Then God said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, do not call her Sarai, for her name is to be Sarah.
Genesis 17:15Genesis 17:15. Thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be, &c. "Mother of nations;" "kings of peoples shall be of her."
I. EXALTATION OF THE LOWLY. A pilgrim and stranger, made a princess. A mother of nations, though once desolate, mourning, ready to murmur. The lamentation turned into laughter.
II. THE FREEDOM OF DIVINE GRACE. The blessing unexpected, apart from creature strength, notwithstanding blind and foolish attempts to obtain blessing in our own way - the Ishmael, not the Isaac. Though many things "said in our heart," the one thing Divinely purposed the only true fulfillment of that heart's desire.
III. FOREGLEAMS OF THE COMING GLORY. The seed of the woman, specially representing the promise of God, supernaturally given, coming as the royal seed, son of a princess and forerunner of kings of peoples. God-given heir, God-given inheritance. The birth of the child of promise, so manifestly Divine, points to the yet greater glory: "Unto us a Son is born." - R.
I. SARAH'S HISTORY.
As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah.
I. THERE IS THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THINGS CONTRARY TO HUMAN EXPECTATION.
1. Thus God preserves His own glory (Proverbs 25:2). God hides His purpose from man until the time comes for Him to reveal it more clearly. This concealment must tend to His glory, for it is rendered necessary by His infinite superiority to us. We who are but of yesterday cannot scan the designs of Him who is from everlasting to everlasting. The great deep of God's judgments is to us unfathomable.
2. Thus God preserves His independence of man. He has no need of our suggestions or advice. How can we contribute any light to Him who is the Fountain of Light?
3. Thus God humbles the pride of man. If we could calculate beforehand what God shall reveal, or what blessings He shall bestow, we might be tempted to pride ourselves upon our clear and sure reason. Our humility is promoted by that arrangement which renders it impossible for us to discover what God is pleased to conceal.
4. Thus piety is of necessity a life of faith. God so deals with mankind that if they are to serve and please Him at all they must trust Him. We are made to know enough of His goodness to commence trusting Him; and He still keeps much hid from us so that we may continue to trust Him.
II. THERE IS AN INCREASED STRAIN PUT UPON THE STRENGTH OF OUR FAITH.
1. God's gracious purpose is to throw our faith completely upon its own inherent power. It must not be hampered by the operations of the intellect, or by the feelings of the heart.
2. Faith must look to God alone.
III. THERE IS A REVELATION OF HUMAN WEAKNESS IN US. The faith of Abram, though it rose superior to trials, was yet mixed with some human weakness.
1. The weakness of a thoughtless amazement. The laugh of Abraham, when he heard the real direction of the promise, unquestionably had in it the elements of adoration and joy. But there was also in it a kind of unreflecting amazement — that unhealthy astonishment which paralyses. It was a joy which was yet half afraid.
2. The weakness of doubt. In verse 17, Abraham expresses a doubt. It was a momentary feeling, but at that time it rose irresistibly to the surface.
3. The weakness of attempting to thrust our own way upon God.
IV. THERE IS AN OPPORTUNITY GIVEN FOR THE GLORY OF GOD'S GOODNESS TO SHINE FORTH. In every fresh revelation God is but showing Himself to His servants. He is showing His goodness mere and more, and that is His glory. The qualities of the Divine goodness would now be manifested more clearly to the soul of Abraham.
1. This is seen by the supernatural character of the blessings promised (vers. 15, 16, 19).
2. This is seen by the intrinsic excellence of the blessings promised.
3. This is seen by God's gracious provision even for those human desires which betray imperfection. God would remember Ishmael, after all, and in some way satisfy the yearnings of Abraham's heart (ver. 20). God does not chide His servant for those humanly natural longings. With all his imperfections, the heart of the patriarch was right at bottom, and his purpose to please God steady and sincere. If we have true faith, whatever desires there are in us which still betray some human imperfections, God will turn them into better courses, and show us His way.
