The God Who Brings Laughter

Original Date: 
Sunday, July 27, 2014

Genesis 20-21 The God Who Brings Laughter

Faithful in All He Does
Turn with me, if you would, to Genesis 20-21. Today we are going to have our second to last sermon from the life of Abraham. Next week, we’ll finish up with Abraham and then turn somewhere else in scripture.

But today, we need to continue with a theme that has run throughout our study of Abraham’s life: Will God keep His promises? Will the things God has said come to be in Abraham’s life?

The answer, of course, is yes. And we’re going to see some promises being fulfilled in our text today. But it is such an important lesson for us to learn: Our God is a promise-keeping God. Our God is a faithful God.

Psalm 33:4 says:

For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.

You might even say that that is the text for today’s sermon. That’s the one, simple truth I want you to take home today: God is faithful in all He does.

God is faithful to keep His promises.

We’re going to broaden and add to that single truth in 4 different ways today. We’re going to look at four different incidents in the life of Abraham to flesh out and reinforce for us the truth that God is faithful in all He does.

Because we have so much ground to cover today, I’m going to divide the passage up into 4 different parts. We’ll read each part first and then flesh out the truth that God is faithful from that story, and then we’ll move to the next one, and so on. I’ll try to give you a bit of application at the end.

I. God is faithful to keep His promises even when we repeat old mistakes.

Let’s read the first story, chapter 20. Genesis 20:1-18:

Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, 2and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, "She is my sister." Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. 3But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, "You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman."

4Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, "Lord, will you destroy an
innocent nation? 5Did he not say to me, 'She is my sister,' and didn't she also say, 'He is my brother'? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands."

6Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know you did this with a clear
conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not
let you touch her. 7Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die."

8Early the next morning Abimelech summoned all his officials, and when he
told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. 9Then Abimelech called Abraham in and said, "What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should not be done." 10And Abimelech asked Abraham, "What was your reason for doing this?"

11Abraham replied, "I said to myself, 'There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.'12Besides, she really is my sister, the
daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. 13And when God had me wander from my father's household, I said to her, 'This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, "He is my brother."’”

14Then Abimelech brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and
gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. 15And Abimelech said, "My land is before you; live wherever you like." 16To Sarah he said, "I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated."

17Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his
slave girls so they could have children again, 18for the Lord had closed up every
womb in Abimelech's household because of Abraham's wife Sarah.

The first thing you notice about this story is how familiar it sounds. Hasn’t Abraham done this before? Haven’t we heard this story already?

Yes, we have already studied a story about Abraham very similar to this one. Back in chapter 12, the second week we looked at Abraham, Abraham and Sarah went down to Egypt during a famine and Abraham told everyone that Sarah was his sister. In that case, the Egyptian border guards immediately brought the lovely Sarah to Pharaoh and she became a member of his harem. Abraham and Sarah’s marriage was only saved when the Lord intervened by inflicting serious disease on Pharaoh and his household.

Now, Abraham is up to his old tricks. He and Sarah are sojourning in the land of Gerar—the kingdom of a man named Abimelech—and Abraham is telling anyone who will listen that she is his sister. Sarah is still beautiful—even at the age of 90—so Abimelech sends for her and takes her into his harem. Once again, their marriage is only saved when the Lord intervenes, and Abraham ends up leaving the encounter richer for Sarah’s sake.

In fact, these two stories are so similar that some scholars—who for a variety of reasons wish to cast doubt on the validity of the book of Genesis—argue that they are simply two different tellings of the same event. They feel that similar stories like this give proof that Genesis was written by many different people, rather than authored by one man (Moses).

But, in fact, there are enough dis-similar things about these stories to make the case that—indeed—both narratives are historically accurate. For one thing, the Genesis 12 story takes place outside of the promised land—in Egypt—while this takes place within the land of Canaan. There the foreign potentate is Pharaoh, here it is a king named Abimelech. There, God intervenes with disease, here He speaks to Abimelech directly. There, the actual relationship between Sarah and Pharoah is left ambiguous, here it is clear that no marriage between her and Abimelech was ever consummated.

Moreover, we learn a couple of additional things about Abraham that we didn’t learn in Genesis 12. For one thing, Sarah really is his sister—his half-sister on his father’s side (v. 12). For another, this wasn’t just a two time thing with Abraham, it was a habit. Look at verse 13:

And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’

This isn’t just a lie Abraham told to Pharoah and Abimelech, it was a lie he and Sarah were telling “everywhere” they went.

So, what do we learn from this story?

Well, if you remember when we looked at the story in Genesis 12, we learned that God is faithful even when we are faithless. We marveled at the grace of God that He could stick with a prodigal who would put the whole program of blessing at risk by telling a stupid, fearful lie. We were reminded that God sticks with us even when we make stupid moral choices.

Now, it would seem, we are learning the same lesson. Once again, Abraham is being faithless. Once again, Abraham is putting the whole program of blessing at risk. And, once again, God is being faithful. Once again, God is intervening to protect Abraham and make it clear that He is blessing this family.

But, now, we can take this lesson one step farther. Not only can we say that God is faithful even when we are not, now we can say that: God is faithful to keep His promises even when we repeat old mistakes. God is faithful even when we do the same stupid thing over and over again.

That’s why I think such a similar story is told twice in the history of Abraham’s life. Sometimes, even when we know better, even when we’ve experienced the consequences the first time around… sometimes we go back to the same sin over and over again.

I mean, who of us cannot identify with Abraham here? How often do we do something wrong—something we know God doesn’t want us doing, something that hurts other people, something that hurts ourselves—and ask for forgiveness and promise to never do it again, and then end up making the same mistake weeks, days, or even hours later?

Abraham knew this was a bad idea. He knew that he barely dodged the bullet in Egypt. And yet, push comes to shove and he can’t help himself. He gets scared and he lies about Sarah. How often do we do the same thing? How often do we repeat old mistakes?

And yet, God is faithful. Even now, God doesn’t give up on Abraham.

Now, again, this doesn’t make what Abraham did okay. It doesn’t excuse sinful behavior. And saying that God is faithful even when we repeat old mistakes does not mean we should go ahead and cultivate sinful habits.

But the good news here is that God’s grace is still available even when we make the same dumb mistake again and again. God is faithful even when we repeat old mistakes.

II. God is faithful to keep His promises even when it seems to take a long time.

Let’s read the second story, Genesis 21:1-7:

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. 2Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.3Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.

4When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God
commanded him. 5Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

6Sarah said, "God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me." 7And she added, "Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.

Here’s what we learn from this story: God is faithful to keep His promises even when it seems to take a long time.

This story is THE moment for Abraham and Sarah. This is what the whole story of Abraham has been building up to. Finally, the child of promise has arrived. Isaac has been born!

The important thing for us to notice is verse 5: “Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born.”

100 years old.

This whole story of Abraham started when he was 75. He was 75 years old and childless when God came and told him he would be the father of a great nation. For 25 years Abraham has waited for God to keep His promise.

It must have seemed like such a long time.

Abraham had a hard time being patient. He tried to fulfill the promise by adopting his servant Eliezer, but God told him he would have a son of his own. He tried to fulfill the promise by having a son (Ishmael) through the maid servant Hagar, but God told him he would have a son through Sarah. So, for 25 years, Abraham has waited.

By the time Abraham was 99 and God told him the time had nearly arrived, Abraham’s natural response was to laugh. When the Lord personally visited their tent and told them they would be parents within a year, Sarah’s natural response was to laugh.

It seemed like such a long time, it seemed like there was no way God was going to keep that promise. And yet, He did.

And so, I say that God is faithful to keep His promises even when it seems to take a long time.

Just because things don’t happen on our time schedule, that doesn’t mean God is unfaithful. Just because we get impatient to see God’s promises fulfilled yesterday, that doesn’t mean God isn’t going to keep them.

