The birth of a baby boy to parents who were very elderly must have sparked a lot of murmuring. Who were these people who had been wandering the land of Canaan for twenty-five years? What would become of them? God’s hand was obviously upon them to make them successful. It is unclear how much the people of Canaan knew about the covenant that God made with Abraham. Abraham and Sarah had likely kept fairly quiet about their expectation that God would give them the whole land of Canaan as a possession. But such things tend to get out and spread.
With the birth of Isaac, the nations were already becoming uneasy, as demonstrated by the reactions of Ishmael and Abimelech. Ishmael was not yet a nation, but he despised Isaac even at that time due to his position as the favored son of Abraham who would inherit the covenant promises of God. Abimelech, king of Gerar, was intimidated enough by God’s blessing upon Abraham (not the least of which was through Isaac’s birth) that he came to make a peace covenant with the commander of his army in tow. This chapter includes a short account of the birth of Isaac as well as two narratives about the reaction to the birth of Isaac by leaders of other nations.
1 Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised. 2 So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him.
God began the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant twenty-five years after calling Abraham out of Haran. He is not slow about His promises but works them according to His time and way. Abraham and Sarah had both heard the promise from the LORD that the son would be born within the year, and they witnessed the fulfillment of that promise, strengthening their faith that everything that God had promised would come to pass.
3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. 4 Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” 7 And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
There was so much joy over this child, because his birth was a miracle. Abraham and Sarah were both past the child-bearing years. On top of that, Sarah had been barren all of her life. She exclaimed how miraculous the birth of Isaac was, marveling that no one would have believed that it would come.
Approximately three years passed:
8 The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.
Abraham and Sarah were overjoyed by this miraculous son of promise. They celebrated every moment. When the boy was weaned, there was a great feast thrown.
9 Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking.
Ishmael, though never named in this chapter, would have been about seventeen years old when Isaac was weaned. He had surely learned about the covenant God had made with Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and had been taught that the angel of the LORD had promised Hagar that her son would become a great nation as well. Part of that prophecy was that Ishmael would be against everyone. Already, that disposition of character was making itself known by him making fun of Isaac.
When Sarah saw Ishmael’s attitude, she was angry.
10 Therefore she said to Abraham, “Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.” 11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named. 13 And of the son of the maid I will make a nation also, because he is your descendant.”
Abraham’s love for Ishmael is clear. He did not want to send him away, but it was necessary so that Isaac alone would receive the inheritance. God promised him that Ishmael would live, for he would multiply exceedingly just as God had promised Hagar in the wilderness.
14 So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba.
This time, Hagar wandered toward the east, for the angel of the LORD had told her that Ishmael would live toward the east. It is evident that Hagar believed what the LORD had told her almost two decades beforehand. However, she would be tested in the wilderness:
15 When the water in the skin was used up, she left the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, “Do not let me see the boy die.” And she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept. 17 God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. 18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” 19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink.
In this scene of great desperation, God is the God of great comfort. Hagar and Ishmael were in the wilderness. The water that Abraham had given them was all gone. There was no likelihood of finding water nearby. When Ishmael grew so faint that he could no longer walk, even with Hagar’s help, she left him under a bush and went away so that she would not hear him die. Ishmael was crying out for help from his mother. So God compassionately stepped in to help so that His promise would not be broken. He reminded Hagar of Ishmael’s destiny to become a great nation, and He caused her to see that there was a well of water close by.
20 God was with the lad, and he grew; and he lived in the wilderness and became an archer. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
The scene shifts away from the two boys and returns to the unfolding drama between Abraham and Abimelech.
22 Now it came about at that time that Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, “God is with you in all that you do; 23 now therefore, swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but according to the kindness that I have shown to you, you shall show to me and to the land in which you have sojourned.”
Abraham had apparently been living in Gerar for the past three or more years. During that time, Abimelech, king of Gerar, recognized that God had greatly blessed Abraham. He wanted to be sure to be in Abraham’s good graces, so he took the commander of his army and went to make a covenant of peace with Abraham and his descendants.
24 Abraham said, “I swear it.” 25 But Abraham complained to Abimelech because of the well of water which the servants of Abimelech had seized. 26 And Abimelech said, “I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, nor did I hear of it until today.”
Before making the covenant, Abraham tested Abimelech to see what his response would be to the seizing of Abraham’s well. Wells were an important item in this dry area, so possession of wells were often contentious. Abimelech pled ignorance.
27 Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them made a covenant. 28 Then Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. 29 Abimelech said to Abraham, “What do these seven ewe lambs mean, which you have set by themselves?” 30 He said, “You shall take these seven ewe lambs from my hand so that it may be a witness to me, that I dug this well.” 31 Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because there the two of them took an oath.
The seven ewe lambs were a sort of receipt to prove that Abimelech had recognized the well as Abraham’s. Therefore, the well was called ‘the well of the seven’ or ‘the well of oath.’ The Hebrew is probably intentionally ambiguous so that it could cleverly mean both.
32 So they made a covenant at Beersheba; and Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, arose and returned to the land of the Philistines. 33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God. 34 And Abraham sojourned in the land of the Philistines for many days.
Instead of an altar this time, Abraham planted a tree as a testimony to the LORD’s everlasting nature. He recognized that the promised possession of the land of Canaan would be fulfilled in the distant future. This led Abraham to ponder God’s eternal nature and to worship Him accordingly.
Abraham was a simple shepherd, but God’s favor was so evidently upon him through the miraculous birth of Isaac that the Canaanites were taking notice of it. One descendant was certainly not yet the mighty nation promised to Abraham. But in only a handful of generations, that one son would turn into an exceedingly large and prosperous nation that would take Canaan by storm under the direction and power of God. Kings would rule over them. God’s name would become feared by the nations.
However, Israel was blinded by idolatry, forsaking the true God for false and powerless gods. They were punished by exile for a time. When they returned to the land, their idolatry was less evident, but they were not faithful to the Lord; for they forsook the faith of their fathers and fell into a religious system of works.
At the appointed time, God sent His Son, born of a virgin. He lived as an Israelite among the people. He was perfect in all His ways. The people did not believe Him to be the awaited Messiah and crucified Him. In His death, Jesus bore the punishment for all who would believe in Him. He was raised on the third day and ascended to God’s right hand. When He returns, God will put all things in subjection to Him. At that time, He will reign as King over restored and faithful Israel who will possess the land promised to them. He will rule in righteousness, and His church will be rulers with Him.
To obtain the forgiveness of sins, all one must do is believe God, and it will be credited as righteousness. Believe God’s Word, which says that Jesus died and rose again. Believe God’s Word that He will forgive sins. Believe that Jesus is coming again to call all those who believe in Him into eternal glory. Believe that those who believe in Him will reign with Him forever when He sits on His glorious throne.