Introduction: In Genesis chapter 20, Abraham’s faith failed him. Out of a lack of faith, he deceived Abimelech by having Sarah misrepresent herself to be just his sister. Even worse, this was the second time that Abraham had used this form of deceit to protect himself. When Abimelech confronted Abraham over his deceit, he failed to confess his sins. He instead sought to justify his deceit. He then blamed God for his wanderings. If a committee of people were to select the future father of the faith, Abraham would quickly be taken off their list. Yet, God is filled with mercy and grace. He would restore Abraham’s faith and fulfill His promises to make Abraham and Sarah the parents of both His chosen people and the line leading to the Messiah. Although undeserved, He gave Abraham’s family line a spiritual rebirth through Isaac. From this chapter, God reveals seven lessons for obtaining and living a life of spiritual rebirth. These include: (1) faith; (2) obedience; (3) joy; (4) self-denial; (5) trust; (6) holiness; and (7) peace.
First, when both Abraham and Sarah finally had faith in God’s promises, God restored Sarah’s dead womb and allowed her to supernaturally conceive Isaac at age 90. From this, God reveals that your spiritual renewal begins with your faith in Him. Through faith in Jesus, He alone can give you a spiritual rebirth from your dead flesh. Second, following Isaac’s birth, Abraham showed his gratitude for the spiritual rebirth of his family line through obedience in naming and circumcising Isaac as God commanded. Third, Sarah laughed with joy at Isaac’s birth. Abraham also showed his gratitude by holding a feast of gratitude when Isaac was weaned from nursing. From this, God reveals that your new life in Him should be evidenced through the fruit of joy and gratitude. Fourth, after Sarah gave birth, Ishmael mocked Isaac. When Sarah heard this, she demanded that Abraham expel Ishmael and Hagar. This was Abraham’s ninth of ten great tests of faith. Sarah’s motives were not pure. Yet, God told Abraham to expel Ishmael (the child of the flesh) because God’s covenant promise was through Isaac alone (the child of the Spirit). From this, God reveals that your spiritual renewal requires that you make no accommodation with your flesh. Fifth, while in the wilderness, God fulfilled His promises to provide for Hagar and Ishmael. From this, He reveals that He will be faithful to provide for the needs of your flesh. Sixth, after Abimelech realized that Abraham had God’s blessings, he demanded that Abraham vow to deal fairly with him. Abraham agreed. From this, God reveals that your spiritual rebirth should be evidenced through the fruit of holiness. You are God’s representative to a fallen world. Finally, after a dispute arose between Abraham and Abimelech’s servants, Abraham peaceably resolved the conflict through a covenant with Abimelech. From this, God reveals that your spiritual renewal should be evidenced by living through His peace with those around you.
God’s faithfulness in Sarah’s supernatural birth. Despite Abraham’s failures of his faith, God remained faithful to His Word: “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.” (Gen. 21:1-2). God showed His sovereignty by foretelling exactly one year earlier the appointed time of Isaac’s birth: “But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.” (Gen. 17:21). “‘Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.’” (Gen. 18:14). Many Jews assume this “appointed time” was Passover.1 Yet, because Isaac’s birth is associated with joy and laughter, a better candidate might be the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast is considered the most joyful of God’s seven festivals. God gave Abraham and Sarah’s family line a joyful new beginning. He wants to do the same for you.
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo 1696 – 1770 (The Angel Appears to Sarah)2
God may not act until you believe in faith. Although God can do all things, He waited until Sarah and Abraham believed before He transformed her 90-year-old womb. Sarah and Abraham lived in the Promised Land 25 years before they finally believed in His Word: “By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.” (Heb. 11:11). “Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.” (Ro. 4:19). With faith in God, all things are possible: “And looking at them Jesus said to them, ‘With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” (Matt. 19:26; Mk. 10:27; Lk. 18:27). “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Lk. 1:37). ‘“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?’” (Jer. 32:27). “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2). “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13). Yet, without faith, you should not expect God to act unless it is part of His plan for some other reason: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6). If your faith is lacking, God may also wait before intervening in your life. Is your faith in Christ lacking in any area?
You also can be born again. There are parallels between Isaac and any believer in Christ. Just as Abraham and Sarah’s faith restored their dead line, your faith can also make you a restored child of the promise: “And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.” (Gal. 4:28). Like Abraham and Sarah, your spiritual rebirth cannot happen without faith and the transformation of the Holy Spirit: “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:5-7). “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17). “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Ro. 6:4). “and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Eph. 4:24). If others examined your life and how you treat others, would they say that you are living as a new creation in Christ?