(T. H. Leale.)
II. SARAH'S CHARACTER.
1. There was in her a clear and decided spiritual faith.
2. She had a strong, loving, and imperious affection.
3. There were defects in her faith, and may have been defects in her character.
III. THE TYPICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF SARAH'S LIFE AND HER PLACE IN THE UNFOLDING OF THE REDEMPTION OF HUMANITY. The story is written in the Book of Genesis mainly in the masculine gender and in relation to Abraham. But, in reference to the covenanted mercy, there are two great blessings to which special significance is attached, and concerning both Sarah's was a prominent position. The one was the seed, the other the land.
(W. H. Davison.)
The Homiletic Review.I. THE MEANING OF HER NAME, AND ITS CONNECTION WITH THE COVENANT.
II. DEFECTS IN HER CHARACTER.
1. She did not, as the Scriptures teach, avoid all appearance of evil.
(1) (2) 2. She did wrong in giving Hagar to be Abraham's concubine. 3. She showed a weakness of faith in laughing at the promises of God. 4. She was cruel in sending Hagar and Ishmael away from her home. III. THE STRENGTH OF HER CHARACTER. 1. She was truly devoted to her husband, and preferred him to all others, even though kings sought to gain her. 2. She is commended for her holy life and fidelity to Abraham, and as such is an example for wifely imitation (1 Peter 3:6). 3. After all, faith was the ruling principle of her life. Doubt was only a momentary exception. (The Homiletic Review.) O that Ishmael might live before Thee. —
(2) 2. She did wrong in giving Hagar to be Abraham's concubine. 3. She showed a weakness of faith in laughing at the promises of God. 4. She was cruel in sending Hagar and Ishmael away from her home. III. THE STRENGTH OF HER CHARACTER. 1. She was truly devoted to her husband, and preferred him to all others, even though kings sought to gain her. 2. She is commended for her holy life and fidelity to Abraham, and as such is an example for wifely imitation (1 Peter 3:6). 3. After all, faith was the ruling principle of her life. Doubt was only a momentary exception. (The Homiletic Review.) O that Ishmael might live before Thee. —
2. She did wrong in giving Hagar to be Abraham's concubine.
3. She showed a weakness of faith in laughing at the promises of God.
4. She was cruel in sending Hagar and Ishmael away from her home.
III. THE STRENGTH OF HER CHARACTER.
1. She was truly devoted to her husband, and preferred him to all others, even though kings sought to gain her.
2. She is commended for her holy life and fidelity to Abraham, and as such is an example for wifely imitation (1 Peter 3:6).
3. After all, faith was the ruling principle of her life. Doubt was only a momentary exception.
(The Homiletic Review.)
O that Ishmael might live before Thee. —
1. It is the thought of the heart that is here recorded.
2. The natural obstacle to the fulfilment of the promise was greater now than on the previous occasion.
3. He had to discharge from his mind a belief which he had long nourished and cherished.
II. ABRAHAM'S IMPATIENCE.
III. ABRAHAM'S NATURAL AFFECTION.
(J. W. Lance.)
Homilist.I. A SPIRIT NATURAL TO A TRUE PARENT. Abraham desired the prosperity of Ishmael.
II. A SPIRIT ESSENTIAL TO THE TRUE SAINT. Dependence on God.
III. A SPIRIT HONOURED BY HEAVEN (ver. 20; see Genesis 25:10-15).
The Congregational Pulpit.I. WHAT THE CHRISTIAN PARENT SEEKS FOR HIS OFFSPRING. What is meant by living before God? It means to enjoy His forgiving grace, that we be not consumed by His wrath; and to receive His fostering protection and blessing, without which life would be a calamity, and existence a burden. We would not have our children go forth through life neglected of God; still less, contending against Him as an enemy. Many blessings may be included in this general one.
1. There are spiritual blessings; life in and through Jesus Christ. Forgiveness. Regeneration. Eternal life.
2. Temporal good is sought; not without, but in addition to, spiritual blessings; and not absolutely, but in entire submission to the will of God.
