In the last lesson, we saw a serious breach of faith in Abraham. He had failed to trust in Yahweh to protect him among the inhabitants of Gerar and rather trusted in his own wisdom. Had not the LORD intervened as his covenant partner and promise maker and remained faithful to the covenant promises He had made, the road to Christ would have hit a dead end. Abraham should have continued to have believed in Yahweh’s lovingkindness. The Hebrew word “hesed” of which lovingkindness and mercy are some of its English translations describes the action of a superior covenant partner coming to the aid of a weaker one. Abraham felt helpless in this new situation, and the actions he took on his own initiative made the situation worse and not better.
Exposition of the Text
The long awaited promise of God to Abraham and Sarah had become a reality. What a day of absolute joy it must have been to them. It arrived right on time, that is God’s time, and the promise was fulfilled in God’s way as well. This can only be seen as an act of “hesed” as well. Abraham and Sarah were totally unable to have children, so their superior covenant partner who was more than any earthly covenant partner had intervened in their behalf. This was the work of a gracious God alone. I am assuming that Abraham and Sarah conceived the child in the normal way, but only after the LORD had turned back their biological clocks.
Abraham obeyed the LORD and named his son “Isaac”. The laughter of unbelief had become the laughter of belief and joy. He also obeyed the LORD in circumcising Isaac on the eighth day as commanded for all males born into his household as a sign of the covenant. This sign which was made only on the foreskins of males by the shedding of their own blood is replaced in the church today by the covenant sign of baptism in which re remember the shed blood of the Lord Jesus in our own behalf and is for boys, girls, men, and women who are born into the New covenant.
Sarah’s great joy is expressed in a song of praise unto the LORD. She said that the LORD had caused her to laugh in joy, considering the circumstances. It isn’t as elaborate as the psalms of thanksgiving of either Hannah at the birth of Samuel or Mary about the coming birth of her son Jesus but it must have been just as heartfelt as either of these. It was a great reproach for a woman to be barren in the ancient Near East. It was seen as the curse of God. It is fascinating how the Lord has used “cursed” women throughout the Scripture. Rebekah was barren for many years until she gave birth to twins. We can think of Samson’s mother, of Ruth, of Hannah, and of Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist as examples.
God created the world out of nothing and gave it form and purpose. In the case of these barren births, it is in a sense a repetition of creation. This miracle of the birth of Isaac to a long barren woman is in a sense then a new creation. The turning back of her clock was as is she had never grown old in the first place. It was symbolically a return to Eden. She had become a type of Eve. In return, Sarah becomes a type of God’s act of ushering in the fullness of the New Creation. The child she bore becomes a type of the one who would come from the descendants of Abraham, the true promised seed, Jesus Christ who would undo the fivefold curse and will complete the recreation at His return. This promised Jesus would be blessed with seed that will fill the earth. He has an eternal inheritance which he will joyously share with his children. As the new Adam, He has been given dominion over not just the earth but the universe. Through Him we shall have all or our relationships healed as if the effects of sin had never happened and with Him shall live eternally in that happy land. This blessed birth of Isaac is another signpost along the way of what the LORD intended to do.
The children of Israel in the wilderness approaching the Jordan would have been the first to have heard this story told from writing, although some of the material Moses used may have come from written sources. But to the readers of the Torah, the sweetness of this birth must have given courage to them. Even though the promise had been long offered, and through their unbelief delayed forty years, the time of claiming the land Promised to them as the descendants of Abraham was at hand. In a sense, they already had title to it. Soon they would cross the Jordan under Joshua whose name in Greek would be “Jesus “ and make their de jure title de facto.
We too live at the verge of the final fulfillment of God’s promise in Jesus Christ. We stand at the brink of Jordan. Instead of having to cross with Jordan to fight the enemies on the other side, the New Joshua, Jesus Christ, has gone into the heavenlies to make Holy War against our greatest enemy, Satan. If the Children of Israel were unable to overcome fully the Canaanite enemies, what hope would the church have against the principalities and cosmic powers set against us? Our Joshua has gone on ahead, and when the way is fully clear, at the time and means of His own choosing will bring us to birth in the Promised Land that truly is the restored Eden of God. The land of Canaan that the first Joshua and the children of Israel entered pales in comparison.
We have been waiting a long time for this promise to be fulfilled. We as humans have a more mortal way at looking at promises. We expect them to be fulfilled within our allotted fourscore and ten. Even in Peter’s time, scoffers had come against the church with the accusation that the Lord is delaying his coming. These scoffers have not let up over the nearly 2,000 years since Peter either. We know that the Lord Jesus is incredibly patient and unwilling any should perish. He knows the fullness of the number of those appointed to eternal life. Just like with Abraham and Sarah, we must wait patiently on our covenant partner to show His hesed. We cannot make this promise happen in our own initiative.
We may fault Abraham and Sarah for their lack of faith, and their attempts at self-deliverance through their own ingenuity as well as their attempts to make God’s will happen. But they are not the only ones who have tried to shortcut the process. The church has made its own “crusades” over the years as though it was our responsibility to make God’s kingdom a reality. The result has been just as unsatisfying as that of Abraham and Sarah. The Children of Israel who had wandered in the wilderness as a result of unbelief in the promise of God tried to force God’s hand by attempting to enter the Promised Land anyway. The result was a stinging defeat. The children of the Exodus generation would get to the Promised Land, on God’s timing and in the way He ordained.
We must learn to rest on the promise of God and wait patiently on Him to complete the work he had returned to the Father to do. He is busy preparing a place for us. The suffering of waiting is part of God’s plan for us. His discipline is to make us most joyful and thankful for His grace when the promise arrives. The joy we shall have at that heavenly banquet will be as heartfelt in depth as the joy of Sarah and infinitely wider in breadth. In the meanwhile, as we anticipate that day, we receive down payments of the life to come. Just like Israel had its feasts in the wilderness, God sets His table before us as well. The church fellowship supper or love feast should be a joyous down payment of the future reality. We already have the title by law (de jure). We now await for it to come in fact (de facto).
There is another type of feast that is a down payment to our future reality as well. When we come to Christ, a banquet is held in heaven. There is great joy in heaven over the birth of a new Christian. Our births are joyously recorded in heaven. The Lord takes great joys in His new children. We can be assured of his lovingkindness. Of course, children have to be disciplined. They have all the privileges reserved to them as a right of birth. But even though these privileges are a birthright, the attainment of these promises has to come with maturity. We must be patient with the Lord working his promise in us as well. The joy of birth is past, but the joy of marriage is ahead.