Saturday, September 01, 2007

Humanity in Sin Part 25 - Isaac and Ishmael

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 19th August 2007 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English Translation.

Passage: Genesis 21:1-21

Abraham was already very old and Sarah’s menstruation had stopped. It is beyond reason, science and experience for Sarah to give birth to a child in her old age. Beyond all these, God fulfilled His promises. Sarah felt ashamed that she once mocked the words of God using human reason. Using her own finiteness, she judged God as finite too. The covenant did not seem to be reasonable. It is normal for Sarah to feel that way because God’s promise was not normal.

Yet Abraham believed in God beyond the limits of nature. The God Abraham believed in is the God who creates something out of nothing (God the Creator) and resurrects the dead (God the Savior). The Bible tells us that Abraham is the father of faith. If we believe in God as Abraham did, we are Abraham’s children. Therefore the New Testament refer Abraham’s children as those who are spiritual descendents rather than physical descendents of Abraham.

When God’s timing comes, all the things He has promised will come true. But when does God’s timing come? This is a difficulty for us. Many people have academic knowledge, but the time to truly understand the knowledge might not have come. Systematic theology lacks the study regarding theology of time. Many people spend a lot of time to achieve degrees but they still do not know God. It has to come through our struggles when we walk with God.

Abraham was obedient to God. Whatever God told him, he almost never debated. It seems like Abraham was not a rational person. But Abraham did know that God’s promises transcended nature. Sarah seems like a rational person but allowed her rationality to hinder her faith. So she walked ahead of God and suggested to Abraham to sleep with Hagar her maid. But God’s promise never needs the intervention of man. When we try to help God, we will create mess for ourselves.

Many spiritual failures result not because we do not have enough knowledge, but because we do not follow the timetable of God. We want to see the results now. The Bible shows that Sarah was 14 years ahead of God’s timing. Ishmael was born as a result. Just because of this one mistake, it resulted in wars between two nations for thousands of years. The most difficult problem today is religious hatred, not political, environmental or scientific problems. Judaism and Islam could never solve their problem because their faith does not have the concept of forgiveness for their enemies.

When Jesus Christ came, we are taught to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. These statements are the greatest breakthroughs in history on ethics. Not only He taught these, He walked them out. Later on, Stephen was inspired and walked in the same path. It became a new ethical history for Christianity. Whether Judaism or Islam, they could not produce such a high standard of ethics and the spirit to pray, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

At the height of technological development, we will see the war of Armageddon. It would surpass all other wars. The Arabian population is increasing today and their hatred for Judaism is very great. The Arabian population came from the descendants of Ishmael. And Ishmael was born because of Sarah’s suggestion.

Man is the head of the household. A good wife is the glory of a family. This is the status of a crown. It was a mistake for Abraham to accept Sarah’s suggestion immediately and forgot his status as the head of the family. Sarah rationalized God’s promise and asked Abraham not to wait, but to get a child by sleeping with her maid. This sort of suggestion would be accepted by many men because it sounded very reasonable and gave men a kind of ‘freedom’ to enjoy themselves. We are in danger if we listen to our wives when we should not.

Sometimes we have great ideal but we cannot reach it so we give it up. As is the case, both Abraham and Sarah misinterpreted God’s promise. God must have been disappointed by Abraham’s decision. After 13 years, God told Abraham that he would become a father, although Abraham had been a father for 13 years. He was far too early from God’s timing.

The time God has appointed is something we cannot alter on our own. The Scripture frequently emphasizes the importance of right timing. When the time had not come, Jesus would not go to Jerusalem. When the time had not come, Jesus forbade the disciples to proclaim He was the Son of God. He lived according to the timetable of God. Why would He be born only many thousands of years after Adam’s Fall? Why would Jesus preach only when He reached 30 years old? Why would God abandon Moses for 40 years in the desert? Because the time has not come.