2 Peter 3:8-9 says:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.

God’s definition of time is different than ours. His time schedule is good and correct. God is not slow, He is always right on time.

God is faithful in all He does. He is faithful to keep His promises even when it seems to us that it is taking an awfully long time.

III. God is faithful to keep His promises according to His plan and His compassion.

So the child of promise has arrived, but Abraham’s story is not over yet. It still has to take some significant twists and turns. Let’s read the third story: Genesis 21:8-21.

9But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10and she said to Abraham, "Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac."

11The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 12But God said to him, "Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring."

14Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave
them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba.

15When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes.
16Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, "I cannot watch the boy die." And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob. 17God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation."

19Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. 20God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

Remember, we’re trying to flesh out the simple truth that God is faithful in all He does. So far we’ve learned that He is faithful to keep His promises even when we repeat old mistakes, and He is faithful to keep His promises even when it seems to take a long time.

Now, the lesson to be learned here is not so simple to state, but it is important for our understanding of God’s faithfulness. I’ve phrased it like this: God is faithful to keep His promises according to His plan and His compassion.

There are a lot of problems in vv.8-21:

You've got Ishmael mocking.
You've got Sarah's harsh attitude towards Hagar and Ishmael.
You've got Abraham distressed.
You've got Hagar distressed.
You've got Ishmael distressed.
You've got Hagar and Ishmael on the brink of dehydration.

There are a lot of problems in this passage. And there are a lot of problems in your life and my life. If there isn't a lot of problems in your life, let me know, and maybe you and I can trade for a while.

Here’s what my friend Matt Mitchell says about our problems:

God is going to work them out. Not necessarily how we think He should. Not necessarily when we think He should. Not necessarily without pain and more trials and even death. But through the pain and the trials and the death He is going to work them out to what is best in His sovereign wisdom and plan and what is the most compassionate to those who belong to Him. (6/8/03)

God’s sovereign plan comes out in v.12:

It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.

The New Testament quotes this verse in 3 different places. It's a very important quote to emphasize God's sovereign choice in election. Isaac, not Ishmael. God's choice. Not Sarah's. Not Abraham's. God's. Isaac, not Ishmael.

Yes, God will bless Ishmael, too, because He is a part of the blessed family of Abraham. But the promises will be transferred through Isaac. "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." God will faithfully work out His plans in accordance with
His sovereign choices.

We may not always like it. We may not always understand why He makes one choice and not another. But God has a plan and He’s going to keep His promises according to that plan.

And also, in accordance with His compassion. Here we have Hagar in the desert again. This time she isn't pregnant, she has her teenage son with her who is dying of thirst, literally. But, verse 17, "God heard." What is the Hebrew for that? Ishmael. That's why she named him that in first place. Because God hears the humble cries of those who need Him and He is moved to respond in compassion. He reveals a well to Hagar and then is (v.20) "with the boy as he grew up." God will faithfully work out His plans in accordance with His compassion.

God may not have chosen Ishmael, He might not be fulfilling His promises to Abraham through him, but He has not abandoned him. God is still compassionate toward Ishmael. He is still faithful in meeting the needs of those who are helpless and hopeless.

God is faithful in all He does. Are you under some trial, some problem, that you think is too heavy for you to go on? Don’t be distressed. God is on the move. He is doing something in your life. I'm not saying He is going to take it away. It may even get worse before it gets better. But I am saying that He is going to use it to bring about His will, and He has a great compassionate heart for those who cry out to Him. So trust Him. He is faithful to keep His promises according to His plan and His compassion.

IV. God is faithful to keep His promises in small ways as well as big.

There’s one more story for us to look at: Genesis 21:22-34.

22At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, "God is with you in everything you do. 23Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you are living as an alien the same kindness I have shown to you."

24Abraham said, "I swear it."

25Then Abraham complained to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech's servants had seized. 26But Abimelech said, "I don't know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today."