The foreshadow of Jesus in Isaac’s birth. Isaac’s birth was nothing short of a miracle. It also foreshadowed Jesus. One pastor notes the amazing similarities between the births of Isaac and Jesus: “Isaac became a wonderful type or picture of Jesus. ∙ Both were specially promised sons. ∙ Both were born after a period of delay. ∙ Both mothers were assured by God’s omnipotence (Genesis 18:13-14; Luke 1:34, 37). ∙ Both were given names rich with meaning before they were born. ∙ Both births occurred at God’s appointed time (Genesis 21:2; Galatians 4:4). ∙ Both births were miraculous. ∙ Both births were accompanied by joy (Genesis 21:6; Luke 1:46-47; 2:10-11).” (David Guzik on Genesis 21).3 Christ is also the “seed” of Abraham through which God’s blessings are extended to you: “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ.” (Gal. 3:16).
Abraham’s obedience in naming and circumcising Isaac. Following Isaac’s birth, Abraham showed his gratitude by naming and circumcising Isaac in the exact manner that God mandated: “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.” (Gen. 21:3-4). Abraham previously showed that his faith was alive and well through his obedience. For example, on “the very same day” that God mandated that Abraham circumcise all the men of his household, Abraham obeyed out of gratitude and devotion (Gen. 17:23-27). Abraham also passed his first test of faith by showing the obedience to leave his home for the Promised Land: “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.” (Heb. 11:8). He also showed that his faith was alive by rescuing his nephew Lot from captivity. His living faith is an example to believers.
Show that your faith is alive through your obedience. Obedience is not a word that is frequently spoken in the modern Church. Many ignore it like a relic of the Old Testament. (e.g., Dt. 13:4; 6:3-4; 9:1; 20:3; Josh. 1:7). It is true that Christians are no longer “under the Law” in the sense that they must comply with it to be saved (Gal. 5:18; Ro. 7:6; 8:3). By “fulfilling” the Law, Christ freed you from the impossible task of trying to obtain salvation through the Law (Matt. 5:17). Yet, if there is no obedience in your life, you are most likely not going to perform any works for God out of gratitude. James warns: “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” (Jam. 2:17). Jesus also says that: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Jo. 5:3; 2 Jo. 1:6). Jesus was the “I AM” who gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Ex. 3:14; Jo. 8:58). Thus, the “Commandments” that Jesus referenced were the Ten Commandments. His “disciples” were the “disciplined ones” in keeping His Commandments. As bondservants or freed slaves, they were obedient out of love, not obligation. Whether you follow the Law out of love instead of obligation is a test for whether you really know God: “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 Jo. 2:3). Do you follow Jesus’ Commandments and the direction of the Spirit out of love and not obligation? If not, what kind of witness are you?
Patience is one type of obedience. Through this account, God also reveals the importance of patience, one form of obedience. Abraham had to wait until he was 100 years old to see God’s promise of a son with his wife fulfilled (Gen. 21:5). He further had to wait 25 years in the Promised Land before God fulfilled this promise (Gen. 12:4). Few could claim to have that kind of patience. Do you patiently wait for His direction in your life? Or, when things don’t go your way, do you try to take matters into your own hands like Sarah and Abraham did by having a child through Hagar?
Obedience is more important to God that outward acts of piety. Outward expressions of your faith, like circumcising your son or wearing a cross, have little meaning to God if your faith does not produce obedience: “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.” (1 Cor. 7:19). “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” (Ro. 2:25). Your obedience must also be Spirit led or it is worthless to God: ‘“Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised-”’ (Jer. 9:25). “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.” (Acts 7:51). Is there rebellion in your walk?
Abraham’s feast of gratitude after the weaning of Isaac. Abraham had a great feast in Isaac’s honor on the day that he was weaned. According to Jewish tradition, this was on his third birthday. This part of the account carries two meanings. First, like Isaac, believers should progress from spiritual milk to spiritual solid food through spiritual maturity: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:12-14). Second, part of spiritual maturity is stopping like Abraham did to give thanks for God’s blessings. “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (Jam. 1:17). Do you crave being fed by the hidden meanings of the Word? Is your spiritual maturity reflected in your gratitude?
Circumcise your heart for God. Based upon the fact that God had Abraham circumcise Isaac on the eighth day (Gen. 21:4), all Jews had to circumcise their boys on the eighth day as well: “3 On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” (Lev. 12:3). The purpose of the circumcision was to symbolize a person’s Covenant with God (Gen. 17:10-11). Yet, this was a sign that no one else could see. Because God cares more about your inward relationship with Him more than any outward signs, He told His people to also circumcise their hearts: “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.” (Dt. 10:16). “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskins of your heart, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else My wrath will go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.” (Jer. 4:4). Paul explained that this inward circumcision is what mattered most: “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” (Ro. 2:29). Does your heart show God’s Covenant through your inward purity? Or, is your piety only visible by false outward signs?
