GENESIS - CHAPTER 21
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
21:1. “And the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken.”
Abraham, having put away the last thing standing between him and God, was at last in a position to receive the blessing which his own incomplete faith had long delayed. God would have us learn that incomplete faith on our part will similarly hinder blessing.
21:2. “For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.”
The birth of this son, who is so clearly a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, presents us with a very important truth. Transcending all else in God’s eternal purposes for the believer is that each of us will be conformed to the image of His perfect Son. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Ro 8:29). And it is His desire that the beginning of that conformity should be seen here on earth as we “... grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pe 3:18). This desire finds its expression in the words of Paul to the Galatians, “My little children of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Ga 4:19). God would have men see Christ in us. This is the primary lesson of Isaac’s birth: faith (represented by Abraham), and grace (represented by Sarah), unite to produce the son who is a figure of Christ.
Man has a free will both before and after conversion, and no matter how he may use that will as a believer, either to honor or dishonor God, nothing can thwart God’s purpose: every believer is predestinated to be conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the man, believer though he is, has no part in that work. It is all of God, for we read that “Sarah (grace) received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age.... Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky....” (Heb 11:11-12). Abraham (faith) considered not his own body now dead ... neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb ... but was strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Ro 4:19-20).
Only she who portrays grace, could produce Isaac, who himself portrays Christ. It is grace, and grace alone, that produces Christ in us, so that we will stand in heaven perfectly conformed to His image.
It is scarcely necessary to draw attention to the fact that the miraculous nature of Isaac’s birth foreshadows the miraculous birth of the One of Whom he is a type, “... at the set time of which God had spoken,” reminds us that nothing can interfere with God’s purposes, or change His timetable. As it was in regard to Isaac’s birth, so was it also in regard to Christ’s, “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law....” (Ga 4:4).
“... of which God had spoken.” The foretold birth of Isaac foreshadows similar truth in regard to Christ’s: it too was foretold, “To him give all the prophets witness” (Ac 10:43). “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa 7:4). The parallel extends even to the prior announcement of the name, “... thou shalt call his name Isaac” (Gen 17:19). “... thou shalt call his name Jesus” (Mt 1:21).
The same miraculous power that enabled the barren, ninety-year-old Sarah to give birth to Isaac, enabled Mary, a virgin, to give birth to Christ. Nothing is impossible with God
Isaac’s being born when Abraham and Sarah were “dead” would teach us that it will be only in resurrection, that Christ will be seen perfectly in us as we stand in heaven perfectly conformed to His image. But there is the additional practical truth that Christ will be seen in us here on earth only in the measure that we live as those who are also dead to the things of the world, having been crucified to that world by the cross of Christ.
21:3. “And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac.”
God continues to emphasize that it is Sarah (grace) who produced this child. He would impress upon us the lesson that grace and grace alone will produce Christ in us.
In obedience to the command given in Gen 17:19, Abraham named his son Isaac, meaning he shall laugh, and while Scripture is silent as to any particular time when Isaac laughed, we are perhaps being reminded of that coming day when the One Whom Isaac typifies will laugh in mockery at His enemies, “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed,” but, “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision” (Ps 2:2,4).
21:4. “And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him.”
Since circumcision is symbolic of the cutting off of the deeds of the flesh, and of the renunciation of all confidence in it; and since in the numerology of Scripture, eight is the number that signifies a new beginning, the circumcision of Isaac on the eighth day tells us that the day when the flesh is to be “cut off,” and all confidence in it renounced, is the day of our “new beginning,” the moment we are born again through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The eighth day was appointed by God, not just for the circumcision of Isaac, but for every Israelite son. The first seven days therefore represent that part of the believer’s life prior to conversion, while the eighth marks the day of his spiritual birth when the flesh is cut off, and the new man begins to walk in newness of life.
God had bound Himself unconditionally to keep the covenant He had made with Abraham, the latter’s only part being to receive in his body the mark which signified the cutting off of all confidence in the flesh. But there can’t be abandonment of that confidence unless there is complete trust in God. With Abraham’s faith complete, the promised son was given, but he too must bear in his body the mark that speaks of death to the flesh. In Isaac’s case, however, it goes beyond being simply the outward sign of the covenant God had made with Abraham. As Isaac’s miraculous birth foreshadows the birth of Christ, so does the mark of circumcision which he received, foreshadow the “cutting off” of the Lord Jesus Christ, a “cutting off” which was fulfilled in terrible reality at Calvary when He, the “Son given” (Isa 9:6), was “cut off out of the land of the living” (Isa 53:8) on account of our sins.
It is unlikely that Abraham understood anything of the deeper significance of circumcision beyond its being the outward sign of God’s covenant; nevertheless his obedience was implicit, “Abraham circumcised his son ... as God had commanded him.” Only when the same unquestioning obedience marks us, will we be on the ground that commands fullness of blessing.
