This is going to be a big, exciting, important day. There is so much
going on in this reading that I can hardly wait to share it with you!
Twice God protected Sarah from Abraham's lies in order to protect the promise. While a man of great faith in some areas, Abraham still shows his human, fallible, faithless side.
2:1-2 Then the Lord did exactly what he had promised. She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would. God's promises always come true. 100% of the time. Maybe not as quickly as we'd like, but they do.
Conflict between Ishmael and Isaac. Notice the conflict originated from Ishmael against Isaac (vs. 9), and was rooted in jealousy. Galatians 4:22-29 describes for us a spiritual application of this conflict between Isaac (the son born of the promise) and Ishmael (the son born of the flesh).
Pharisees: "Children" of Ishmael. In Galatians 4, the Jewish legalists (Pharisees) protested against the Galatians that they were children of Abraham and hence the ones who are blessed. Paul will admit that the Pharisees are indeed children of Abraham, but he asks who was their mother, Hagar or Sarah? Paul contends that the Pharisees are more like Ishmael than Isaac. Ishmael was born of a slave, and born according to the flesh. Isaac was born of a freewoman, and born according to promise. The legalists tout and promote a relationship with God based in bondage and according to the flesh. The true gospel of grace offers liberty in Christ and is a promise received by faith.
Ephesians 4:28-29: Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. Just as Ishmael and his descendants (Arabs) have risen against Isaac and his descendants throughout history (Jews), we should not be surprised that the "religious" people of our day who follow God in the flesh mock and persecute those who have been set free through the promise.
God's solution is clear: get rid of the son conceived of the flesh. There is to be no reconciliation with the flesh, no peaceful coexistence. The son of the flesh must simply be put away forever. The solution is the same in our own battle between trusting in the flesh and trusting in the Holy Spirit: cast out the bondwoman and her son. Bondage and freedom cannot live together as principles for our Christian life, and there is no question we belong to the free, not the bondwoman. It may have seemed ruthless of Abraham to do this, but it was exactly what God wanted, and exactly what needed to happen.
Flesh and blood do not necessarily make the strongest bond God wants us to honor. There are circumstances where we can do nothing other than put away family for the glory of God. God wants us to be ruthless with the flesh in the same manner: And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24).
Chapter 22: Abraham's Faith Tested
Today, we are going to look for four different levels of application. Some people think this passage is a testament to the meanness or irrational behavior of God, that He would ask someone to sacrifice their son. But as we will see, God had a great purpose and picture to show us symbolically through this dress rehearsal of this greatest drama of all time scheduled a few thousand years later.
Level 1: at the time God was testing Abraham literally to see if his hope was in his only son, God's blessing, or if his hope was in God alone. As a side note, tests are not for God to check to see how we're doing. He already knows what we will do and what is in our heart. Tests are for us, to show us how much progress we have made (or not) and to prove to ourselves and others that we are ready for the blessing and the responsibility that goes along with it.
Level 2: This is an incredibly beautiful depiction of the future Messiah. Again, with Isaac as a Christ-type (picture) and now we see Abraham as Father God-type, we can see such a beautiful enactment of the future event of Jesus' sacrifice:
1. Isaac was Abraham's only son, the promised son, whom he loved much. Jesus, ditto.
2. Isaac was called to be sacrificed as an offering. Jesus, ditto.
3. Abraham placed the wood on Isaac's shoulders to carry (do you see the picture of the cross?). Jesus, ditto.
4. Abraham carried the fire and the knife. (Though people carried out the plan, it was God who carried the "fire and the knife," inflicting His own Son with the fatal wound for our sins-see scripture references below)
5. Abraham spoke prophetically, "God will provide a lamb, my son (vs. 8)." Jesus was called the "Lamb of Sacrifice" provided by God.
6. God promised that because Abraham didn't withhold his only son, his descendants would be multiplied beyond number and be blessed. Totally.
In reference to 4-6, check out the amazing connection in selected verses in Isaiah 53:4-10. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed! He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. But it was the LORD's good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD's plan will prosper in his hands.
Level 3: My life right now. God asks me to sacrifice my temporary, fleshly dreams so He can bring them back from the dead, giving me lasting better ones with His promises. Like Abraham, He tests to see if my heart is wrapped up in the creation, or the Creator. Is my hope in the dream, or the Dream-Giver? I personally have been invited (always invited, never forced) to sacrifice many cherished dreams, but I can tell you that God was (and continues to be) faithful with each one-my desire to remarry, my relationship with my children during a difficult custody situation after divorce, my home, my security-so many things He has asked me to offer to Him. They are not all necessarily resolved yet, but the intimacy, comfort, understanding, and peace I have received for giving them over to God, waiting for Him to resurrect my dreams for each one of them, has been far worth the exchange!
Level 4: The point of all this culminates with vs. 16-18 that, because God did not withhold His only Son either, a multitude of God's children would conquer our enemies and be eternally blessed through this sacrifice for eternity.
7:17-20 A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can't produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can't produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. Just yesterday, we read that we should not judge lest we be judged. Today, we are told to make judgments. This can be confusing, but I think what God is saying is that, while we can't judge people's hearts or intentions, we can be "fruit inspectors." God has called us to look at the results of professing believers' lives to know if they are practicing what they preach. This is very important for not getting led astray by false teachers, or for allowing hypocrisy to creep into our fellowship circles.
Proverbs 2:16-22: This passage can be applied to the personal level of one's life, but I'd like to make the argument that it can also be applied to the unfaithful church in the last days. Wisdom will save you from the immoral woman, from the flattery of the adulterous woman. She has abandoned her husband and ignores the covenant she made before God. Entering her house leads to death; it is the road to hell. The man who visits her is doomed. He will never reach the paths of life. In Revelation (several places) God talks about judging "The Harlot," which I believe is His church turned unfaithful. This warning in Proverbs would keep us as His church from falling prey to the lure to unfaithfulness in the last days.
Questions for personal reflection:
Are you living as a child of the slave woman or the free woman?
What goals or dreams have you so desired you are willing to put them ahead of God's plan for your life? Why do you have trouble trusting Him with that dream or desire?
If you knew that God's dream was far bigger and better for you than your own, would you "lay your Isaac down on the altar of sacrifice" so that you might receive the greater blessing?