Thursday, October 30, 2008

Genesis 23:3-7 God opens tightly shut doors

Genesis 23:3-7: Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, “I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” And the sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, “Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.” So Abraham rose and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth.

Abraham mourns for Sarah and then reality sets in as he realizes he has to find a place to bury her. So he goes to the sons of Heth who possessed the land Sarah died in. We first heard of Heth in Genesis 10:15. Heth was the great-grandson of Noah. My own who died in his ninth decade of life actually had enjoyed five great-grandchildren. In the days of Noah and Abraham when people lived much longer, the opportunity for seeing great-grandchildren was even greater than it is now. The genealogy went as follows: Noah begat Ham who begat Canaan, who begat Heth. And Abraham is now speaking to Heth sons.

Having been blessed to be wise and having learned to be a peacemaker, we note first of all how he approaches the sons of Heth. He tells them that he is a stranger in their land and really at their mercy. But he has a need to bury his dead “out of (his) sight” (the Hebrew word is translated as away from his face or presence). Perhaps it is simply a practical desire. Perhaps it is an expression of real pain that he is experiencing, seeing his dead wife still unburied before him. Decent people respond to real needs. Sometimes we hesitate to share our needs out of pride. But God often wants to help us through others if we allow Him to by sharing our vulnerability.

Because he was a respected man, the sons of Heth answer him with total respect, calling him a “mighty prince among us”. What an honor that would be. What an awesome responsibility before God to represent Him as you go about your life being recognized as a prince. With that honor goes reward, definitely from God, but sometimes arranged by God through man. They inform him that he pick any grave he would like from all their graves. It’s his choice to make. And furthermore, they tell him, he won’t be refused by anyone of the brothers, even if he chose the most preferred burial place to bury his dead. What an honor. What otherwise tightly shut doors God can open for those that have been tested and passed.

How would you react to such an honor? The verses that follow explain Abraham’s most interesting reaction.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Genesis 23:1-2 Abraham loses Sarah

Genesis 23:1-2: Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.

A new chapter begins in the life of Abraham when Sarah, at the ripe old age of 127 years, died. In Genesis 17:17 we learned that Sarah was 90 years old when Abraham was 100 years old. We last left off with our timeline study (moving forwards from Genesis 1) as follows:

• 3257 Abraham was 86 when Hagar bore Ishmael to him (Gen. 16:16)
• 3270 Abraham was 99 when God appears to him (Gen. 17:1)
• 3271 Abraham was 100 when Sarah bore Isaac to him (Gen. 21:5)

Now we can add the following date:

• 3271 Sarah was 90 when she bore Issac to Abraham (from Gen. 17:17 & 21:5)
• 3308 Sarah died at age 127 (Gen. 23:1)
• 3308 Isaac was 37 years old when Sarah died (3308 – 3271)

The text says she died in Hebron. We last heard at the end of the previous chapter that Abraham lived in Beersheba. Strong’s Concordance tells us that Hebron is a city in south Judah approximately twenty miles south of Jerusalem and approximately twenty miles (30 kilometres) north of Beersheba. That is quite a distance for that time in history and thus we can only assume that for some reason, Sarah had been visiting or had traveled to Hebron when she died, some twenty miles from home. There is nothing that indicates that Abraham had been with her at the time or whether he had been back in Beersheba.

What we do know is that the scripture says Abraham “went in to mourn” for Sarah and “to weep” for her. The King James Version says, Abraham “came” to mourn for Sarah. In either case, he did mourn for her. Strong’s indicates that the Hebrew word used here implies wailing, lamenting, and beating of the breast. Anyone who has experienced Middle Easterners or even Europeans mourning would know exactly what is meant. Clearly Abraham loved Sarah and this was indeed a great loss for him. Those who have been married a long time and have shared life together, both the good and bad, suffer greatly when one of the partners dies. Those of us who still have our spouses of many years are never really prepared when that time arrives when our loved one is no more. May God give each of us the understanding to be patient with and loving towards those that lose a beloved spouse in their later years. May those of us that are married cherish each day with our spouse for one day we will be left alone.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Genesis 22:20-24 The Importance of Genealogy

Genesis 22:20-24: Now it came about after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, “Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: Uz his first-born and Buz his brother and Kemuel the father of Aram and Chesed and Hazo and Pildash and Jidlaph and Bethuel.” And Bethuel became the father of Rebekah: these eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, also bore Tebah and Gaham and Tahash and Maacah.

These verses are what I call a literary setup. Most readers of the Bible know that ultimately Isaac marries Rebekah. Up to this point in our study of Genesis we have seen how Isaac came to be and the role he would be playing in God’s covenant with Abraham and in the plans He had for the descendants of Abraham. But where did Rebekah come from? These verses provide an answer to that question.

We are told that Abraham’s brother Nahor had a wife and a concubine. We first heard about this Nahor back in Genesis chapter 11 and verse 26. He was named after his grandfather, an earlier Nahor (verse 22 of chapter 11). We first heard of Milcah, Nahor’s wife in verse 29 of the same chapter. Now she appears again in our current passage where we are told that she bore Nahor at least three sons, namely, Uz, Buz, and Kemuel. I particularly use the phrase “at least” because as I read chapter 22, verses 21 and 22, it appears the text is saying that Kemuel was “the father of Aram” and then the text continues “and Chesed and Hazo and Pildash and Jidlaph and Bethuel.” The grammarian in me wants to say that Kemuel begat Aram and these latter five as there is no semi-colon after Aram. However, the second part of verse 22 clearly indicates that Milcah bore Nahor eight children. This then causes most to believe that indeed these eight were made up of the first three (Uz, Buz, and Kemuel) and those listed after Aram.