The Holy Spirit’s circumcision of your heart symbolizes a “new beginning”. Abraham’s circumcision of Isaac on the eighth day symbolized his new beginnings through God’s Covenant (Lev. 12:3). The number eight in the Bible symbolizes a new beginning. There were eight survivors on the ark who gave humanity a new beginning (1 Pet. 3:20). After the seven-day ordination (Lev. 8:35-36), the priest’s duties began on the eighth day (Lev. 9:1). After the seven-day festival of Tabernacles, the people were together for a holy convocation to celebrate a new beginning on the eighth day (Lev. 23:36). Christ also rose from the dead on a Sunday, the first day of the week or the eighth day (Matt. 28:1). When you accept Jesus in faith, the Spirit will try to circumcise your heart: “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;” (Col. 2:11). “Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.” (Dt. 30:6). When you allow the Spirit to circumcise your heart by cutting out your unnecessary flesh, God will reward you with a heart to know Him: “I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.” (Jer. 24:7). ‘“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” (Jer. 31:33; Col. 2:11). Are you following the direction of the Holy Spirit to allow God to transform your heart?
Abraham and Sarah’s joy and gratitude for God’s gift of Isaac. The name Isaac means laughter. Just as God foretold, Isaac brought laughs of joy to Sarah and profound gratitude to Abraham: “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.’ 8 The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.” (Gen. 21:5-8). Abraham originally laughed at God’s promise: “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’” (Gen. 17:17). Sarah also laughed at God’s promise: “Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’” (Gen. 18:12). God transformed their laughs of disbelief (from their flesh) to laughs of joy (from the Spirit who had transformed them). The Spirit will also transform you if you let Him.
Be filled with the joy of the Spirit. The laughter and joy that Isaac brought his parents symbolized the joy that God offers you. His Covenant was not meant to be a burden. Instead, Jesus offered you an abundant life: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jo. 10:10). The abundant life that Jesus offers includes the peace and joy that only the Holy Spirit can provide: “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Ro. 14:17). David also writes, “in Your presence is fullness of joy;” (Ps. 16:11; 21:6). Joy is also a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22; Ro. 14:17; 15:13). Is His abundant joy in your walk?
Let the joy of the Spirit be part of your witness to others. As a transformed person, Sarah revealed that her joy was not hidden inside her. Instead, she proclaimed that her joy would be contagious ‘“everyone who hears will laugh with me.’” (Gen. 21:6). Like the prodigal son, your transformation brought laughs of joy to God the Father in heaven (Lk. 15-21-4). Living your faith and walking with Jesus also involves sharing the joy of the Spirit with others: “ . . . I rejoice and share my joy with you.” (Philip. 2:17(b)). “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” (Phil. 2:2). If you are filled with anger or bitterness, you are a poor witness for the Spirit within you. When you suffer a setback, do others see in you the joy of the Spirit? If you are filled with anger or resentment, what kind of a witness are you?
Abraham’s ninth test of faith: Sarah’s demand that he expel Hagar and Ishmael. Isaac’s birth also fueled jealousy in Ishmael and retribution in Sarah. Abraham faced the second to last of his great tests of faith with Sarah’s demand that he expel Ishmael and Hagar: “9 Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. 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.’ 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.” (Gen. 21:9-14). Ishmael “mocked” Isaac out of jealousy. Sarah in turn became filled with rage. Both were letting their flesh control their actions. Sarah should have recognized Ishmael’s jealousy and felt compassion. She previously let jealousy control her when Hagar became pregnant. Out of jealousy, she treated Hagar cruelly and caused her to flee: “So Sarai treated [Hagar] harshly, and she fled from her presence.” (Gen. 16:6(b)). Although neither Ishmael nor Sarah acted with proper motives, she carried the greater sin because she was now a transformed believer who should have known better. Yet, God instructed Abraham to expel Ishmael anyway. Abraham had raised Ishmael for 14 years. He loved him. This was Abraham’s ninth test of faith. Ultimately, he trusted God over his love for his firstborn son.
Il Guercino 1591 – 1666 (Abraham Casting Out Hagar and Ishmael)4
Make no provision for your flesh. Although this account was a real event, it is also filled with symbolism. Abraham’s expulsion of Ishmael and Hagar symbolized God’s mandate that Abraham make no provision for the things of his flesh. In a similar way, the cutting of Isaac’s foreskin symbolized the cutting out of the unnecessary things of his flesh. Paul also commanded believers to make no provision for the flesh: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Ro. 13:14). “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16). “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal. 5:24). “[K]nowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;” (Ro. 6:6). Part of living by the Spirit requires that you renew your mind every day to live according to the Spirit: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro. 12:2). Are you purging the unnecessary things of the flesh from your life?
