《Preacher’s Complete Homiletical Commentary – Genesis (Ch.21~35)》(Miscellaneous Author)
21 Chapter 21
Gen . The Lord visited Sarah.] Jehovah, the Covenant God. To "visit," in this connection, signifies drawing near for the purpose of conferring a favour (Gen 1:24; Rth 1:6.) The LXX. has ἐπεσκεψατο, a word adopted by St. Luke in two places in the song of Zacharias (Luk 1:68-78).
Gen . The set time. As promised in Gen 17:21; Gen 18:14.
Gen . Called the name of his son, Isaac.] In obedience to the Divine command (Gen 17:19).
Gen . Circumcised his son Isaac, being eight days old, as God had commanded him.] (Gen 17:10-12.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Gen
THE BIRTH OF ISAAC
We now come to the first substantial result of God's covenant with Abraham. The child which had only been present to the eye of faith and hope was now before him—God's promises turned into realities, as they always shall be. As the birth of Isaac was not only marked by special circumstances, but is also an important event in the history of religion, it may be considered from several points of view.
I. As it illustrates the power of God. The birth of a son to Abraham is here regarded not as a common occurrence in the course of nature, but as the direct result of the visitation of God. (Gen .) It was an exhibition of Divine power, but in that form which we call miraculous.
1. God's power as distinctly seen. No one who considers this vast universe, with its mighty forces and wonderful order, can fail to be impressed with an overwhelming sense of the power of God. But all men do not consider, and the very constancy and greatness of that power prevents it from being distinctly recognised. A miracle does not require more of Divine power than is put forth in the maintenance of the system of nature, but it may be to us a greater proof of that power. The birth of Isaac was the result of the special interference of God, and His power was distinctly seen. The observation of the regular course of nature taught Abraham what to expect, and he had his natural hopes like other men. But his faith in the promise of God enabled him to believe against such hope. He knew that God was "able" to perform, and now he had a special proof of it.
2. God's power as it affects personal interest. This was not a wonderful thing which they were to gaze upon from the outside with distant awe and astonishment. They were personally interested in the event. They were an essential part of it. They were obliged to stand within that circle in which the power of God was now displayed, and the sense of it brought home to them. Doubt would be impossible of that which so intimately touched themselves. Thus, whatever is wrought within us, gives us the highest proof of God. What is the moral miracle of regeneration but the power of God so brought home to us that we have consciousness of its reality? Who can deny the Divine source of His heavenly birth?
3. God's power manifested as benevolent. There are judicial visitations of God, when He comes to punish transgressors. (Exo .) But this was a friendly visit, full of grace and good gifts. The Divine power was put forth, not to alarm or crush, but with kind intent. This is the aspect of His power which is given to His saints to behold—the power of God unto salvation.
II. As it illustrates the faithfulness of God. The birth of this child was not only a loving and gracious expression of God's power, but was also the accomplishment of His word. The child was given "according to promise." His parents could not regard his birth otherwise than as a proof of the faithfulness of a covenant keeping God. Such experience have all His children.
1. The promises of God sooner or later pass into exact fulfilment. His word is as good as the fact, and he who trusts in that word has an inheritance upon a sure title. He has a substantial foundation for a hope which "maketh not ashamed." The universe was but the thought of God expressing itself in an outward reality. He spake the word and creation arose. God's word tends inevitably to pass into fulfilment.
2. Their fulfilment justifies our confidence in God. We ought to have confidence in God's word without any immediate proof; but the journey of faith is long, and God has consideration for the infirmity of our poor human nature in giving us encouragement by the way. He deals with us as a kind Father who is always giving us reasons to love and serve Him. All is not left to the future world to disclose and verify. We have real and essential good now and here. Abraham had not received all the promises of God, but he had received enough to justify his confidence, and to encourage him to persevere in a life of faith to the end.
3. Their fulfilment is the stay of the believer's soul. "The word of the Lord is a tried word." We may consider it as sure, and we can build upon it without any misgiving. The memory of God's past dealings becomes a ground of hope for the future. "Thou hast been my help" is a proper plea to urge in prayer for blessings yet to be given. God's promises already verified give us that confidence which becomes the stay of our soul for the time to come. We feel that there is something sure and fixed in the midst of change and decay. We come to "know whom we have believed. It is only when the doctrines about God pass into the facts of experience within us that they become knowledge. And of all foundations to build upon the only secure one is knowledge. Our faith itself derives its value from the fact that it is concerned with realities.