21:5. “And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him.”
Abraham was eighty-six when Ishmael was born. Fourteen years had passed before the promised see was given, but fourteen is 2 x 7, and since two is the number of witness or testimony, and seven, of perfection or completeness, the lesson being conveyed is that the time between the birth of the son who represents the flesh, and the birth of the one who represents the new man, is the witness to the perfection of God’s time. His time in all things is perfect, and he who fails to wait for it robs himself of blessing.
But his being a hundred years old when Isaac was born is also significant. The factors of 100 are 22 x 52 and since two is the number of witness; and five, of responsibility, the lesson is that his age is the witness before God and man to the fulfillment of responsibility Godward and manward. The promised son could be given only when Abraham’s faith in God was complete. The confession before Abimelech that Sarah was his wife, removed the last vestige of the unbelief that for so many years had stood between him and God. He would never again deny Sarah as his wife.
He who would be blessed must confess that it is faith which links him with grace.
21:6. “And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me.”
Sarah’s joy at the birth of Isaac is but a faint anticipation of the greater joy connected with the birth of Him Whom Isaac typified. In connection with that birth, we read that even before it occurred, Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, exclaimed, “For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe (John the Baptist) leaped in my womb for joy” (Lk 1:44). And when Christ was born, we read that the angels assured the shepherds, “Fear not, for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord .... And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Lk 2:10-14).
The practical lesson of Sarah’s laughter is that all who receive Christ are made to rejoice.
21:7. “And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age.”
The incredulity of mere natural wisdom is expressed in Sarah’s question. When God is left out of our reckoning, many things are indeed impossible; but where God is trusted, nothing is impossible, “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are; that no flesh should glory in his presence ... that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Co 1:27-29). Faith reckons that “with God all things are possible” (Mk 10:27).
It is emphasized that she had borne this son to Abraham when he was old, “as good as dead” (Heb 11:12). It is only when we are “dead” physically that Christ will be perfectly reproduced in us; but there are two aspects of our being “dead”: one is that when we are literally dead we shall stand in heaven perfectly conformed to Christ’s image; the other, as already noted, is that which involves our life here on earth. We are to live as those who have been “crucified with Christ” (Ga 2:20). Only then will Christ be seen in us while we are here on earth.
21:8. “And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast on the same day that Isaac was weaned.”
We are reminded here that the One Whom Isaac typified, also grew. It is recorded of Him that, “The child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon Him” (Lk 2:20).
In the weaning of Isaac there is undoubtedly a foreshadowing of Christ’s lessening dependence on Mary and Joseph, and the beginning of that zealous pursuit of His Father’s will, expressed in His own words when He was only twelve years old, “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Lk 2:49).
But the type goes further. Sarah, while clearly designated by Scripture as a type of the principle of grace (Ga 4:22-31), is also just as clearly a type of the godly remnant within the apostate nation of Israel. As the woman who brought forth Isaac (type of Christ), she represents “the woman” (Israel) who brought forth “the man child” - Christ (Rev 12:5).
But two comings of Christ are foretold in Scripture. In one it is written, “Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child” (Isa 66:7). This refers to His birth two thousand years ago. Israel knew no “travail pains,” she wasn’t even aware that He had been born! But there is His second coming, and connected with that birth is travail: Israel’s travail in the Tribulation. Out of that travail the nation of Israel will again produce Christ, “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet ... and she being with child cried travailing in birth .... and she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations ....” (Rev 12:1-5).
By the first birth, He came as the Lamb of God, to bear away the sin of the world; but by the second birth, He will come as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, to crush His foes beneath His feet, establish His millennial kingdom, and rule with a rod of iron.
As it was at the birth of Isaac, so was it also at the birth of Christ two thousand years ago. Sarah, representative of grace, and of the godly remnant; and Hagar, representative of law, were both living together in Abraham’s house; and the child already in the house was Ishmael, figure of the nation of Israel living under the law. In the weaning of Isaac (which “cut him off” from Sarah), we have not just a picture of the Lord’s increasing independence of His earthly parents: we have also a picture of His being gradually “cut off” from Israel. And as the “cutting off” of Isaac from Sarah was accompanied by the mockery of Ishmael, the child of law, so was the cutting off of Christ from Israel accompanied by the scorn and hatred of the children of law. And as the weaning of Isaac became the occasion for Abraham’s making a great feast, so was the cutting off of Christ from Israel the occasion for God the Father to spread the “great feast” of the Gospel. And as the mockery of Ishmael resulted in the expulsion of him and Hagar from Abraham’s house, so has the mockery of unbelieving Israel at the “cutting off” of Christ, resulted in their expulsion from “Abraham’s house” (the domain of faith), and from the land of Canaan.
Typologically, the weaning of Isaac represents that time in the Lord’s earthly experience when Israel’s increasing rejection of Him made inevitable His rejection of them. Isaac’s being offered up in chapter twenty-one presents symbolically the culmination of Israel’s rejection of Christ - His crucifixion.
