Christian Churches of God
The Son of Promise
(Edition 2.0 20031120-20070126)
And the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. This paper has been adapted from Chapters 7 and 8 of The Bible Story Volume 1 by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press and The NIV Study Bible.
The Son of Promise
After the destruction of the cities on the plain of Jordan, Abraham moved southwest to a land called Gerar. As God promised, a son was to be born to Abraham and Sarah. An angel had already told them to name the baby Isaac. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. Sarah was 90 (Gen. 21:1-3).
In those days it was the custom to hold a feast in honour of a child between two and three years old. When Isaac was that age, Abraham held such a feast because his son had grown out of babyhood and into a little boy. Having become a greatly respected man in that region, Abraham invited important men to the feast, probably even the king of Gerar.
When Hagar and her son Ishmael saw what special attention Isaac was receiving from so many people, they became envious. Ishmael was Abraham’s first son, and Hagar was bitter because Ishmael hadn’t been so honoured when he was that age (Gen. 21:8-9). During the dinner, Hagar and Ishmael made some unkind remarks about little Isaac. His mother became very angry when she overhead them.
Even though Sarah had suggested that Abraham have a child through her maid Hagar, Sarah had disliked having Hagar and Ishmael living in the same tents with Abraham and her. She went at once to Abraham to ask him to send Hagar and Ishmael away. This was a problem to Abraham, who knew that there could be little happiness in a household where there were two jealous mothers.
“Do as Sarah wishes and send them away,” God told Abraham. “But don’t feel sorrowful about it, because I shall take care of them. Isaac, not Ishmael, will be your heir, but from Ishmael I will make a whole nation!” (Gen. 21:10-13).
This promise greatly relieved Abraham. He obeyed God. Early the next morning he prepared provisions for the immediate departure of Hagar and Ishmael, whom he hoped could reach a place where they could rest out of the hot afternoon sun. Probably he also hoped that they would not go too many miles distant to live.
While it was yet cool in the morning, Hagar and Ishmael took food and water and started out on foot from Abraham’s tent. Hagar, who was an Egyptian, set out with her son across the desert to the south, probably intending to go back to her native land (Gen. 21:14). She believed that if they could reach the main caravan trail to Egypt, they might meet a caravan that would take them along to the southwest.
It didn’t happen that way. Hagar failed to find the caravan trail. By the middle of the hot day they had drunk all their water. The shadeless desert became so warm that by the middle of the afternoon Ishmael fell to the burning sand, and was unable to get back on his feet. Because he was a growing teenager, he required more refreshment than did his mother, who realised that if she didn’t find water soon her son would surely die of thirst within hours.
Hagar became frantic. There seemed no possibility of finding water in that great expanse of hot sand and rocks. By the middle of the afternoon, when the heat was at its worst, Ishmael was only partly conscious. Hagar struggled to roll him into the weak shade of a desert shrub. There she left him and walked far enough away to be unable to hear his groans. That and her bitter sobs were the only two sounds in the painful heat of the wilderness.
After a while there came a startlingly different sound. It was the voice of an angel speaking to Hagar! “Don’t worry about your son, Hagar,” the angel said. “Go help him. God will cause a great nation to come from Ishmael” (Gen. 21:17-18).
Hagar looked up. She didn’t see the speaker, but she saw something she hadn’t noticed before. It was a spring of clear, cool water bubbling out of the sand only a few feet away. Hagar lunged for the spring, filled her empty leather bottle, and thankfully hurried to pour some of the water between Ishmael’s parched lips. God had promised Abraham that He would look after Ishmael and his mother. He began by saving their lives in the desert.
After Ishmael recovered, he and Hagar were still unable to find the caravan trail. They travelled to the southeast to a desert area where they stayed. Ishmael became so skilful at archery that he was able to shoot plenty of birds and animals for food for the two. They kept on living in the desert for so many years that he became almost like a wild man (Gen. 16:12). Hagar managed to bring him an Egyptian woman for a wife (Gen. 21:21). Ishmael and his wife had children, and those children grew up and had children. In time, a whole nation sprang from Ishmael, just as God had foretold. Today we know those people as the Arabs.
