The Birth of Isaac

Presently, I am entrenched in the twelfth week of studying the story of Abraham in Genesis. Analyzing the life of the man of faith has been an incredibly fruitful journey, yet as I now approach chapter 21, one word reverberates through my head: finally! We are, at last, able to read about the birth of Abraham’s promised son, Isaac!

Though only three months have passed since we first read God’s promise to Abraham, the wait has been excruciating. Of course, I believe that Moses (the author of Genesis) was trying to achieve that very effect by continuously reminding us of the promise in nearly every chapter. Through reading Genesis, we are supposed to experience a taste of Abraham’s longing for a son.

Still, our measly three months is nothing when compared to the twenty-five years that Abraham waited.

Can you imagine?

Twenty-five years.

And not even early in life.

No, twenty-five years on the backend of living.

Within those twenty-five years, Abraham and Sarah watched as their biological ability to bear children vanished.

After twenty-five years, Isaac was an impossibility.

So, why did God wait so long? What purpose could there possibly have been for God dragging Abraham and Sarah through such an ordeal?

Providentially, we know that nothing happens apart from the will of God, and we understand that God works all things “together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”[1] However, that promise can be difficult to believe whenever we do not clearly see the evidence of God’s orchestrating of events.

The same must have been true for Abraham, but we have a benefit that Abraham did not. We have his entire life laid out before us on paper. We are, then, able to see many workings of God in Abraham’s life that he may never have witnessed himself. And in these workings, we can see some of the purposes with which God delayed in providing Isaac, and perhaps, we might be able to glean something valuable from these lessons for our own life.

1. Waiting Builds Patience

Possibly the easiest lesson to be learned from Abraham’s waiting for Isaac’s birth is patience. Galatians informs us that patience is a fruit of the Spirit.[2] This means that followers of Christ should exercise patience because of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, many today believe that patience is simply the ability to wait, making patience a much neglected virtue. The Oxford Dictionary, however, defines patience as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” Such a definition ought to also describe the temperament of a Christian.

Throughout the Scriptures, we witness the patience of God, and we are called to be likewise because patience correlates closely with faith. I mean, think about it. If I become impatient, it is almost always because things are not going how I would like them to go. Impatience almost always sees me trying to take matters into my own hands. Patience, on the other hand, understands that God is ultimately in control and, therefore, sees no reason to become upset or angry a circumstances. Our faith (or trust) in God enables us to be patient in trying times. Indeed, true patience can only proceed from faith.

It is no accident that Abraham was a great testament of both patience and faith. With the exception of the Hagar incident, Abraham displayed monumental patience as he confidently waited for the LORD to fulfill His promise.

2. God’s Timing Is Perfect

Chapter 21 begins by telling us that God did just as He promised to Sarah and Abraham “at the time of which God had spoken.”[3] This is, of course, a reference to Genesis 18:10, where God promised the birth of Isaac in one year. However, it also heavily reminds me of Galatians 4:4-5. In that passage, Paul writes that Jesus was born into the world at the “fullness of time.” Both Galatians and Genesis emphasize that God enacted His will with complete authority and sovereignty. Though God promised the coming of Jesus from Genesis 3:15 onward, the precise conditions of the early first century provided the perfect setting for the Son of God to enter the world. The births of both Jesus and Isaac reveal that God is in absolute control over life’s circumstances, and He uses them specifically for His glory.

3. God Displays His Power to Do the Impossible

If I needed to place one large reason on why I believe God let Abraham and Sarah wait so long to have a child, I would argue this point. God wanted to make certain that they had reached the age when child-bearing was a physical impossibility, so there would be no doubt that a miracle had been done. Essentially, God gave Abraham (and us, through his story) a lesson in God’s omnipotence, showing that there is nothing too hard for the LORD.[4]

This point, however, also develops into two applications in the remainder of Scripture. First, like the impossibility of Isaac’s birth, salvation is impossible for anyone. The account of Jesus and the rich, young ruler in Mark 10 gives evidence to this. The rich ruler was, by ancient standards, a very blessed man. Wealth was often associated with having the favor of God, but he also appeared to live a very moral, upright lifestyle. Yet Jesus turned expectations upside down by claiming that it is easier for camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. The impossibility of the wealthy achieving salvation then caused the disciples to exclaim, “Then who can be saved?”[5] Jesus answers, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”[6] Every single salvation is a task of sheer impossibility, but God is the worker of the impossible.

Second, as with Isaac’s birth, the promised coming of Christ seemed to be a ridiculous notion. Abraham’s twenty-five years is nothing when compared to the millennia that humanity awaited the offspring promised in Genesis 3:15. As the events of the Old Testament unfolded, prophesies concerning the Christ continued to build. Just to name a few, the coming Christ needed to be born in Bethlehem,[7] descend from Abraham,[8] Judah,[9] and David,[10] live in Egypt,[11] and be born of a virgin.[12] The list goes on significantly, but even the last one listed alone makes Jesus’ birth impossible (virgins cannot have kids!). The birth of Christ was an entirely absurd idea that could only happen by the power of God.

The End of the Matter

Twenty-five years may seem like a long time for God to keep Abraham waiting (and to be fair, it was), but through that process, God grew Abraham into being the man of faith that he was. God’s timing is simply not our own, and it never will be. But through faith, we must understand that the LORD’s plans are perfect, so we can patiently trust in Him.

[1] Romans 8:28

[2] Galatians 5:22

[3] Genesis 21:2

[4] Genesis 18:14

[5] Mark 10:26

[6] Mark 10:27

[7] Micah 5:2

[8] Genesis 12:3

[9] Genesis 49:10

[10] 2 Samuel 7:12-13

[11] Hosea 11:1

[12] Isaiah 7:14

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