The last of these eight, Bethuel had a daughter that was named Rebekah. In essence, Rebekah is Isaac’s second cousin as we would designate her today, but one generation younger than Isaac.

Finally, Nahor also had a concubine called Reumah and she bore Nahor four sons (according to the translation of their names) – Tebah, Gaham, Tahash and Maacah.

Once again through the writer of Genesis we see that God places importance in people and in their names and their specific place in their genealogy. Each of us has a part to play in God’s plan throughout the ages. When I think of this, I think of the family trees of great men and women of God in the 19th and 20th centuries. Each of them with a history that leads up to the men and women God used mightily in His plan for mankind. I also think of those that may come after each one of us. Each link of our heritage in the past was important. And our descendants after us may play an incredible role in God’s economy and in the history of His Church.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Genesis 22:15-19 Abraham's amazing investment!

Genesis 22:15-19: Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By Myself I have sworn,” declares the Lord, “because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. And in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba.

After God tested Abraham and he was found worthy, the angel of the Lord calls him a second time and tells him “because (he) has not withheld his only son from God, He will greatly bless (him).” And furthermore, He repeats the blessing He had shared in Genesis 15 that his descendants would greatly multiply like the stars in the heavens. This time one other comparison -- that of his descendants being as many as the grains of sand on the seashore, is added. Clearly God wanted Abraham to know that he will be blessed in his legacy. And why? Because he was willing to offer to God the one son that he had, God will honor him with millions of descendants. What an investment that was!

And then the angel of the Lord makes a most interesting comment. He tells Abraham his descendants “will possess the gate of their enemies”. Try saying that to someone you know today and see what kind of reaction you will get. What does that mean? I believe it means that Abraham’s descendants will achieve both physical and spiritual victories. They will be able to defeat their political enemies as well as their spiritual ‘enemy’. And because that will be the case, through Abraham’s offspring, all the nations of the earth will be blessed. And just think, this all started because one man of faith obeyed God’s voice. As I consider the various places that God has placed you and me in this world, at this time, I just think of what could be accomplished for the good of the world and for the Kingdom of God if those of us in positions of responsibility were to totally and unconditionally obey God’s voice. How different things would be.

As I think about the missionary organization of which God has entrusted me with its leadership, I realize how important it is for me to hear God’s voice and then to obey it. That is my prayer for my ministry and I hope it is your prayer for your life and ministry as well.

Rejoicing in not having to sacrifice his son and in hearing more details of his blessing to come, Abraham goes down from the mountain with Isaac, meets his young servants waiting for them, and all return to Beersheba where Abraham continues to live. Life can now go on with the knowledge that God is indeed for, and with, Abraham and his legacy is secure. God tested him and Abraham passed. May we all do as well and live with the same knowledge that Abraham carried in his heart and mind as he returned home.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Genesis 22:9-14 How could Abraham sacrifice his son?

Genesis 22:9-14: Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there, and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” And he said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”

So Abraham and Isaac proceed up the mountain until they get to the place that God had told Abraham to go to. We do not know how quickly they had walked. Would Abraham be rushing or would he have dreaded every step? When he built the altar and arranged the wood on it, did he rush or take his time? How quickly or slowly would you, or I, have moved to those ends? And then scripture says, “he bound his son Isaac.” Think of that split second instance when Abraham reached out and took hold of his son. Think of how startled Isaac must have been. Think of doing that to your own child with the knowledge that you had to sacrifice him/her on an altar. How could you do it?

Then Abraham lays the tied Isaac on the altar. Talk about the ultimate sacrifice for a parent. And what about the next step more? Was it more difficult? Or, is it possible that because he had already tied Isaac and laid him on the altar, stretching his hand to get the knife and then raising it to slay him, was simply carried out in pure stupor caused by his utter feeling of sheer loss and emptiness, yet following the instructions of his God?

And then once more that amazing word when found in scripture -- “But.” “But the angel of the Lord” called to him from heaven, by name. What a relief that must have been to hear that angelic voice calling “Abraham, Abraham!” Surely that meant stoop. And right away he responds, “Here I am.” That’s the secret to peace with God – obedience and availability, even under the most difficult instructions from our Commander. Abraham was doing what God had asked him to do, against his own heart’s desire and a messenger from the command post had news – perhaps a change in plans from above. As I reflect on this scene, I am reminded somewhat of movie scenes in old westerns when men and women surrounded by their burning covered wagons were about to die from an onslaught of arrows being shot at them. And then suddenly in the distance they catch sight of the standard bearer and hear the sound made by the trumpeter of the cavalry riding towards them at full speed just in time to save them. I believe God sends His angels the same way and they come at full speed, eager to do His bidding.

And then the revised instruction, “Do not harm the child in any way for now I know that you fear God, since you didn’t withhold your only son from Me.” Can you imagine the sense of relief felt by Abraham, not to mention Isaac when his father started untying him?

[Now once again let me regress here for one moment for as a parent I cannot help it. What do you say to your son at that point? And how would Isaac feel towards his father the rest of his life? What damage would have been done and what baggage would the son carry when he grew up? I do not know the answers to these most difficult questions given that scripture seems to be silent on them. I would venture to say two things. First, if the father had brought up his son in a way that he had imparted to him a full knowledge of who God was, it is possible that Isaac could well survive the most frightful experience he had just lived through. Secondly, this same God that sent His angel is also capable of healing all emotional wounds. Many of us have been hurt and otherwise scarred emotionally in life, but God is able to restore such an individual fully.]