21:9. “And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.”
Ishmael’s mockery of Isaac foreshadows the hatred of the unbelieving Jewish leaders when the true Isaac appeared; and on the personal level it portrays the strife of the two natures: the old represented by Ishmael; and the new, by Isaac. There was no strife till Isaac came, nor is there strife in the life until Christ is received as Savior and Lord. It is the new nature that reveals the true character of the old. As noted already, however, it wasn’t Hagar, the representative of the principle of law, who mocked, but her son Ishmael, the representative of those who seek to be justified by the works of the law. Concerning the law itself Paul assures us that “... the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Ro 7:12). The law doesn’t mock Christ.
21:10. “Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.”
The lessons of this verse will be better understood if we consider them in the light of what Paul wrote to the Galatians. In the fourth chapter of that Epistle he declares, not only that Sarah represents grace; and Hagar, the law; but he goes on to state, “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free” (Ga 4:28-31).
From this we learn that Isaac and Ishmael are not limited to being representatives of Christ and of unbelieving Israel respectively: Isaac is also a type of what we are by the new birth, while Ishmael represents what we are by the first, the natural birth.
Not only does the casting out of Hagar and Ishmael foreshadow the rejection of unbelieving Israel seeking justification through the works of the law: it teaches also that all who seek justification on the same basis will be rejected. The new birth alone makes men acceptable to God. What men are in Adam through the natural birth must be dismissed, for God can accept only the man who is in Christ, i.e., who has been born again through faith in Christ as Savior.
It is significant that there is no mention of Hagar’s having mocked Isaac, yet Sarah declares that it is first the bondwoman who is to be cast out, followed by her son. The truth being presented here is that it was only unbelieving Israel, the child of law, that mocked Christ. The law itself did not mock, but rather bore testimony to His perfection. But both must be cast out; the law, because it was fulfilled in Christ, and its function ended; and unbelieving Israel, because they mocked and rejected their King. The order in the type accurately portrays the order of the fulfillment. First the bondwoman (the law itself) was cast out, the rent veil of the temple being the outward sign of the ending of what pertained to the ritual appointed by God for Israel as a nation living under law; then thirty-eight years later “the son of the bondwoman” (Israel), was cast out when the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus in A.D.70 suspended her national existence, and resulted in her expulsion from the land. The fulfillment was as God had foreshown in symbol: the expulsion of the mother came first, followed by that of the son. (It is to be remembered, however, that Israel’s national existence has been suspended only until the soon coming day when she will be converted and restored).
The practical truth being presented of course is that grace and law cannot dwell together on a basis of equality. Law must be hand-maid to grace, “For the promise that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect.... therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace....” (Ro 4:13-16). “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Ro 10:4). “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Ro 5:20-21). Law is set aside and ended in Christ, for He Who is Life, is produced, not by law-keeping, but by the union of Abraham (faith), and Sarah (grace).
21:11. “And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son.”
Abraham’s reluctance to part with his son Ishmael adumbrates not only the reluctance with which nature relinquishes its faith in law-keeping as a means of being justified, but it demonstrates also the reluctance with which even faith abandons that trust.
It always seems “very grievous” to nature to be told to “cast out” law-keeping, and to be saved simply by receiving “Isaac” (Christ). But there is no other way to heaven. Dependence on works must be given up for complete trust in Christ.
21:12. “And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.”
God’s assurance to Abraham is the same assurance given to the man of faith today in regard to giving up the law as a means of justification. Christ in His perfect life has met all the law’s demands, thus proving Himself beyond the claim of death; but by becoming our Substitute, and voluntarily submitting Himself to death, He has Himself received the full penalty it imposes on the transgressor, so that the law has no more claim on the believer, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth” (Ro 10:4).
The second command, “In all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice,” is also but an echo of the divine command given to the believer today. God would have us hearken to all that Grace has to say; and the voice of Grace assures us that it is as we are in Christ, and not as we are in our weak failing selves, that all of God’s promises will have their fulfillment.
In chapter 16, without having been commanded by God to do so, Abram father is exalted (not yet become Abraham father of a great multitude), had hearkened to the voice of Sarai my princesses (not yet become Sarah a princess), and the unhappy result was that Ishmael was born. But in the present instance things are different. Abram has become Abraham, and Sarai has become Sarah, and Isaac has been born. As discussed in the previous chapter, the last shred of unbelief had been put away. A faith that was now complete was ready to receive the commands of grace now become fruitful, and God can say, hearken to the voice of grace. The principle remains the same. When faith and grace have united in producing Christ in us, faith can confidently hearken to the voice of grace.
“... for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” It was to be through Isaac that Abraham’s descendants would come, and the lesson God would teach in this is that it is only in Christ that men will have acceptance before God, and enjoy eternal blessing.
21.13. “And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.”