III. As it illustrates the faith of man. The wonderful birth of this child was the reward of faith. Abraham believed in God against all human hope, and Sarah "by faith received strength to conceive seed" (Heb ).
1. It was a faith which was severely tried.
(1) By long waiting. Abraham had waited for twenty-five years.
(2) By natural difficulties. He and his wife had advanced to a stage of life when there could be no human prospect of offspring. So the faith of believers is tried by many delays, and by difficulties that to the eye of sense seem to be insurmountable. Our way often appears to be shut up, as if we could go no further; but God interferes in His own good time. Our faith's journey continues, and we pass on to new triumphs.
2. It was a practical faith. All the time that he was waiting, Abraham was obedient to the word of the Lord. Faith, with him, was not a mere sentiment, but was practically one with duty. It is quite indifferent whether we call his conduct faith or obedience. He chose a certain course of life, and entered upon certain duties, because he believed in God. Now that the promise is fulfilled he is still giving attention to his duty. He circumcised his son and called him by that name which God had appointed. (Gen .)
IV. As it looks onwards to the birth of the world's Redeemer. This was not an isolated event, but had reference to a "Greater Man." The whole life of Abraham was ordered so as to prepare the line along which the Messiah should come. The details of the birth of Isaac, considered merely in themselves, are but a piece of human history calculated to awaken but a passing curiosity and interest. But when they are regarded in their relation to the birth of the Son of God, these details are invested with a surpassing importance. Throughout the history of this chosen family, God was working out His way towards an end—the bringing in of His "first-begotten into the world." (Heb .) The analogy between the birth of Isaac and that of Jesus Christ is obvious.
1. Both births were announced long before. Indeed, to Abraham the two births were virtually announced together. He had to wait many years before the promise was fulfilled, and the world had to wait through long ages for the birth of the Son of Man.
2. Both occur at the time fixed by God. Isaac was born at "the set time" of which God had spoken to Abraham. So the date of Messiah's birth was fixed by the prophet Daniel. (Dan .) Seventy prophetic weeks are four hundred and ninety years. The re-establishment of the theocracy began thirteen years before the rebuilding of Jerusalem, 457 B.C. This number subtracted from four hundred and ninety years will give thirty-three years, to be reckoned from the commencement of the Christian era. Thus the Messiah was to be cut off in the middle of the last week. All this is now a matter of history. Thus the time when Christ should appear in the world was before appointed.
3. Both persons were named before their birth. Isaac's name was given according to the Divine command. (Gen .) So was the name Jesus. (Mat 1:21.)
4. Both births were supernatural. Each was born after a miraculous manner.
5. Both births were the occasion of great joy. Abraham and Sarah had more than the common joy of parents. The event was so wonderful that amazement must have mingled with their delight. When Jesus was born angels and men rejoiced.
6. Both births are associated with the life beyond. The faithful shall "sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven." They shall be "with Christ," "for ever with the Lord."
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Gen . God pays not His people with words only. He fools them not off with fair promises. Good men are the children that will not lie. (Isa 63:8.) Their Father is a God that cannot lie. (Titus 1, 2.) He is the God of Amen, as Isaiah calleth Him (Isa 65:16); "all His promises are Yea, and Amen in Christ Jesus" (2Co 1:20); "the faithful and true witness." (Rev 3:14.)—(Trapp.)
Sarah's visitation is a type of the visitation of Mary, notwithstanding the great distinction between them. The visitation lies in the extraordinary and wonderful personal grace, to which an immeasurable general human salvation is closely joined. But with Sarah this visitation occurs very late in life, and after long waiting; with Mary it was entirely unexpected. Sarah's body is dead; Mary had not known a husband. The son of Sarah is himself a type of the son of Mary. But with both women the richest promise of heaven is limited through one particular woman on the earth, a conception in faith, an apparently impossible, but yet actual human birth; both are illustrious instances of the destination of the female race, of the importance of the wife, the mother for the kingdom of God. Both became illustrious since they freely subjected themselves to this destination, since they yielded their sons in the future, the sons of promise, or in the son of promise; for Isaac has all his importance as a type of Christ, and Christ, the son of Mary, is the manifesta-of the Eternal Son.—(Lange.)
Believers are visited with the word of promise, and then with the word of fulfilment.
Gen . This is stated as explanatory of the manner in which the Divine veracity affirmed in the first verse was established. God had promised that Sarah should conceive and bear a son, and she did thus conceive and bring forth; but it does not necessarily follow that the time of her conceiving was subsequent to the events related in the preceding chapter; on the contrary, there is every reason to believe that this took place some weeks or months before (comp. Gen 17:21), but it is mentioned here, without regard to date, merely as a fulfilment of the promise.—(Bush.)