Abraham’s greatest test
Down through the years Abraham had shown by his obedience that he was truly God’s servant. God planned to put him to one more test that would be the hardest of all. At that time he was living at a place called Beersheba, north of where Hagar and Ishmael had gone into the desert. There, Isaac grew up. Abraham was thankful that God had given him this fine, young man. He was shocked one day when he heard God say: “Take Isaac to the land of Moriah and offer him for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:2).
Abraham would have chosen to take his own life, but that wasn’t what God had told him to do. Abraham knew that one couldn’t do better than obey the Creator, no matter how difficult it may be. So he began to carry out the instructions given to him.
But before Abraham could actually sacrifice his son the Lord said to him: “Do not harm Isaac. Because you have been willing to give up your son, I know that you fear me!” (Gen. 22:10-12).
Abraham knew that God was speaking to him through an angel. He tearfully fell to his knees, overcome with joy and thankfulness because God hadn’t required him to take his son’s life. It was then that he saw a ram thrashing about in nearby brush where it was trapped. Abraham realised that God had provided an animal for the sacrifice in place of Isaac (v.13).
Isaac, too, must have been thankful as his father slashed the ropes that bound him. For more explanation of this story see the paper Abraham and Isaac: A Faithful Sacrifice (No. CB11).
Perhaps one might think that it was cruel of God to cause Abraham to almost slay Isaac. God is never cruel. He is always loving and merciful. Sometimes He gives some very hard tests to those who choose to obey Him. This is to prove obedience or wisdom, just as sometimes schoolteachers or parents give tests to find out how much is being learned.
In Abraham’s case it proved that Abraham loved his Creator more than any other thing or person, including his son. Abraham showed great faith by what he was prepared to do. The proof was good for Abraham and a good example for millions who would later read of this event. It also pointed to a time two thousand years later when God Himself would be willing to give His only son, Jesus, to be killed because of all the evil things done by man.
Abraham’s descendants promised prosperity
Before Abraham and Isaac started back down the hill, the Lord spoke again to Abraham. “Because you have been willing to give up your son for me,” promised God, speaking through an angel, “I will indeed bless you. Your descendants will be as many as the stars of the heavens and as the sands of the seashore. They shall be able to conquer their enemies. All the nations of the world shall seek to be as prosperous as those who descend from you. All this will happen because you have obeyed me!”
After Abraham and Isaac had returned to where the two servants were waiting, they set out to go back to Beersheba.
Later, Abraham moved to Hebron in the southern part of the land of Canaan. There, Sarah died at the age of 127 years. This mother of many millions of people now living around the world was buried in a cave in a field belonging to Abraham.
About three years after his wife Sarah had died, Abraham began to think about Isaac getting married. By then Isaac was 40 years old. Abraham was concerned lest his son pick a wife from among the Canaanites, who were idol worshipers.
Abraham instructed his chief servant to take men, camels and provisions on a trip to Mesopotamia, Abraham’s native land, and bring back a wife for Isaac from among his own people (Gen. 24:3-4). It was the custom then, as it still is in some countries, for parents to choose whom their sons and daughters would marry.
Abraham felt certain that there were many people still in Mesopotamia who worshiped God. He had a brother, Nahor, who still lived there and had a large family (Gen. 22:20-24). He knew that it would be more pleasing to God for Isaac to marry within his own family (apart from close relatives) than take an idol-worshiping wife.
After days of journeying to the northeast, Abraham’s servant and his caravan arrived one evening at a well just outside the city of Nahor (Gen. 24:10). In those days the women were generally the ones who went to the wells to draw water. Abraham’s servant prayed that among them would be one that would turn out to be a good wife for his master’s son. He also prayed that God would point out such a woman by causing her to volunteer to draw up water for him and the camels. That would seem to be asking a lot of God. What woman would be willing to draw water for ten thirsty camels?
But even before the servant’s prayer was finished, a beautiful young woman approached the well. As she drew up water, Abraham’s servant came up to her and asked her for water to drink. At once the woman held out her water jar (Gen. 24:11-15). “Drink, my lord,” she said. “This could almost be an answer to my prayer,” thought the servant. “She is willing to give me a drink, but surely she won’t want to go to more trouble than that.” Abraham’s servant was surprised therefore, when he heard the young woman say, “I will be glad to draw water for your camels, too! I’ll give them as much as they can drink!”
