Abraham and the God Who Is With Us
Passage: Genesis 20:1– 21:34
How should having God with us make a difference?
There are so many ways to connect with people these days. Texting, phone calls, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, youtube comments. You can connect with hundreds of people in one day without ever getting out of your pajamas and leaving the house. And yet, researchers and psychologists talk about a “loneliness epidemic” in our country. Despite so many ways to be “connected”, people still feel lonely.
This extends beyond social media though because you can feel alone in a marriage, in a family, or even in a crowd. You can feel like you are alone and no one is there for you.
Let’s think about what makes us not feel alone in life. What makes it so we don’t feel alone?
This evening we are continuing our series called Beginning the Journey Home in the book of Genesis. We are nearing the end of the life of Abraham whom God chose to initiate his plan for bringing humanity back home.
As we have been walking with Abraham, we’ve seen the high points and low points of his faith. Sometimes he acts with great trust in God and sometimes he seems to totally forget God exists. Our passage today is like a sandwich. At the beginning and end of our passage is a man named Abimelech. Abimelech puts his finger on two defining realities in Abraham’s life: God is a with him in all he does and yet Abraham constantly acts like God isn’t. In chapter 21 verse 22, Abimelech tells Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do.” And yet, in chapter 20, Abraham acted like God was nowhere to be seen. He acted like he didn’t even have God in his life.
Can you relate? Don’t we often know the promises of God in our head and yet struggle to believe them in our heart and act on them with our hands? We hear Jesus say that we should not be anxious about our housing, clothing, or food because God will take care of us and yet we stress over money all the time. God tells us that if we believe in Jesus that we are washed clean of all our sin and guilt and yet we still try to pay for them with our good deeds. Even though God tells us he will never leave us or forsake us, we often act as if he is nowhere near us and isn’t available to help us. We try to figure everything else out on our own and maybe in desperation we will finally go to him.
The truth is that if you have trusted in Jesus, God has sent his Spirit to dwell inside you. The personal presence of God is with you to empower you, guide you, and comfort you every day. We all need the words of Abimelech as a reminder: God is with you in all that you do.
The big question this passage answers is: How should having God with us make a difference? How should having God with us make a difference?
We will cover this passage in four parts: Abimelech, Isaac, Ishmael, Abimelech. Let’s start with the first story of Abimelech in chapter 20.
Abimelech (Genesis 20)
If chapter 20 feels like deja vu, you aren’t crazy. This whole situation has happened once before 25 years earlier in chapter 12. In Egypt, Abraham told Pharaoh that his wife, Sarah, was his sister so that it would go well for him there. Here again, upon entering Abimelech’s land, Abraham tells the same lie but it seems even more foolish now. Both times he lets his wife go into a king’s harem to be one of his wives. Here, Abraham does it just months after God told him that within a year, his wife would be pregnant with the child they’ve waited 24 years to have after God promised him to them. Even though they are so close to having their child, he risks another man sleeping with his wife.
God intervenes by speaking to Abimelech in a dream. This happens on a number of occasions in the Bible and actually still happens today. Especially in Muslim countries, missionaries tell stories of people coming up to them and saying, “I had a dream last year where God told me to talk with you” or they tell them about a dream where they saw Jesus and ask the missionary to interpret it. Look at what God says to Abimelech in verse 3:
3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man's wife.” 4 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? 5 Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. 7 Now then, return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” (Genesis 20:3-7)
God warns Abimelech. Abimelech expresses his innocence which God already knew because he kept him from sinning. It’s interesting that God says the sin would have been against him, not against Sarah or Abraham. It’s important for us to remember that whenever we sin against someone else, whenever we wrong someone, whenever we fail to love someone else, it is always first and foremost a sin against God. He is always the most offended party because he is the one who instructs us to love others so when we disobey, we are sinning against him first.
