Isaac born to Sarah
- Main Text: Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7
- Accompanying text: Mark 10:27
What this passage means to us
“Abraham was the major patriarchal person to exemplify distinctive qualities of faith/trust according to the Old Testament”, his story portrays “the quintessence of faith”, and thus “Abraham was honoured as a true exemplar of invincible faith” .
The attitude of Abraham to the three visitors is a lesson in hospitality for all of us. “Abraham had three famous visitors and acted in the appropriate traditional manner with water for the feet and a generous meal…Abraham ‘bowed himself to the earth’ before his guests and stood by (like a servant) while they ate” . He rushed to welcome them, and he was concerned for their physical comfort, making sure they had time to rest under large terebinth trees “where the shade is pleasant” (Hosea 4:13). Who were these three men? Later one of them is identified as “the Lord” (Genesis 18:13, 33), and the other two referred to as “angels” (Genesis 19:1). “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). While they wait in the shade Abraham hurries to Sarah and tells her to prepare some cakes (flatbreads) quickly, and the equally hospitable Sarah “obeyed Abraham and called him her lord” (1 Peter 3:6), although this New Testament quote is not about “one specific incident” but rather the syntax used by Peter indicates “a continuing pattern of conduct during one’s life” . Abraham, however, did not leave it all to his his wife as some husbands might do — he chose a calf from his herd and had it slaughtered and butchered without delay and prepared it, presumably roasting some tender parts of it, and then also brought milk and butter for the meal. Later, when the two angels entered the city of Sodom, Abraham’s nephew Lot offered them hospitality and safety for the night, and he made them a feast (Genesis 19:2-3), in stark contrast to the hostile and self-serving reception the Sodomite men gave them (Genesis 19:4-5). “Practice hospitality”, Paul tells us (Romans 12:13), and Peter reminds us to “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).
Probably the last thing you’d expect visitors to do, after you’ve wined and dined them so well, is to announce that you’re going to have a baby. Sarah overheard this piece of good news as she listened to the men talking to Abraham by the tent door. She began to laugh inwardly at the idea of Abraham and her having physical relations in their old age: would the old man really be up to it? But God knows our inward thoughts and desires, and even he hears our suppressed laughter! “Is anything too hard for me?” he asked (Genesis 18:14). Mary, the mother of Jesus, had similar news announced to her, but under very different circumstances. Initially she could not believe it either. “For with God nothing is impossible”, Gabriel told her (Luke 1:13 NKJV). When it came to the idea of a rich man entering the Kingdom of God, Christ said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). Paul wrote, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). It’s the faith idea again. All these thoughts are linked, not to faith in oneself, but to faith in God, that he will work out his purposes and fulfil his promises. Mary submitted herself to God’s purposes, but Sarah denied she had laughed. Not that she was the first to laugh at the very idea — Abraham had laughed too with incredulity when he first heard of it in Genesis 17:17. God’s promise would be fulfilled in God’s way. Sarah had previously tried to solve their lack-of-offspring problem by offering her handmaid to her obliging husband, and, in so doing, she had followed a local custom of their times. In God’s time, however, their son, Isaac, was born, and this time there was no laugh of disbelief and shock, but rather the joyful laughter of faith and of appreciation. Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6).
Context and Story-line
From last week’s setting of the Garden of Eden we move to the sheltered area of Mamre in the area of Hebron. It is here where Abraham settled after Lot chose the well-watered plains of Jordan following the tension between their respective herdsmen. Just before he made camp there, God promised Abram, as Abraham was called then, that he would gift the land as far as the eye could see to his descendants (Genesis 13:14-18). It is also from Mamre that Abram rides out to rescue the abducted Lot, after which Melchizedek comes to meet Abram with bread and wine, and Abram in worship gives Melchizedek a tithe of all that he has (Genesis 14:13, 18-20). Abraham seems to have been attached to Mamre, and it is in a cave in the nearby field of Machpelah that he buries his beloved Sarah (Genesis 23:19), and Isaac died in Mamre many years later (Genesis 35:27-29).
Much happened in the intervening time between the events of Genesis 2 and Genesis 18. It’s easy to remember the bad things more than the good – the appearance of Satan in the Garden, the sin of Adam and Eve, Cain’s murder of Abel, Nimrod’s reputation, the depravity of humanity before the Flood, Noah’s getting drunk and its consequences, the wars of Genesis 14, and the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah. At the same time many of the redemptive undercurrents of the salvation story are being developed, all which point to and culminate in Jesus Christ. The good news begins. A seed of Eve’s will crush the serpent, Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord and the sign of the rainbow was given, God begins to show his unmerited favour to Abram, and the hope for all nations takes shape. Hebrews 11:3-8 explains these events through the lens of faith. The undercurrents are there…grace, faith, redemption, good news, and next week they continue with the curious incident of a grandson in the night.
- Galatians 3:5-18; 3:26-4:7; 4:21-31
- Romans 4:13-25
Other GCI resources
Footnotes and references
- James L Price in his section The Biblical View of Faith: A Protestant Perspective, from Handbook of Faith edited by James Michael Lee (Alabama, USA: Religious Education Press, 1990). 125-126.
- Kenneth E Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: cultural studies in the Gospels (London, UK: SPCK, 2008). 243.
- Wayne Grudem, The First Epistle of Peter: An Introduction and Commentary, part of the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity Press, 1999). 141.