Thursday, January 22, 2009

Genesis 21:1-7

Part one of my script from sunday school last weekend

I wonder why we’re at church this morning. I guess our answers would range from the spiritual (‘I want to worship God though Jesus in Sprit and truth’) to the relational (‘I want to spend some time with my friends and church family’) to the more mundane and honest (‘this is just what I do on a Sunday morning’). None of those are bad reasons for coming to church, obviously, but I wonder if sometimes it’s easy to get blasé about being part of a church, about being saved, about being one of God’s sons or daughters though faith in Jesus. Maybe it seems to us that being a Christian isn’t worth it. We seem distant from the days when everything was new and we’ve grown tired of the daily routine of Bible reading and prayer.

I wonder if often times this was how Israel felt. They had lost the wonder of the early years, they had all heard the stories of what God had done generations ago that we read about in the early chapters of Genesis, and maybe, by the exile they felt like we do sometimes. In need of a fresh reminder at the wonderful power of God. In need of a revelation of the purposes of God, and how wonderful it is to be part of His people. Maybe they simply needed to remember that God is always in control, and always working for the good of His people. Maybe we need that reminder this morning as well.I think the story we’ve just read would have served all of those purposes for the Israelites that read it, and hopefully it will do the same for us as well.

Genesis 21:1-7 forms a complete story, about the birth of Isaac, but it’s part of a larger story, the conclusion of a story that started 25 years previous and took many diversions and hit many problems along the way. Before we can understand and enjoy this story in it’s full colour we need to see this back story, so lets take ever such a brief look at the last 25 years of Abraham until this point. The story starts in Genesis 11:30, right after we meet Sarah we’re told ‘now Sarai was barren, she had no child’. Shortly after that God calls Abraham and tells him in Genesis 12:2 ‘I will make you a great nation…’ Genesis 12:4 tells us that Abraham was seventy five years old at this time. Shortly afterwards God visits Abraham again and tells him, in Genesis 13:16 ‘I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth…’ and in 15:5 ‘as the starts of the sky.’ All this time as these promises become more and more incredible Sarah is still barren. So she suggests that Abraham tries to conceive with Hagar, thinking that this must be the way that God was going to fulfill His promise to them. Hagar gives birth to Ishmael and it seems that the wait is over and the tension is relieved.

Abraham and Sarah are happy with this state of affairs for thirteen years until chapter 17, when God appears again to Abraham and says if Sarah in verse 16: ‘I will give you a son by her’ In Genesis 18 God gets more specific about the promise of Isaac saying, verse 10, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a sin.’ Sarah overhears this from her tent and, perhaps understandably, verse 12 ‘laughed to herself saying ‘after I am worn out and I am old shall I have pleasure?’’

So that’s where we are prior to Genesis 21. So far it’s a story of God making big promises, and His people not believing Him and trying to make God’s plans happen themselves. Sometimes people say that the Old Testament is no longer relevant, but that sounds just like my life sometimes. Lack of faith leading to inappropriate action. It gets even worse in Genesis 20 when Abraham passes Sarah off as his sister to protect himself from King Abimelech. It’s from this point our story starts, twenty five years after God’s first promise, thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael, and a year after Sarah laughed at the idea of bearing a child.

So with out context set, lets look at verses one and two together: the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had promised.’ The tension is resolved, Abraham has a son! This is a huge step forward in the story of Genesis, in the search to find the serpent crusher, and the story of how Abraham was to become the father of many nations. We can see the emphasis in these verses is all on God’s action. The phrases ‘as He had said,’ ‘as He had promised,’ ‘at the time of which God had spoken to Him,’ demonstrate where the author wants to draw our attention here.

Onto God. Onto the LORD of Israel keeping His promises even down to the smallest details. Again we see, clear as a bell from scripture that God is gracious because God is gracious, not because we deserve it or because we have done something to impress Him. God makes a promise and He keeps it. This is a firm rock on which to set our feet. This is what should wake us up every morning thrilled to be a Christian, because today, and tomorrow, and every day, God will keep His promises. This is good news!

No comments: