The Life of Abraham:
Sarai Renamed and Isaac Promised
Doubting God’s promise, Abram and Sarai conspired to force God’s promise to Abram for a child. Abram married Hagar and they had Ishmael. However, God met, once again, with Abram and reemphasized His original promise was not for Ishmael. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and gave him the sign of circumcision as a permanent reminder that God would fulfill all the promises He had made to Abraham.
As this meeting between God and Abraham continues, God renames Sarai and promises that Isaac will be born of Abraham and Sarah.
“…nevertheless, their united fault did not prevent God from making it known to them that he was about to give them that seed, from the expectation of which, they had, in a manner, cut themselves off. Whence the gratuitous kindness of God shines the more clearly, because, although men impede the course of it by obstacles of their own, it nevertheless comes to them.” ~ John Calvin2
Sarai to Sarah
And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.” (Genesis 17:15)
God changes Sarai’s name to “Sarah.” There is some debate on what this might mean. Both names mean “princess.” One theory some hold is that “Sarai” means “my princess” while “Sarah” means a princess to a multitude. According to Blue Letter Bible, “Sarai” does mean “my princess” while “Sarah” means “princess” but more in a noblewoman sort of way as in the wife of a noble-born king.
“Sarai” can almost be thought of as a term of endearment while “Sarah” is a title of nobility. In spite of her sinful dealings with the Abram and Hagar fiasco, God has promoted her to a status of royalty.
God does the same for us when He regenerates His elect. In spite of the sin that penetrates every corner of our being, He chooses us, forgives us, dresses us in Christ’s righteousness, and gives us a new name. The regenerated person is no longer a child of wrath, a sinner; she is now a child of God, a saint.
“The name of Christ is named upon us: we are no longer called sinners and unjust, but we become the children of God by faith which is in Christ Jesus.” ~ Charles Spurgeon6
Mother of Nations
“I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” (Genesis 17:16)
In the Garden of Eden, Eve sinned against God and her husband. However, God showed her grace and mercy by calling her the “mother of all the living.” God does the same with Sarah. This barren, old lady is called, by God, “mother of nations.”
God told Abraham he would be the father of nations, not one nation but many. Here he is making the same promise to Sarah. This means that these nations, are not to include the descendants of Ishmael. As with Abraham, this shadows the inclusion of Gentiles into the family of Abraham. Even in this story, God is showing that true Israel is not just those in a genetic line but all those who will become children of God.
“Abraham is not the sole recipient of the Almighty’s grace; his elderly wife will share in her husband’s blessing. Though she took matters into her own hands by giving her blessing to Hagar’s union with Abraham and even though she came close to blaming God for her infertility, Sarah has not been forgotten. This matriarch who followed Abraham when Yahweh called him out of Ur gets the privilege of mothering a nation of priests and royalty.” ~ Ligonier1
Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Genesis 17:17)
Immediately after God tells Abraham that Sarah will be the mother of nations, he falls facedown before God. This is an act of humility, submission, and worship. God is informing Abraham that he and Sarah were wrong in their thinking regarding how God would fulfill His promise to Abraham. They would have their own biological child.
While Abraham is worshiping God and humbling himself at this truth, it is still mind-blowing to him. He is dumbfounded and flabbergasted as to how this will work. They are old. He is a hundred years old and his wife is ninety! Biologically, it is impossible for them to become pregnant. Yet that is exactly what God is promising.
God isn’t only promising Abraham this but He seems to be doing it in a very matter of fact way. No reassurance offered, no explanation as to how He is going to do it. God just tells him this is how it is going to be; He just states it as fact.
This promise is so mind-blowing to Abraham he laughs. He also questions to himself how this is even possible. He doesn’t say these things to God but to himself. However, God knows exactly what Abraham is thinking.
Abraham’s laughter and questions are not from distrust but out of being completely confounded. What a delight it will be to see God work this miracle in their lives! What a testimony of God’s omnipotence!
“He laughed. It was a laughter of delight, not of distrust.” ~ Matthew Henry3
Although, Abraham is laughing and questioning the possibility, he is, at the same time, humbling himself before God and submitting to His promise. It is beyond him to understand how this will happen but he is putting his trust in his God.
“This, however, seems to some, to be a kind of contest between carnal reason and faith; for although Abraham, reverently prostrating himself before God, submits his own mind to the divine word, he is still disturbed by the novelty of the affair.” ~ John Calvin2
This happens to us still today. We may see something that is impossible but we submit to God’s authority and trust in His providence.
