Beckett: Pastor’s Thoughts – The Promise Continued through Isaac, Not Ishmael (Genesis 17:17-21)

“Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’ And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before You!’ God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year'” (Genesis 17:17-21).

Abraham and Sarah’s desperate attempt to take God’s promise into their own hands by giving Abraham a son through his servant, Hagar, was a colossal failure. Twice God emphasised, “No, My covenant shall be with Isaac who shall be born of Sarah.” This is critically important for us as Christians. Islam’s tradition traces their lineage to Ishmael who is an ancestor to their prophet Muhammed, the founder of their religion. For Christians, we trace our lineage to Isaac who is an ancestor to Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1-2). The reason why this is important is because God made His covenant with Isaac, not with Ishmael. With Christ being the descendant of Isaac—the one to whom God gave the promise— this reason, among others, is why Christianity is the true religion.

Yet this is not the focus of my thoughts for today. Rather, I want to compare our futile efforts to bring God’s promise about to Abraham and Sarah’s futile efforts. They thought Sarah was too old to have children; therefore, God’s promise certainly won’t be coming through Sarah! So, why not give Abraham a much younger, fertile woman to bring about God’s promise of a son? According to natural law, they were, of course, correct in their estimation. Yet they failed to understand that God is not bound by the laws of nature He Himself created.

And yet, their scheming worked! Sarah gave her servant Hagar to Abraham for him to lie with and impregnate, and it happens! He finally has a son! But, much to their surprise, this was not according to God’s promised plan. No, it is Sarah’s son through whom God’s promise shall continue, not Hagar’s son. And they will name him Isaac since Abraham laughed (Isaac in Hebrew means “he laughs”). God promised Sarah would give birth to Isaac a year from now, and it happens exactly as the Lord had said (Genesis 21:1-3).

As this story is told, we might laugh at their foolery, but we are no different. Consider all the false prophets and simpleminded Christians who make futile attempts to predict with accuracy the second coming of Christ. Failed predictions of Jesus’ second coming actually date all the way back to the year 500. Hippolytus of Rome, Sextus Julius Africanus, and Irenaeus of Lyons predicted Jesus would return in AD 500. Of course, they were wrong. There are many other failed predictions, but here are some famously failed predictions:

  • Thomas Müntzer predicted Christ would return between 1524-1526.
  • Joanna Southcott predicted December 25, 1814. (She claimed to be pregnant with the Christ child and that he would be born on Christmas Day, 1814. Ironically, she died on the exact day she predicted and an autopsy proved she was not pregnant. It seems God does not take false prophets lightly, as we should know quite well from the Old Testament, e.g., Jeremiah 23:13-22)
  • John Wesley predicted 1836.
  • William Miller and his Millerites predicted October 22, 1844, which would later be referred to as the Great Disappointment.
  • Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism) predicted 1891.
  • The Jehovah’s Witnesses predicted 1914.
  • Edgar C. Whisenant predicted 1988 (through his infamous book, 88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be In 1988).
  • Jerry Falwell predicted that in 1999 Jesus’ second coming will occur within 10 years.
  • Ronald Weinland made several predictions for September 29, 2011; May 27, 2012; May 18, 2013; and June 9, 2019. (He doesn’t give up, does he?)
  • F. Kenton “Doc” Beshore has predicted some time in 2021.
  • Unsealed World News predicts 2024.
  • Alice A. Bailey predicts some time after 2025.
  • Jakob Lorber predicts 2029.
  • Frank J. Tipler predicts some time by 2057.

This list is not extensive.

None of these idiots seem to get Jesus’ words, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36). Such false prophets will use specific events and manipulate the Scriptures to make their absurd predictions. Yet they never seem to learn the lesson Abraham and Sarah learnt: you can’t take God’s promise into your own hands. Of course, Abraham and Sarah’s situation was unique in that God gave them a specific timeframe (1 year). But God has not given us a timeframe for when Jesus will come. (Many of these false prophets and Christians deceived by dispensationalism will interpret the 1,000 years in Revelation as literal, but they fail to realise the apocalyptic genre to which Revelation belongs is ubiquitous with symbolism. The symbols are not literal descriptions of their intended referent.)

So, what ought we to do? The only thing we can do is trust in the Lord. Abraham, Sarah, and all the people of Israel never knew when the promised Messiah would come through Isaac. Yet He came. In the same way, we have no idea when Jesus will come again, but He is coming, and He is coming soon (Revelation 22:12). Until then, let us continue gathering as the church and making disciples of all nations, evermore praying with all the saints, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

Theology Terms Used

  • Covenant: “an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified.” OR, “to promise; a pledge.”
  • Dispensationalism: a false interpretation of the 1,000 years of Christ as a literal 1,000 years. Some go so far as to say there will be 7 different “dispensations”—or ages—until Christ’s return. The people at Answers in Genesis, for example, claim we are in the 6th dispensation period and Christ will return to reign for 1,000 years in the 7th dispensation.

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