Yesterday I shared some of my thoughts on Genesis 20 and how good God is. Today I would like to share a few thoughts on Genesis 21. This chapter records the miraculous birth of Isaac – an event that Paul expands on in both Galatians and Romans. But the thing that struck me as I read it this morning is how there is no escaping the fact that sin often makes life difficult.
Genesis 21 tells us how Sarah laughed in joy and faith at the birth of Isaac. (Isaac means “he laughs” a name that God gave him because both Abraham and Sarah laughed when God first told them that they would have a son.) But then in the very next paragraph we hear how Ismael didn’t laugh, he mocked Isaac. In fact, Paul in Galatians 4 says Ishmael was persecuting Isaac. This reminds me of the comment made by Luther that the devil is God’s ape. He apes the ways of God but always with a vicious twist. Here he causes Ishmael to viciously mimic Sarah’s laughter with mockery. Sin turns the happy picture sour.
So much so that Sarah demands that Ishmael and his mother be banished. The Bible says this distressed Abraham. It’s not hard to see why. After all, Ismael was his only son until Isaac was born about 15 years later. There is no doubt he loved him. But he probably also thought if only he wouldn’t have gone down that sinful path and tried to have a son by Hagar none of this would be happening. He realized that his own actions had brought a lot of this grief upon himself.
This illustrates a truth that is often bitter for us to accept. And that is that even though God forgives us our sins, he still often makes us suffer some of the earthly consequences of it. The person who stole turns to God and is forgiven. But he still might have to serve jail time. The believer stumbles and gossips about his friend. He is forgiven but he might suffer a strained or even broken relationship. God often makes us suffer the consequences of our sins – because he loves us. He knows that, without suffering those consequences, we might continue in that sinful action. As Hebrews 12 makes clear, discipline is a sign of God’s love for us. But that doesn’t make it always easy to bear. Because of sin, life can be hard.
It was hard for Abraham. It was hard on Hagar and Ishmael – forcing them to flee. Later in the chapter we see Abimelech coming to make a treaty with Abraham. After he was deceived by Abraham in chapter 20, he doesn’t trust him. That had to feel like a knife in Abraham’s chest. Sin has consequences. Sin makes life hard.
But throughout, God remains faithful. He reassures Abraham when he is distressed about sending away his son Ishmael. He provides for Hagar and Ishmael when they flee and later on as Ishmael grows up. He is our good shepherd watching over us sheep – sheep who often act dumb and sinfully.
I needed to be reminded of the reality that, because of sin, life can be hard at times. I needed that reminder so I’m not surprised when that happens. I needed that reminder so that I don’t entertain any notion that I can keep my life free of problems. We live in a sinful world. That means we will have problems. The worst thing is to have the illusion that God will make all our problems go away. Talk about setting ourselves up for disappointment.
But I also needed the reminder that the Lord is always there for me – even when I don’t see that. He continues to bless me in spite of my sins. He continues to provide for me in spite of my ingratitude. He continues to protect me in spite of my foolishness. And most importantly of all, he continues to promise me that I will be spending eternity in his presence, as a member of his eternal family, because Jesus has covered every inch of me with his righteousness. What a wonderful faithful Lord we have. To God be all glory!