There are some other interesting ideas presented here in this passage that we cannot overlook. First, once again, we are faced with the dilemma here of who exactly is the “angel of the Lord”. We are told “the angel of the Lord” called Abraham from heaven. Now whether that is heaven as we understand it or whether that simply refers to “from the sky above”, I do not know, although I believe the former is more likely when one considers who “the angel” might be. What we do know is that in the sentence uttered by the angel of the Lord, there is reference to Abraham “fearing God” which can be taken as either being in the third person or as being spoken by God Himself and referring to Himself in the third person. The end of the statement, however, clearly indicates that it is God Himself that is doing the talking (as in “you have not withheld your son from Me). So what are we to make of this?

Nowhere in Scripture do we get a precise explanation of just who this “angel of the Lord” is. The New Testament never mentions this phrase. When “the” angel is used as compared to “an” angel of the Lord, we can safely say it is with reference to someone separate from the other angels. To this point in our study of scripture, we know only that sometimes the angel of the Lord speaks as God as in this case and this angel seems to identify as God. So as a very minimum then we may come to the conclusion that “the angel of the Lord” is, as Got Questions Ministries indicates on its website, “an appearance of God in physical form.”

Let’s review the sequence of events in this story: God wants to test Abraham and gives him a very difficult assignment. Abraham obeys God without hesitation and just as he is about to do the most difficult thing one could ask of a parent, the angel of the Lord appears and stops him. But the story doesn’t end there. God provides the sacrificial ram that will be offered in Isaac’s place. He brought it right near the altar at the right time and in a way that Abraham could just take it and offer it in place of his very own flesh and blood. And Abraham establishes for us all an incredible spiritual principle when he names that location of that altar “The Lord Will Provide”. As twenty-first century believer’s we carry out exactly what the scripture predicted would be the case when we utter the phrase “The Lord will provide.” If we discipline ourselves to climb the treacherous and physically difficult, and the emotionally tense, route that leads to the mountain of God, He will provide an escape and also the sacrifice with which we can praise Him for that escape. We have an amazing God.

Finally, we need to point out that God had no desire to have Isaac slain by Abraham. His desire was simply that Abraham would show his devotion to Him by being willing to offer his only son. Lots of times in trying to teach my grandchildren to share what they have, I would, rightly or wrongly, ask them for a bite of their chocolate bar or some other treat they really loved, and when they would offer me some, I would say, “hey thanks guys, but it’s okay, grandpa was just testing you to see if you loved him enough to share with him.” I think that was what God wanted to know about Abraham. And Abraham passed the test. My grandchildren passed their own test that I gave them, but I wonder if I would pass the level of testing that Abraham had to face.

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Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.

Finally, if you like what you read here, you may want to donate to my favourite charity, SCA International, by clicking on the logo below. Ken.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Genesis 22:5-8 Faith Beyond Obedience

Genesis 22:5-8: Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you." Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.

Abraham tells his young servants to stay there with the donkey while he and Isaac go to the assigned place Abraham was instructed to go by God. And then he adds these words: “and we will worship and return to you.” For sure, Abraham knew that he was about to go and worship. After all, that is what making a sacrificial offering to the Lord is all about. But the statement “and (we will) return to you” as implied in the text, was rather strange. Of course, this is the man that twice misled others about who Sarah really was. So, he may have just wanted not to arouse any suspicion among his servants in case they tried to stop him and a small lie may have been in order in his mind. Or is it possible that Abraham’s words were uttered out of pure faith? Was He thinking, “God could not possibly allow me to sacrifice my child in this way”? Was his faith so strong that he really believed God would provide a way out? Was it just wishful thinking? We must be satisfied with the fact that we do not know what feeling or thinking drove his words.

The wood was taken off the donkey and loaded unto young Isaac. Abraham carried the material that was to start the fire on the altar and a knife that was to slay his son, making him the sacrifice God had asked him to offer up. Again, I cannot imagine what would go through the head and mind of a father who deeply loved his child as he held in his hand the weapon he would use to kill him/her. The thinking involved is complicated even more when that father considers the action he is about to take is a result of obedience to God, the very God that promised Isaac would be the covenant child and the means by which Abraham would become a great nation. With his son loaded down with wood, his knife in his own hand, and a heavy heart, Abraham walked on, with his son.

In due course, Isaac, like any young lad that is trying to figure something out that just isn’t clear, calls out to Abraham to ask him a question. Isaac’s means of addressing Abraham must have added extra pain to the old man’s heart as Isaac called out, “My father!” Oh, that must have hurt so much. Yet, like a loving parent, Abraham replies, “Here I am, my son.” What a bond these two must have had. And as far as the father knew at that point, this was all about to end that day. I do not know about you but I believe at that point I would be taking off and crying out to God like Hagar did. You will remember when Ishmael was thirsty and about to die she begged God not to let her see the boy die. I would have done the same here. “God, you can have my son. He’s yours. But let the servants kill him and don’t let me see the boy die.” Abraham did not do that. God had specifically said, “I want you to offer him up as a burnt offering.” Sorry, Abraham, you cannot delegate this one. You have to do it yourself.

Isaac asks his well thought out question. “Father, I see the fire-starter and the wood, but where is the animal or the lamb we will offer?” Even young Isaac was no stranger to burnt offerings and what they require. Can you imagine how Abraham must have felt when Isaac asked that question? I know I would not be able to face my son or talk to him without sobbing. But somehow Abraham was given the calmness, the constitution, the strength, whatever it took to simply say, in a most assuring way, “God will provide the lamb Himself, my son.” God provided the power to utter these words and He provided the words themselves.