27So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelech, and the
two men made a treaty. 28Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock,
29and Abimelech asked Abraham, "What is the meaning of these seven ewe
lambs you have set apart by themselves?"

30He replied, "Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug
this well." 31So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there.

32After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines. 33Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called upon the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. 34And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.

Now, this story almost seems irrelevant to everything else we’ve been looking at. God has been having conversations with people; He’s been miraculously providing a child to a couple way beyond retirement age; He’s been making grand nation-building promises; and now we get this little story about Abraham signing a treaty and acquiring the rights to a well.

Why do we need to know about this?

Well, remember the two key elements of God’s promise to Abraham. In order to be a great nation, two things are required: descendants and land. From the beginning of their relationship, God has been promising to give Abraham a child and the land of Canaan.

With the birth of Isaac, the promise of a child has finally been kept; but Abraham is still a nomad. He still has no claim on the land.

But here, in these negotiations with Abimelech (the same fellow from chapter 20) we see Abraham taking a major step in that direction. He still doesn’t own any land, but in this oath of Abimelech he has a legal recognition of his right to be there. The well at Beersheba is his to use.

So what is happening here is that God is keeping His promise regarding the land. It’s not flashy, it’s not obvious, but God is setting things up for Abraham’s family to live in the land.

And really, that’s what makes this an important story for us.

The fourth and final thing we need to learn today is that God is faithful to keep His promises in small ways as well as big. God can keep His promises in little, every day sort of things just as well as He can in big, spectacular miracles.

This story looks a whole lot more like my life and yours than a lot of other things we read in the Bible. There are no conversations with God, no outpourings of fire and sulfur, no plagues or healings or anything like that—just a simple business negotiation in the course of what looks like Abraham’s everyday life. And yet, God’s hand is at work—as Abraham recognizes when he plants a tamarisk tree and calls on “the name of the LORD, the Eternal God.” (v. 33) Abraham knows, it is God’s doing that has secured him these water-rights in the land of Canaan.

Call it God’s providence. It is God’s quiet working in the day by day events of our lives to fulfill His purposes for us. It doesn’t have to be flashy and spectacular for God to keep His promises to you. He’s more likely to work in your life in unnoticed, unassuming ways than He is to use the obvious and miraculous.

God is faithful in all He does. He is faithful to keep His promises in small ways as well as big.

Laugh
So there is the simple truth I want you to take home with you today: God is faithful in all He does. God keeps His promises.

And that single truth is fleshed out in 4 ways:

God is faithful to keep His promises even when we repeat old mistakes.
God is faithful to keep His promises even when it seems to take a long time.
God is faithful to keep His promises according to His plan and His compassion.
God is faithful to keep His promises in small ways as well as big.

Now, how do we respond to that?

When I sketched out the sermons for this series in Abraham I chose the title: “The God who Brings Laughter” for this section of text. And I don’t mean that God is a stand-up comedian.

I chose that title because the big event in these two chapters is the birth of Isaac: and the name Isaac (you may remember) comes from the Hebrew word for “laughter.” Abraham and Sarah both laughed when they heard they would have a child in their old age, so God told them to name their son “laughter.”

But what is significant here is that when Sarah gives birth, she again laughs (v. 6), but it is no longer the laughter of mocking or doubt, it is the laughter of joy. She laughs in pleasure at the way the Lord keeps His promises.

And this is a good model for us. Our response to God’ faithfulness should be joy. The confidence gained by knowing that God is faithful in all He does should lead us to a perpetual happiness. Not silliness. Not flippancy. But a quiet, confident joy that knows God will not let us down.

In Proverbs 31 a godly woman is described as one who can "laugh at the days to come" because she knows who holds the future. And really, that description should match every believer who has put his or her faith in the LORD, the Eternal God.

Philippians 4:4 says: “Rejoice in the LORD always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” It sounds like an impossible ideal. It sounds like the lifestyle of somebody whose head is perpetually stuck in the sand. But if you know that God is faithful in all He does, then you can approach life with joy. He is the God who brings laughter.