12. Experiencing God’s Promises (Genesis 21)Related Media
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. 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. 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.” The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. 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 slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” 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 maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” 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. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob. 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.” 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. God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer… (Genesis 21)
How can we continually experience God’s promises?
In 2 Peter 1:3–4, Peter says:
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
God gave us everything needed for godliness, which includes his precious promises. By taking hold of these, we participate in the divine nature (godliness) and escape the corruption of the world. Somebody counted over 3,000 promises in the Bible. Each is a special gift enabling us to become more godly and escape sin.
In Genesis 21, Abraham experienced the fulfillment of a promise he had been waiting for since the beginning of his faith journey. In Genesis 12, God told Abraham to leave his family and his land because God was going to make him a great nation and bless all nations through him.
Abraham was seventy-five and his wife was sixty-five and barren. This fact seemed a detriment to the promise. Abraham, in faith, left his home and followed God; however, at moments, his faith lapsed or was tested. In Genesis 13, because of a famine, he left the promised land for Egypt. There he lied about his wife being his sister, and she was taken by Pharaoh into his harem. But while there, God protected and delivered her. In Genesis 16, Abraham and his wife, Sarah, doubted whether God’s promise included her. Therefore, Abraham married Sarah’s servant, Hagar, and bore a child, Ishmael, through her—causing conflict in his home. God clarified his promise to Abraham in Genesis 17 and 18 declaring that this seed would indeed come through Sarah. Even after this, in Genesis 20, the promised seed was threatened. Abraham again lied about his wife, and she was taken by Abimelech, the Philistine king, into his harem. However, God again protected her. Here, in Genesis 21, God fulfills his promise to Abraham. Sarah gives birth to the promised seed—the child they were waiting for. God filled them with great joy, and they named the child, Isaac, which means laughter.
God has given us promises as well. He gave us promises in his Word. Some of his promises are conditional and some are unconditional. He promises to save us if we respond to his Son in faith (Rom 10:13). He promises to meet all our needs as we put him first (Matt 6:33). He promises to allow grace to abound to us if we are faithful givers (2 Cor 9:7–8). He promises to draw near us if we draw near him (James 4:8). Some of his unconditional promises include the fact that he will never leave us nor forsake us (Matt 28:20), no matter what happens in life. He promises to use everything that happens in life for our good (Rom 8:28). He gave us many great and precious promises, both conditional and unconditional.
Furthermore, for many of us, he has given personal promises. Like Abraham, as we walked with him, he gave us special and unique promises. Maybe, he promised to provide a spouse. Maybe, God promised to give you a specific ministry. Maybe, God promised to restore a broken relationship, save a friend or family member. Because God gives us so many promises, through his Word and our relationship with him, the Christian life should be a continual unwrapping and enjoying his gifts and promises. This makes following God an exciting and rich journey. What promises has he given to you? In what ways have you experienced answers to these promises?
In this text, we learn eight principles about experiencing God’s promises, as God finally fulfills his promise of a son to Abraham. This should comfort and encourage us as we both wait on and experience God’s precious promises.
Big Question: What principles can we learn about experiencing God’s promises through Genesis 21?
We Experience God’s Promises because of the Lord’s Graciousness
Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. (Genesis 21:1 )
Genesis 21:1 says, “Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised.” Interestingly, the narrator attributes Isaac’s birth to God’s grace. Grace means unmerited favor. Even though God promised to give Sarah a child, it was still a gracious gift from him. God was not obligated to give Sarah anything, just as he is not obligated to us. The birth of Isaac, especially considering Sarah’s barrenness, was a work of God’s unmerited favor.
Abraham’s and Sarah’s experience was a work of grace because they did not earn it. It was not because Abraham was special that the Lord appeared to him in Ur. Abraham and Sarah were pagan idol worshipers just like everybody else in Ur. However, because of his grace, God appeared to Abraham and made a promise to him.
This is very challenging to our pride. Man naturally wants to earn favor with God. We live in a graceless society. It is based on competition and survival of the fittest. We must earn everything we get. However, God breaks into the midst of our society and says, “You are not good enough, not educated enough, not pretty enough, not strong enough, or righteous enough. Your only hope is my grace.” Therefore, all God’s promises are given by his grace and not any merit of ours.
