Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. This lesson treatment is published in issue no. 3 (weeks 9-12; March 3–24, 2019) of The Lookout magazine, and is also available online at www.lookoutmag.com.
Lesson Text: Genesis 21:1-7
Lesson Aim: Trust that even a small faith brings the Lord’s blessings.
By Mark Scott
Sometimes God is just off-the-charts good—like in his creation of the world (Genesis 1:31), in blessing the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45), in his plan to save Jew and Gentile (Romans 11:33-36), in supplying all our needs (Philippians 4:19), and in giving us everything that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). No wonder the psalmist said, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11, ESV).
God promised to bless all the nations through Abraham’s seed (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:16). He renewed that promise more than once (Genesis 15 and 17). He announced that promise when it came ever so close (Genesis 18). And in our lesson today, he fulfilled that promise when the promised seed was born. No wonder Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (ESV). The promise was given to Abraham, but our lesson today focuses on Sarah. She would carry in her womb the promise for a changed world.
Beyond Normal | Genesis 21:1-3
There were some normal nuances to the birth of Isaac, but there were unique abnormalities as well. What was way out of the norm was that a childless couple of such advanced age would have a son. Just as God had appeared to Abraham earlier, now God visited Sarah. The word visit means to attend or care for. In the Septuagint it is the same word for what elders do in churches (they care for the flock). The angel of the Lord had promised that Sarah would bear this son of promise (Genesis 18:10). The Lord was now ready to enact what he had promised (said, the important Old Testament word, dabar).
It is not abnormal for older couples to enjoy sexual intimacy, but for that intimacy to result in conception is certainly not typical. But Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age (a truth underlined three times in this short text). Sarah was long past menopause (v. 11), and Abraham was a hundred years old and as “good as dead” (Hebrews 11:12, the tense of which could be translated, “Abraham was in the present state of having been dead”). Even though Sarah was unexpectant and surprised, she did believe that God would keep his promise (Hebrews 11:11). They named the baby Isaac.
Beyond Ironic | Genesis 21:4-7
Biblical humor is expressed primarily through three concepts: irony, sarcasm, and paronomasia (play on words). Moses intended for us to find some irony in the telling of Isaac’s birth and circumcision. The name Isaac (laughter) appears three times in the text and two additional times laughter is mentioned. Abraham took his son Laughter and circumcised him when he was eight days old. This was part of the Mosaic Law that would be given later, but it also was part of the instructions God had given Abraham and his family earlier in the story (Genesis 17:9-14). Circumcision literally means “to cut,” and was a sign of the covenant (Genesis 17).
How did Sarah say the words recorded in verses 6 and 7? Part of the irony is that we probably do not know. Would not it have been great to see her facial expression and hear her vocal inflection? Was she embarrassed? Did she feel self-conscious about being pregnant at her age? Was she complaining (just a tad) that God has made her a laughing stock, knowing that everyone would make sport of her, especially when it came to nursing Isaac? Or was she laughing along with God, her son, and the neighbors that God had taken away her sorrow and feelings of inadequacy? In other words, down deep, was she experiencing joy unspeakable? As she felt Isaac’s movements in her womb was she quietly laughing as she looked heavenward with tears in her eyes, mouthing the words, “Thank you”? Ironic indeed.
Sarah probably went through several stages: resignation (no babies), hopeful (the angel said . . .), unexpectant, and maybe a bit fearful (could this really be?), and finally laughter (through tears). It was not just Abraham who responded in faith to God. Sarah did as well. Believers are called children of Abraham (Galatians 3:29), but they can also be children of Sarah if they do good and refuse to give way to fear (1 Peter 3:6). God’s ways can seem foolish—moronic, even funny (1 Corinthians 1:25).
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Print and digital subscribers are permitted to make one print copy per week of lesson material for personal use. Lesson based on the scope and sequence, ©2018 by Christian Standard Media. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.