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A Faithful Father

Date: Jun. 17, 2018

Author: Bob Henkins

Genesis 21:1-21

Key Verse: Genesis 21:1

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. Four men are in the hospital waiting room because their wives are having babies. A nurse goes up to the first guy and says, “Congrats! You’re the father of twins.” “That’s odd, I work for the Minnesota Twins!” answers the man.  A nurse says to the second guy, “Congrats! You’re the father of triplets!” “That’s weird, I work for the 3M company!” A nurse tells the third man, “Congrats! You’re the father of quadruplets!” “That’s strange, I work for the Four Seasons hotel!” Suddenly everyone looks as they hear the last man banging his head on the wall groaning. “What’s wrong?” they asked, “Oh no, I work for 7-Eleven!” he says.

As I was preparing this message I came across a very sad web site Fathers.com. This site deals with the extent of fatherlessness. More than 20 million children live in a home without the physical presence of a father.  Millions more have dads who are physically present, but emotionally absent.  If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency. In my analytics class this past semester, one group of students did a project on Chicago crime. One fact they uncovered from the data showed that living in a single parent home was the most common data point among criminals. According to the site, fatherless families are 44% more likely to raise children living in poverty. 71% of all adolescent substance abusers come from a fatherless home, 80% of adolescents in psychiatric hospitals come from a fatherless home. Fatherless children are 2Xs more likely to commit suicide, they’re 9Xs more likely to drop out of school, 9Xs more likely to be raped our sexually abused, and 20Xs more likely to go to jail. In short, fatherlessness is associated with almost every societal ill facing our country’s children today. (let me say that again) This impacts me in a deeper way than normal because last week I found out that a guy from my work had died. He was only 28 years old. He was a nice guy, who worked hard and was reliable and the sad thing is that he leaves behind an 8-year-old daughter. And when I think of all those statistics, I can only pray for his little girl. I’m not bringing this up just to bring you down on Father’s Day but rather to show the importance of a FAITHFUL father. And to confess my thankfulness to my FAITHFUL father God in heaven and to my earthly father. I can only hope and pray that I may be a faithful father to my kids.

Speaking of fathers, how embarrassing would it be to have a name that meant “Father of many nations” and only have one son? The year before Abraham suddenly changed his name from Abram to Abraham (the meaning went from noble father to father of many nations) and maybe his neighbors thought he had delusions of grandeur, was crazy, or just plain weird. That was the situation Abraham found himself in as our passage starts today. Let’s take a look at verses 1-2. “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.” The chapter starts out so beautifully as we see God’s grace and how he was FAITHFUL to Sarah’s family. For the past, 75 years, Abraham and Sarah longed to have children but as we’ve heard over and over, month after month, nothing changed. They must had almost given up, except now everything changed. God was not lying, he kept his promise, even when both Abraham and Sarah were unfaithful. God was FAITHFUL even when they were not. God had mercy on Sarah and poured out his grace on her instead of punishing her for her doubt, and disobedience, when she tried to solve their problem on their own. As we were reading this passage, it got me to thinking maybe they would have had Isaac sooner if they hadn’t interfered in God’s plan? In these verses we catch hints at God’s power with the phrases, “as he had said,” “The Lord did what he promised,” “at the very time.” It’s hard for us to keep even simple promises, I can’t imagine something as complicated as a pregnancy. And yet God did it at the very time he said he would. (even after Abraham put it into jeopardy-from last week’s passage)

(Verses 3-5 say), “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.” Here we see the birth of the promised son, Isaac. What a tender, precious moment Abraham holding their newborn. And Abraham follows God’s command and circumcises him on the eighth day. That must have been hard to do because all you want to do is make sure they are safe and sound.

The next thing we see is how God restored Sarah. Take a look at verses 6-7. “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.”” Sarah used to laugh in unbelief, now she laughs with joy. There is real joy here. Maybe in the past others would have laughed at her because of her situation, but God has changed that and now people would be laughing with her. The scene may look similar, as the people are laughing but it’s completely different because Sarah is laughing with them. You can almost hear the amazement in her voice. Last weekend we had a surprise party for my grandma’s 90thbirthday, the same age as Sarah, and I couldn’t imagine a 90-year-old woman nursing a baby. She can barely take care of herself let alone a newborn baby.

If the story ended here it would be perfect ending (and they lived happily ever after) but it doesn’t. Everything was great at least for a little while. Abraham and Sarah had the thing they wanted most but the problem with sin is that it has consequences, and we never know when those consequences are going to come back and bite us in the butt. However, even in the midst of sin, we can see our father God’s faithfulness. Do you remember a few chapters back in 16, when Sarah concocted her plan to bring Hagar into their marriage? Initially she was happy because it seemed that her plan worked, but after a while she got jealous and tried to send Hagar and Ishmael away. But God brought them back and for a while things seemed to be working out until they take a turn for the worse. Take a look at verses 8-10. “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, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”” According to Jewish custom, when a child was weaned it was a cause for celebration. A weaned child meant it has survived the fragile stage of infancy and can now eat solid food instead of only breastfeeding. Because high infant mortality rates existed, if a child had developed past the need for the physical dependence from their mother, that indicated they reached a new stage of life which greatly increased the likelihood of their survival. Again, we see God’s faithfulness as he kept Isaac alive through this uncertain period. So, Abraham thought, “Let’s party!” However, not everything is good in party town. At this point, Ishmael is probably around 16/17 and Isaac is about two, two and a half (depending on when he was weaned) when all of a sudden, this teenager starts picking on the toddler. Some commentators say that Ishmael was being mean to Isaac, picking on him like a bully. And you’d think, “Why would a teenager that old pick on his little half-brother?” But if we flash back again to chapter 16, God gave us some insight into Ishmael’s character when he said that “he would be like a wild donkey of a man,” so maybe that is coming into play now. Also, Sarah gives us an additional piece of information when she brings up the topic of inheritance. With the birth of Isaac, who gets the inheritance becomes a lot muddier. Ishmael was the first-born son, but Isaac was the promised son. So maybe this was a hot button topic between Sarah and Hagar.