The flesh is at war with the Spirit. Ishmael’s act of mocking Isaac (Gen. 21:9) symbolized the flesh’s constant war with the Spirit. “And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.” (Gal. 4:28-29). Satan seeks to put your flesh at war with God’s Spirit: “[T]he mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God . . . and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:7-8). “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” (Gal. 5:17). If you give in to your flesh, the devil will ultimately enslave you: “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Ro. 6:16; Gal. 4:7-9). If you then fail to ask for Christ to deliver you from your bondage, He will turn you over to your addictions until you repent: “Therefore, God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, . . .” (Ro. 1:24-33; Ps. 81:12). Thus, you must pick that which you will serve: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” (Matt. 6:24). Jesus’ point is that you cannot lead a dual life. Which master are you serving?
Don’t be jealous of others. Unlike Ishmael, you should never give into your flesh by envying or being jealous of others: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.” (Gal. 5:25-26). Jealousy is one of the deadly sins of the flesh (Ro. 13:13; Gal. 5:19-21). Just as jealousy led to Cain’s murder of Abel and Joseph’s brother’s attempt to kill him, jealousy is a gateway sin that can lead to even worse things in your life: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” (Jam. 3:16). “Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Prov. 27:4; 6:34). God wants you to be content with what He has given you. “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” (Phil. 4:11). Are you jealous of other people’s gifts?
Both the world and your flesh will cause you to question the things of God. Like Ishmael, the world and your flesh will mock and cause you to question what God offers: “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Cor. 2:14). “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18). Yet, God wants you to place your value in what He offers and not what the world offers: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,” (Phil. 3:7-8). When others mock what the Bible says or what God offers, do you stay steadfast in your faith?
God’s faithfulness in providing for Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness. While in the wilderness, Hagar was forced to trust God for her provision. In a pre-incarnate appearance, Jesus proved true to His prior promises and provided for Hagar and Ishmael when she turned to Him in despair: “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. 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.” (Gen. 21:15-21). While in the wilderness previously, Hagar learned that there is nothing that God does not see: “13 Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God who sees’; for she said, ‘Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?’ 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.” (Gen. 16:13-14). The well called “Beer-lahai-roi” means the “well of the one who sees me and who lives.”
Jesus is faithful to keep His promises. At the well of life, Jesus previously comforted Hagar with the promise of a son (Gen. 16:11-12). He later confirmed His promise to Ishmael: “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.” (Gen. 17:20). He later fulfilled His promise to Ishmael by making him the father of many nations (Gen. 25:12-17). He also blessed Ishmael with a long life, until age 137 (Gen. 25:17). Jesus showed that He is faithful to keep His promises.
Jesus offers living water in the wilderness. The well where Hagar met Jesus also symbolized the living water that only Jesus can provide: “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14; Zec. 13:1). Isaac, Jacob, and Moses all also met their future brides by a well. While at the well, Jesus also cared for these people. He can also be the well of your life and care for you in the wilderness if you let Him.
Where Jesus guides, He also provides. As Jesus did for Hagar, He also provides for your needs in the wilderness (Hosea 13:5). In the wilderness, He provided manna to the Jews (Matt. 4:4; Jo. 6:33-35). At the time of this festival on Sukkot, the Jews build small booths to live in for a week. They celebrated His provision during their time in the wilderness (Ex. 25:8; 29:44-45; Dt. 16:13-15). If you seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, He also promises to provide for your needs: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33). “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6). “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps. 37:4). Thus, you don’t need to worry about His provision of food or clothes (Matt. 6:25-34). If you feel Jesus’ provision is lacking in your life, are you seeking after His Kingdom and His righteousness?
Jesus sometimes takes you into the wilderness so that you will listen. In Hosea 2:14, God says “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness and speak kindly to her.” Sometimes life becomes so busy that you can’t hear the Holy Spirit’s direction. Sometimes, He must pull you into the wilderness before you will finally listen. If every minute of your day is filled with activity, how much time does He have to speak with you?
Jesus also hears your cries from the wilderness. In the wilderness, Jesus also hears the cries of affliction of His people. For example, He heard the cries of His people’s affliction in Egypt (Ex. 2:23-24; 3:7-9). He can also hear your cries for help as well: “O LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear.” (Ps. 10:17). “The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry.” (Ps. 34:15). If you are stuck in a wilderness, have you cried out to Him for help?
