; it is Law that serves grace! The Law reveals our need for grace, and grace saves us completely apart from the works of the Law (Rom. 3:20, 28).
6. A third fact is obvious: Hagar was never supposed to bear a child. The Law cannot give what only Jesus Christ can give: life (Gal. 3:21), righteousness (Gal. 2:21), the Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:2), or an eternal inheritance (Gal. 3:18). All of these blessings come only “by grace [Sarah] … through faith [Abraham]” (Eph. 2:8-9).
7. This leads to a fourth fact: Hagar gave birth to a slave. If you decide to live under the Law, then you become a child of Hagar, a slave; for the Law produces bondage and not freedom. The first doctrinal battle the church had to fight was on this very issue; and it was decided that sinners are saved wholly by grace, apart from keeping the Law of Moses (Acts 15:1-32). Legalists in the church today are turning sons into slaves and replacing freedom with slavery (Gal. 4:1-11); yet, God calls us to freedom! (Gal. 5:1)
8. Hagar was cast out. There was no compromise: She was cast out completely and permanently and took Ishmael with her. Instead of subduing the flesh, the Law arouses the flesh (Rom. 7:7-12) because “the strength of sin is the Law” (1 Cor. 15:56). Believers don’t need to put themselves under some kind of religious law in order to become Christlike, for they are already complete and full in Christ (Col. 2:8-23) and have the Holy Spirit to enable them to overcome sin (Rom. 8:1-4).
9. Finally, Hagar never married again. God gave His Law to the Jewish nation only and never gave it to the Gentiles or to the church. Nine of the Ten Commandments are quoted in the Epistles as applying to believers today, and we should obey them; but we are not commanded to obey the ceremonial laws that were given only to Israel (see Rom. 13:8-10). Paul affirms that it is love that fulfills the Law. When we love God and love one another, we want to obey God; and in the Spirit’s power, we do what is right.
INSIGHT: We should notice that there is a “lawful use of the Law” (1 Tim. 1:1-11). While the Law cannot save us or sanctify us, it does reveal the holiness of God and the awfulness of sin. The ceremonial part of the Law illustrates the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Law is a mirror that helps us see our sins (James 1:21-25), but you do not wash your face in the mirror! It is also a mirror that reveals the glory of Jesus Christ; and as we meditate on Him, we can be transformed to become more like Him (2 Cor. 3:18). Any religious system that leads you into bondage is not magnifying the New Testament Gospel of the grace of God (2 Cor. 3:17; John 8:31-36).
III. TWO PERSONS: GOD AND HAGAR. (Genesis 21:14-21)
“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. 15 And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs. 16 And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow shot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept. 17 And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to 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 21:14-21)
INSIGHT: God and Hagar are a picture of promise and blessing. God keeps his promises.
1. It was “grievous” (Gen. 21:11-12) for Abraham to say good-bye to his son, but this was God’s command, and he had to obey. Little did he realize that his obedience was preparation for an even greater test when he would have to put Isaac on the altar. The word translated “grievous” means “to shake violently,” like curtains blowing in the wind. Abraham was deeply moved within and perhaps somewhat displeased at this turn of events.
2. However, God did not abandon Hagar and Ishmael; for Ishmael was the son of Abraham, God’s friend (Gen. 21:13). If Ishmael and Hagar had any bad feelings toward Abraham, they were certainly in the wrong; everything God did for them was because of His faithfulness to Abraham. The Lord reaffirmed His promise that Ishmael would become a great nation (Gen. 21:13, 18; 17:20), and He kept His promise (Gen. 25:12-16). The Arab world is a force to be reckoned with today, and it all began with Ishmael.
INSIGHT: In spite of the pictures in some Sunday School papers and Bible story books, Ishmael was a teenager and not a child when this event took place. The word translated “child” can refer to a fetus (Ex. 21:22), newborn children (Ex. 1:17-18), young children (1 Kings 17:21-23), or even young adults (1 Kings 12:8-14; Dan. 1:4ff). In this case, it refers to a boy at least fifteen years old.