Even our salvation is a work of grace. Yes, we are called to respond in faith in order to be saved, but Scripture says that even our faith is a work of his grace. Ephesians 2:8–9 says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Application Question: What applications can we take from the fact that experiencing God’s promises are a work of grace?
1. God’s grace displayed in his promises should encourage us to be humble instead of prideful.
Experiencing God’s blessings and promises can often lead to pride and ultimately God’s discipline. David became prideful with the favor and promises the Lord gave him. He counted his army to boast in his strength, and the Lord brought severe discipline upon him and Israel (2 Sam 24). God’s grace should always encourage humility in its recipients.
First Corinthians 4:7 says, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” How can we boast in anything we have, including experiencing God’s promises, if they come from him?
Therefore, as recipients of God’s grace, we should be humble because we understand everything good comes from God (cf. James 1:17). This leads us to the next point.
2. God’s grace displayed in his promises should lead us to worship.
Paul said this about experiencing the promise of salvation in Ephesians 1:3–6:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
The experience of God’s promised salvation is all to the praise of God and his glorious grace (v. 6). Every good and perfect gift that we receive from God should draw us to worship and adore him more. In fact, one of the reasons that God gives us his promises is so that we will worship and enjoy him more. Therefore, as recipients of God’s promises, we should continually offer worship to the Lord.
Does being a recipient of God’s promises cause you to worship and give thanks to God? Are you still standing in awe of his grace or have you started to take it for granted? David prayed for God to restore the joy of his salvation (Ps 51:12). We too often lose the joy we should have over God’s gifts and promises.
Application Question: How does it make you feel to know God has given you many great and precious promises? How can we stay humble instead of prideful when experiencing them? How can we keep our joy over them?
We Experience God’s Promises because God Is Faithful to His Word
Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. (Genesis 21:1 )
Another aspect that must stand out in the narrative is God’s faithfulness to his Word. Genesis 21:1 says, “the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.” This is important for us to see. No doubt, Moses, the narrator, wanted the Israelites, who were reading this while in the wilderness, to remember that God would fulfill his Word to them. They would enter the promised land, and it would be given to them in fulfillment of God’s promise. Moses said this in Numbers 23:19: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” Jeremiah 1:12 says that God watches over his Word to make sure it is fulfilled.
One of the things we learn from experiencing God’s promises is that God is faithful and trustworthy. The enemy of our souls always tries to get us to doubt God’s integrity. Satan essentially called God a liar in the Garden of Eden, when he said, “You will not surely die. If you eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, you will be just like God.” He similarly tempts each of us. He wants us to doubt God’s love, his intentions, his faithfulness, and most of all his Word.
This is one of the truths we can hold onto, as we wait for God to fulfill his promises. If God said it in his Word, then you can trust it. God said he will give you eternal life if you call on the name of the Lord (Rom 10:13). You can trust his Word. He said that he will meet all your needs as you seek his kingdom first. You can trust him. Matthew 5:18 says, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
God will accomplish his Word. If he said it, he will do it. And if it does not come to pass, then God did not say it. Sometimes with our personal promises, we must put them on the shelf and say, “I believe this is what God told me, and if it comes true, God said it. If it does not, I was presumptuous.” It is not a lack of faith to test what we “think” God said. It is wise and biblical, because God commands us to test the spirits to see whether they come from God or not (cf. 1 John 4:1).
The narrator wants us to know, as he desired Israel to know, that we can trust God’s Word. God cannot tell a lie (Titus 1:2). He will fulfill his promises to us.
Application Question: Have you ever been tempted to doubt the validity of God’s Word? How did you wrestle through that? How do we grow to trust God and his Word more?
We Experience God’s Promises in God’s Timing
Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. (Genesis 21:2)
The next thing we learn about experiencing God’s promises is that God’s promises happen in his timing. Genesis 21:2 says that Sarah bore Abraham a son “at the very time God had promised him.” One of the most difficult things about experiencing God’s promises is that we want him to answer our prayers and his promises in our timing. We live in a fast-paced society. We want everything now, and for many things, we can have them immediately. We don’t have go to the movie theatre; we can pay for the movie and download it to our laptop. We don’t have to go to store, we can shop online.