In Daniel 3, we read about when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had to trust God. They were about to be thown into the fiery furnace. They didn’t see any way in which God would be able to save them from death, but they did not waver in their faith. Rather, they tell the king, “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)
While we may not face situations like Abraham or the Daniel and his friends today, I’m sure there are people in your life that you sometimes wonder if there is any hope of salvation for them. They seem so lost, it looks as if there is no hope for them. Yet, the same God that can cause a ninety year old woman to become pregnant, is still at work today and just as powerful. Nothing is impossible for God. Keep praying for the lost in your life, submit your own limited understanding to God and trust Him.
“Once again Abraham shows us that real confidence in God does not rule out times when His awesome promises are hard for us to receive.” ~ Ligonier1
A Prayer for Ishmael
And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” (Genesis 17:18)
While this news that he will have a child with Sarah is marvelous, Abraham still loves his firstborn and makes intercession for him. Ishmael is obviously not the child by which God has chosen to fulfill His promise but Abraham doesn’t want his oldest son to be neglected by God.
Parents love their children and want the best for them. Christian parents pray for their children. It is their duty. Here Abraham is doing so for Ishmael.
“The great thing we should desire of God for our children is that they may live before him, that is, that they may be kept in covenant with him, and may have grace to walk before him in their uprightness. Spiritual blessings are the best blessings, and those for which we should be most earnest with God, both for ourselves and others. Those live well that live before God.” ~ Matthew Henry3
While many parents may pray that their child will be blessed with an easier life than they had or more opportunities for success and prosperity, those are not the most important things a parent can pray for their child. This short prayer by Abraham on behalf of Ishmael should be the model prayer for all parents for their children. There is nothing more important to a child than that they live their life before God.
“…if you have a son, an Ishmael, concerning whom you have many fears and much anxiety, as you are saved yourself, never cease to groan out that cry, ‘O that Ishmael might live before thee!’” ~ Charles Spurgeon6
Isaac, Promised the Son
God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” (Genesis 17:19)
Abraham had just laughed at the thought of what God was promising and questioned the possibility of what He was promising. He questioned to himself but God knew what He was thinking.
However, rather than being angry at Abraham, God shows him compassion, patience, and mercy. He reassures Abraham that He knows what He is doing and once again reemphasizes His promise. Not only that, He gives Abraham a very important detail that he can hold as a memorial, as a sign of the promise when, in the days to come, he may start to doubt again. God gives Abraham the name that his son will be called, Isaac.
“God’s immediate response to all of this is not anger or frustration or anything like that. If He is put out with Abram at all, it is not apparent anywhere in the text. God simply, patiently, and immediately puts an end to any further speculation, or any other possible alternative and faulty understanding of his intentions. He says very plainly that Sarai is going to have a son. His name is going to be Isaac. And he, and NOT Ishmael, will be the one through whom the promises are realized. What has been implicit all along has finally been explicitly said.” ~ Rev. Scott Lindsay4
Isaac means “laughter.” Not incredulous laughter or madness but joyful laughter. The promise of Isaac may cause people to laugh in confusion, derision, or disbelief, but when the promise comes to fruition, people will laugh with joy.
“Christ will be laughter to those that look for him; those that now rejoice in hope shall shortly rejoice in having that which they hope for: this is laughter that is not mad.” ~ Matthew Henry3
Many laugh at Christians today. Many think our faith is foolish. But, one day, we will laugh with joy at the sight of our King’s return.
“Sarah helps us understand that all those who by faith identify themselves with Abraham’s Lord and family shall be included in the promises to Him.” ~ Ligonier1
This story is a blessed story of promise, forgiveness, restoration, and honor. We, like Abraham and Sarah, have sinned, yet God has chosen those whom He will fulfill His promise to Abraham. Those whom He has chosen, He has given a new name, a new title, a new identity. God fulfills His promises in His way and in His timing. While many laugh in derision of us now, one day, we will laugh in joy as all the nations of Abraham and Sarah worship our Lord together as one big family.
“God’s word may seem incredible, but it is absolutely sure.” ~ Ligonier1
1. Abraham Laughed. Ligonier Ministries. Retrieved 3 April 2018, from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/abraham-laughed/
2. Calvin, J. Commentary on Genesis – Volume 1 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Ccel.org. Retrieved 3 April 2018, from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom01.xxiii.i.html
3. Henry, M. Verses 15–22 – Matthew Henry’s Commentary – Bible Gateway. Biblegateway.com. Retrieved 4 April 2018, from https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/matthew-henry/Gen.17.15-Gen.17.22
4. Lindsay, S. (2007). Genesis 17:1-27. Reformedperspectives.org. Retrieved 3 April 2018, from http://reformedperspectives.org/newfiles/sco_lindsay/OT.sco_lindsay.Gen.17.1.html
6. Spurgeon, C. (1868). Consecration to God—Illustrated by Abraham’s Circumcision. Ccel.org. Retrieved 3 April 2018, from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/spurgeon/sermons14.lviii.html