Hebrews 11:11-12 Genesis 21:1-7
Adam and Eve; Cain and Abel; Jacob and Esau; David and Goliath; Ruth and Naomi; Mary and Joseph; James and John; Paul and Silas. The Bible is filled with couples – husband and wife, brothers, enemies, mother and daughter-in-law, disciples, missionaries. One way and another God keeps putting people together in groups of two or more. People do the same – Abraham and Hagar, David and Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah – often with disastrous results because they don’t follow God’s rules.
God put one couple together, Abraham and Sarah, knowing that they would remain childless for decades. This in a culture that viewed barrenness as a curse from God. Then, in what could be seen as an “in your face” insult, God promised a child to this childless couple, again knowing the fulfillment of the promise lay 25 years into the future.
Is God playing games with his children? Promising something he has no intention of doing? Of course not! Just as with the other promise attached to God’s covenant with Abraham, so this promise would be fulfilled in a way that required faith. Enduring faith. Faith that would withstand ridicule and scorn, impatience, and the temptation to disbelieve. Instant gratification is incapable of developing that sort of faith.
There is another consideration in this part of the biblical story, too. God is dealing here with a couple, not a single individual. It takes two to tango and it takes two to have a child. Even though God’s promise of a child was spoken first and most often to Abraham, it included Sarah as well. God made that explicit in Genesis 17:19
“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 well as in Genesis 18:10
“The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him.”
Not only did God require Abraham to have faith in his promise, he required Sarah to have a similar faith also. At the same time. With the same object. As time passed from promise to fulfillment, not only was the faith of Abraham and Sarah each being grown and strengthened, something else was happening as well. As God providentially used circumstances to draw them to himself, Abraham and Sarah were growing closer to one another. As they weathered each difficult circumstance, their relationship with one another developed into what would provide a suitable training ground for Isaac.
There are four facets of faith highlighted in this portion of God’s Word: Family Faith, Faulty Faith, Focused Faith, and Fruitful Faith.
A. Family Faith v. 11a, 12a
Here in this text the exercise of faith by a family and the impact of exercised faith on that family comes to light. Further illumination follows in verses 17-19 and the account of Abraham’s testing. But in verse 11 the emphasis is on Sarah’s faith – “by faith Sarah herself” – Sarah wasn’t riding along on the coattails of Abraham’s faith. Since God’s promise required the participation of both Abraham and Sarah, and since he had made the promise of a son to both of them, God expected them each to exercise faith.
According to the Biblical record God interacted primarily with men during Old Testament times, something feminists and liberals like to emphasize. Yet in Sarah’s case God, the preincarnate Christ, spoke to Abraham in a way that included Sarah – see Genesis 18:9-15 Contrary to modern popular opinion, women are not second-class citizens in God’s view.
The promise of blessing was for Sarah as much as for Abraham, perhaps in some ways more so. Abraham had options, sinful though they might be, to prove his masculinity; Sarah had none. She was barren and everyone knew it. Sure, she had her looks, but in that culture looks didn’t always mean everything. Motherhood blessed Sarah in a way nothing else could; the blessing became hers as a result of her own personal faith and the faith she and Abraham shared as a family.
B. Faulty Faith Gen. 21:6
Now, lest you think the faith Sarah and Abraham had was of the sort you could never have, pay close attention. Both “agreed” to try their own solution to a dilemma God started; Abraham appeared relatively satisfied with Eliezer as his heir (Gen. 15:2-3) until God promised him his very own son (Gen. 15:4). It was after this that he and Sarah thought Hagar might be part of the answer to their need for a child.
Neither Sarah’s faith or that of Abraham was perfect; neither trusted implicitly in God to work out the details of supplying them with a family. Instead they trusted in their own ability to provide a solution to God’s promise. When it was made plain that their idea was the wrong one and God’s provision was still in the future, both Abraham and Sarah experienced periods of serious doubt.
Abraham’s confidence in God’s ability to provide him with a son lasted only as long as Abraham was able to do his part; when he got too old to be a father Abraham’s faith turned to disbelief: see Gen. 17:17.
The same held true for Sarah; the visitation by Christ and his two angel escorts on their way to Sodom occurred after Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Consequently, when she “overheard” the promise that in nine months she would have a son, her immediate response wa laughter: see Gen 18:11-12, the laughter of disbelief just like Abraham’s.
Their faith held so long as they could imagine a way for God to work out an answer. When it became absolutely clear that there was no way short of a divine miracle for them to have a child together, their faith faltered. Aren’t you glad God condescends to accept faulty and faltering faith? And provide opportunities for that weak and faltering faith to be strengthened?
C. Focused Faith v. 11b
Abraham and Sarah had a problem with their faith; it had lost its focus. There was an element of self in it all along – if God doesn’t come through on our timetable, we can deal with it, we can make it happen. That is not the sort of faith which will receive God’s commendation; only faith that is focused on God’s sufficiency in the face of their insufficiency is fully pleasing to God.
By this time both Sarah and Abraham were beyond the age of possible parenting in addition to Sarah’s previous barrenness. In order for them to believe God’s promise, they had to trust him completely for the full solution – it was no longer within their power to have a child. And for them, that was the point to which God had to bring Sarah and Abraham in order to develop their faith.
Isn’t that the way it is for all of us? So long as we can trust in ourselves for some stuff and God for the rest, everything’s OK. We give lip service to trusting Him while relying on our own genius to figure most things out. So what does God do? He puts us in a place where we have no choice but to trust fully in him; he puts us where our resources no longer cut it, where they are no longer up to the task of providing a solution.
Only when we reach the point where the only solution is God, and trust him completely to work it out, only then do we have the kind of faith God desires to see in us. Faith that is focused on him, looking to him and not other sources for strength, direction, provision. That is the kind of faith that will ultimately save us, faith that relies wholly on God to redeem us and make us fit for heaven.
D. Fruitful Faith v.12
When Sarah and Abraham’s faith overcame their unbelief and doubt, they were then qualified to be instruments of God’s power. When they did as God expected them to do, in faith believing he would keep his promise, God honored their obedience. A year after the angels’ visit, Sarah had a son just as God had said. There in living color Abraham and Sarah had proof that God did as he said he would – their faith was not in vain.
We must remember that this one born to two very old people was an essential link in the chain from the first Adam to the last Adam. According to God’s plan, no Isaac – no Jesus; no Isaac, no Church (the children of Abraham). God in his mercy overcame the unbelief of Abraham and Sarah in order to make them a source of blessing to us, to the world. We are part of that multitude as many as the stars of heaven, as numberless as the sand of the seashore.
The faith of this family exemplified here in Abraham and Sarah, passed down from one generation to another, is an eternal testimony to the power and grace and faithfulness of God. So long as there is a church, she will owe her existence to these faithful senior citizens who themselves trusted in God.
We like Abraham and Sarah must focus our faith on God.
Couples – the more consistent your focus is on trusting and pleasing God, the closer you will be to one another.
Families – do your part to pass along godly faith to the next generation. God doesn’t have grandchildren; each generation must have its own saving faith.
Singles – be an example of enduring faith to those around you, encouraging them to trust wholly in God for their every need.
Church family – pray that God’s blessing would fall on us as we move forward in faith believing he will guide us and grow us. Pray that God would use our witness by word and example to grow his church in both numbers and strength.