II. HOW THE CHRISTIAN SHOULD ACT TO BE CONSISTENT WITH THESE DESIRES ON BEHALF OF HIS OFFSPRING.
4. Discipline. Conclusion:(1) To parents who neglect their duty altogether. Ye are cruel fowlers, and dreadful for you will it be to meet your spoiled and ruined offspring in hell.(2) To those who labour in this way. Be encouraged and incited to persevere. Your work will not be in vain.(3) To all who bring their children for baptism. You do take these vows upon you. Be faithful. This you cannot he, unless fully bent upon your own salvation.(4) To young people. See your parents' anxiety for you. Be awakened to a sense of your sin and danger.
(The Congregational Pulpit.)I. It must strike the most casual observer, that THERE IS A SPECIALITY IS THE PRAYER which makes it necessary that the import of the prayer should be unfolded. For it appears not but that Ishmael was in all the glow and vigour of his youthful health; there was no symptom of physical decay, there was no indication of approaching death. Whence, therefore, and why did the patriarch pray, "Oh! that my child might live?" Was it that his days might be lengthened out? Was it that his health might continue unimpaired? was it that he might live to a green and a good old age? No, we find a key to the patriarch's prayer in the one simple expression — "Before Thee." "Oh! that Ishmael might live before Thee." Before his father's eyes, before the eyes of mankind, the child lived; but the father had reference to another and a higher and a different life — a life in the sight of God. It follows, then, that adequately to comprehend the import of the prayer, we must illustrate the death, from which the patriarch desired his child to be set free. And we are led to remark, that every child of man, as he comes into the world, is dead in the sight of God, in a two-fold sense; he is legally dead, he is spiritually dead. He is dead in the sight of God in law, and he is dead in the sight of God in his moral nature. He is "dead in trespasses and sins." But how, then, is life given to man? and what was the life, for which the patriarch prayed on behalf of his child? In order to remove the eternal death under which we lie, the Son of God took our nature upon Himself, stood as our substitute; so that God might be just in justifying every penitent, that lays hold on the righteousness of the Redeemer and comes to God in faith. Everyone, then, that by faith is brought into a participation of the righteousness and redemption that is in Christ, is, in virtue of that righteousness and that redemption, passed from death to life.
II. I pass simply and briefly to press upon you THE IMPORTANCE OF THAT PRAYER.
1. The importance of the patriarch's prayer appears, in that till that prayer is accomplished in a child or in a man, that child or that man is a poor, maimed, imperfect being. What a wretched life is the mere vegetable life for a man to live!
2. But the importance of the patriarch's prayer is still more emphatically and touchingly impressed on our minds, if we remember the fearful peril in which every man stands, that is not "living before God."
(H. Stowell, M. A.)I. I shall inquire WHAT BLESSINGS SHOULD A CHRISTIAN PARENT SEEK FROM GOD ON BEHALF OF HIS CHILDREN?
1. Is it forbidden to desire the continuance of their natural life? Certainly not; provided that desire be entirely under the control of submission to the will of God.
2. Nor is it forbidden to ask those things for our children which would contribute so much to their temporal comfort; provided, that desire be also in entire submission to the will of Jehovah.
3. Still, however, these things are but secondary objects of desire with him who contemplates, in its true light, the character and destiny of that being which with rapture he calls his child. What can or what ought a Christian parent to desire for his child, as the grand ultimatum of all his anxiety and solicitude, short of everlasting bliss? It is in this sense that he uses the prayer of Abraham, "Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee."
II. I shall now mention THOSE MEANS WHICH MUST BE USED BY HIM IN ORDER TO OBTAIN IT. In the distribution of His favours to the human race, God generally connects His bounty with our exertions. This remark applies both to temporal and spiritual benefits.