The distinction which God made between Abraham’s two sons should be noted. Both were his descendants, but in His reference to Ishmael, God emphasizes that “he is thy seed.” The tie was a natural one. In Isaac the tie was supernatural. God doesn’t say that Isaac was Abraham’s seed. The Divine assurance is that “in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” There was nothing miraculous about the birth of Ishmael, but there certainly was in connection with the birth of Isaac. Humanly speaking his birth was an impossibility. Mere nature had nothing to do with it. In Abraham and Sarah nature was dead. They were but the channels through which the resurrection power of God was manifested in Isaac’s birth. And in this God would remind us that Isaac, not Ishmael, is a type of Christ, whose birth was also miraculous. It too, was apart from human power. In giving Abraham the assurance that “in Isaac shall thy seed be called,” God was emphasizing that He will accept and bless only those who are Abraham’s spiritual sons, i.e., men and women of faith.
Ishmael is the father of the Arab nations; the Jews are descended from Isaac, and the enmity between them simply illustrates the enmity existing between that which is of the flesh and that which is of the Spirit.
21:14. “And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.”
It takes but a small acquaintance with Scripture to recognize that its histories go far beyond the mere communication of historical facts. Spiritual discernment soon detects that God has woven into these histories that which transcends communication with man’s intellect: their primary purpose is to convey spiritual truth to man’s spirit. And this fragment of history has a great deal to teach the spiritual man.
Abraham’s prompt and implicit obedience is indicated in his “rising up early in the morning.” Difficult though obedience must have been, it was rendered promptly. In this Abraham is set before us as a model on which we should pattern our own obedience.
The spiritual message is easily read when we remember that God frequently employs the literal as the symbol of the spiritual. Bread is always the symbol of the Word: of Christ, first as the Living Bread, and then of the Bible as the written Word. As literal bread sustains physical life, so does the Word sustain spiritual life. The bread, then, which Abraham gave to Hagar, represents the Word.
But water too is a type of the Word, but the emphasis is upon its ability to cleanse and refresh, rather than feed.
Hagar represents the law; and Ishmael, the unbelieving nation of Israel. The history, then, becomes a prophecy, which was fulfilled when Israel, having mocked at Christ, was cast out. And Hagar’s wandering in the wilderness of Beer-sheba with her son Ishmael, is a picture of what has been Israel’s condition during the past two thousand years: they, still clinging to the law, have wandered in the wilderness of this world. As Hagar and Ishmael carried with them the bread and the bottle of water, so have the Jews carried the Scriptures with them; and God’s preservation of Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness pictures His preservation of rebel Israel in the wilderness of this world for the past two thousand years. Ishmael, under the dominion of Hagar, portrays the Jew still under the dominion of the law.
Beer-sheba means well of the oath, and reminds us that this world in which he wanders, is for the Jew the spiritual equivalent of the wilderness of Beer-sheba. God’s covenant with Abraham has been suspended, but not broken. The oath by which He bound Himself to keep that covenant is the assurance that Israel will yet be blessed.
There is, however, another facet to this symbolic picture. Ishmael represents, not only unbelieving Israel, but also man in his natural state. As Abraham dismissed Hagar and Ishmael when Isaac came, so must the believer dismiss, not only law keeping as a means of obtaining life, but he must “dismiss” also his own old nature, and the moment of dismissal is to be the moment he receives Christ.
21:15. “And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs.”
The water in the bottle represents the Word as bound up within the narrow limits of Jewish religion; and as it was with Hagar and Ishmael then, so is it today for Israel: the “water in the bottle” is almost spent. In the life of the present-day Jew the Scriptures have a far smaller place than with probably any other generation.
With the water gone, Hagar was brought to an end of her resources, and rather than witness the death of Ishmael, she placed him under a shrub. The spiritual picture here is easy to read. Since she represents the law; and Ishmael, the nation of Israel living under law, the picture is of Israel in the coming Tribulation. The judgments of that period are clearly foreshadowed in the privations suffered by the two outcasts in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. As Hagar, helpless to save her son, placed him under the shrub, so will the law, helpless to save Israel, leave that nation “under the shrub,” i.e., at the foot of the cross. This is all the law can do, for it is “our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ” (Ga 3:24). There will be salvation for Israel only when she is separated from the law, and takes her place at the foot of the cross.
The type, however, goes beyond the boundaries of Judaism, for it teaches us that for Jew and Gentile alike there is no salvation through the law. Men can be saved only when they take their place as guilty sinners “under the shrub” - at the foot of the cross.
21:16. “And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.”
Man tends to view the law of God as being harsh and cruel, delighting in condemning the sinner. Remembering, however, that the law is the expression of God’s holiness, and that it is “holy, and just, and good” (Ro 7:12), and remembering that that same God gave His only Son to die for the redemption of men’s souls, we must view the law in the light of that knowledge. He Who is the God of love, does not express His holiness in a law of hate, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ez 33:11).
