Tag Archives: Abraham

Ishmael and Isaac: Two Half-Brothers Who Don’t Get Along

There are many ways to solve family problems, but kicking out your son isn’t one of them.

Ishmael and Isaac: Two Half-Brothers Who Don’t Get AlongLast week we looked at the story of Cain and Abel. We examined the first case of sibling rivalry. Things escalated out of control with one brother ending up dead and the other sentenced to wander, forever carrying the stigma of the world’s first murderer.

As we march through the book of Genesis, many centuries pass. Now we consider father Abraham and his two sons Ishmael and Isaac. Born of different mothers, these two half-brothers don’t get along either. As a solution, Ishmael and his mom are sent away. Problem solved. Sort of.

Separating the sparring brothers doesn’t resolve their differences, it merely uses distance to keep them from fighting. This isn’t a solution to fix a problem but merely a tactic to ignore it. This is one more instance when the Bible instructs us in parenting by showing us what not to do. Beyond this it’s also a case study that teaches us what to avoid when pursuing problem resolution.

As is the case when families split, Ishmael and his mom head off to start a new life. Even though the Bible doesn’t label it as a divorce, that’s what it is. Being a single mom is never easy, but in ancient culture, with its male-dominated society, it would be nearly impossible. But that’s the future for Ishmael and his mom. As is the case when families split, Ishmael and his mom head off to start a new life. Click To Tweet

Isaac, however, gets to stay. He remains with his mom and his dad. Life is good for him. Abraham discards his first son to focus on his second son. Family 2.0.

The Future of Ishmael and Isaac

Though the Bible account focuses on Isaac, we do hear of Ishmael one more time. About seventy-five years later, Abraham dies. Ishmael returns. He and Isaac bury their father. Ishmael and Isaac both pay their respects. They both mourn their father’s passing.

Does this mean Ishmael and Isaac reconciled? Possibly. I hope so. But I’m not sure. No one knows. But unlike Cain and Abel, one brother did not kill the other. Instead, they eventually figure out how to come together.

This is something to think about.

Though using distance to separate us from our problems may seem like the best solution, it’s merely a way out. Instead we must seek to restore damaged relationships. It may take time, a long time, but it’s worth the effort.

[Read through the Old Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Genesis 25-27, and today’s post is on Genesis 25:9.]

Should We Pray “If It’s Your Will?”

We can learn to pray by following Jesus’s example, as long as we don’t misapply it

When it comes to praying, there is no better teacher than Jesus. Perhaps that’s why many of his followers memorize the prayer he taught his disciples and why many churches include this prayer in their church services. We commonly call this The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). This prayer serves as our model.Should We Pray “If It’s Your Will?”

Another one of Jesus’s instructive prayers occurs in John’s biography of Jesus. In the most lengthy of Jesus’s prayers in the Bible, we see three themes. First, Jesus prays that his death will glorify his father. Next, he prays for his disciples. And last, he prays for his future followers: us (John 17). This final section of his prayer shows us what Jesus expects of us, which should inform how we pray.

A third prayer of Jesus stands as his most passionate. As he prepares himself to become the ultimate sacrifice, he asks his father for a reprieve, perhaps thinking of when God kept Abraham from sacrificing Isaac by providing an alternate option (Genesis 22:1-19). Yet after making his bold request, Jesus quickly confirms he will obey his Father and do his will (Luke 22:42, Matthew 26:39).

Most translations of the Bible (32 times out of 56) use the phrase “if you are willing” in recording the opening to this prayer of Jesus.

Should we do the same?

Yes. By including this phrase, we follow Jesus’s example by acknowledging God’s sovereignty, that is, his supreme authority and power over us and everything that is. We admit his plan is far better than our wishes and narrow perspective. We concede he is in control and we are not. Affirming God’s will in this way, confirms his character.It’s right to pray “if it’s your will” as long as this reminds us of God’s sovereignty. Click To Tweet

Yet, this phrase can also give our faith an out, an escape hatch. If we make an audacious request of God and then tack on an “if it’s your will” at the end, we provide ourselves a feeble rationalization should God not answer our request the way we hope.