To find your life, you must lose it. Like Hagar, you must lose your worldly life to find your spiritual one: “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 10:39; 16:25). “‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’” (Luke 9:23; Mark 8:34). Paul later realized that his prior accomplishments were nothing compared to the value of his relationship with Christ: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” (Phil. 3:7; Heb. 13:13). Do you value Jesus over the world?
Jesus wants a personal relationship with you. This account also dispels the notion that your relationship with Christ needs to come through a charismatic Church leader, a deceased saint, or someone else: “Abraham gave Hagar and Ishmael a skin of water for their journey. They set out for Egypt and apparently lost their way. In the heat of the wilderness, a day without water is almost certain death. Hagar despaired and prepared to die. She prayed that she might die first so she would not have to see Ishmael. Then He opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. The well had always been there. In her despair, she had not seen it. Her dependency on Abraham is symbolized by the water skin he gave her. When that water was exhausted, she despaired of life. So, too, when sent out of the household of Abraham, she gave up hope. Her despair blinded her to God’s provision and plan in her life. Dependency and despair are impediments to faith. We cannot rely on another person’s faith or relationship with God. We must depend on God. When all seems bleak and blanketed in despair; we need to open our spiritual eyes and look for God’s provision.” (Torah Club, Unrolling the Scroll, Book 1 (First Fruits of Zion, 2nd ed. 2014, p. 81)). In other words, Jesus isn’t looking for a holy person to pray on your behalf. He wants you to do that. Are you seeking out a personal relationship with Christ?
Abraham’s vow to deal fairly with Abimelech. In the last part of this account, Abimelech saw God’s blessings in Abraham’s life and feared God. Thus, out of fear that God might inflict another plague on him or his descendants, he pleaded with Abraham to deal fairly with both him and his offspring: “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.’ 24 Abraham said, ‘I swear it.’” (Gen. 21:22-24). Unfortunately, Abraham did not keep his promise to deal fairly with Abimelech’s offspring. As an adult, Isaac would later find himself in this same desert place before a different Abimelech king (Gen. 26:1). Like his father, he instructed Rebekah to also lie and claim that she was his sister to protect himself (Gen. 26:7). Like Abraham, you and your family must show both integrity and holiness as God’s witness to a fallen world.
Be holy in your dealings with others. Like Abraham, you are called upon to be holy in your dealings with others. “For I am the LORD your God . . . be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev. 11:44). “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” (Lev. 19:2). “You are to be my holy people.” (Ex. 22:31). “for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Pet. 1:16). Jesus is the light of the world today (Jo. 8:12). His light burns inside you as a beacon for those around you (Matt. 5:14). In turn, you are commanded to share the hope that lies within you (1 Pet. 3:15; Matt. 28:19-20). Is your life a holy witness to the light of Jesus?
Honor God by keeping your Word. Isaiah warned about those “Who swear by the name of the Lord . . .” and call upon “His name,” “But not in truth nor in righteousness.” (Is. 48:1-2). You are an “ambassador” for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). As His ambassador, you “profane” His holy name when you fail to keep your word. Moses warned not to “swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God.” (Lev. 19:12). This also violates the Third Commandment (Dt. 5:11; Ex. 20:7). If you are dishonest or fail to walk with integrity, you misrepresent Christ’s light to others. Are you honest and a person of your word?
Abraham’s covenant of peace with Abimelech. Finally, when a dispute arose between Abraham and Abimelech’s men over the usage of a well, Abraham showed that he had become a man of faith by seeking to resolve his dispute peaceably: “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.’ 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. 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.” (Gen. 21:25-34). The covenant of cutting animals and walking past them symbolically represented what would happen to either party if they failed to keep their word. Thus, both risked death if they failed to keep their word.
Be at peace with others. Like Abraham, you are commanded to be at peace with others. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Ro. 12:18). “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:50). If you stay at peace with others around you, Jesus promises to bless you: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9). Are you a peacemaker to those in conflict around you? If you quarrel and fight or cause conflict with others, what kind of witness for Christ are you?
Remember your real home lies in the eternal Promised Land. Abraham did not settle down, but instead sojourned his entire life (Gen. 21:34). Jesus also never had a home (Matt. 8:20). Peter also reminds believers that they are “aliens and strangers” who should not become entangled in the sins of this world (1 Pet. 2:11). Your home is in heaven. You are called upon to live in the world but not of the world. Have you placed your permanent roots here on Earth? Or, are you a sojourner longing to return home to Jesus?
First Fruits of Zion, Torah Club (2015) Vol. 2, Shadows of the Messiah, Vayera, p. 73-74.↩︎