Perhaps, these comforts make it even harder for us to wait on God. However, God is not on our time schedule; we are on his. Many times we have to wait to receive his promises. Abraham waited twenty-five years for God to give him a son. He had a child in his old age. When he died, Abraham had not yet received the land as an eternal inheritance, and his children, Israel, are still fighting over the land. It took over 2,000 years for Jesus Christ, the seed who would bless all nations, to come. Most times those who experience God’s promises have to wait.
Let us not forget that Moses waited forty years in the wilderness. Joseph waited over twenty years for God to exalt him to second in command over Egypt and for his father and brothers to bow down to him, like he saw in the original vision. God called Paul to be an apostle, but most scholars believe his apostolic ministry really didn’t begin for about eleven years after his vision.1
Application Question: Why do we commonly have to wait to receive God’s promises?
1. We often have to wait on God’s promises because God’s timing is different than ours.
Peter said this about God’s timing in 2 Peter 3:8–9, when considering the promise of Christ’s second coming:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
For God, a thousand years is like a day—meaning it happens as fast as a day. And at the same time, a day is like a thousand years—meaning it happens as slowly as a thousand years. The New Testament says that we are living in the last days as we wait for Christ’s second coming; however, Christ still hasn’t come for two thousand years.
One of the reasons we often have to wait on God’s promises is because God’s timing is different than ours.
2. We often have to wait on God’s promises because waiting is good for our character.
Since God is more concerned about our character than our destination, he intentionally allows us to wait. It teaches us patience and perseverance which are necessary to develop character. Remember what Romans 5:3–4 says: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
An implication of perseverance is not only suffering but waiting. Persevering is waiting while bearing up under a heavy weight. As we do this, it creates character, and character leads us to hope in God more. Hope is another word for trust. As Abraham waited on God’s promises, it forced him to develop character traits like patience, perseverance, and hope in God. The longer we wait, the more we realize that the fulfilment of the promise is not in our power. It causes us to depend more on him, instead of our wisdom or activity. Dependence upon God is a great character trait. Matthew 18:3 says that the greatest in the kingdom of God are like little children—meaning they are totally dependent upon God.
Are you waiting on the Lord? It is in the waiting season that he refines you. Don’t be in a hurry. Everything will happen in his perfect time. God will bring a spouse in his perfect timing. He will save the friend or the family member you’re praying for in his perfect timing. He will open the door for your ministry in his perfect timing.
Part of maturity is learning how to wait; just as part of immaturity is not being willing to wait. Abraham in the waiting process became impatient and married another woman, making his situation worse. Often our impatience reaps consequences on our lives; sometimes the consequences have long term affects, as Abraham’s did.
Are you willing to wait on the Lord? Waiting is good for us. Sarah birthed the child of promise in God’s perfect timing.
Application Question: What has God taught you through waiting seasons? What does God have you waiting on now?
We Experience God’s Promises When We Are Obedient
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. (Genesis 21:3–4)
After Abraham and Sarah had a child, Abraham immediately named the son Isaac, which means laughter. God told Abraham in Genesis 17 that Sarah would have a child and to name him Isaac since Abraham laughed at hearing the promise (and, later in Genesis 18, Sarah laughed as well). Abraham not only was obedient in naming the child Isaac, but, also, in the fact that he circumcised the boy on the eighth day. In Genesis 17, God commanded Abraham to circumcise every male in his household and the male children on the eighth day.
Obedience is a necessary aspect of receiving God’s promises. In Genesis 12:1, God said to Abraham, “Leave your country and your family and I will make you a great nation.” Abraham had to obey to receive the promise. Similarly, in Genesis 17:1–2, God appeared to Abraham and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” In order for Abraham to receive the promise, he had to faithfully walk before God (cf. Gen 24:15–18). Now, God had already made a unilateral covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15, promising that he would fulfill the covenant in his own power alone, and this was true. However, Abraham still needed to walk with God, but God’s power would enable him to do it.