For example, if we pray for a miraculous healing, but it doesn’t occur, we can shrug and say, “I guess it wasn’t God’s will.” This helps stave off disappointment. It also keeps our faith intact. Taken to an unhealthy extreme, this phrase can even remove faith completely from our prayers, along with the expectation of the answer we long for. Praying “if it’s your will” could turn our prayers into weak, meaningless requests of an all-powerful God. May it never be.

It is right for us to pray “if it’s your will” as long as this reminds us of God’s sovereignty and character. But if this phrase effectively removes faith and expectation from our prayers and renders them powerless, then it might be wise to avoid it.

The key is that God wants us to pray. He wants us to talk to him. The words we say aren’t as important as our intent behind them. May our prayers always serve to connect us to our Father.

God Seldom Reveals the Big Picture to Us – Just the Next Step

God Seldom Reveals the Big Picture to Us – Just the Next StepGod first comes to Abraham when he is still known as Abram. God tells him to leave all he knows and to go – somewhere – to a place God will later show him. The final destination is apparently on a need-to-know basis and Abram doesn’t need to know.

If it were me, I’d want some details. Where are you sending me, God? Why? What is your end game? How long will I be gone? What should I pack? What preparations should I make? Am I coming back?

Then I’d do some research, check with others, and spend a lot of time thinking about it. And I’d pray, too. God would likely need to tell me a couple times before I obeyed. I like to see the big picture, but God doesn’t seem to work that way – at least with me.

Though God promises to make Abram into a great nation, this is not conditional on Abram’s obedience. In this case God’s promise is unconditional.

Again, if it were me, I’d be tempted to ask God to make me into a great nation right where I was, without the ambiguous travel command into the unknown.

Yet Abram goes. This is his first recorded act of faith. It isn’t until he reaches Canaan that God reveals more. He promises to give that land to Abram’s descendants. That is God’s big picture, or at least a wider view of it. Abram has to move out in faith and go to where God leads him. Only then does God give him more information.Abram obeys God and goes even though he doesn’t knowing where he's headed. Click To Tweet

I guess that’s why it’s called faith.

Does God show you his big picture or just the next step? When God tells you to do something, how do you respond?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Genesis 12-14, and today’s post is on Genesis 12:1-7.]

The Rise and Fall of Lot

When Abram went to the land God promised him, he took Lot with him even though he wasn’t supposed to. Abram had to deal with the consequences of his decision.

For Lot, there were consequences too. When he traveled with Abram, Lot prospered; he was a blessed man. However, once they separated, things turned bad for Lot. Without his uncle’s influence, Lot made some poor choices, eventually holed up in a cave he was fearful, broke, and alone – except for his two daughters, but that’s another story.

Sometimes things may go good for us just because of who we hang out with. But once we leave their umbrella of favor our positive outcomes can evaporate.

That’s why the company we keep is so important.

[Genesis 19:16-17, 30]

An Unlikely Example of Partial Obedience

In the Bible, God told Abram (later called Abraham) to go to a new place. As he went, Abram was to leave behind his country, friends, and family.

So Abram left, taking with him his nephew Lot. Abram obeyed the part about going but didn’t fully comply with the part about leaving everything behind. He invited a relative to tag along on the adventure God called him to.

Abram apparently wasn’t ready to let go of everything, bringing Lot along as a companion or perhaps to maintain a connection to family. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t what God said to do.

Though we admire Abram for boldly leaving to go to a new place that God would reveal to him, only after the journey was underway, we fail to realize Abram’s obedience was only partial.

We later read that Lot’s presence caused problems for Abram. Their flocks were too big to co-exist and their herdsman bickered with each other. To resolve this constant strife, the only solution was to go their separate ways. And when they did, Lot took the choice land and Abram got the leftovers.

This grief could have all been avoided had Abram left Lot behind, as God told him.

[Genesis 12:1, 12:4, 13:5-7, 13:10-11]

Three People Given a New Name by God

In the book of Genesis, God gives new names to three people.

In doing so, God is effectively saying, I’m giving you a new identity. You may see yourself according to your old name, but I see you differently. I’m giving you a new name and a new future.