God’s instructions are to return Abraham’s wife and ask Abraham to pray for him because he is a prophet. Abimelech responds by calling his servants together to tell them what happened and they react with great fear. Next he calls Abraham to him and asks: “What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.” “What did you see, that you did this thing?” (Genesis 20:9-10)
Abraham’s answer is pretty weak. He says in verse 11:
“I did it because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. 13 And when God caused me to wander from my father's house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, “He is my brother.”’” (Genesis 20:11-13)
Abraham reveals that right after God called him to leave his father’s house in Genesis 12 almost 25 years ago, he set up this plan with Sarah. She’s his half-sister so it’s only half of a lie that he tells people she’s his sister. But Abraham is not presenting himself as a man who trusts in God. But the reason he tells this lie is even worse. He says it is because he doesn’t think there is any fear of God in that place. Abraham doesn’t think the people he is with believe in God, respect God, or care about God so what does Abraham do? He stops trusting God.
How often do we do the same thing? How often do we change the way we act or talk based on who we are around? Do you talk and act differently around church people than you do around your friends? Do you talk and act differently here than when you are at work? How about when you are at home or when no one is around?
The big question this passage answers is: How should having God with us make a difference? The first answer is: We can be confident in the face of fear. We can be confident in the face of fear.
When Larry and I met in our Gospel Fluency Group to discuss this passage, he pointed out that God is present even in places where we think “there is no fear of God in this place.” Abraham is afraid because he thinks the people he is interacting with don’t fear God. So instead of being a blessing to them like God wants him to be, Abraham actually sets them up to sin against God. Instead of leading them closer to God, he puts them in a position to get further from God.
When we fear people more than God, we can do the same thing. We are blessed with the presence of God in our lives to be a blessing to others. We are sent with God’s presence to invite others into a relationship with him. But when we act differently around people who don’t believe in him, we are doing the opposite. We need to remember that whether we are with church people, family, coworkers, or friends, God is with us. We shouldn’t change how we act or talk depending on who we are around. Our language and our jokes and what we talk about shouldn’t be more or less honoring to God depending on who we are with.
A couple years ago, Katie pointed out how it’s really easy to filter God out of how we talk when we are with people who don’t share our beliefs. When another believer asks, “How’s your week going”, we might answer by saying, “God is teaching me a lot this week and really helping my attitude” or we might say, “I’m really struggling this week and asking God for help.” But then when someone who we aren’t sure shares our beliefs asks how we are doing, suddenly we filter God out and he has nothing to do with our lives.
Which 4Gs would help us in these situations?
We can make telling others about Jesus a lot easier by simply being ourselves around them. We can just be ourselves and see who responds. Other people don’t filter their opinions and beliefs when they talk. We don’t either, except when it comes to God.
Abimelech does all he can to make the situation right. He gives gifts to demonstrate Sarah’s innocence and allows Abraham to dwell wherever he pleases. Afterwards, Abraham prays for Abimelech and his women are able to get pregnant again. God had closed their wombs because of Abimelech taking Sarah. This prepares us for the birth of Isaac in chapter 21, verses 1 through 7.
Isaac (Genesis 21:1-7)
Fifteen years ago, Sarah had said to Abraham, “Behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children” (Genesis 16:2). Then she made her own plan for having kids and had Abraham sleep with her maidservant, Hagar.
One year ago, God had come to Abraham and Sarah to tell them they’d have a child in a year’s time and both of them laugh at him. God asked, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” They were focused on their inability rather than the ability of God.
Now, the time has come. God came through just as he had promised. Sarah gives birth to a son and they name him Isaac just like God told them to. Isaac means “he laughs.” They had “Isaaced” at God when he said they’d be pregnant, now Sarah says in verse 6:
“God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” 7 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.” (Genesis 21:6-7)
Sarah “Isaaced” at God in unbelief and now she “Isaacs” with joy at what God has done for her. Every time she calls for her boy Isaac to come to the dinner table, she will remember that God turned her laughter of unbelief into laughter of joy.
The big question this passage answers is: How should having God with us make a difference? The second answer is: We can be confident he won’t fail us. We can be confident he won’t fail us. We’ll talk more about this in a minute.
Sarah laughs with joy, but someone else also laughs. Let’s turn to Ishmael in verses 8 through 21.
