Genesis 17:15-27 (The Promised Son, A Time for Laughter)

Genesis 17:15-27
The Promised Son – A Time for Laughter

Introduction: There are times when things occur in our lives and we may wonder why God has let it happen. Maybe a family member dies, financial troubles wipe out our life savings, our home may burn down, or any of another million bad things occurs.

I’ve seen people get angry at God, accuse God, blame God, walk away from church, go back to old, bad habits and the like when troubles come. But one thing we should remember is that there is nothing that happens to us – no matter how bad – that is unique.

The ungodly suffer and the ungodly receive blessings. God’s people have suffered and God’s people have received blessings and each of us too will suffer and we too will receive blessings.

But even more than God’s people, we have the ultimate example of both suffering and loss – God’s own Son, Jesus, shared in our humanity. He was tempted just as we are and He went through the same ordeals we go through, and many were far worse.

Throughout the Bible is a thread which weaves God’s people into a great plan to heal what is broken, to right that which is wrong, and to replace sadness with joy. Today we will see another step in the unfolding of this plan and the thread which weaves together a tapestry of joy and laughter.

Text Verse: Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, And we are glad. Psalm 126:2, 3

Yes, the Lord has done great things for us, just as He did great things for Abraham, the man of faith, whose life was adorned with laughter, and so… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.

I. From a Princess to the Princess

Three specific entities are addressed in chapter 17 of Genesis in relation to the covenant between God and Abraham. The first is God speaking of Himself. This occurred in verses 4 through 8 –

As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. 8 Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” We looked at those verses 2 weeks ago.

Next, last week we looked at the second addressee of the covenant, God speaking to Abraham. This happened in verses 9-14 –

“And God said to Abraham: ‘As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. 13 He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

The third is to be found in our first two verses today, verses 15 and 16 and they are being spoken to Abraham about his wife –

15 Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.

Sarah is the third one addressed by the word of God of whom something is expected. In His statement about her, God renames her from Sarai to Sarah, but when He does, it is done through Abraham. “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.”

Just as God works through Christ to meet with Christ’s bride, so He goes through Abraham for the name to be changed. Over the years, feminists in particular have found fault with the Bible’s use of family hierarchies and the submission of women to men.

But when we look at how God Himself developed the hierarchies and the purposes they serve, we realize that this is the appropriate way to handle these things. One thing is for sure, whether someone likes the way these things are presented in the Bible or not is irrelevant. They are the way God has ordained them.

People who want to pray to God outside of Christ can do so, and they do so all the time. But they are only wasting their efforts in the process. Without Christ to mediate our prayers, they dissolve into the ether, unheard by the ears of God.

In the same way, when the family hierarchy which has been established by God is rejected, it inevitably leads to an unprofitable family life. This has been born out through history and it is being born out now.

As America moves away from the traditional father-led family established by God, it may appear on the surface to be freeing women from some perceived bondage, but in the end, it only leads to disorder, societal breakdown, and a loss of morality.

Another thing about Sarai’s name change… it’s done in the same way that Abraham’s name was changed – by adding a single letter to the name – a letter equivalent to our letter “H.” Actually in the case of Sarai, the H replaces an I.

Both names basically mean the same thing, “Princess.” But in the case of Sarah, it has a fuller meaning, like a noblewoman. It is like a transition from a local to a global meaning or something specific to something general.

Sarai is like “a princess” as if she is in a room with many princesses. But Sarah is like “the princess.” She is over all the princesses and the mother of all people who would come from her. Sarah is noted by Peter in his first epistle for being the epitome of the submissive wife whom God favors –

Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. 3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.

The significance of this H letter being added to both their names is believed to associate these two people more closely to the Lord Himself. The letters for the divine name Yahweh are YHVH. By adding the H to their names, it seems He is imparting to them a portion of His own nature.

This then is an elevation beyond the temporal to the spiritual realm. God has conferred a special dignity on them by this addition. It is a way of pointing out His eternal power and Godhead as it is working through them.

This notion is going to be borne out in the coming verses in the circumcising of the household.

Before we go on, I’d like to assure you that if you’re in Christ, you also have moved from the temporal, earthly realm to the spiritual, heavenly realm (Eph 2:4-7). In fulfillment of that, in Revelation God promises you a new name. Your name is already selected and your destiny is already assured because of your faith in Jesus.

16 And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.”

The Lord promises to bless Sarah and He says He will “also give you a son by her.” In other words, “Just as you have received a son through Hagar, so you will now receive a son from Sarah. But the son to be born will be the son of promise.”

