Abram and Nahor took wives for themselves. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah. Sarai was barren; she had no child. Genesis 11:29-30, NASB
THE STORY BEGINS
We see that Abram was told he would become a great nation. God knew that he would use Abram in great and mighty ways to further spread his creation and populate the earth. It is important to note that God offered a blessing and promise to Abram in Chapter 12, verse 3:
“And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse.” Genesis 12:3, NASB. This was the first promise that God made to Abram and it is significant because it ain’t no lie, God didn’t want to see his generation go bye bye bye.
GOD’S COVENANT WITH ABRAM
While Abram was currently childless, he was lamenting to God that he desired to be a father (Genesis 15:4). What is God’s response to Abram? “And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you can count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” Genesis 15:5, NASB
That’s right. God not only promised Abram that he would have children, he was planning to expand the family of God to the degree that it would be impossible to count the number of descendants, just as it would be impossible to count the number of stars in the sky. We see a parallel here to Adam and Eve when they were told to be “fruitful and multiply.” (Genesis 1:28). What Adam and Eve left off doing, Abram picked up and would continue.
ISHMAEL IS BORN
“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go into my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. He went into Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight.” Genesis 16:1-4, NASB
As we saw in the previous chapter, Hagar was treated harshly and sent away. God ministered to her and instructed her to return to the house of Abram.When Hagar returned to the house of Abram, we see that she indeed gave birth to a son and Abraham named him Ishmael “So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.” Genesis 16:15, NASB . Abram had finally had a son, but it was not his son of the promise given to him by God. We know that later on we would have Isaac come into play. Abram would have bonded with Ishmael, even though Sarai was set to not do so.
ABRAM BECOMES ABRAHAM
Like I mentioned in Chapter 1, God changes names in the Bible when there are significant happenings or events. Abram started out with a name that meant “exalted father,” but we see that God changed his name to Abraham, shortly before the promise of Isaac:
“As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you will be the father of a multitude of nations.” No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you.Genesis 17:4-6, NASB.
When we see the name Abram, there is a distinction to be made that even before he was promised a child, his name still meant exalted father. If we look at the two phrases “exalted father” and “exceedingly fruitful”, we see that the former is an indication of WHAT he would be considered (an exalted father) where the latter we see as the HOW God would use him (by having him be exceedingly fruitful). We can see the WHEN in the next passage:
“But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.” Genesis 17:19, NASB Not only was Abraham told that he would be blessed with a son who would establish a covenant with God, he was told that Ishmael would be blessed as well:
“As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.” Genesis 17:20, NASB
One final thing we see before Isaac is born is that God gave Abraham a specific command and admonishment in how to handle his children:
“For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” Genesis 18:19, NASB
ISAAC IS BORN
“Then the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me. 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. The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.” Genesis 21:1-8
The promised son, the only son promised by the covenant God created with Abraham had finally arrived! We see in the verses about that Abraham and Sarah were joyful and full of laughter. They had given birth to a child in their old age, against all thoughts. What promises of God did Isaac’s birth actually fulfill?
1) Every nation would be blessed. “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” Galatians 3:8, NASB
2) Abraham would have children who would inherit the land “The LORD appeared to Abram and said, To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him. “Genesis 12:7
3) His seed would storm the gates of the enemies: “indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.” Genesis 22:17
ABRAHAM SENDS ISHMAEL AWAY
We are told that Abraham eventually had a son named Isaac (Genesis 21:2). Isaac grew until he was weaned (this would have been around three or four years of age). It was during this weaning time that they decided to have a party for Isaac:
“The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned” Genesis 21:8, NASB
During the time of the party we see that Ishmael was teasing his younger half-brother Isaac. Because of this, Sarah got angry and demanded to Abraham that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away. At this point, Ishmael was around sixteen years of age.
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.” The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son. 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. And of the son of the maid I will make a nation also, because he is your descendant.” Genesis 21:10-13, NASB
ABRAHAM’S RESPONSE TO LOSING ISHMAEL
“The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son” Genesis 21:11, NASB. Because of this, he gave them provisions for the journey of food and water (Genesis 21:14). What could have been going on at this time? By this point, Ishmael had grown to be 16 or 17 years of age. That is a significant time period in an adolescent’s life and is a time of specific attachments to the parent or caregiver. In the previous chapter regarding Hagar, we looked at attachment theory in relation to the experience of a mother giving birth and caring for her newborn infant. For looking at the connection or relationship that would have been expected to happen during this time period of adolescence between Abraham and Ishmael, we look to Erik Erickson and his eight stages of psycho-social development.