We cannot fight against it, we can only obey. We should not reject God’s timing, but we should learn. Scripture says that at the appointed time, Jesus was born under the law through a woman. Scripture says that Jesus died on the cross according to the time set by God. When entering garden of Gethsemane, Jesus sang the Psalms 118, with this phrase. “This is the day that the Lord has made.” That was the day for His passion, not earlier, not later.

Abraham and Sarah could not understand this. So they are 14 years ahead of God. The descendants of Ishmael become a terrorist group today. There are many good Muslims as well and although not all Muslims are terrorists group, almost terrorist groups are Muslims. They have become the greatest threat in the civilization of mankind.

Do not be too eager when God’s timing has not arrived. When we oppose the will of God and do not follow His timing, we create disasters for ourselves. Going against God’s timing, a lot of charismatic churches want quick growth so they throw away God’s principles and do things their own way. God’s judgment would come to those who treat Him lightly, like Uzzah who tried to hold on to the ark of God and was smitten by God.

Sarah realized her mistake when she saw 14-year-old Ishmael mocking her 1-year-old Isaac. Till today, Islam still looks at Christianity and Judaism with this attitude of seniority because they reckon their ancestor was the elder brother.

Sarah was very furious. She went to tell Abraham that Hagar and Ishmael could not stay with them anymore. Abraham was very distressed because Ishamel was his son after all. The heart of a woman is often more narrow in this matter because she wants to protect the orthodoxy of the family.

It is difficult to turn around once a mistake was made. It was easy to do the first thing, but difficult to solve it. Abraham was indecisive about this. Abraham could be harsh to Sarah and said he was the head the household, but he kept quiet. This became a great conflict in the family. At the most crucial time, the wife thinks she is right, the husband thinks he is right and both look at each other as ridiculous. This is the time they need to get back to the Word of God.

God said something unusual. He asked Abraham to listen to Sarah. It was a difficult moment. 14 years ago, Abraham accepted immediately when she suggested him to sleep with Hagar. But now he was not willing to accept when she asked to send Hagar off because of Ishamel. On Hagar’s side, she lived under a mistress and accepted the love of a married man. After so many years living in this condition, Hagar could not solve her family problem and in the end she had to leave with nothing. We are inviting trouble when we get involved in family conflict. We should never accept the love and feelings of those who are already married.

When all these happen, God stood with Sarah. This tells us that God honors the status of othodox marriage. So God commanded Abraham to listen to Sarah. It was a humbling moment for Abraham because he did not need to defend this wrong sexual relationship anymore. He had to admit it was wrong and to banish her with her son. Abraham did not debate or defend himself. He obeyed God. He brought water and food to Hagar and sent her away. God told Abraham that His promise is to be reckoned through Isaac, but He would bless Ishmael as well.

After Hagar was asked to leave, she finally had to accept that the man in the house was not her husband. After so many years of living in luxury, she was now without any house and possessions. Hagar left because she could not bear to see her son die. But the angel of God heard the boy’s cry because Ishmael after all was still a son of Abraham. God still had grace on Ishmael. The child of illegitimacy is still God’s creation.

In the second commandment, God says He would bless the descendents of those who love Him up to 1000 generations, but will punish the children of those who hate Him down to the third and forth generation. It is hard to understand how 1000 generations of blessings relate with 3-4 generations of curses.

If a man hates God and worship idols, he put himself under bondage of evil spirit for a few generations and God allows that. But if someone under this generational curse turns to God, the blessings of a thousand generations will be upon him. The Apostle Peter said He saved us from the bondage that come from our ancestors. If one generation is about 40 years, then 1000 generations is about 40,000 years. Since Abraham until today, we have not even passed 10,000 years yet. So this 1000 generations should be understood as partaking in the blessings of eternal life.

In matters of sex, we need to be extra careful. We have to follow the will of God. In the way we treat time, we cannot rely on our rationality and impulse to change the will of God. In selection of our spouse, we need to be cautious to follow God’s principle. Family conflicts are difficult to solved in a short time. A mistake could bring a lifetime pain. With an attitude of carrying the cross, we need to learn to accommodate and love one another.


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