This is now the 5th time we see God working through the second son instead of the firstborn. This demonstrates to us the doctrine of divine election. We saw it when God accepted Abel’s offering over the offering of his older brother.

We saw it when Seth, the son of Adam, replaced Cain his older brother. We saw it again when Noah’s second son Shem was placed into the messianic line before his older brother Japheth. Again it occurred when Abraham replaced his older brother Haran.

And this pattern will continue and grow richly in the pages of the Bible. God is sovereignly choosing people and circumstances which lead to the Messiah apart from birth order. This doctrine ultimately finds its fulfillment in the Person of His own Son, Jesus, who replaces Adam and who is the true Israel.

As the Bible unfolds, we will continue to look at each instance and draw patterns out which will show us the wonderful hand of God upon time, upon humanity, and upon all variables which lead us to, and teach us about, Jesus.

In the promise of a son through Sarah, God says that she shall become nations – meaning many groups of people, and that kings shall come from her. Through Sarah will come King Saul, King David, King Solomon, and many other kings. And ultimately from her would come the King of kings, Jesus.

The thing that is hardest to get my mind around is that the Lord is working through time and people to bring about the incarnation of Himself when He will unite with humanity in Mary’s womb.

Time is what keeps everything from happening at once, and God, who created time, is working in the stream of time to come to the point that has been in His mind since before creation.

Everything that we are experiencing, and everything that has ever been experienced, is happening simultaneously in God’s mind and yet because of what He has created, it can happen in a sequence which we participate in. It’s just too much to fully grasp.

17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?

Every reasonable commentary that I’ve read about this verse says the same thing – that Abraham’s laughter was of joy, not of unbelief. Any commentary which says otherwise has been made by someone who doesn’t understand the context, the man, or the supporting Bible passages which clearly identify Abraham’s laughter as that of faith mixed with Joy.

In Romans 4, it says this – “And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. 22 And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.” EXPLAIN

In John 8:56, Jesus probably refers to this incident and Abraham’s surety that this son of promise would lead to the Messiah –

“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”

After laughing, his internal question has also been misconstrued – “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?

Abraham was a man of faith and his question was a rhetorical one, not a doubting one. In fact, he will have many more children in the years ahead and so it’s obvious he’s not talking about ability, but rather what is reasonable. And this is absolutely certain because of his next words to God…

18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!”

Abraham has a son, and despite how we look at the way Ishmael came about in the modern world, it was a normal birth to Abraham. He was promised a son and the Lord gave him a son. Up to this point in time, Sarah hasn’t been mentioned in any of the promises.

By now, Ishmael is 13 years old and Abraham probably loves him very much. So instead of going through the whole process again, why isn’t Ishmael suitable for the task? But God’s ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.

What God decides is what is right and perfect. But Abraham is thinking from a human perspective. There is nothing wrong with him making known his request to God and it is a parent’s duty to pray for their children, just as he is doing for Ishmael.

He is praying for him to be kept in the covenant and to have the grace of walking before God in uprightness. But God determines the “who” and the “why.” Ishmael will participate in the earthly blessings, but it is Isaac who will participate in both the temporal and spiritual ones.

II. The Lord Brings Laughter

19 Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son..

Let’s look at how different translations read here for fun –

Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son…
And God said, Nay, but Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son…
And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed;…
God replied, “No! Your wife Sarah will give you a son,…
and God saith, ‘Sarah thy wife is certainly bearing a son to thee…

The word is aval in Hebrew and it can be translated in a variety of ways. This is what we call Translator’s Preference. Some say “no,” some say “Yes, but” and some say “indeed” or “certainly.” The reason for differences is what the translators feel is being relayed. People who stick to a single translation not only get myopia, but they miss out on what could otherwise be the correct translation.

And sometimes differences in translations can actually mean the exact same thing, but they stress a different point of view. In other words, “Yes, but” can mean the exact same thing as “No” in the ultimate sense, but it does it by stressing the immediate in one case, and showing the distinction at a later point.

To support any translation, the rest of the Bible needs to be taken in context. This is something you will never get from a topical sermon preacher. And so unless you’re willing to study the Bible, you will never come to these precious insights which God really wants you to know and think about.

19 (con’t) and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.

A son will come through Sarah and he will be called Yitsak – the exact same word that describes what Abraham did when he heard. Abraham laughed and laughter is his name – Yitsak. It is through this child of joy that the everlasting covenant of grace will continue.