According to Erickson, (1968) adolescents are in the 5th stage of their psycho-social development, also called “Identity vs. Role Confusion”. 6 It is during this stage of life that a child begins to identify and determine their ultimate identity in life. It is honed by our daily interactions and relies heavily on the formation of the ego identity. As an adolescent, Ishmael was transitioning from being a child to becoming an adult. Although the “biblical age” of adulthood was 12, the psycho-social development would not have been to full maturity. While adolescents may not feel they need their parents as much, they still have a need for parents to help shape their identity and role in society.
In looking at the passage of Abraham’s distress, we look at some of the original meaning of the words. The Hebrew word for distress is “yâra‘;”. A word that means to be “broken up, to fear, and to be grievous and tremble.” Abraham was showing such a great amount of distress that he was broken up and trembling, he was also having grief.
If we look at verse 12, we see that God comes directly to Abraham to bring him relief. 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. (Genesis 21:12). This is important and significant because we see that God came directly to Abraham. Abraham did not have to seek God out, but instead God found him and brought him comfort. Moreover, he directed him to cleave to his wife! God knows that family is important, and he was all about preserving the marriage of Abraham and Sarah. Colloquially, we see this in every day life with the tongue-in-cheek phrase “Happy wife, happy life”
ABRAHAM’S CONNECTION WITH ISHMAEL
When we looked at Hagar, we see that in the wilderness God provided a well for her and her son Ishmael to drink from (Genesis 21:19). Abraham, Hagar, Jacob, and Elijah all experienced life-changing encounters with God in association with this same well in the spot of Beersheba. We first see Hagar and Ishmael benefitting from the water of this well and it was used to stave off certain death. Later on, we see that Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech and even planted a tree to commemorate the well. He likely would have had a drink of water from it as well, cementing a bond to Ishmael.
“Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because there the two of them took an oath. 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. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God.” Genesis 21:31-33, NASB
Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). In looking at the type of tree he planted (a tamarisk), we can gain a bit of insight to how he would be looking toward future generations. In the United States, we know this tree as a salt cedar. It is a slow-growing tree and takes many generations to achieve full growth. This is significant, because Abraham trusted God that he would indeed become a father of many generations. His connection to Ishmael was only the beginning. The place he planted the tree was evidence and an indicator of The Everlasting GOD. He called on his name, in faith, that he would cause him to be fruitful like promised.
GOD TESTS ABRAHAM
No study about Abraham would be complete without touching on the story of Abraham and Isaac. While Abraham did not actually lose Isaac, we can learn a lot from the story, the journey to Moriah, and God’s provision and sacrifice for our life.
“ Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” Genesis 22:1-2, NASB
Wow! Abraham was being told to sacrifice his only son. But wait a minute, what about Ishmael? At first thought it appears there may be a scriptural contradiction here. After all, Abraham already had a son named Ishmael, right? When we look at the word “begotten”/”only son”, we see that it means unique and special. Sure, Abraham had a son named Ishmael already, but the promised son was Isaac. Ishmael had come about from two individuals taking matters in their own hands. On the contrary, Isaac was a divine gift and promise. So when we see “only son”, it is referring the only son of the promise God gave Abraham in Genesis 17:19.
“So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance.” Genesis 22:3-4, NASB
ABRAHAM’S RESPONSE TO GOD’S TEST
We are told that Abraham rose up the next morning and set out for the three day journey to Moriah. During this time, Abraham must have had a lot of emotions going through his mind. We can tell he dearly loved his son Isaac. He had just been told to sacrifice his son, and did not even seem to question it. Perhaps Abraham’s faith was so great, that he knew in the back of his mind God would intervene at the last minute. Up until this point, God had been faithful to Abraham and fulfilled all of his promises. God had literally said that Isaac would be a father to many nations as well, so why would he have him sacrifice him?
How can we determine what emotions and feelings Abraham may have had the night before the journey? If we look to our lives, we see times of uncertainty and distress and have very normal and human emotions. Abraham would have likely had a restless night’s sleep and been living in dread and agony. Abraham was having to wrestle with three different questions:
1) If God didn’t keep his promise of Isaac becoming a father of the nations, then didn’t that make all of God’s promises moot? We see that God made promises to Abraham and had so far kept every single promise. Why would this be any different?