Obedience is a necessary component of receiving God’s promises. If God blessed the disobedient, it would only affirm or inspire them to continue in disobedience. Consider some of God’s conditional promises again:
In Joshua 1:7–8, God promised Joshua that he would prosper in everything if he meditated on God’s Word day and night and if he never let it depart from his mouth. Psalm 1 reiterates the same promise. This promise comes to those who are obedient. In 2 Corinthians 9:7, God promises to give us “all grace” so that we possess everything we need and abound in all righteousness if we are cheerful givers. Again, this promise is for the obedient. In Matthew 6:33, God promises to meet all our needs if we seek first the kingdom of heaven and his righteousness. God blesses those who are obedient.
In fact, Jesus said in John 14:23, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Obedience is a proof of loving Christ and therefore salvation. For those who obey, Christ and the Father make their home in them and indwell them forever.
The very reason many never experience God’s precious promises is because they lack obedience. They instead disobey and, therefore, miss God’s blessings. Christ said this in John 15:7 about answered prayer: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”
Part of how Christ’s words remain in us is by obeying them. A person who Christ’s words remains in is someone meditating on God’s Word and obeying it, and therefore, God answers his prayer.
Are you practicing obedience like Abraham? Abraham wasn’t always like this; it was a process. When he went to the promised land, he immediately left because of the famine and then lied because he didn’t trust God. I have no doubt that God was preparing obedience in Abraham over the twenty-five years so he could receive all of God’s great and precious promises.
Surely, God does that with us as well. He is patient with us in our disobedience, but, like any good parent, he waits, urges, and disciplines us so we can learn obedience and experience his best. God wants to give us his best. He wants us to experience his promises, but like Abraham, we must walk with God and be blameless to experience “God Almighty,” El Shaddai.
Application Question: Why is obedience important to receiving God’s promises? In what ways have you experienced his promises while being obedient and experienced the loss of them while being disobedient?
We Experience God’s Promises When We Are Weak
Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him …Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 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.” (Genesis 21:2, 5–7)
The narrator also highlights the fact that Abraham and Sarah were past the age of childbearing. Verse 2 says that Sarah bore Abraham a son in his old age, and verse 5 says Abraham was a hundred years old. Again, in verse 7, Sarah’s old age is emphasized when she says, “‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’”
However, this is exactly how God often works. It is when we are the weakest or when we have given up that God moves. Consider what God said to Paul, after he prayed for God to remove his thorn in the flesh:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9–10)
God basically told Paul, “No, because my power is made perfect in weakness.” Abraham’s and Sarah’s dead reproductive organs were the ideal place for God’s power to be perfected. Mary’s womb, in the absence of a male seed, was the perfect place for God to display his power. Moses’ tongue and his lack of ability to speak was the perfect place for God to move.
Where is your weakness? Where are you the least competent? What are you most insecure about? That is often the very place that he moves. Many of us have experienced this in our lives. Many met their spouses when they least expected to. God allowed them to reach the end of their resources in order for them to experience God’s grace and power. Many found their callings in areas that they still profess are not their strength.
The very reason that some never experience God’s promises is simply because they are too strong and too confident. Everything they do, even in ministry, is a work of the flesh and not of God’s grace. It is often God’s grace to allow us to go through trials to weaken us or to reveal our weakness, so we can experience his promises.
For those who are too strong, he fights against them to make them weak, so he may build them up again. James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” He fights against the proud—the independent—but gives grace to the humble—those who recognize their total dependence and need for God.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced God’s promises or power at your weakest moments?
We Experience God’s Promises When We Deny Our Flesh
The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. 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 slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” 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 maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. (Genesis 21:8–12)
Sadly, this story isn’t all “peaches and cream”; there is a sour part to the story. When it was time to wean Isaac, which probably was around three years old—the typical age Jewish children were weaned2—Ishmael, the son of Hagar, mocked Isaac. The word “mocked” is an intensive verb form of Isaac’s name, “to laugh.”3 In Galatians 4:29, Paul said Ishmael “persecuted” the son born by the power of the Spirit, which shows how dramatic this mocking must have been.