“Dad, what are we going to do when we make the fire and there’s no lamb?” “God will provide my son.” Thankfully, we normally are not faced with the kind of situation Isaac and Abraham were facing that day. But among our family members, we are sometimes at our wit’s end to provide an answer to those that ask questions like, “But dad, what are we going to do if mom doesn’t get better and she dies of cancer?” or “Dad, what are going to do if you are let go from work?” or “Dad, what happens if we lose the house because we can’t pay the mortgage?” and so on. Have we got the faith it takes to say, “God will provide for Himself what we need”? And then are we able to “walk on together” trusting God to do just that?

‘God will provide for Himself.’ God does not need anything from us except faith and obedience. The rest He can take care of Himself. He does not need our money or anyone else’s for that matter. He does not need equipment. He does not need a miracle – He performs miracles. What He desperately wants is our trust and obedience.

This account of Abraham and Isaac is the ultimate story about faith for me. When I try, perhaps foolishly, to assess the extent of my own faith, I always come up against this standard set by Abraham. And I cannot help but think that I fall miserably short of the mark. My desire and hope would be that I would not, but my human fear dictates a different response in my very being. Oh that God would never test you or me in that way.

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Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.

Finally, if you like what you read here, you may want to donate to my favourite charity, SCA International, by clicking on the logo below. Ken.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Genesis 22:3-4 Dealing with the Unknown

Genesis 22:3-4: So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance.

After receiving what to most of us would be an unbelievable instruction from God, Abraham acts. There is no delay or hesitation. We do not hear any “ifs, buts, or whys”. Instead, he gets up early in the morning and saddles his donkey. Abraham chose this surefooted animal because he knew he had to climb a mountain that day. Not only did he need to climb a physical mountain, but also for Abraham this would be the biggest spiritual mountain he would ever have to ascend. When a person that walks closely with God gets a sure message from God, there is no room for unbelief or inaction. Abraham took two of his younger servants along with his son, Isaac and they went to split wood for the burnt offering that God had asked Abraham to make. As I consider this, and think of my son, my daughters, my grandchildren, anyone that I love for that matter, I wonder whether I would have it in me to actually engage them in the cutting and splitting of the wood that would be part of the very fire they would die on. I pray God never tests me in that way. But Abraham did just that, perhaps as he had done on other much happier occasions.

After all the needed wood was ready and loaded onto the donkey, the four men arose and went to the place that God had told Abraham to go to. One may well wonder, especially if they know the ending, what makes this story believable. I would offer three possible reasons, knowing there must be others. First, Abraham had complete trust in God. Second, there was no hesitation in obediently carrying out God’s instructions. Third, Abraham “went to the place of which God had told him.” While these explanations as an argument for the plausibility of this account in the Bible may not convince the unbeliever of its reality, they make all the difference in the world to the believer. Trusting, obeying willingly, and being where God wants us to be, allows God to freely exercise His love, wisdom, protection, and miraculous power on our behalf.

We also note the distance to be traveled by these four men, keeping in mind Abraham’s old age, was not short. The text said they did not see the place God had sent them to until the third day of their journey, and even then it was at a distance. As a father and grandfather I wonder what must have been going through Abraham’s mind at that very moment of seeing the place God had instructed him to go to. I cannot imagine the heartache I would feel in similar circumstances. Did Abraham know God would provide an escape plan? Could he really believe that? I’m not so sure. Having been diagnosed with cancer and having watched many around me die from one form or another of this grouping of diseases, and having devoted Christian friends that had moved into hospices awaiting death at the same time as my own diagnosis, I can only tell you I did not experience total knowledge that I would be healed. The only thing I could rely on was my faith that God’s way was best, whatever it would be. And I knew I had to obey the teaching of scripture with respect to being sick. That didn’t change what I was going through, but it sure made the journey more bearable for my family and I knew that I was not traveling it alone – Almighty God was right there with me, as He was with Abraham that day when the man of faith saw the mountain afar off. For the Christian, there is no better way, than to trust and obey. Christ does not promise us an escape from the hard realities of life but He offers to walk with us through those realities – leading us safely past them to His chosen destination for us, whether it is here on earth or in the eternal home He has prepared for us. That is the strength that Abraham was going up the mountain with that day. That is the strength we must rely on each day as we face life’s continuous challenges.

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Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.

Finally, if you like what you read here, you may want to donate to my favourite charity, SCA International, by clicking on the logo below. Ken.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Genesis 22:1-2 Can You Really Trust God?

Genesis 22:1-2: Now it came about after these things, that Go tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham! And he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Take now your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.

We do not know at this point exactly how much time has elapsed between the time Abraham and Abimelech made their covenant and when God called Abraham to test him. We do know the testing occurred after the covenant, however.

The New American Standard Version uses the word ‘test’ instead of ‘tempt’ as used by the King James Version. When one checks the original Hebrew, we find the word ‘nacah’ which according to Strong’s Translation means, in the order of most common use, to test, try, prove, and finally tempt. I believe the use of ‘test’ is more correct here as later scripture will bear out, but for now let us accept it because it appears to have been the most common use of the Hebrew word it translates from.