2) Will I remain faithful to God in the wake of this loss? See, he had already counted Isaac as dead. The only thing left to do, in his mind was to grieve his loss and do as God says. I am sure that Abraham considered not going through with it, as we do in our daily lives when God asks us to do something that is difficult for us and we don’t understand.
3) Finally, has God remained faithful to me even with this loss? We see that God had continued to be faithful to Abraham in all of his promises, the same way he is faithful to us on a daily basis.
Was Abraham detaching himself from Isaac? When we look at Genesis 22:5, we see that he uses the word “na’ar” for Isaac, meaning boy. Why not son? This same word is used to refer to the servants that are with them. After having waited a couple of decades for Isaac, and having longed and agonized for a child, one whom he loved dearly, why would he only refer to him as boy and not son? This is a defense mechanism we see in psychology called denial. In order to successfully execute God’s command, Abraham had to stop seeing Isaac as his beloved son . In removing that familial relationship, it may have made it easier for him to come to terms with the impending task. The human body and mind have a remarkable ability to protect us from hurt and danger. We talked a little bit about the acute stress response (fight-flight-freeze) earlier in this book. It applies to Abraham, because while he was one of the heroes of our faith, he was also human.
ABRAHAM ARRIVES AT MT. MORIAH
After a three day journey, Abraham and Isaac arrive at Mt. Moriah. “On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance.” Genesis 22:4 It is important to note that for three days, Abraham had considered Isaac to be dead. The parallels with Christ and Isaac surrounding the three day journey are remarkable and great. Here is a handy chart below that will help put it in perspective:
After they arrived at Mt. Moriah, we see another dialogue between Abraham and Isaac: “Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said,
“My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.” Genesis 22:7-8, NASB. Abraham is back to calling Isaac his son instead of just boy like we saw earlier. Perhaps this means he was starting to realize that God would provide. More than that, we see the operative word of “we will return” in verse 5. We see that Abraham is continuing to remain strong for Isaac. He loves his son and would not want to cause him any undue distress.
“Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Genesis 22:9-13, NASB
At this point, God is letting Abraham know how pleased he is that he was willing to obey his command and sacrifice his beloved son. Abraham (and Isaac) must have had great relief after this. Abraham somehow, cognitively knew that God would provide for him but he is now seeing it manifest in reality. Not only did he not make him follow through in sacrificing Isaac, God provided a ram in his place: “Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.” Genesis 22:13-14
Once again, we are introduced to another name of God. As we talked about in the chapter of Hagar, God has many times throughout the Bible and each one of them speaks to an attribute of his loving nature. In the case of Genesis 22:14, we see The LORD will provide. This is Jehovah Jireh, literally meaning “the LORD is my provider”. Instead of having to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham was provided with a substitutionary atonement, the perfect lamb. There are so many innumerable references between this story and Christ. The chart provided at the end of the Chapter highlights some of the most significant and relevant ones.
Abraham is listed in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews:
“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.
9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise;
10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.
12 Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.
13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.
15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.
16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son;
18 it was he to whom it was said, “IN Isaac your descendants shall be called.” Hebrews 11:8-18, NASB
So what can we learn from the life of Abraham?
1) In times of trial and tribulation, God is faithful and he keeps his promises. Abraham dealt with a lot of grief and distress in his life surrounding the loss of one son and the perceived loss of another.
2) When we experience loss and grief, our emotions are normal and we need to remember that we are human. It’s okay to be angry, hurt, and sorrowful. However; we must rest in the hope of Jesus Christ and his work on the cross for us. He came so that we would have life more abundantly. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10b, NASB What is life? Life is a series of hills and valleys, of ups and downs and sorrows and joys.
3) Remaining faithful to God can be hard, but the rewards are well worth it. The Bible tells us that our amount of faith only needs to be as small as a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20). by Faith Abraham did what God said, even though he didn’t fully understand it. Even though he was distressed and worried, he still obeyed.
4) God keeps his promises. He promised that Abraham would be exceedingly fruitful and all nations would be blessed by him. “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. Galatians 3:8-9, NASB
As you are walking through this great grief and loss, my prayer for you is that you will continue to remain steadfast and faithful to God. Remember, he has always remained faithful to us no matter what we are going through.