We can imagine something of Ishmael’s psyche. Until the birth of Isaac, Ishmael was probably considered the child of promise—he was going to receive Abraham’s inheritance. But ever since Isaac was born, Abraham’s disposition changed towards him. Ishmael probably experienced jealously, as many older siblings do when a new child is born.
As he mocked Isaac, Sarah noticed and became furious. She said to Abraham, “‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.’” This greatly grieved Abraham because he loved and cared for his son, Ishmael. However, God spoke to Abraham and said, “‘Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”
Now was God affirming Sarah’s jealousy? Absolutely not. However, Sarah was right in the fact that Ishmael would not share in Isaac’s inheritance. Even though culture necessitated that Ishmael receive the first portion of Abraham’s inheritance, that was not God’s will. Ishmael represented Abraham’s flesh. Ishmael was Abraham’s best efforts to receive the promise of a seed; however, Abraham’s efforts were sinful and out of God’s will. Now, there was a conflict between Abraham’s work of the flesh and God’s work through the miracle birth of Isaac.
When Paul talks about Ishmael and Isaac in Galatians 4, he says that these two children were typologies (cf. Gal 4:24–27). The Galatians were being tempted to return to the legalism of the Old Covenant law for salvation, instead of continuing in the grace of the New Covenant, which comes through Christ. A group of false teachers called Judaizers were seeking to draw them back into circumcision and other Jewish rites, and Paul said this in Galatians 4:22–23 and 28–30:
For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise...Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son.”
Paul said that the Jewish Christians should throw out the “ordinary” way of the law—representing the works of the flesh (Gal 3:3)—because they were now under the “power of the Spirit.” Similarly, our flesh always opposes God’s Spirit in us (cf. Gal 5:17). We try to fulfill God’s will in our own way, sometimes even by sin. Instead of seeking peace through the Spirit, we often seek it through the things of the world. Instead of waiting on God’s time, we rush things and receive the consequences of it.
In order for us to experience the fullness of God’s promises, we must deny our flesh. If we are holding onto some sin, holding onto a relationship that is out of God’s will, holding onto worldly desires, we hinder God’s work.
As with Abraham, many times the consequences of following our flesh continue to cling to us, and it can be very hard to get rid of. Abraham was legally married to Hagar, and Ishmael was his son. Abraham was distressed because of how complicated his situation was, and because he loved his son.
God then spoke to Abraham and relieved his pain. He told him exactly what he needed to do. When Abraham kicked Hagar and Ishmael out, Ishmael was around sixteen years old. Even though the text calls him a boy, he was of marrying age, as soon after he marries a woman from Egypt. God promised Abraham that he was going to prosper and care for Ishmael.
This is important to hear as often relationships keep people from progressing spiritually and fully experiencing God’s blessings. Sometimes people even feel distressed like Abraham. They think that if they step away from these relationships, the other people won’t make it without them. Maybe it might even push them away from God. What we need to understand is that God cares about these people more than we do. And many times, separation is exactly what they need. They need to learn that God is their provider and not the relationship. It says in the text that God was with Ishmael (v. 20). He never left him, and he also would make him into a great nation.
To be honest, this is good for me to consider because I also have had complicated relationships in my past that were hard for me to walk away from, but I knew it was God’s will. It is good to remember that God heard my prayer and that he will take care of them. For many of these relationships, now, years later, I can see God’s faithfulness.
Casting out the slave woman and her child may look different for each one of us. For one, it is letting go of some sin or addiction. For another, it may be relinquishing self-effort and anxiety and instead trusting God and his timing. For another, it may be letting go of a relationship born out of the flesh. Whatever it may be, we can be sure that the doorway to more of God’s blessing is letting it go.
It was not God’s will for this rivalry to exist between Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was a threat to Isaac, and therefore, Ishmael needed to leave. Galatians 5:17 says, “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” There is still a conflict between our flesh and the Spirit, and the only way for the Spirit to win is for us to deny the flesh. Galatians 5:16 says, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
Are you living by the Spirit or by the flesh? Which is ruling in your life? To live in the Spirit is to live in obedience to God—abiding in his Word, prayer, worship, and service. This is the doorway to experiencing God’s promises. However, if the flesh and its efforts linger in our lives, they will hinder God’s promises.
Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to deny the flesh so you can fully experience his promises? In what ways have you experienced God’s freedom and blessings when denying the flesh?
We Experience God’s Promises to Glorify God among Unbelievers
At that time Abimelech 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 are living as an alien the same kindness I have shown to you.” Abraham said, “I swear it.” Then Abraham complained to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech's servants had seized. But Abimelech said, “I don't know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today.” So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a treaty. Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock, and Abimelech 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.” So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there. After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines. (Genesis 21:22–31)
Next, we see that Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of the Philistine forces, met with Abraham. They said, “God is with you in everything you do” (v. 22). No doubt, they heard about how God gave him a child in his old age, and they also had seen his prosperity. Therefore, they sought to make a covenant with Abraham. Abraham was powerful and his estate continued to grow, and therefore, they feared that at some point Abraham might attack them. Because of this, they sought a peace treaty.
After they approached Abraham, he agrees, but he also complains about a well Abimelech’s servants seized. Abimelech said that he was unware of it. Then Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelech, and they made a treaty (v. 27). Most likely, they cut the animals in half and walked through them.4 This custom was them saying, “Let this happen to me, if I don’t keep my side of the covenant.” Then Abraham gave Abimelech seven ewe lambs, as a witness that he dug the well (v. 28). They were almost like a receipt—proof of his ownership.5 They then called the well, Beersheba, which means “well of seven.”6
It is important to notice in this text that the Philistines could see God’s favor on Abraham’s life. This was God’s plan from the very beginning. God promised that he would bless Abraham and that Abraham would be a blessing (cf. Gen 12:2). When he was living by the great trees of Mamre, no doubt, the people learned to reverence the God of this foreigner. Abraham showed great integrity while living in the land, and he prospered. With only three hundred men and a few alliances, he conquered the four armies from the east. Melchizedek, the king of Salem, blessed him, and the king of Sodom respected him (Gen 14). People could see that God was with this man, and through his witness, they were being drawn to know and honor the God of heaven.
Remember, Abraham wasn’t perfect. He failed, while living among the Canaanites, by becoming a polygamist like many of them. He also lied to Abimelech when he first moved to Gerar in Genesis 20, but God still used him, and God still uses us, as well.
Similarly, when a person experiences God’s promises, their lives becomes lights to the lost—drawing them to worship the true God. Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
When we are experiencing God’s promises, it should exalt God and not us. We see this throughout Scripture. Laban said to Jacob, “I know that God has blessed me because of you” (Gen 30:27, paraphrase). With the three Hebrew males living in Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar said this after God delivered them from the fiery furnace:
Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” (Daniel 3:28–29)
He declared that no god could save in the way Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s God could. In the same way, when we are walking with God and experiencing his promises, it is a witness to the world. They see things that only God can do, and it draws them to worship and glorify God.
Are you allowing your light to shine so that others will glorify God? Is that your hope while being a student? Is that your hope while working in a business? That is God’s desire for you and one of the reason’s he blesses you. He blesses you to honor his name among unbelievers, and that they may come to know him.
Application Question: How is God calling you to be a light among your family, friends, and co-workers? In what ways have you seen God draw people to himself or bless others in spite of your failures and imperfections?
We Experience God’s Promises to Increase Our Worship of Him
Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called upon the name of the LORD, the Eternal God. And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time. (Genesis 21:33–34)
Finally, after Abimelech and Phicol left, Abraham planted a tamarisk tree. A “tamarisk is a shrub-like tree that has very hard wood and evergreen leaves.”7 There he began to call upon the name of the Lord. He called him the Eternal God. Abraham’s planting a tree was very similar to his building altars throughout Canaan (cf. Gen 12:7). Every time he saw this tree it would remind him of God’s faithfulness and provoke him to worship. He called God “El Olam,” the Eternal God because he had experienced God’s unchangeableness, as he had faithfully fulfilled his promises. God had blessed Abraham with the child of promise in his old age and protected him in the land of the Philistines. In just the previous chapter, Abraham lied about his wife to Abimelech, out of fear for his life (Gen 20). Now, the Philistines made a treaty with him and restored the well they took.