1. If we would have our children grow up as we desire, we must maintain discipline in our families. By discipline, I mean the exercise of parental authority in enforcing obedience to all suitable commands and prohibitions. This part of religious education should begin early. The supple twig bends to your will, while the sturdy oak laughs at your authority.
2. Instruction is the next branch of religious education. I shall consider:(1) The matter of instruction. And this must be the doctrines and the duties of revelation. Assiduously inculcate upon your offspring every relative and every social duty. Teach them that holiness is necessary both to our felicity on earth and in heaven.(2) The manner of religious instruction should also be regarded with attention. This, of course, should be as much adapted to the capacity of the child as is possible. Instruction should not be confined merely to stated seasons, as in other branches of education; but it ought to occupy a considerable share of the common conversation of the parent.
3. If you would give either meaning or force to anything you say, add to instruction a holy and suitable example. I would also insist upon the necessity of not only setting them good examples at home, but of using the utmost caution that they be not exposed to the contagion of bad example abroad. It should therefore be your business to select for them suitable companions. Of course, this establishes also the importance of choosing a proper person to superintend the general education of your children.
4. Let it not be supposed that any system of education can be complete without prayer.
III. Exhibit THE ENCOURAGEMENT WHICH THE SCRIPTURES AFFORD, THAT SUCH EXERTION WILL BE BLESSED TO THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THEIR DESIRED END.
(J. A. James.)I. THE DARLING WISHES OF MEN ARE NOT ALWAYS GRATIFIED BY GOD.
II. A REASONABLE EXPLANATION OF THIS REJECTION OF ISHMAEL CAN BE SUGGESTED.
1. God had other purposes in view, from which He would not depart to gratify the wishes of the best man living.
2. The purpose of God was associated with righteousness, whereas Ishmael originated in a pitiful, immoral expedient. Many a failure in the individual life, and church life, and national life, is rooted in the rank, poisonous manure of wrong-doing.
3. The blessing of God was in connection with Isaac, the glad meditative son of peace. It is in vain that we try to force the hand of Providence if our heart is set on Ishmael, the offspring of our human passion and impatience.
III. GOD WILL, IN AN UNEXPECTED SENSE, ANSWER OUR PETITIONS. Look at the answer that came to Abraham's prayer. It had already been predicted that he was to be "a wild man, his hand against every man," etc. Now still further comes this guarantee. "...I will make him a great nation." Abraham's gift of intercession was not an unqualified good. If his supplication had not been successful, much misery might have been spared to himself, his family, his nation, and humanity at large. Can anyone calculate the mischief that has been created by the existence of Ishmael in the world?
(W. J. Acomb,)
I. For one thing, Ishmael was slave born. The children of a slave mother shared her condition, even when the father was a free man — indeed, though he were the master himself. In the absence of any issue by the free and proper wife, it is true that Ishmael could have inherited his father's wealth, just as, in the absence of any issue, Eliezer of Damascus might have done so. Inherently, however, he possessed no right of inheritance. So soon as a free-born son appeared, Ishmael sank to his mother's level. It is easy to see how unfit such an heir would have been to represent, at the very outset of a family history which was to be saturated throughout with symbolical meaning, the entire body of God's spiritual children, for whom the great blessing was ultimately destined.
II. In the second place, God's covenant with Abraham's seed was one of gracious promise. By it, the Eternal and Omnipotent drew near again to sinful men, laden with spontaneous blessings, such as they themselves could neither win by force nor merit by virtue, but must expect to receive through the superhuman operations of God. The Promiser of such blessings must be also their Donor. The fulfilment of a Divine promise, whose characteristic is sovereign grace, could not lie within the sphere of man's natural ability, or what in Bible language is called "flesh." It lay outside that region altogether; in a redemptive, and therefore miraculous, interposition of God. Now it corresponded ill with an alliance like this, that the first to inherit and transmit its benefits or hopes to posterity should be one into whose origin there had entered so little faith, and so much fleshly policy and fleshly desire.
(J. O. Dykes, DD.)
(M. Dix, D. D.)
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