3. Ishmael and Hagar got lost in the wilderness, their water ran out, and they gave up in despair. This experience was quite different from the time Hagar first met God in the wilderness (Gen. 16:7ff). Sixteen years before, she had found a fountain of water; but now she saw no hope at all. Apparently Hagar had forgotten the promises God had made concerning her son; but Ishmael must have remembered them, for he called on the Lord for help. God heard the lad’s cries and rescued them both for Abraham’s sake.
4. So often in the trials of life we fail to see the divine provisions God has made for us, and we forget the promises He has made to us. We open our hands to receive what we think we need instead of asking Him to open our eyes to see what we already have. The answer to most problems is close at hand, if only we have eyes to see (John 6:1-13; 21:1-6).
INSIGHT: Hagar is certainly a picture of the needy multitudes in the world today: wandering, weary, thirsty, blind, and giving up in despair. How we need to tell them the good news that the water of life is available and the well is not far away! (John 4:10-14; 7:37-39) God is kind and gracious to all who call on Him, because of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink” (John 7:37). “And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).
ABRAHAM’S LESSON ON OBEDIENCE
Read: Genesis 21:1-21
The Old Testament records the life and trials of Abraham. While the patriarch had a special relationship with God, his faith was not perfect. Over the course of his life, he came to understand how important it is to obey -- and how costly it can be to rebel.
Abraham learned the hard way that manipulating circumstances to gain a desired result can bring heartache. The Lord had promised him and Sarah a child, but the couple was still waiting for that blessing when they were elderly. Already in her 80s, Sarah suggested that Abraham get an heir by having a child with her servant Hagar. The result was jealousy, family strife, and a bloody conflict that still rages today between the descendants of Hagar’s son Ishmael and Sarah’s son Isaac.
Obedience will bring the Lord’s best, but it requires waiting on Him. Abraham was already an old man when God promised him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. (Genesis 15:5). This would not be fulfilled until he was 100 and Sarah was well past her child-bearing years, which meant that all the glory for Isaac’s miraculous conception and birth went to the Lord. Jumping ahead of God had harsh, long-term consequences. But the good news is that the couple’s mistakes could not prevent Him from carrying out His plan (Genesis 21:1-8).
The Lord has given us His Word (the Bible) so we might learn from the saints of old. Abraham’s life teaches us that obedience is essential. When we place our trust in a sovereign God and wait upon His timing, we have nothing to fear from the world. -- By Charles Stanley, In Touch Daily Devotional, February 6, 2008
CONCLUSION: What have we learned from our lesson today?
· We learned that we should not get ahead of God – stay in the will of God.
· We learned that God always keeps His promises – do things His way.
· We learned to seek God’s help when we have a problem -- He has the solution.
· We learned that we must be obedient to God’s will – we must do right.
INSIGHT: Our lesson reminds us that God gives us the total picture in Genesis 21. We see the mountain top experience as well as the valley of conflict. We are also reminded that we all will go through similar situations. There will be times of joy and times of sorrow…but we are to live by faith…believing God's Word!
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: “Only one life, twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.” -- C.T. Studd
REFERENCES: References used in these Bible studies are the Moody Bible Commentary, J. Vernon McGee’s Thru the Bible Commentary: (www.ttb.org), the Scofield Study Bible, the Believer’s Bible Commentary, Dr. Charles J. Woodbridge Bible Outlines, Dr. Lee Roberson’s Sermons, Dr. Charles Stanley: (http://www.intouch.org/), Don Robinson’s Bible Outlines, Women’s Study Bible, The Bible Reader’s Companion Ed. 3, The Nelson Study Bible: New King James Version, Dr. Tony Evans (https://tonyevans.org/), KJV Bible Commentary, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines of the New Testament ed. 4, Dr. David Jeremiah: (http://www.davidjeremiah.org/site/), Dr. Cliff Robinson’s Bible Outlines, Dr. Robert Jeffress’ Pathway to Victory (https://ptv.org/), Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines of the Old Testament, Dr. Alan Carr’s The Sermon Notebook (www.sermonnotebook.org), With the Word Bible Commentary, Wiersbe’s “Be” Series: Old & New Testaments, Radio Bible Class Ministries (http://rbc.org/), selected illustrations and other references.
REV. RONALD PURKEY’S OFFICE
E-mail: Ronald Purkey