Things were going along just fine without major incident or so we would assume from the last phrase of chapter 21 and then all of a sudden we read that God wanted to test Abraham. God simply called out to him by name, “Abraham!” This very personal call along with the outcome of the testing leads me to believe that what God was doing was indeed bringing Abraham into an ever closer relationship with Himself. God calls all men to Him but some He decides to take the extra distance of the closer relationship and we see that throughout later scripture as well. For many years I lived my life thanking God that I had not been tested. I even went one step further and asked God, “why not me, God?” I kept telling my family that I could not understand why so many suffer in this life and I was not. Then when I was sixty years of age, I was faced with both cancer and the separation of my son from his wife, in a matter of a few weeks. Rather than be completely thrown off base, God had prepared me for this time. I believe by Abraham’s response and later his actions, God had prepared Abraham for the testing He was about to put him through. In my own experience, this testing also drew me much closer to my Savior.

When he heard God’s call, the man who knew that God was in all that he did, simply replied, “Here I am.” Unlike Adam’s silence to God’s question of “Adam, where are you?” Abraham appeared before the Lord immediately. That is what God Almighty expects. That is how the angels reply when asked to do something. And then God gave Abraham the most difficult test any father could ever receive. “Take now your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah.” Abraham was to take Isaac his son and go to Moriah. Surely that did not pose any problem. Abraham had been moved around by God before and if Isaac was to be the means by which Abraham was to become a great nation, then perhaps relocation was in store. But why did God say, “Take your only son whom you love, Isaac”? Did Abraham not love Ishmael? Of course, he did. But from God’s perspective, Isaac was the son of promise and faith, while Ishmael was the son of disobedience by Abraham’s taking matters into his own hands. A careful study of the words used here, however, does not indicate that Abraham only loved Isaac, but rather that Isaac was his only true son in the manner explained above.

I am reminded of an ex-friend of mine who left his wife and children to take up with a twice divorced woman who herself had young children. When I confronted him with his sin, one of the excuses he gave me was, “How can I possibly leave these young children who finally have a man in the house they could trust and call ‘daddy’?” Our sinful ways allow us to come up with many lame excuses for continuing in our sins, as my friend did, and these children weren’t even his. But from this verse we have a sense of God’s take on the matter – the children given to us in a God-ordained marriage and family are the one’s that matter most to Him. We may have legal and social responsibilities to others, but before God, the children given to us through a holy marriage are our true children.

The instruction to Abraham so far would have been most acceptable, especially coming from God who called him by his name. But then comes the zinger – “and offer him there as a burnt offering.” Wow. The word ‘offering’ does not appear earlier in the scriptures except in Genesis chapter 4 in reference to the offerings that Cain and Abel made to God. The word ‘sacrifice’ is not introduced until much later in Genesis. But between the time of Cain and Abel and Abraham’s time, the practice of offerings made unto God must have continued and Abraham was fully knowledgeable of exactly what that meant.

I think we need to stop here and seriously ponder the situation. Here was a man who wanted to trust God and be blessed. Here was a man whom God promised He would bless. He had even promised that the blessing would come through Isaac. And now, all of a sudden, God says, “Go and offer Isaac as a burnt offering.” What is Abraham to make of all this? What is any father or parent to make of it? What are we as believers to make of it? And what if God clearly spoke to us and expected something similar in our own lives?

I cannot begin to fathom what my reaction would be to such a request from God. I do know that God does not contradict Himself. I also know that in Abraham’s day there were no Ten Commandments yet or other laws in the land that prohibited the taking of life. I know that God was not pleased with the first murder that did occur when Cain killed Abel. And I know that God provided a way out for Abraham as the story unfolds. But the principle is still there. God may very well ask me to do a very difficult thing that was perfectly legal and did not contradict anything else He has ever said. The question remains the same – “How will I react?” How will you react when God wants to test you?

As I look closely at the last phrase of verse 2, I notice two things. First, God did not provide any instructions to Abraham that He did not intend for Him to actually carry out. Let me explain. God said take your son and He expected Abraham to do that. God said go to Moriah and He expected Abraham to do that. Then God said ‘offer him as a burnt offering’ and I believe that is exactly what God expected of Abraham – that he be willing to ‘offer’ Isaac as a burnt offering to God. We will see by his actions, Abraham did just that. The second thing I note from this last phrase in verse 2 is this: God left out some details. He said “you’ll do this on a mountain that I identify to you later.” God wanted Abraham to move forward on faith. He would not be given all of the details. He would not be able to see the end clearly in his mind’s eye. He had to move on a willingness to obey and then on faith that he would be given the exact instructions when the time came. That is what God expects of us. Full obedience to His exact words, a willingness to obey in every respect, and faith to go forward when we do not clearly see the end.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Genesis 21:25-34 True Greatness

Genesis 21:25-34: But Abraham complained to Abimelech because of the well of water which the servants of Abimelech had seized. And Abimelech said, "I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, nor did I hear of it until today." Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them made a covenant. Then Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. Abimelech said to Abraham, "What do these seven ewe lambs mean, which you have set by themselves?" He said, "You shall take these seven ewe lambs from my hand so that it may be a witness to me, that I dug this well." Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because there the two of them took an oath. So they made a covenant at Beersheba; and Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, arose and returned to the land of the Philistines. {Abraham} planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God. And Abraham sojourned in the land of the Philistines for many days.

So based on this relationship, Abraham feels free to complain to Abimelech. It seems that Abraham had been using a well of water – perhaps his family and servants had dug it – that Abimelech’s servants had now seized. The king says this was a surprise to him and based on Abimelech’s track record, we have no reason to doubt his word. Now you would think that given this knowledge and their newly re-established relationship, Abimelech would make amends. Instead, it is Abraham, exhibiting true wisdom and a desire for peace, that gave the king sheep and oxen and together they made a covenant, the exact wording and intention of which we do not know.