Abram becomes Abraham
Sarai becomes Sarah
Jacob becomes Israel

The Amplified Bible tells us the meaning for five of these names:

Abram means “high, exalted father,” whereas Abraham means “father of a multitude” (Genesis 17:5).

The meaning of Sarai is not given, but Sarah means “Princess” (Genesis 17:15).

Jacob means “supplanter” (one who usurps or replaces another), whereas Israel means “contender with God” (Genesis 32:28).

Would you like God to give you a new name? Just ask.

God’s Promises to Father Abraham

One of the central characters in the book of Genesis is Father Abraham. God calls Abraham to move to a different place, a location that God would reveal to him as the journey progressed.

Because of Abraham’s obedience and faith. God promised to make him into a great nation. But the story doesn’t end there. As Abraham continues in obedience to God, God keeps promising him more and more.

Consider the following sequence:

“I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 12:2).
“You will be the father of many nations” (Genesis 17:4).
“I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you” (Genesis 17:6).
“All nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:18).

With each step of obedience, the scope of the promise increases. God’s ultimate promise to Abraham is that all nations will be blessed through him.

Why? Because Abraham obeyed God.

What might God do through us as we obey him?

She’s Not My Wife; She’s My Sister

Abraham, the great man of faith, did not always act that way. Once, when fearing for his safety, he lied to king Abimelech, claiming that Sarah was his sister and hiding the fact that they were married.

Assured by Abraham’s lie, Abimelech felt free to take Sarah into his harem. Fortunately, God intervened before anything happened to her, revealing the truth of the situation to Abimelech in a dream. God’s instructions to Abimelech were simple: return Sarah to Abraham and then Abraham would pray for Abimelech.

Abimelech quickly returned Sarah as instructed. He also gave many gifts to Abraham, as well as to Sarah. Then Abraham prayed for Abimelech and everything was made right.

What is interesting is that God never told Abimelech to give gifts to Abraham and Sarah. Abimelech did that on his own; God did not require that.

I wonder how many times we act in the same way, doing things that God didn’t ask us to do and that he didn’t require.

Even if Someone Rises From the Dead, Not Everyone Will be Convinced

In the parable about the rich man and the beggar, Lazarus, Jesus shares an intriguing story. In it, both men die; Lazarus goes to heaven, but the rich man ends up in hell.

Desperate to spare his family from the torment he is suffering, the rich man makes a request of Father Abraham to send Lazarus back, warning those he loves. Abraham reminds him that they have already failed to heed the prior warnings that others have given.

The man persists, asserting that they would surely listen to someone who has returned from the dead. Abraham’s’ words are somber, saying “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

This was later proved to be correct. After Jesus’ resurrection, hundreds of dead people came back to life, went into the city, and appeared to many. Yet despite hundreds of formerly dead people walking around the city, only a 120 believed and were waiting in the upper room as Jesus commanded.

What happened to all the rest? They saw the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection and hundreds of the undead, but they remained unchanged.

Jesus’ prophecy was correct, that “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

Though not everyone will be convinced, some will be. I am; are you?

[Luke 16:19-31, Matthew 27:51-53, Acts 1:14-15]

Amos Protests and God Relents

Amos was a shepherd, called by God to be a prophet.  His story is found in the book of Amos in the Bible.

Amos says what God tells him, but after a while, the people of Israel — the primary target of his God-given proclamations — get tired of Amos and what he says, telling him to be quiet and go back home.  Interestingly, Peter, the disciple of Jesus, is given a similar warning by the authorities.  Both Amos and Peter decline, insisting that they must do what God tells them to do.

At first Amos has no qualms about sharing God’s judgments regarding other nations, but he does eventually object.  God shows Amos what will happen and Amos protests — and God relents.  (Similar things happen when both Moses and Abraham plead with God.)

God then gives Amos another stinging word.  Amos protests and God again relents.

Then God gives Amos a third oracle.  This time Amos says nothing.

I wonder if Amos gave up too soon.  I wonder if we sometimes make the same mistake.

[Amos 1:1, Amos 7:10-15, Acts 4:18-20, Numbers 14:11-20, Genesis 18:16-33, Amos 7:1-9]