God had told Abraham that he would make him a great nation, which began with his great wealth and continued with the birth of Isaac. He promised that he would bless those who blessed him and curse those who cursed him. God would protect him and be his shield. In view of all these blessings, Abraham could not but plant a tree to remember God’s faithfulness and worship his eternality. By calling God, El Olam, he was saying, “God you have always been my provider, you have always met my needs, you are always faithful. You are the same yesterday and forever.”
In the same way, God faithfully blesses us and allows us to experience his promises so we can worship and enjoy him more. He tells us of his characteristics in his Word: his love, power, omniscience, and wisdom. Then he displays them before us as he answers our prayers and fulfills his promises. We experience God’s promises not only to glorify God and bless others but also to bless us and enable us to worship him more.
If you are not experiencing God’s promises in your life, maybe because of sin or compromise, then you are missing one of the greatest avenues of knowing and worshipping God more. The Christian life is to be a continual unwrapping and enjoying of God promises, which reveal more of God’s character. In walking with God, Abraham continually learned more about him. God was Yahweh (Gen 12:1), the God who made a covenant with him. He was his shield—his very great reward (Gen 15:1). He protected him when he fought against the four kings of the east and was his reward for his victory. He was El Shaddai (Gen 17:1), the Almighty God, who gave him a child in his old age. He was El Olam (Gen 21:33), the Eternal God, who doesn’t change and who is always faithful. It must be the same way for us. We must continue to know and worship God more through experiencing his promises.
Are you being drawn to a deeper intimacy with God and worship of him through experiencing his promises?
Application Question: How can we grow in our worship of God, as we experience God’s faithfulness to his promises?
1. We can grow in our worship by making a memorial in remembrance of God’s faithfulness.
When God brought Abraham from his home in Ur to the promised land, Abraham immediately built and altar. Here, after God gave him a son and protected him from the Philistines, he planted a tree to worship. Similarly, when God parted the Jordan River for the nation of Israel and they went into the promised land, God commanded them to take stones from the riverbed to remember his parting of the river. When God gave the Israelites manna from heaven, he commanded them to place a few pieces of bread in the Ark of the Covenant so they could remember.
We must do the same. When God answers our prayer or blesses us, we should write his works down in a journal to help us remember his faithfulness and provoke us to worship him a new. Or, we should make a unique memorial like collecting a keepsake, writing a poem, or, like Abraham, planting something. This is important because we are so prone to forget.
2. We can grow in our worship by setting aside time to give thanks and to worship God when we experience his faithfulness.
Abraham not only planted the tree to remember but also to “call upon the Lord” (v. 33). In the same way, when we experience answered prayer or God’s blessings, we should take time to worship and thank God. It’s so easy to receive an answer to prayer and yet continue life as usual without worshipping or giving God thanks. Not only do we often not give thanks in trials, but we commonly forget to give thanks when he blesses us (cf. 1 Thess 5:18).
Application Question: In what ways do you practice remembering God’s faithfulness? How has this practice been a blessing to your relationship with God? How is God calling you to make memorials in order to not forget his faithfulness?
God has given us everything we need for life and godliness, and one of the things he gave us is many great and precious promises. The Christian life should be a continual unwrapping of these promises to the glory of God and the benefit of others and ourselves. In Genesis 21, we learn many principles about experiencing God’s promises:
- We Experience God’s Promises because of the Lord’s Graciousness
- We Experience God’s Promises because God Is Faithful to His Word
- We Experience God’s Promises in God’s Timing
- We Experience God’s Promises When We Are Obedient
- We Experience God’s Promises When We Are Weak
- We Experience God’s Promises When We Deny Our Flesh
- We Experience God’s Promises to Glorify God among Unbelievers
- We Experience God’s Promises to Increase Our Worship of Him
Copyright © 2017 Gregory Brown
The primary Scriptures used are New International Version (1984) unless otherwise noted. Other versions include English Standard Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible, and King James Version.
Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.
All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.
1 Accessed 2/20/2016 from
2 Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (p. 294). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
3 Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (p. 294). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
4 Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 92). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
5 Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 92). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
6 Kidner, D. (1967). Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 1, p. 153). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
7 Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (pp. 92–93). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Related Topics: Christian Life