Ishmael (Genesis 21:8-21)
Verse 8 tells us that Isaac grew and was weaned from breastfeeding. In that culture, this would have happened at probably three years old. There would have been a great celebration with a feast. Verse 9 tells us not everyone is celebrating. It says:
9 But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. (Genesis 21:9)
Hagar’s son, Ishmael, is laughing in a mocking, looking down way. Sarah is not happy. This is a day of celebration for the weaning of her son Isaac and Ishmael, the son that Abraham had with Sarah’s maidservant, is laughing in contempt. She tells Abraham: “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” (Genesis 21:10). Abraham was very displeased with this solution because Ishmael was his son, after all. But God tells Abraham to go through with it and he will watch over the boy and assures him that his son, Isaac, will be the one to receive God’s promises after him. So Abraham loads them up with supplies and says goodbye to Hagar and his son, Ishmael.
But on the journey, Hagar and Ishmael run out of water. Ishmael is 14 years old at this point but is apparently hardly able to hold himself up so Hagar puts him under the shade of a bush and cries as she expects to watch her son die. But God heard Ishmael, spoke to Hagar, and pointed out a well of water. Ishmael’s name means “God hears” and he received that name because God heard Hagar in her distress when she was pregnant with him and now he hears again. Last time, he sent her back to Abraham and Sarah but now they are released. Before she was pregnant and alone but now that Ishmael is older, he can provide for them. We are told he became an expert with the bow and his mother takes a wife for him from Egyptian.
The big question this passage answers is: How should having God with us make a difference? The third answer is: We can be confident he knows what he’s doing. We can be confident he knows what he’s doing.
This whole situation with Hagar and Ishmael is a problem of Sarah’s own making because when she thought God was failing them and didn’t know what he was doing, she made her own way. She took and gave her servant, Hagar, to Abraham so they could have a child. But that never brought Sarah happiness. In fact, 14 years later on a day of celebration for Isaac, she is reminded again of that time of unbelief when she gave her maidservant to her husband as Ishmael laughs at Isaac with contempt.
We can filter God out of our actions and speech in front of other people, but we can also filter him out in any of our everyday situations. Sarah believed God had failed her and didn’t know what he was doing. So she tried it her own way with Hagar. When we believe God has failed us and/or doesn’t know what he’s doing, we will try it our own way and the results will probably bring us problems just like they did to Sarah.
From what areas of your life is God filtered out? When is God not on your mind? One area for me is when we spend time with my family for the holidays. I’m sure we all have some bad family habits that are less than pleasing to God. For some of us, we have started following Jesus after leaving our parents so God has transformed our lives but then when we go back to those old relationships, we fall back into old habits. When I’m at my parents house with my sister and her family, I rarely read my Bible, pray, or even think about God. Time with my family is when I need to remember that God is with me and my family. He can help me overcome old sin patterns with my family and he can make us new.
Another area for me is when I am in conflict with Katie. Pleasing God is usually the furthest from my mind. I’m focused on me and what she did wrong. I often forget to pray and sometimes don’t even want to. That’s an area where I need to remember that God is with us to help us show his grace, mercy, gentleness, and patience to each other. It’s similar to when a teacher leaves the classroom. How are the students going to behave? When we don’t think God is around, we can tend to not act in ways that please him.
What’s an area for you where God gets filtered out? What’s an area of life where you don’t ask him for help or think about what he wants you to do in that situation or relationship?
Abimelech (Genesis 21:22-34)
When Abraham has his second interaction with Abimelech at the end chapter 21, Abimelech speaks words that Abraham often needed to be reminded of. In verse 22 he says: “God is with you in all that you do.” Even when Abraham didn’t feel it or believe it, God had been with him in all that he did. Abimelech saw Abraham’s life and he could see the hand of God on it, but often Abraham could not. But now he has his son, Isaac, as living proof of God’s love, faithfulness, grace, and power.
In this conversation, Abimelech and Abraham have a dispute over a well that Abraham dug. Abimelech recognizes that this is Abraham’s well and they make a treaty agreeing on it. This well is Abraham’s first legal claim to the land that God has promised him. The promised child of Genesis 12 has been granted and this is the first glimpse of the promised land. Abraham plants a tree and calls on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God. “Everlasting” in verse 33 has the sense that he is ancient and has existed for a long time in the past. As Abraham looks back over his life, he sees that God has always been there and perhaps he too is gaining confidence that he always will be.