Just as the promise was made to Abraham, it is being transferred through this coming child. Ishmael will live before Abraham and the Lord, but it will only be as a physical son lives in our world. To understand both the renaming of Sarah and the selection of Isaac, even before his birth, we need to look at Paul’s explanation in Galatians 4 –

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— 25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— 26 but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. 27 For it is written:

“Rejoice, O barren,
You who do not bear!
Break forth and shout,
You who are not in labor!
For the desolate has many more children
Than she who has a husband.”
28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise.

20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.

As you can see, the “Yes, but” of the NIV translators is not a bad choice of the previous verse after all. When Abraham asked that Ishmael would live before the Lord, he in fact would and indeed he would be blessed. Here is what Bishop Thomas Newton says about this verse –

“It was somewhat wonderful, and not to be foreseen by human sagacity, that a man’s whole posterity should so nearly resemble him, and retain the same inclinations, the same habits, and the same customs, throughout all ages! These are the only people besides the Jews who have subsisted as a distinct people from the beginning, and in some respects they very much resemble each other – 1. The Arabs, as well as the Jews, are descended from Abraham, and both boast of their descent from the father of the faithful. 2. The Arabs, as well as the Jews, are circumcised, and both profess to have derived this ceremony from Abraham. 3. The Arabs, as well as the Jews, had originally twelve patriarchs, who were their princes or governors. 4. The Arabs, as well as the Jews, marry among themselves, and in their own tribes. 5. The Arabs, as well as the Jews, are singular in several of their customs, and are standing monuments to all ages of the exactness of the Divine predictions, and of the veracity of Scripture history. We may with more confidence believe the particulars related of Abraham and Ishmael when we see them verified in their posterity at this day. This is having, as it were, ocular demonstration for our faith.”

21 But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.”

Despite the promised blessing to Ishmael, which has surely been fulfilled in an amazing degree, the covenant established in Abraham would likewise be established in Isaac through Sarah. This tells us with all certainty that the covenant is based upon what is spiritual, even if it includes the earthly.

This blessing will reach to the Messiah and then through Him to each of us, who, through His blood are brought near to God and in whose presence we will dwell. But at the time of Abraham and even until now, that isn’t fully realized as we’ll see from verse 22 –

 22 Then He finished talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.

As John Gill says, “The highest enjoyments of God here are not lasting; uninterrupted communion with him is reserved for another world.”

God has finished his discussion with Abraham and this highest enjoyment, filled with laughter and amazement, ends. As a sign that what was said was ironclad, this verse says that “God went up from Abraham.” The Lord who appeared to him wasn’t merely a human being. In this single chapter He has been called Yahweh, God Almighty, and God.

At other times in the Bible Yahweh appears in a body in a human manifestation of Himself. To leave no doubt in the great man’s faith, He ascends visibly, just as He will do at other times, even at the ascension of Jesus recorded in Acts. And now we move on to our final thought today.

III. A Sign in the Flesh

23 So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him.

This verse is specifically given to us to demonstrate Abraham’s obedience to the directive that was given in verse 12 and 13 which said, “…every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. 13 He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised.”

God gave the directive and the next verse after He departed Abraham’s obedience is noted. This confirms what I said earlier about the changing of Sarai’s name to Sarah. The addition of H was an elevation beyond the temporal to the spiritual realm.

This is proven because all of the people in Abraham’s household were circumcised, but only Isaac, who isn’t even born yet, was given the promise. Think this through with me… The promise was made to Abraham before he was circumcised.

And then when the promise was made concerning Isaac, it wasn’t just before Abraham was circumcised, but even before Isaac was conceived. Because this is so, the promise must be a spiritual promise and circumcision cannot play a part in it.

It also is another absolute indication that infant baptism, which we talked about last week, has no connection to circumcision and that it is an unscriptural procedure.

Later in the Bible we will see that through Isaac, the promise will be made again to his son Jacob, who is Israel. Therefore, there is an earthly significance to the circumcision, but there is also a spiritual one which applies only to those who are the elect of God.

Anyone who can trace his lineage back to Abraham is a son of Abraham by birth – and billions of people can do so. But only those who are of faith receive the nearness to God through adoption as sons. Paul makes this clear in Galatians 3 –

“Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.”

He makes the point and then spends several chapters defending it. And it’s something we need to remember every day of our lives. Especially when we do something wrong or something that we know would really upset God.