Abraham then takes another seven she lambs from his own flock and sets them off by themselves. Curious, Abimelech asks him what this is all about and Abraham explains. Abimelech was to take the seven ewe lambs from Abraham as a testimonial that indeed Abimelech recognized Abraham had dug the well in question. This act clearly established the ownership of the well and that would take care of any dispute in future with the king’s servants. Abraham had raised the matter of the well dispute and accepted the king’s reply. He then took action that would prevent further arguments. He even gave the location of the well a new name – Beersheba. The Hebrew word itself means “the well of the sevenfold oath”. It was so named because of the seven ewe lambs that Abimelech took for it in order to establish Abraham’s ownership of it. With these lambs, they made a covenant between them and after that, Abimelech and Phicol returned to the land of the Philistines.

When the Lord says He will use someone mightily and make him into a great nation, He starts blessing him accordingly. First, Abimelech recognized Abraham’s relationship to God, and then God gave Abraham wisdom and humility in order to deal with difficult issues and disputes. Those that are leaders today must pray for God to give them wisdom and humility in dealing with people. True greatness requires that others think greatly of one and such feelings are best induced on the basis of how well one manages his/her relationships with others.

Beersheba was indeed the very area that Hagar and Ishmael had gone to as we read in Genesis 21:14, when she had been banished from Abraham’s home at the request of Sarah. And in verse 19 she had found this very well. The well had not actually been named until verse 31 when Abraham and Abimelech made their covenant, but Moses, the author would know that and thus the earlier reference to Beersheba in verse 14.

So what does Abraham do right after his first diplomatic success? He plants a tamarisk tree at Beersheba and there he prays to God, praising Him as the everlasting one. [A tamarisk tree is a type of salt cedar, often with flowers, that is native to Israel, as well as throughout Euroasia and Africa. With every success we experience in our daily lives, we must recognize and give the glory to the real Source behind it. True men and women of God can do nothing of significance of themselves – they are, I believe, even more dependent on God then those that may not recognize Him for Who He is. While the yet unsaved soul may be left alone to arrive at his own destiny by himself, sometimes with temporary success, the man or woman that has tasted the spiritual life knows that God won’t allow him/her easily out of His grasp and care.

One can very clearly notice a simple sequence here: Abraham is told God will make him into a great nation; God starts blessing him; Abraham gives God the praise; and then Scripture says that “Abraham lived in the land of the Philistines for many days.” Obedience and reliance on God have their own reward. But as we’ll see in the next chapter of Genesis, God still had more in store for Abraham.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Genesis 21:22-24 How's Your Swearing?

Genesis 21:22-24: Now it came about at that time that Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, "God is with you in all that you do; now therefore, swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but according to the kindness that I have shown to you, you shall show to me and to the land in which you have sojourned." Abraham said, "I swear it."

We leave Ishmael for now and turn our attention back to Abraham. You will remember King Abimelech that we had met back in chapter 20. Abraham had deceived him regarding who Sarah was and the King took steps to take Sarah for himself but God had intervened. To make amends, Abimelech gave Abraham gifts and allowed him to stay in his land.

Now the King along with Phicol, the commander of his army, has a little meeting with Abraham. The Bible does not say whether they visited Abraham or called for him to go to them. I would imagine that the king went to visit Abraham as Phicol escorted him, but that is only conjecture on my part. They first tell Abraham that they know God is with him in all that he does. What an acknowledgement and recognition that was for the way Abraham lived his life. Perhaps it was more because of the clear evidence of God’s presence in Abraham’s life. Whatever it was, it had made an impression on Abimelech.

Since God was with Abraham, then Abimelech knew that if Abraham promised, he would not deal falsely with him or those in his family that came after him. The king knew Abraham would treat him kindly because of the kindness he had exhibited towards him in the past in the matter involving Sarah. And he was right for Abraham swore that it would be so. What an honor it would be for any of us to be so thought of. To have people actually recognize that God was with us and that when we swore we would do something, it would be done as promised. What would that mean to our children to whom we make promises, to our co-workers, our employers, to those in our church, and so on. Two days ago Canada had another national election and this morning politicians started the breaking of their campaign promises, be it to do something or to cooperate with other parties. There is very little honor and true integrity left in that arena and unfortunately, the public does not really demand it. But God does and He honors it.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Genesis 21:18-21 Action in Our Distress

Genesis 21:18-21: “Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him." Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink. God was with the lad, and he grew; and he lived in the wilderness and became an archer. He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

As we saw earlier, God does not only ask us, “What is the matter?” or even “What is the matter with you?”, but through His angel He goes on to assure us we need not fear because He has heard our cry. And then God gives us instruction as to what we are to do.

The angel tells Hagar to “Get up. Help your son get up and hold him by the hand.” God wants us to act when we feel distressed. First, we are to recompose ourselves. “Get up, get yourself together – you need not fear, I, God, have heard you”, God says. Secondly, we are to help the weaker ones to do likewise. “Lift up the lad”, God says. And then the promise, “Do this Hagar, because I will make a great nation of him.” “Hagar, I’ll bless him and through his blessing, you’ll be blessed.” God has a role for each of us to play in His plans for mankind, even as we feel the pressures of life and feel great distress.

Scripture then says, “God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.” Her immediate and real problem was lack of water for herself and her child. Water was what was needed right there and then and God provided it. God has a way of allowing the physical needs of life – safety, food, shelter, etc. to draw us closer to Him, to have us call on His name. But He usually does that for a greater purpose. He wants us to trust Him for something more. And when He’s made His point, He restores those things that we need to keep on living right there and then. But we best not forget the lesson of greater dependency on God that He wanted us to learn during those occasions.