God’s purpose in giving the law is all too often lost sight of. It was given so that those who were obedient should become “a peculiar treasure unto me above all people ... and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Ex 19:5-6). “And Moses said unto the people, Fear not; for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not” (Ex 20:20). The law was given “to bring us to Christ” that we might see Him as the One Who kept a law which we couldn’t, and Who died for our transgressions. In response to the faith that sees this truth, God grants pardon and eternal life, “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”
With this knowledge before us we now examine the scene in the vicinity of the shrub in the wilderness of Beer-sheba, and see much more than Hagar laying Ishmael under the shrub, weeping, and saying, “Let me not see the death of the child.” We see the heart of God revealed in her tears as He looks upon Israel, the child of law, brought into the place of death by his own folly. As Sarah saw Ishmael mocking Isaac, so has God seen Israel mocking Christ in disobedient unbelief that day when He was “cut off” at Calvary. Hagar, beholding the result of Ishmael’s mockery of Isaac, could only lift up her voice and weep, but she was powerless to save him. And so with the law. It can only “weep” as it looks, not only upon disobedient Israel, but upon all men, as their folly is seen in the light of Calvary.
Hagar’s separating herself from Ishmael by the distance of a bowshot has also its lesson to teach. The bow is used in Scripture as God’s implement of destruction, e.g., Ps 7:12-13, “He hath bent his bow.... He ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors.” Hagar’s reason for separating herself by the distance of a bowshot was that she might not witness the death of her son. This is the symbolic revelation of God’s reluctance to see sinners perish, for He “is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pe 3:9).
21:17. “And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.”
Great as God’s love is, it cannot save the man who will not cry out in helpless contrition, and put his trust in Christ as his Savior. This is the lesson conveyed by the words, “and God heard the voice of the lad....” In verse sixteen it was Hagar who had “lifted up her voice,” but it would appear from verse seventeen that Ishmael had also lifted up his voice, and it is significant that it is recorded that “God heard the voice of the lad” rather than the voice of the mother. The lesson is simple. The “weeping” of His broken law has fallen upon God’s ear since the day He gave it to man, and He Himself “weeps” in sympathy and pity. Beholding the result of sin at the grave of Lazarus “Jesus wept” (Jn 11:35). The “weeping” of a broken law can procure no remedy, however, but the penitential weeping of the law-breaker can. It was the voice of the lad that reached God’s ear, and so it has always been. It will be the weeping of a repentant Israel in the Tribulation that will move God to come down and save them.
The prophet’s admonition is, “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near” (Isa 55:6). And the assurance of God Himself is, “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Ac 2:21). It was Ishmael’s voice that linked his helplessness with God’s power. It is the repentant sinner’s cry that links his need with God’s omnipotence. That scene in the wilderness of Beer-sheba is a picture, not only of Israel’s salvation in the Tribulation, but also of Calvary. Hagar, a bowshot away, is the law; and Ishmael under the shrub, is the sinner at the foot of the cross.
In response to Ishmael’s cry, God called to Hagar, “What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not, for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.” In Job 33:23-24 it is written, “If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to show unto man his uprightness (i.e., how to be upright before God): then he is gracious unto him and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom.” And again in Job 33:27-28 it is written, “And if any say, I have sinned ... he will deliver his soul from going into the pit.” Ge 21 is the typical presentation of this. Ishmael’s cry to God pictures both the repentant cry of Israel in the Tribulation, and also that of the repentant sinner in any age. God’s immediate response is, “ ... fear not ... deliver him ... I have found a ransom.”
The words “where he is” are also significant. He was under the shrub, which is a type of the cross. That is where the penitent sinner must be when he cries to God.
21:18. “Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.”
The one, who but a moment before, could do no more than cast him under one of the shrubs, is now commanded to lift him up and hold him in her hand. Surely the picture isn’t difficult to read. The law that can do no more than bring a sinner to Christ, can lift up that same sinner-become-saint, and hold him up. Through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the saint now finds himself upheld by the very same law that once condemned him as a transgressor. Its condemnation having fallen upon the sinner’s Substitute, the law now can “hold him up” as though he had never broken it. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Ro 8:1-2).
”... for I will make him a great nation.” Since we have already discussed the literal fulfillment of this promise, we shall confine ourselves here to the consideration of the spiritual lesson. This is the very same one of whom it was said in verses 10, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son ....” Now from the lips of God Himself comes the promise, “I will make him a great nation.”
This looks forward to the Millennium, when Israel, repentant and converted, will be made “the head, and not the tail” (Dt 28:13) among the nations. What transformation the new birth brings! Out of Christ, men are, “Aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ep 2:12), “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Ep 2:13). In Christ we “are the children of God: and if children, then heirs: heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Ro 8:16-17).
