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The Last Laugh – Bible Stories for Adults 009

In our on-going series, Bible Stories for Adults, the 9th episode details God’s work with Abraham and Sarah as they struggle with their lack of an heir. Does this story have a point? Is there anything we can learn from it? In fact, it has a lot to do with how God deals with all of us today. It’s a lesson on how to “carry on” with God

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For Further Consideration

If you have been following this series, it might be time to go back to the first one to reorient to our purpose and approach to Bible study.

Transcription

Our title today is Last Laugh. It’s about God’s promise of a son to two very old people and how it came to pass. You might notice we’re skipping a lot of the progression through Genesis. I’m doing that so that we don’t spend the rest of our lives in that book. There are so many other helpful stories and we’re driving toward the ones that best explain the biblical progression of how God worked through humanity down through the ages…

Presentation Transcript

Let’s look in Genesis 15 to start out today. It says:

Genesis 15:1-6 – After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield. Your reward shall be very great.” The term there – fear not – I’ve heard it repeated by God 365 times in the Bible. So, if you’re reading the Bible in a year, you’d hear that every day – on average. That kind of is a clue, isn’t it, about how fearful we are. But God told him not to be afraid. He was his shield. And your reward will be very great. But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed God, and it was counted it to him as righteousness. 

So this is a statement here at the end – and it was counted to him as righteousness – that points to something more hopeful than being judged by a law that no one can keep. Now I know that makes some people nervous. I’m not saying that we should not try to keep God’s law. Jesus Himself said the law has not been done away. It was just elevated to a new level of spiritual obedience and worship. The Holy Spirit does not obviate the need to keep the law, if it’s in us, but it makes it possible. And this statement points toward salvation through faith, rather than through the law. It was in force during the time of Abram, and therefore, as well, for all who believed God’s promises down through the ages. 

Let’s ask this question though: If we do not gain salvation by obedience to the law, why should we obey it? Well, because it makes us like God, as we learn how to do it. And that’s what Jesus wants us to do – to follow His example. And He kept it perfectly. So we’re supposed to practice obeying it. Because, if we obey it – this is another reason – it keeps us out of trouble. God’s law is the way the universe works. And, if we’re in sync with that, then we’re in sync with the natural order of things. You know, “Come outside, Abram. I have something to show you. See all those stars? Your descendants will be like that – so many you can’t even count them all. Hang on to your hat. Get ready, because it’s coming!” Abram looked up at the night sky and saw the immensity of God’s words and he believed. He believed God. Paul talks about it this way in Romans 4:16:

Romans 4:16 – That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring – not only to the adherent of the law – and that would be the Israelites – but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all – not just Jews, but now everybody that wants to believe in God and has faith in Him. They’re called the children of Abraham. He’s called the father of the faithful. 

Paul was talking to the church at that time, which was a combination of Jews and Gentiles. And he’s saying that Gentiles, who are not genetically descended from Abraham, are now spiritually children of Abraham, because of their faith in God. Very important. 

Now, let’s continue on in the next chapter – Genesis 16.

Genesis 16:1-4 – Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children.” Notice how she saw that? Back in those days, it was really important to bear children – for women. “Go in to my servant. It may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So here we go. They knew what God said He was going to do, but He wasn’t doing it fast enough to suit them, so they decided to help God along a little bit. Verse 3: So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when Hagar saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress, Sarai. You know, there’s a reason why God tells us to be monogamous. See how complicated this is getting right way? The servant woman now feels superior to Sarah because she has a kid and Sarah can’t have any. 

V-5-6 – And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!” Now, if we look at this statement, we can see a flaw in her thinking. She was the one who started the whole thing. But it was also his fault. The thing is, while it is his fault, it’s not for any of the reasons she gives. He’s the one who agreed to go along with the scheme. They’re both guilty. And they’re both reaping the consequences of what they did. But look what Abram does. He says to Sarai: “Behold, your servant is in your power. Do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled – that is, Hagar fled – from Sarai. So he pushes it back to her. “Leave me out of this,” when he’s already deeply a part of it. So Hagar – mistreated – runs away. That makes sense, right? Who needs this? So, that’s another consequence. Notice what happens next:

V-7-10 – The angel of the LORD found her – Hagar – by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” Both questions he knew the answer to. She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” Honest answer. The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” Notice something here. The term, angel of the LORD – who is that? Who is talking? Well, the word angel means “one dispatched as a deputy, or messenger.” But notice what this messenger says: “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” So who’s talking to her? Well, who did that? No angel did that. This is a messenger from God – from God Most High – but He’s also the One who will multiply her offspring. So, figure it out. 

V-11-16 – And the angel of the LORD said to her – in verse 11: “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction. He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.” So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” Therefore, the well was called Beer-lahai-roi – Well of the Living One Who See Me is the literal translation of that word. It lies between Kadesh and Bered. And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram. 

So God isn’t just looking after Abraham. He’s looking after Hagar, too. And in His plan to produce another large number of people, half of them will be related to Abraham. So they’re part of the “stars in the sky” thing that God was showing him early on. The thing is though, Ishmael’s family, down the road, is going to cause a lot of trouble for people. “Wild donkey of a man” is a polite term for what actually turned out to happen later – and is happening still, to this day. You know, if Sarah and Abraham had just waited. 

So what can we take away from all this? Well, God does not need our help when He says He’s going to bless us. All we have to do is hide and watch. Remember what Moses said to the children of Israel when they faced the Red Sea with the Egyptian army close behind? Right. You remember. He just said, “Stand still. Wait. WAIT! Just watch this!” And the Red Sea parted and they went across dry shod. And when the Egyptians followed, the water closed in on them and they all drowned. “Stand still and see the salvation of the LORD.” A good lesson, right? Something we need to remember. 