So Hagar goes to the well, fills the skin Abraham had given her with water and gives Ishmael a drink. Ishmael is saved from dying of thirst and life goes on. But we’re told that God was with the lad as he grew, right there in the wilderness. He became a skilled archer. It’s interesting that the author of the text, Moses as most believe it to be, had referred earlier in the chapter to Hagar going a “bowshot distance” away from Ishmael when she wanted to cry out to God. Moses was aware of young Ishmael’s later success with archery.

And when Ishmael became of age, his mother (in the absence of his father Abraham) arranged for Ishmael to take a wife from Egypt. We will hear more of Ishmael’s family later in the text. The key point for us is to learn to trust God and depend on Him during our most difficult times.

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Finally, if you like what you read here, you may want to donate to my favourite charity, SCA International, by clicking on the logo below. Ken.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Genesis 21:15-17 God Hears You Where You Are

Genesis 21:15-17: When the water in the skin was used up, she left the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, "Do not let me see the boy die." And she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept. God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.”

We do not know at this point how long Hagar and Ishmael wandered in the wilderness before the water that Abraham had given them was all used up. We can imagine it wasn’t long – maybe days, at the most a week or so. But clearly enough time elapsed to make the young lad very thirsty and weak for the lack of water, and perhaps food. Now, using our chronological timeline, we know that Ishmael was about fourteen years old at this time. Then distressed, Hagar leaves Ishmael under a bush and she goes away from him the distance that an arrow can be shot with a bow. Depending on the ability of the archer and the type of bow and arrow used that could be anywhere from about 145 meters up to 450 meters or so, but more likely Hagar was closer than that. When she sat down she faced her son and lifted her voice up to God and wept. She did not want to see her boy die. Here was a mother pleading for God to save her son’s life. But she was also pleading for herself as she asked God to not let her actually see Ishmael die. That would be too hard for her. Any parent can fully understand that feeling and fear.

Scripture tells us that God heard Ishmael crying, perhaps from pain or possibly from fear. And right away He dispatched His angel from heaven to Hagar with a message. As I write on this verse, I am reminded of two things. First, I marvel at how quickly God’s will is carried out by His angels in heaven. God heard the lad cry and the very next part of that sentence indicates His angel went to Hagar. What amazing servants God has in heaven. Oh, that His servants here on earth would follow instructions so effectively and efficiently and with the joy we can imagine the angels have in serving Him.

Secondly, I am filled with a great sense of awe when I realize that this same God and His angels are available to you and me today as we face life’s most distressing moments. When I am at a point that God feels I can no longer bear the pain, He hears and He sets His angels in action – quickly and effectively.

In Hagar’s case the angel asks a rather strange question to begin with. “Hagar, what’s the matter with you?” That’s probably the best direct translation. Others have the question couched in words like “What’s the matter?” or “What is troubling or ailing you?” Yes, God is there to deal with what troubles us, but there comes a time when I believe He can legitimately ask us “What’s the matter with you?” This is especially true when He has already proven to be trustworthy with our lives. This was the case for Hagar as we had learned back in Genesis 16:13. At that point, because God had comforted her then, she had declared Him to be “the God who sees.” Did she forget? Yes, Hagar, should have known better.

Nevertheless, the angel of God reassures her once more. He tells her not to fear, “for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.” Hagar, it’s going to be all right. It’s going to be all right “for God” (a version of my favorite phrase in scripture) has heard her. It’s interesting here to note that God heard the cry of the one in pain and yet sent His angel to the one that pleaded on his behalf. I have often noticed that God’s rescue plans are put in place not so much for the one that needs rescuing but for the one -- the mother, the spouse, the child, the brother, etc. – that either does depend already, or the one who needs to learn to depend more, on God. “Hagar,” says the angel, “Do not despair for God has heard the lad” and then scripture adds three little words – “where he is.” What a comfort to know that God sees our need and hears our cry, “where we are”? We do not need to change and pretend to be someone else; we do not need to make a physical pilgrimage; or even to go to a priest or minister to be heard or noticed. God sees us where we are and hears us in the same place. What a God we have. He’s available to you today.

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Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

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Finally, if you like what you read here, you may want to donate to my favourite charity, SCA International, by clicking on the logo below. Ken.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Genesis 21:12-14 The Game's Up.

Genesis 21:12-14: But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named. And of the son of the maid I will make a nation also, because he is your descendant.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba.

Are you distressed as Abraham was at the end of the previous passage we looked at? Then find the “But God” in your life. God spoke to Abraham and said, “Don’t be distressed. Go ahead and do what your wife is asking of you. You will still be blessed. I’m intending to keep My promise to make your descendants many through your son Isaac. And by the way, from Ishmael, I will make a great nation as well – because he too is your descendant.”

What a solution. It’s as if God was saying “Look, don’t worry. What others want for you out of personal fear or greed, I’ll turn it into a blessing for you.” As I write this today, I realize it has been just over one whole year since, with the support of my Board and as Executive Director of a Mission, I took the step of letting someone go under very difficult circumstances. To this very day, I continue to have to deal with those that questioned the action we took as an organization. My human instinct is to be distressed and to take matters into my own hands. But through the counsel of my good friend and board chairperson, as well as my time with God and His Word, I am able to trust God for His blessing in all of this. I found the “But God” in it.