Faith which once faltered may gather strength again and achieve noble deeds. Sarah has won a place amongst the ancient worthies. (Heb .)
The birth of this son was not according to nature (Gal ), but above nature. The miraculous element marks throughout the history of the chosen people. Thus mankind was prepared for the grand miracle of the manifestation of the Son of God.
Human redemption belongs to a course of things altogether above nature, for nature preaches no doctrine of forgiveness, no restoration of powers when once they are dead. Grace alone can bring salvation.
With God nothing can occur out of season, or fall otherwise than at the appointed time.
One great difference between this child and the son of Hagar consisted in this: the one was "born after the flesh," that is, in the ordinary course of generation; but the other, "after the spirit," that is, by extraordinary Divine interposition, and in virtue of a special promise. Analogous to these were those Jews, on the one hand, who were merely descended from Abraham according to the flesh, and those, on the other, who were "not of the circumcision only, but also walked in the steps of the faith of their father Abraham." (Rom .) The former were the children of the bondwoman who were cast out, the latter of the freewoman, who, being "His people whom He foreknew," were not cast away, but were counted for the seed. (Gal 4:28-31; Rom 9:7; Rom 9:9; Rom 11:1-2.)—(Fuller.)
Gen . As the name is associated with the fulfilment, it keeps in mind the contrast between the idea and the reality. Her laughter of incredulity is turned now into the laughter of joy at the event. (Gen 21:6.) The name Isaac, therefore, is most significant. Through this name, Isaac is designated as the fruit of omnipotent grace working against and above the forces of nature. It is as much as to say, this son of promise is indeed he, the mention of whose birth was laughed as impossible. So, afterwards, Ishmael laughed at him, as too weak to be the ground of such attention and such hopes. (Gen 21:9.) And the name keeps in view this contrast of the natural and the supernatural.—(Jacobus.)
Gen . The patriarch here pursues his accustomed tenor of obedience, by subjecting his child to the painful rite of circumcision. Nothing is of higher value in the sight of God than an implicit observance of His positive precepts, and a disposition to adhere with punctilious strictness to the letter of the command, neither failing nor exceeding in the rule of duty. This is peculiarly important in the matter of sacramental institutions, where, as we learn from the example of the Papists, human perverseness is prone to fabricate new observances, and enforce them by promises and threatenings equally unknown to the Scriptures. Well would it be were they as much intent upon performing what God has really enjoined.—(Bush.)
The joy of a great blessing should not hinder us from paying the minutest attention to duty, and carefully observing every ordinance of God.
This was a sign of the covenant love of God towards the child, stamped upon him. Circumcision was an Egyptian, not a Jewish rite. It was therefore an adopted ceremony, and a religious signification was now thrown into it. So it is with our rites of baptism, of the Lord's day, of the Supper of the Redeemer. These institutions were in existence before the time of Christ; He made them new by connecting them with new ideas. It is wise thus to vitalize existing forms, to infuse into them fresh meaning. We do not want new ones, the old are good enough for us; for what we want is, to throw into the old a new life, that that which is dying out may become alive. Circumcision was a coarse rite given to a coarse nation, a sign that they could understand; notwithstanding, they forgot that it was only a symbol. Prophet after prophet testified against this. As soon as the form began to lose its meaning and became substituted for the spiritual reality, it was proclaimed by our Master and His inspired servants that both were dead. And the fate of that institution is the fate of all form when it becomes nothing but form; and men are wanted now who will say out with Apostolic authority, baptism is nothing, the Lord's Supper is nothing, unless a living spirit be within them.—(Robertson.)
Gen . The sacred historian takes care to show that the birth of Isaac was above nature.
1. Hence, it foreshadows the miraculous birth of Jesus.
2. It was the beginning of a Divine supernatural agency which would continue to work throughout the history of the chosen people. Even to this day, the inextinguishable life of this ancient race is a perpetual witness to the power of God—indeed, a miracle wrought before our very eyes.
Isaac was born thirty years after the call of Abraham, and when his parents had lived for sixty years in fruitless marriage union. After many delays and difficulties insurmountable by nature, God's promised mercies come at last.
1. The child of hope.
2. The child of prayer.
3. The child of faith.
If we believe in the miracle of creation, we are prepared to believe in any other miraculous interference of God. He who brought life and being from barren nothing can afterwards depart from His established ways, and give life when nature forbids the hope of it.