So, when Sarah sees what’s going on she naturally gets ticked off and says, “Hey Abraham, your girlfriend’s son is picking on our baby. If you don’t do something about them, I will!” Can you blame her? She’s been waiting her whole life for this and she’s not going to let this teenage bully ruin it by picking on her little boy.

This is where things get real difficult for Abraham. Just a short time ago he was living the life, he had Ishmael his firstborn and now precious Isaac but now he is put right in the middle of the problem and everyone is looking at him and what’s he going to do. Does he blow it off and say, “Ahh it’s nothing,” or does he take it seriously? (Verses 11-14.) “11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” 14 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.” Abraham was now chewing the wages of his sin because had to deal with the consequences of his previous actions. He was so distressed about this and yet he couldn’t ignore it any longer.

But yet again, here we see God’s faithfulness. God was FAITHFUL to Ishmael because of Abraham – God was keeping his promise even in the midst of a difficult situation. People might criticize God for telling Abraham to kick his son out of his house, but it’s not like he was abandoning them and kicking them to the curb, but it was more like God was telling Abraham, “You need to focus on your family and raising your son. Don’t worry, I got your back. I’ll take care of things with Ishmael for you.” It was God’s wisdom to make things clear and separate the families because that identifies who is the promised son. The promised son couldn’t be like a wild donkey and Isaac, was not like that, he was gentle.

Notice how Abraham responds, that he got up EARLY the next morning. He didn’t wait or procrastinate, once he made his decision he took action, this was the pattern of his life. Just as God kept his promise, Abraham responded in faithful obedience. In a sense, Abraham’s response conveyed, “Thank you Lord. I will trust in you for I know that you have done this for me and both of my sons belongs to you.” This was a sign that Abraham was part of the covenant community.

Our series in Genesis, is about beginnings. We’ve seen the beginning of creation, the beginning of time and history, the beginning of man, and here we’re seeing the beginning of two nations… of two people groups; the Jews and the Arabs. Both Jew and Arab honor Abraham as their father. The Arabs trace their lineage back to Ishmael and the Jews to Isaac. What is interesting is that both groups consider their ancestor as the promised son. The Arabs say that Ishmael was the promised son and the Jews say it is Isaac.

Verses 14-21 tell us what happened next. “She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba. 15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob. 17 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. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” 19 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. 20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.” We tend to think of this scene and pity Hagar & Ishmael, which is true they’re in a difficult spot. But maybe God was using this incident to train Ishmael to help him repent of being a wild donkey and for mocking and picking on Isaac. Sometimes people have to go through tough situations because they are stubborn and don’t listen. I don’t know maybe Ishmael is stubborn like a donkey.

Anyway, once again we see the faithfulness of God as he heard Hagar and Ishmael’s crying. This shows that God is living and active and concerned for people. See how God was comforting her. Notice how the angel addressed Hagar gently by name unlike how Sarah called her “that slave woman.” God understood her fear and reassured her that they would make it. And God was with them just as he promised Abraham he would be. All the stats I quoted in the beginning, would lead us to think that Ishmael would end up in tragedy. God can break the cycle. While it’s true Ishmael lost his father, but God became his father. The fatherless have a special place in God’s heart. The fatherless are mentioned more than 40 times in the Bible and most cases God is defending them. Psalm 82:3 says, “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.” In fact, God is a father to the fatherless. Psalm 68:5 says, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”

So, Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away. And while they are out in the desert, they run out of water, and Hagar basically gives up and thinks they are all but dead. This is a sad, hopeless state. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there. You’ve got more bills than income. You’re not sure how you’re going to buy food and clothes for your kids, or how you’re going to make ends meet. Well that’s kind of where Hagar is at. She’s lost all hope and has basically accepted the fact that they are going to die in the desert. Both of them start to cry, but God hears them. God hears and he understands. When there seems to be no hope, God shows up and brings hope to the hopeless.

Spiritually, because of our sins, we don’t have much hope. For the wages of sin is death. You and I have no hope whatsoever without Christ. None of us would have any hope without God intervention. God still has mercy today! No matter what you’re going through in life, He can help you. He can bring you through. His mercies are new every morning. Cry out to Him, fall on His grace and mercy.

We are called to trust and depend on him. How can we know that we can trust God? Because our father God, keeps his promise. Time and time again we see in the Bible how God has kept his promise to so many different people. The Bible is a record of God’s promises, and he has kept them all, except there is still one promise that has yet to be fulfilled. That is the promise that Jesus will return to earth and will take all those who believe in him to live with God forever in his kingdom. Isaac was the promised son to Abraham, but Jesus is the promised son to all believers

Who is a good father? A good father protects and provides for his family. And this is exactly what our father God has been doing from the beginning. We should follow our heavenly father’s example and learn from him on how to be good fathers. And then we should live upstanding lives and teach our children how to live according to the ways of God. I love my earthly father, but he wasn’t perfect. No earthly father is as many of those stats show. But our father God is perfect and he has the power to back it up. Even if I want to be the best father, I don’t always have the ability to carry it out, but God does because he is all powerful. Thankfully our God is our FAITHFUL father.

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Amos 6:1-14

Key Verse: 6:8b

The Lord GOD has sworn by himself, declares the LORD, the God of hosts:

  “I abhor the pride of Jacob
    and hate his strongholds,
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