So Abraham got up early and put together the most important “care basket” he would ever assemble and gave them to Hagar for her and his son. Abraham’s hospitality continued in very difficult times. Then he gave his son, Ishmael, to Hagar. Then he sent them away as Sarah had asked him to do and as God had agreed that he should do.

As I read this verse, I could not help of thinking of another time in history, many years later, when another Father sent His Son away on a very special mission. You can read about it in the New Testament yourself. I am sure that Father was distressed about where and to what end He was sending His Son, but He knew it was the best thing He could for all of us.

Hagar left Abraham’s household with his son, Ishmael and Scripture tells us she wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba. This is the first reference to this place in the Bible. It is a city at the south edge of Israel, on the southern border of Palestine, and it literally means “well of the (sevenfold) oath.” Several wells were found there in later years. The “other woman” is forced to leave. The sin of her master and mistress resulted in her wandering in the wilderness with the child she bore, Abraham being saddened perhaps the rest of his life, and Sarah missing out on God’s full joy in her own life.

It took me fifty years of living to find out that sin never pays off and it always pays back. It hurts people. It scars relationships. It can curtail ministry for many years. But if we confess our sin, it is also a time when God can let us discover the “But God” for our lives.

Are you distressed today? Many are. The great global market meltdown of September 2008 caused millions to panic out of shear fear. But, that was not the case for the real believer in God. Our Father Who is in heaven, takes all fear away. While we are not told what Abraham went through after Hagar departed, we know his faith allowed him to go on living for, and worshipping, his Maker.

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Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.

Finally, if you like what you read here, you may want to donate to my favourite charity, SCA International, by clicking on the logo below. Ken.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Genesis 21:8-11 Sarah Demands Abraham Banish Ishmael and Hagar

Genesis 21:8-11: The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. Therefore she said to Abraham, "Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac." The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son.

Scripture tells us that Isaac grew and was weaned from nursing. Not being a woman, I do not know how a mother feels when her child is weaned. I am sure that a sense of loss is experienced as a child moves, ever so slightly, towards less dependence on his/her mother. On the other hand, there could be great joy in seeing the child reach that age not unlike how a parent feels when his/her child takes their first steps.

It may have been this joy that caused Abraham to have a great feast on the day Isaac was weaned. And perhaps everyone in the household was invited plus the neighbors. It is also possible that this is where Sarah ran into Hagar’s son, Ishmael, again. As an added indication of Sarah’s disdain for Hagar, the text points out that she was an Egyptian and thus really an outsider in Sarah’s eyes. It must have angered her even more to see before her eyes a son borne to Abraham because of her own lack of faith and impatience.

It is not clear from the text who exactly was doing the ‘mocking’. Was it Sarah or was it Ishmael? Most translations indicate that it was indeed Ishmael that was mocking the young Isaac – perhaps intentionally, perhaps jokingly as a young boy might. Whatever the cause, it was enough for Sarah and she asked Abraham to get rid of both Ishmael and Hagar from their household. She gave as her reason that “no son of Hagar will share in Abraham’s or her estate as heir along with her own son Isaac.” Was this said because Ishmael was mocking Isaac or was this said because Sarah had a great fear that as first-born Ishmael may not only be co-heir with ‘her’ son, but may come out ahead in the game? We can only assume that because of Sarah’s past feelings about Hagar and because of her strong possession of Isaac as ‘her’ son, she was indeed concerned more about Ishmael’s present acceptance and future rights. When we pursue our own plans contrary to what we know is right by God’s standards, we are likely to end up in a more unpleasant and sometimes most dreadful circumstance. Sarah and Abraham were now reaping the fruits of their own efforts when they chose not to trust God and be patient, awaiting His timing to fulfill His promise to them.

All of this of course distressed Abraham to a great extent. Like a true father, he loved both his sons, even if differently. The situation is no different than what many parents, fathers and mothers, often experience today following divorce and remarriage where there are children from the first marriage. Not all new spouses accept the children of one’s first spouse. Not all children of the first marriage accept the second spouse. Not all first spouses go away in peace; some stick around to cause considerable challenges. All of this is a result of someone’s greed, sin, and pursuit of his/her own selfish desires and thinking. May God keep us from such circumstances and should we by chance find ourselves in them, may we have the wisdom to seek His daily help and guidance to do the right things from that point forward.

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Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.

Finally, if you like what you read here, you may want to donate to my favourite charity, SCA International, by clicking on the logo below. Ken.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Genesis 21:6-7 Who, But God

Genesis 21:6-7: And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

The text now presents us with the new Sarah. Here is a rejoicing woman for God has provided her with laughter. He has caused her to laugh and her friends to laugh with her. Here is a woman who has been sad for a very long time because she could not bear children and God now gives her son and brings laughter to her life.

Those of us who have gone through long periods of despair and have experienced the hand of God interfering positively in our lives, can understand the joy that Sarah must have felt giving birth to Isaac. Sarah is filled with awe as she asks, “Who, but God, would have ever imagined saying to Abraham that I would be able to nurse children and bear him a son in my old age?” We do not know for sure to whom Sarah actually said this but we do know she expects everyone to hear of it. What a testimony Sarah had for her circle of relatives and friends. What a story to share.

The amazing part of Sarah’s story goes beyond her giving birth at an old age. Sarah considered it a miracle that she was able to nurse her baby boy. Once again, God not only performs the miracle, but He equips us to deal with the outcome of His involvement. Sarah’s God is our God today. He can turn our depression into joy and He wants to, in His time, and in His way. Are we listening? Can we trust Him? Will we wait patiently with hope?

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