He has made a promise, a spiritual promise, of eternal life to all who believe in the work of Jesus. If that promise is based on something we do after the promise is accepted, then it isn’t really a spiritual promise.

The idea that a person can lose their salvation based on something they do or fail to do is so foreign to the Bible that it is almost impossible to imagine that people actually teach it. But they do. None of you should ever, ever, ever fail to understand this – you can never lose the salvation Jesus has granted you.

God’s love for you, in Christ Jesus, is unconditional, just as His promise to Isaac before He was even born was also unconditional.

24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.

Abraham was born in the year 2009 Anno Mundi and therefore this circumcision occurred in the year 2108. If you want to know whether this was a painful process or not, it was. Other places in the Bible tell us of adults being circumcised and still being in pain three days later. For a 99 year old man… yeowch.

There are several traditions on who circumcised Abraham. One is that Noah’s son, Shem, who was still alive and 549 years old did it. Another is that his head servant Eliezer did it. And a third is that he circumcised himself. If that’s true, double yeowch.

25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.

For today’s descendants of Ishmael, there is no specific age as to when they circumcise. Some do it at infancy, some at 13 in honor of Ishmael, and some at other ages. However, the covenant between God and his people requires it at the age of 8 days old.

If for no other reason than this, the descendants of Ishmael who have not called on Jesus are not only excluded from the spiritual blessings, but they are excluded from the earthly land blessing as well. The land of Israel belongs to a certain group of people and they follow this practice to this day.

26 That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael; 27 and all the men of his house, born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

On the very same day that Abraham was instructed to perform the rite by God, he did so. There was no delaying, no contemplating, and no discussion. This rite, instituted in Abraham, would be performed again on the Son of God 1895 years later – when He was 8 days old. In his detailed account of the life of Jesus, we read this in chapter 2 of the book of Luke –

And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

God asked nothing of Abraham, nor of any of Abraham’s descendants, that He wasn’t willing to ask of His own Son. Abraham was obedient to the call and performed it without delay. This is our last verse of the day and it almost begs the question of each of us…

Have we been obedient to the call of Jesus? There are several parts to this. The first is whether we have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. If so, there are certain things He asks of us. One is that we be baptized as an outward demonstration of our inward change.

The next is to learn the Bible, to read it, and to be able to explain it to others. This isn’t something God would call optional – it is an act of obedience, just as Abraham’s circumcision was. In this word, we find how to live properly and walk in a careful and holy manner as we live out our lives. Is this something we’re endeavoring to do?

For those who haven’t called on Jesus, this is where obedience begins. It is where the circumcision not made with hands comes from. It is a circumcision of the heart which is performed by God. Let me explain how you can be obedient to this call…

Next Genesis 18:1-15 (A Time for Laughter – The Son of Promise)

The Princess, The Son, and The Sign

God said to Abraham, As for Sarai your wife
You shall not call her name Sarai
Even though you’ve called her it for most of Your life
Sarah shall be her name starting now and as time goes by

I will bless her and also by her give you a son
Yes, I will bless her, she shall be a mother of many nations
Kings of peoples shall come from her and from this one
It will be so forever, through all generations

Then Abraham laughed as he fell on his face
And as he did, he said in his heart
Shall a child be born to me here in this place?
To a man who is one hundred, shall this child’s life start?

And shall Sarah who is ninety years old
Bear a son to me, O God, just as you’ve told

And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you
But God said “No, Sarah your wife shall bear a son… it’s true!

You will call him Isaac, yes Laughter is his name
I will establish My covenant with him instead of Ishmael
It is an everlasting covenant which will bring Me fame
And one which will rescue many from the pits of hell

As for Ishmael, I have heard your request
And I have blessed him in several ways
He will be fruitful and multiply and so be blessed
He will beget twelve princes, yes 12 sons he will raise

But my covenant is with Isaac whom Sarah shall bear next year
It will be at the time I have set, so Abraham have no fear

Then God finished talking with him and so up he went
Then Abraham took Ishmael and all who were born in his home
And all who were bought with money, there was no argument
Every male among them was circumcised under the tent’s dome

Abraham was 99 when he was circumcised and Ishmael 13
Along with everyone else, it must have been an ouchy scene

But obedience is what he was called to
And obedience is also what God expects of you

Jesus was obedient even to death on a cross
And we too should follow Him, no matter the cost

When we do, our rewards will be great
And nothing can keep us from the blessings of God
Wonderful promises His word does state
To those who will someday on heavenly streets trod

Hallelujah and Amen…


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