This was a direct answer to the prayer made only minutes before. Abraham’s servant was sure that this was the woman for Isaac. To pay her for her trouble, he gave her a gold ring weighing half a shekel and gold bracelets weighing 10 shekels (Gen. 24:22).
Ten shekels represent the fee for redemption for a female who is between five and twenty years. The fee for redemption of people was specified by law and was not a burden (Lev. 27:1-8). The half shekel represents the specific levy of Temple tax mentioned for Atonement (Ex. 30:11-16). Christ paid the price for us, when he laid down his life. The bracelets and nose ring also relate to making atonement (Num. 31:49-50).
When he asked her name, he received another surprise. “I am Rebekah,” she told him. “I am the daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son.”
Nahor was Abraham’s brother, so this young woman was a second cousin to Isaac! It was good news to the servant to learn that he had found a woman who was of Abraham’s people, and one who knew about the One True God. Abraham’s servant immediately thanked God for helping him.
Rebekah ran to her home to excitedly tell her family what had happened, and to show the ring and bracelets. When her brother, Laban, saw the costly jewellery and heard Rebekah’s story, he hurried to the well to invite Abraham’s servant back to his home (Gen. 24:29-31). The servant was thankful for the invitation, but before accepting it, he made sure that the men with him unloaded, fed and made straw beds for the camels. He and his men were then brought water with which to wash their feet. This was a custom that was very helpful in arid lands where travellers’ feet became dusty and weary.
Food was then set before them, but the servant wouldn’t eat until he had told his hosts why he had come (v. 33). He related to Rebekah’s family what had happened to Abraham since he had left Haran many years before. He told how Abraham had obeyed God in the lands where other people would have nothing to do with God and how Abraham had become wealthy and the happy father of an obedient son, Isaac.
When the servant told them about his prayer for a good wife for Isaac, and how Rebekah had fitted in with what he had asked for, Rebekah’s family were convinced that God had led him to Rebekah.
“We believe that it’s God’s will that Rebekah becomes Isaac’s wife,” they told the servant (v. 50).
The servant was so pleased to hear this that he again thanked God. Then he had gold and silver and beautiful clothing brought to Rebekah, and costly gifts for her family (v. 53). The rich gifts given to Rebekah and her family showed that her future family was very weathly. Then, at last, all enjoyed a happy feast. If the reader believes that it was unfair to Rebekah because she had little or nothing to say about all these plans, it must be remembered that in those times wives were picked in a different manner. In this case, Rebekah was undoubtedly pleased and excited, even though she hadn’t met Isaac. What is more important is that God had a hand in the matter, which would ensure the happiness of the people involved.
Next morning, Rebekah’s family asked if she could stay a few more days at home. Abraham’s servant reminded them that, because God had so quickly led him to Rebekah, no part of the matter should be postponed. Rebekah stated that she was quite willing to leave at once, so the caravan set out on the way back. On the return trip it was enlarged by the addition of camels carrying Rebekah, her nurse and her maids. Rebekah’s family was sad to see her go, but its members were happy that she would obviously have a good man for a husband (vv. 55-61).
Days afterward, as Isaac was out walking in a field, he saw a caravan approaching. He went to meet it hopeful that it was the one his father had sent to Nahor. When Rebekah saw a man hurrying toward them, she asked who he was. On being told that he was the man she had been brought to marry, she was pleased. She quickly and modestly attired herself in a long veil before stepping down off her camel to meet her future husband (v. 65).
Isaac and Rebekah were married shortly after their meeting. Because they had God’s blessing, they were very happy (v. 67). Through them, the Creator moved a step nearer to starting the nation that would do important work in the world through succeeding generations.
Thirty-five years later, at the age of 175 years, Abraham died (Gen. 25:7-8). The first two sons, Ishmael and Isaac buried their father in the same cave where Abraham’s first wife, Sarah, was buried (Gen. 25:9-10). See the paper Abraham and Sarah (No. CB10).
Although Isaac and Rebekah were happy in their marriage, the years passed without their having any children. They became so disappointed that at last Isaac asked God to send them a child (Gen. 25:21). God answered the prayer. After twenty years of marriage, Isaac and Rebekah realised that at last they would soon become parents.