Today, be changed by this truth: God is always with you. God is always with you. If you have trusted in Jesus, he says he will always be with you, will never leave you, and will never forsake you. He gives you his personal presence to assure you of his love for you and as a down payment guaranteeing the future he has promised you. God is with you in all that you do. Put your name in there: God is with Mitch in all that he does.
That means, you are never alone. Even if you feel alone and like nobody sees what you are doing or what you are going through, you are not alone. Even if you feel like you have to do it all by yourself, you don’t have to. God has given you his very own presence so that you are never alone. All those things we wrote on the whiteboard that make us feel not alone are true for us because God is always with us.
But we have the same problem as Abraham: God is a with us in all we do and yet we constantly act like God isn’t. We constantly try to do things in our own power and strength, we often don’t ask God for help, we are often afraid of other people. But what if we believed God was with us always in everything we do? How would that change your everyday life? How would that change your work? Your parenting? Your days at school? How would that change the mundane tasks of the day like vacuuming, washing dishes, changing poopy diapers, doing English and math homework? How would that change your interactions with your friends who may not care much about God? What if you truly believed that God is with you in every one of those moments.
We see from Abraham and Sarah’s life that when we believe God has left us, we will not make decisions that please him. In addition, when we fail to believe God’s promises to us, we will fail to fulfill God’s purposes through us. But even though we are prone to sin, weakness, and doubt, God sticks with us. That’s what he does with Abraham.
Jesus cleanses us of our sin to make us a fit dwelling for the Spirit of God. But the Spirit isn’t like a personal genie given to us so that he can fulfill our wishes. “God, help me do well on this test. God, help me not be nervous for this presentation. God, please let this police officer write me a warning instead of a ticket.” God may very well help in those areas, but that isn’t the Spirit’s primary goal. God has given us his Spirit to enable belief in his promises and to empower living for his purposes. The Spirit of God is given to us to do the will of God. If you aren’t feeling or sensing much of the Spirit in your life, it’s perhaps because you are not living for the purposes of God.
As a church, we have three practices that sum up God’s purposes for us as a church:
First, God calls us to Live as Family. When Scripture talks about the Spirit dwelling inside us, most often it’s talking about the church family rather than God’s people. It’s both, but the group is more often portrayed as the temple of God. That means if you want to experience God’s presence, you need to get with God’s people.
But it can be hard Living as Family with people. As a church family, we are going to see each other’s sin and the easy response is to run away and remove our presence. That’s what I want to do when someone hurts me. I want to just say, “Fine. I just won’t talk to them anymore.” When things get too hard or uncomfortable or people hurt us, it’s easy to want to just run away. But God calls us to remain faithful, to bear with one another, and to forgive.
In John 13:35, Jesus said that the world would know we are his disciples by our love for one another. In a world where loneliness is an epidemic, we are to give off a heavenly, otherworldly aroma because of our unique togetherness that makes people say, “I don’t know what it is about them but even though I don’t believe what they believe, I want what they have."
As a family, we are also to Love as Servants. We take that aroma public by being a loving presence in people’s lives. Inviting people to cookouts serves them people because it invites them to not be alone. Neighbors nowadays rarely know each other or help each other. Even if someone says “no” every time you invite them, they now know someone in their neighborhood who cares enough to invite them into their presence and they know who they can talk to if they need to.
In many situations, the best ministry you can give to someone is what’s called a “ministry of presence.” You don’t need to give them advice or know everything to say. You just need to be present and available. Just showing up is 80% of ministry.
In Going as Messengers, that kind of loving presence demonstrates God’s love and gives us opportunities to proclaim God’s love. People are not projects. We want to tell them about Jesus, but it shows them great love when even if they reject Jesus, we don’t remove our presence and stick with them.
When people don’t share our beliefs, we can still be confident and not filter God out. We can trust that we will be ok if they aren’t interested in God and we can even expect God to surprise us by how he has been working in someone’s life like he did with Abraham and Abimelech.
As you leave here this week, remember that God is with you in all that you do and Jesus is the one who made it possible. You are not alone. How life-transforming would it be if we believed that?