Let’s pick this up, moving down the road – strange guests for dinner here – Genesis 18. It says:

Genesis 18:1-8 – And the LORD – that word there is YHVH, Lord of All, the Great God, the God of Israel – appeared to him – Abraham – by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. You know, how’d they get there? When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” That’s approximately, I think, 7 liters. And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

So, some thoughts on this: Abraham instantly knew who he was talking to. There was no doubt. He bowed low. He bowed to the earth. He was extremely interested in talking to them and urged them to stay. And he invites them to eat. As the custom was, he offered them water to wash their feet – you know, they wore sandals back then, and there was no pavement, so everybody’s feet got dusty in the desert – probably done by a servant while he ran off to get the meal going. 

So how long does it take to select a calf from the herd, slaughter it, dress it and cook it? Well, in the past, I’ve heard people talk about how long that would take. I was watching a YouTube video recently about how to field dress a white-tailed deer – an animal that could easily be about the size of a young calf. If you know how to do it right, it took about five minutes for the man to dress this animal. And there was no blood. So, if Abraham was only interested in feeding these men, it probably could have taken even less time than that. He didn’t need to process the entire animal. 

So how did they kill that animal? People today don’t like to realize that the McDonald’s hamburger they’re eating actually came from a living animal – actually 65 of them in any one hamburger, I’ve heard. God told Israel not to eat the blood of the animals they ate, so they had to bleed them. So the young man probably deftly nicked the juggler of this calf, and it died painlessly and gently in a very short amount of time – no trashing around. And removing a hind quarter or a front shoulder could be done very rapidly. Now those who barbeque know that, if meat is cut thin, it takes very little time to cook, too. So the meat wouldn’t be the problem. 

Now today curds and milk don’t sound very good to us. But milk, bread and butter does, which is what cakes, curd and milk are, as everyone who has churned butter know what it looks like. 

Okay, so this wasn’t fast food, but with all the servants Abraham had, it wouldn’t have taken too long either, so the story is believable. And he watched while they ate, which is a sign of respect. He knows there’s a reason for their visit. And he’s waiting patiently to find out what it is. He’s not going to be so brash as to ask straight out what it is they came for. 

So what can we take away from this passage? Well, most of us, having never encountered the Lord of All, don’t know how to be polite to Him or how to show respect. And when He lets something happen that we don’t like, we get angry with Him, we bad-mouth Him, we feel disregarded and lose the little faith that we have. But don’t worry, the next part can set us at ease. In Genesis 18, starting in verse 9 – we’re still at dinner here:

Genesis 18:9 – They said to him, “Where is Sarah, your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 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. I don’t know if she was hiding because he didn’t know where she was, or feigned like he didn’t, but when she heard her name, maybe she came closer. I don’t know. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” So Abraham said, “So this is how God is going to do it. He’s going to make me a father of many nations.” And now he knows why the God of all the earth has come to dinner, doesn’t he? 

A social note here: In our society, children are not assigned a blessing. In our country, we murder more children every year than Hitler killed Jews in World War II. But in their culture – where they came from – it was all about children, because that’s how inheritance was passed on. A woman who could not have children was seen as cursed, or less than. And while girls were loved, having a boy meant there would be an heir to pass on the family name and possessions. So it was really hard to believe that, after all these years – after she was post-menopausal for a long time – that she would have a child, let alone a son!

Now notice how God calls her on her disbelief:

V-13-15 – The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.” No fire from heaven. No earthquake to swallow her up – just a gentle setting the record straight. 

God knows how insecure we are, how faithless, how difficult it is for us, how easy it is for us to lie. He’s used to it. He knows what to do with us. He patiently herds us – each of us – His direction. He has big plans for Sarah here, and for her husband, Abraham, and for their son to be born, Isaac. When God calls us on our sins, we don’t need to be afraid. He’s doing it for our own good – just like a parent would. 

Look at something David said. It’s in Chronicles 21:9. To shorten it up a bit, David did wrong. God sent a prophet, Gad, to deliver His judgment. Gad told him God was going to give him a choice of punishments. He could pick from one of three things. Choices are good, right? We learned that in Parenting with Love and Logic. He could have three years of famine, or three months of ravaging by Israel’s enemies, or three days of the sword of the LORD, pestilence in land. And here’s what David in verse 13:

1 Chronicles 21:13 – Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let me fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”

So David said he’d take his chances with God over man any day. The older I get, the wiser that sounds. Jesus said His burden was light. 

Now, we’re going to skip over the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. That one deserves a whole presentation by itself. We must press forward now to see what happened. Did Sarah, in her old age, have a baby? Well, if we can read, we all know that she did. Let’s read about it in Genesis 21:1:

Genesis 21:1 – The LORD visited Sarah, as He had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as He had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him – you know, He’d mentioned that a year before. In verse 4:

V-4-7 – Abraham circumcised his son, Isaac, when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son, Isaac, was born. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me. Everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have born him a son in his old age.”

Isaac was the name God gave to this boy. It means he laughs. Abraham didn’t believe it could happen at first. And Sarah snorted when she heard the promise, because she was old. After the baby came, she laughed with joy, because at long last, she was blessed with a son. But the last laugh was God’s.

From here, we’re going to move down the road to a serious trial that Abraham, Sarah and Isaac faced. What will we learn from that story? 

Well, don’t forget to comment on the Website.

Until next time, this is Bill Jacobs for LifeResource Ministries, serving children, families and the Church of God.