At some time Rebekah suffered unusual pains so she prayed for relief. God told her, probably in a dream or a vision, that she would give birth to the beginnings of two nations. One nation would turn out to be stronger than the other, she was told, and that the first one born would serve the other. God gave her strength to continue in her condition until she became the mother of twin boys. The first one born was called Esau. The second was named Jacob (Gen. 25:22-26).
[Note: from this point on The NIV Study Bible was used for reference and quotes.]
There was a famine in the land and Isaac went to king Abimelech in Gerar. This was a different famine than that of Abraham’s time when he went to Egypt (Gen. 12:10). The Lord appeared to Isaac and told him not to go to Egypt.
“Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws”. So Isaac stayed in Gerar. (Gen. 26:3-6)
Now, like Sarah, Rebekah was also very beautiful. So when the men of that place asked Isaac about his wife he said, “She is my sister”. He was afraid to say Rebekah was his wife because he thought the men might kill him and take his wife. However, after Isaac had been there a long time the king looked out of his window one day and saw Isaac caressing his wife. So he sent for Isaac and said, “She is really your wife! Why did you say she was your sister?”
Isaac told the king that he was afraid that he would be killed because of Rebekah. So Abimelech was angry because any one of the men might have taken Rebekah for a wife. So he gave orders to all the people that if anybody should touch Rebekah they would be put to death (Gen. 26:7-11).
It is interesting to note that Isaac’s father Abraham did this same thing when he went into Egypt. He lied about the fact that Sarah (Sarai) was his wife and said she was his sister. Like Isaac, he also thought this lie would save his own life (Gen. 12:11-14). They both should have trusted God to look after them because He had already made a promise.
Isaac planted crops and over time he became very rich, and this continued. He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him and turned nasty. They then filled Isaac’s many wells with earth. Eventually Abimelech told Isaac to move away because he was becoming too powerful (Gen. 26:12-16). As God fulfilled His covenant promises His people were blessed and they were seen as a threat to the others in the lands where they lived.
So Isaac moved away and settled in the valley of Gerar. He reopened old wells that his father had left. Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found a well of fresh water there. But the other herdsmen quarrelled with them saying the water was theirs. So he named the well Esek because they disputed with him. Then they dug another well and they quarrelled over that one too so he named it Sitnah. He moved on and dug another well and no one quarrelled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land” (Gen. 26:17-22).
From there Isaac went to Beersheba. There the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham” (Gen. 26:23-24).
Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. There he pitched his tent and there his servants dug a well. Meanwhile Abimelech had come to him from Gerar with some of his men. Isaac asked: “Why have you come to me since you were hostile to me and sent me away?” (Gen. 26:25-27).
They answered: “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us. Let us make a treaty with you that you will do us no harm, just as we did not molest you but always treated you well and sent you away in peace.’ And now you are blessed by the Lord” (Gen. 26:28-29).
Isaac then made a feast for them and they ate and drank. The feast was to show the friendship between the parties of the covenant. Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way and they left him in peace. That day Isaac’s servants came to tell him that they had found more water. He called that well Shibah and to this day the name of the town has been Beersheba (Gen. 26:30-33).
Isaac’s sons grew up and Esau became a skilful hunter and Jacob worked near home among the tents. Isaac loved Esau best and Rebekah loved Jacob best (Gen. 25:27-28), so each parent had a favourite son. This is not a good thing to foster in families. However, while parents dearly love all their children, they can sometimes favour one more than another.
Esau was the first-born so he was heir to the birthright promises. The birthright included the inheritance rights of the first-born. That means Esau was entitled to a double portion of his father’s possessions. Under pressure, Esau sold his birthright to his younger brother Jacob. So Esau came to despise Jacob and his birthright (Gen. 25:29-34).
Jacob and his mother had schemed to get the blessing for Jacob. God had already promised Rebekah that the older son would serve the younger son, so she should have had faith that God would do what He had said (Gen. 25:23). Because of the bad feeling that developed between the two brothers, Jacob was sent away for his own safety and to find a wife. For more on the story of these sons of Isaac see the paper Jacob: The Son of Isaac (No. CB13).
Jacob eventually made peace with his brother Esau and he came home to his father Isaac in Hebron where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. After Isaac had lived 180 years he breathed his last and “died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days.” And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him (Gen. 35:27-29).