I enjoy riding roller coasters. The breath taking plunge into adventure. The surprising twists and turns. The g-forces pushing you back into the seat. The heart pounding thrills. While I enjoy the ride, I learned the hard way when to get off.
I had taken the family to Disneyland’s California Adventure. We decided to ride California Screamin, a wooden framed roller coaster harkening back to old rides on the Pacific Coast. The ride is filled with ups, downs, twists, turns, and loops. The five of us thoroughly enjoyed the ride. When we got back to the station, there was no one in line, so we quickly got back on for a second ride.
That second ride was one too many for me. My heart was racing. I was sweating profusely. I could not catch my breath. It would be a couple of hours before I would get on another ride.
My experience gives me a greater appreciation of the life of Abraham. He spent 40 years riding the roller coaster of faith. (1) God called him while he was in the city of Ur (Acts 7:2-3) when he was possibly 60 years old. He called him to walk with the eyes of faith and trust him. (2) He plunged into his first trough when he took a 15-year detour in the city of Haran (Acts 7:4). (3) He climbed to a new peak while he was in Haran when God called him a second time and promised to bless him (Genesis 12:1-9). (4) His journey went downward into another valley when he took a detour to Egypt and lied about his relationship with his wife (Genesis 12:10-20). (5) He climbed to a new peak when he separated from Lot (Genesis 13), declared his allegiance to God Most High (Genesis 14), and the covenant was established (Genesis 15). (6) His journey went downward again when he ran ahead of God by taking Hagar as a second wife which resulted in the birth of Ishmael (Genesis 16). (7) He climbed another peak when he discovered God had the power to do anything and he interceded for Sodom (Genesis 17-18). (8) Not knowing when to get off the roller coaster, he plunged downward again when he took another detour to Gerar and lied about Sarah for the second time (Genesis 20). (9) When Isaac is born and he separates from Ishmael, Abraham finally gets off the roller coaster (Genesis 21).
Genesis 21:1-2 demonstrate that while God is seldom early, he is never late. Isaac is born at the exact time God predicted. Abraham obeys God instructions by circumcising Isaac (21:3-5). God’s blessings bring incredible joy as Abraham and Sarah celebrate this event (21:6-7).
However, not all is happy in Abraham’s household (21:8-13). On the day Isaac was weaned (usually when the child was 2 or 3 years old), Abraham threw a party. Ishmael, now 16 or 17 years old, mocked his little brother. In Galatians 4:29, the apostle Paul described the action as persecution. Tension escalates in the household as Sarah recognizes this is more than normal sibling rivalry. She wants Hagar and Ishmael gone. While it grieves Abraham deeply, God reassures him it is the right thing to do.
God demonstrates that second choice does not mean second class (21:14-21). He provides water for Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness. He also keeps his promise by blessing Ishmael as he grew to manhood.
I take four key principles away from my study of this passage. The first two help me enjoy God’s blessings. The second two remind me to break away from my past.
- God is faithful in keeping his promises. Genesis 21 begins and ends with that statement. God keeps his promise to Abraham and Sarah as well as to Hagar and Ishmael.
- God cares about the outcast, the rejected, the abused, and the dying. He provided a son to Abraham and Sarah in their old age. He provided water and sustenance for Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness.
- Get rid of the sins that trip you up. While Abraham had deep affection for Hagar and Ishmael, he needed to send them away. Only then would Isaac be the sole heir of God’s promises. The two could not coincide together. The same is true of sin. I need to make a decisive break if I want to pursue righteousness.
- Step of the roller coaster. Like Abraham, at some point we have to say “enough is enough” and get off and start walking with God.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 11, 2013. It is part of a series on the life of Abraham. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.