When Hagar was occupying the place that belonged only to Sarah, she could not be a channel of blessing to Ishmael. The law, trying to take the place of grace, must similarly fail in bringing blessing to the children of law. Law, and the child of law, cannot occupy the place of grace. Both must be cast out. But the moment Hagar takes her rightful place of being handmaid to Sarah everything changes. Now she can uphold her child, and share his joy as God pronounces, “I will make him a great nation.” It is a picture of reality in the spiritual realm. Law, as handmaid to grace, remains the measure of God’s holiness, and therefore, the measuring rod also of man’s obedience; and as man walks in obedience he enjoys peace here on earth, and makes himself the recipient of eternal reward in heaven.
21:19. “And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.”
The prophetic lesson is easily discerned here. This is a picture of Israel in a coming day. Out of the Tribulation years, pictured in the anguished weeping of Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness, will come a converted Israel. The “bottle” will be filled again, and the nation, brought first to the tree, and then to the well, will walk in obedience to God’s law throughout the Millennium. Then will be fulfilled God’s promise, “I will make him a great nation.” Converted Israel, the believing remnant brought out of the Tribulation into the Millennium, will be the greatest of all the nations.
Hagar must first place Ishmael under the shrub. The law must first bring the sinner to the cross to see in a crucified Christ the One Whose death alone makes atonement for sin. And as with the individual, so also with the nation. Israel too must learn the lesson of Calvary in order to be saved.
Then the well of water was revealed. It had been there all the time without her seeing it, just as the well of the Word has been there all the time for Israel, but her blind eyes have failed to see it. God’s order never changes: first, the tree, then the well. The tree speaks of Christ dying for us; the well, of Christ living for us, being Himself the living Word, the Water of life, revealed in Scripture, the unfailing well to cleanse and refresh us.
The bottle, of course, was an animal skin, and as such it is a double type. The skin, obtained only by the animal’s death, is a picture of Christ as the One Who gave His life so that in resurrection, He might be the source of the water of life. But that skin bottle is a type also of the believer, “Ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ” (Ro 7:4). As one who has died in Christ, the believer, now associated with the resurrected Christ, becomes also a “bottle” filled with the water of life, the Lord Himself declaring, “The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (Jn 4:14). Through the Gospel we are to make that living water available to dying men.
21:20. “And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.”
God’s care of Ishmael while he grew up in the wilderness, is a type, not only of His care over us while we “grow up,” becoming conformed to Christ’s image here in the wilderness of the world; but it is also a type of His care for the nation of Israel. Since that day when they mocked the Son, of Whom Isaac is a type, they too have lived “in the wilderness,” out of their own land, scattered among the nations; but God has been with them, so that Ishmael’s growing up in the wilderness pictures Israel’s coming to maturity during this present age and in the coming Tribulation era. Through almost twenty centuries God has preserved them, and today we can begin to discern the dawn of that day when preservation will be followed by exaltation, and He will set them up above all nations.
We have already considered the typical significance of the bow and arrow. They represent God’s judgment against evildoers. Ishmael’s becoming an archer therefore, points to the fact that in the Millennium, Israel will be God’s “archer” amongst the nations, for it is through Israel that the government of God will be administered during those final thousand years of earth’s history.
21:21. “And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.”
This appears to confirm that this is indeed a picture of converted Israel in the Millennium, for Paran means their beautifying; and there are two thoughts connected with beautifying: one has to do with the nation of Israel, and the other with the earth. In the Millennium, Israel will be beautified by conversion and obedience, and by being glorified amongst the nations. But the earth too will be beautified, for Scripture assures us that in the Millennium the wilderness will be transformed into a fruitful field, e.g., “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose” (Isa 35:1).
It was Hagar who chose Ishmael’s wife “out of the land of Egypt,” and here again God is presenting us with a typical picture of what will be in the Millennium. Isaiah foretells that in the Millennium, Egypt will enjoy special blessing from God “And the Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation ... and they shall return even to the Lord, and he shall be intreated of them, and shall heal them ... whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people ....” (Isa 19:21-25). Ishmael’s marriage to an Egyptian therefore, portrays the relationship that will exist in the Millennium between Israel and the nations, of which Egypt is a type. In the marriage relationship the wife is in subjection to her husband, as the nations will be to Israel; but the relationship between husband and wife is to be characterized by love, and in the Millennium love will indeed characterize the relationship between Israel and the nations. Israel will be as the husband, and the nations, as the wife.
Israel, brought to an end of herself in the Tribulation-age earth, which is represented by the wilderness of Beer-sheba, will yet be beautified, and enjoy the blessings of the millennial earth of which the wilderness of Paran is clearly a type.
21:22. “And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phicol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest.”
Up to this point the symbolic picture has been of the conversion of Israel in the Tribulation, and of the relationship that will exist between Israel and the nations in the Millennium. “... at that time” indicates that it was still at the time when Isaac was weaned. Abimelech, in his unsaved state, represents apostate Christendom, but it must be remembered that the Abimelech who sought this covenant with Abraham is the same one whose conversion is pictured in the preceding chapter. In his converted state therefore, he stands as the representative of the converted nations in the Millennium. And his having with him Phicol mouth of all, represents the unanimity of the nations in their submission to God during that age of blessing. One speaks for all, being mouth of all. In the Millennium there will be no more false religious systems: all will know God, and the acknowledgement of all will be “God is with thee (Israel) in all that thou doest.”
21:23. “Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son’s son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned.”
The key to the understanding of this verse is Mt 25:31-46, particularly verse 40 “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” The fitness of individuals to enter the Millennium, will be indicated by their treatment of the Jews in the Tribulation. (This does not in any way imply salvation by works. Only those who are saved will befriend the Jew. As the believer’s good works today are the evidence, but not the cause, of his salvation, so will it be among the saved in the Tribulation. Their attitude towards the Jew will be indicative of their spiritual state). Abimelech’s appeal to the kindness he had shown Abraham, becomes therefore, a foreshadowing of the appeal that the saved Gentiles will be able to make to Christ when he comes to judge the nations at the end of the Tribulation.
Abimelech’s coming to seek this covenant was the tacit acknowledgement of Abraham’s superior position. So will the nations in the Millennium acknowledge the supremacy of Israel, for as it was in Abraham’s power to do Abimelech good or harm, so will it be in Israel’s power to do good or ill to the nations in the Millennium.
The long duration of Israel’s coming supremacy is indicated in the words “nor with my son, nor with my son’s son.” It will continue throughout the Millennium.
”The land wherein thou hast sojourned” may have typological reference to the fact that Israel will have sojourned in the earth among the nations prior to the Millennium.
21:24. “And Abraham said, I will swear.”
Abraham’s willingness to make the covenant, portrays God’s willingness to bless the nations in the Millennium, Israel being the channel of that blessing.
21:25. “And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of a well of water, which Abimelech’s servants had viol-ently taken away.”
As has been noted already, the Philistine Abimelech in his unconverted state, represents apostasy: in the days of Christ’s earthly sojourn, it was professing but unbelieving Israel; and today it is professing, but equally unbelieving Christendom. The well, of course, is a type of the Word. It is the great apostate system: in the past, professing Israel; and today, professing Christendom - that has violently taken away the “well” of the Word from Abraham’s spiritual descendants, i.e., true believers. In the OT age a corrupt priesthood had seized the Word of God, and by distortion had rendered it virtually useless. And so also with an equally apostate Christendom. The harlot “church,” through the machinations of her corrupt priesthood, for over a thousand years arrogated the sole right to interpret Scripture; and by keeping it in Latin, a language unknown to the common man, deprived him of even the opportunity to read it for himself. It is to be noted also that she further secured her evil monopoly by seeing to it that the common man could neither read nor write. Those ten centuries have been well named “the dark ages.”
Nor has Scripture fared any better under the dominion of equally apostate Protestantism, for her clerics maintain the same evil monopoly by also dividing the body of believers into clergy and laity, the latter being deemed as incapable of understanding Scripture as their Roman Catholic fellows.
As has been noted, however, this literal history is but the symbolic foreshadowing of things yet to be, the time being portrayed here being the end of the Tribulation, Abraham’s reproval of the converted Abimelech, corresponding to the Lord’s judgment of the nations prior to the beginning of the millennial kingdom.
This is not to imply that there is salvation for those who in heart make up the apostate church. Re 17:16 leaves no doubt as to the fate of the great harlot system, “And the ten horns (the final coalition of Gentile nations in the Tribulation) ... shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.” And three and a half years later, the system which during those years will have been headed up by the beast emperor, will be finally destroyed when the Lord returns to judge the nations and establish His millen-nial kingdom.
This converted Abimelech, however, represents the saved remnant of the Gentile nations that will enter the Millennium. Among them will be some who had once been within the apostate church, but who will have obeyed the command, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Re 18:4). The urgency of that command becomes the more apparent as we see everywhere the signs which declare that the end of the age is upon us.
21:26. “And Abimelech said, I wot not who hath done this thing: neither didst thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it, but today.”
The innocence of Abimelech stands in sharp contrast with the guilt of those, who without his knowledge, had violently seized the well that rightfully belonged to Abraham. This appears to confirm that in his converted state, he does represent those from among the nations who will be saved in the Tribulation to enter the Millennium. His ignorance pictures the ignorance of the true believers within the harlot church. They are equally ignorant of the wickedness of the system in which the are involved.
”... neither didst thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it, but today.” That today was the day of Abimelech’s enlightenment, and also the day when he entered into the enjoyment of the covenant which Abraham made with him. The day here typified is at the end of the Tribulation when the nations will be judged; unbelievers will be banished from the earth, and the living believers will enter into the enjoyment of millennial blessing.
21:27. “And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech; and both of them made a covenant.”
This enrichment of Abimelech by Abraham is the symbolic declaration of the truth that in the Millennium the nations will be blessed through Israel as she transmits to them the knowledge of God. We do well to remember that we today have the same obligation to bring blessing to the nations by going into all the world and preaching the Gospel to every creature.
21:28. “And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves.”
Since the lamb is the most generally recognized type of Christ, it isn’t difficult to see that it is He Who is portrayed in these seven female lambs set apart by Abraham. Since the female is the Biblical symbol of obedient submission, they represent Christ’s submission to His Father’s will; and there being seven of them declares not only the perfection of that submission, but also the Lord’s own perfect holiness.
21:29. And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What mean these seven ewe lambs which thou hast set by themselves?”
As “set by themselves” they portray Him Who was typified by Joseph, of whom it is written that he was “separate from his brethren” (Ge 49:26). Heb 7:26 also describes the Lord as being “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” Those who belong to Christ have the same need to keep themselves separate from a defiling world.
21:30. “And he said, For these seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me, that I have digged this well.”
Every time the converted Abimelech would look at those seven lambs he would be reminded that Abraham had dug the well of Beer-sheba. God has similarly appointed a means whereby converted men and women of this present age will be reminded of the One Who has dug the well that yields the water of life. In the emblematic bread and wine of the Lord’s supper, God would have us remember, not only the One Who “dug the well,” but also the means by which He did it. It was by the Lord’s going Himself down under the waters of divine wrath against sin, that the well of salvation has been opened for sinners.
21:31. “Wherefore he called that place Beer-sheba; because there they sware both of them.”
It is significant that it was at Beer-sheba the well of the oath, that Abimelech received the covenant that guaranteed him blessing, for while it is not explicitly stated, it is possible that it was from that same well that Ishmael also drank, cp. vv’s 14 and 19. As has been noticed already, Abimelech in his saved state represents the Gentile nations saved out of the Tribulation, to be blessed in the Millennium, while Ishmael represents the earthly Israel that will also be blessed during that same era. It is from the true Beer-sheba, the well of the oath, the written Word, which is but the revelation of Him Who is the Living Word, that the promise of blessing comes to Jew and Gentile alike.
21:32. “Thus they made a covenant at Beer-sheba: then Abimelech rose up, and Phicol the chief captain of his host, and they returned into the land of the Philistines.”
It is to be remembered, however, that it is a converted Abimelech who returns; and it is an Abimelech who has acknowledged Abraham’s superiority; and who in the previous chapter has typically given his land to Abraham (Ge 20:15). Walking now in the enjoyment of a covenant of peace with the one he had acknowledged as his superior, Abimelech, with his chief captain, Phicol, returned to “the land of the Philistines.”
Inasmuch as the Philistines represent apostasy, the question may well be asked, How, then, does this return to the land of the Philistines fit into the picture of the millennial earth? The sad truth is that the millennial earth will also quickly become apostate, for the children born to that first saved generation, will be born as are all others: they will be unbelievers requiring, like all others, a new birth to fit them for the eternal state. And unbelievable as it seems that any could reject the truth in that age of phenomenal blessing and enlightenment, the fact remains that the heart of man will not have changed: it will still be “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9). There will be apostasy in the Millennium just as there has been in every other age.
Abimelech therefore, accompanied by Phicol mouth of all (symbolic of testimony), returning to the land of the Philistines, in the enjoyment of their covenant with Abraham, is a picture of that first generation entering the Millennium to enjoy the blessings of God’s covenant of peace, to be witnesses for Him in an earth that He foreknows will again become apostate.
21:33. “And Abraham planted a grove in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God.”
The word grove is literally tree, and without the tree the symbolic picture presented by Beer-sheba would be incomplete, for that tree is a figure of Calvary’s cross. Apart from the cross there would be no “Beer-sheba,” no covenant, no water of life, no blessing, for the well of Beer-sheba is a figure of the Word of God, and apart from the cross, Scripture has no blessing to offer men.
His calling upon the name of the everlasting God reminds us that the blessings that will be enjoyed by the redeemed in the Millennium will be but a foretaste of those to be enjoyed eternally when a new heavens and a new earth will have replaced those which now exist.
21:34. “And Abraham sojourned in the Philistines’ land many days.”
Since the symbolic picture is of millennial blessing, this long sojourn would portray the duration of the coming era of abundance and peace. The final thousand years of earth’s history will see a converted and blest Israel dwelling supreme among the nations who will also walk in the enjoyment of the beneficent reign of the Prince of peace. The reference to the land of the Philistines, however, reminds us that apostasy will also dwell on that same earth, for phenomenal though the blessings will be, that earth will still be earth. There will not be perfection until there is a new heavens and a new earth.
Abraham’s sojourn in the Philistines’ land, however, has a practical lesson for today. We too, dwell in a world that is largely apostate, and it is in that same world that we are to be witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ.