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For those that find the doctrine of the sovereignty of God distasteful or offensive (due to their understanding of free will or what they think is fair), this passage will be unsettling. To say that God determines the destiny of the elect is quite a theological mountain to climb. But to add to that conviction, the understanding that God also determines the destiny of the non-elect is more than many Christians are willing to swallow. Yet, as we have taught before, “a God who does not control everything, cannot control anything.” It is an all-or-nothing proposition.

We have already witnessed God’s sovereign choice in these early chapters of the first book of the bible:

– Remember God being pleased with the sacrifice of Abel but not of Cain – then we have the designation of the descendants of both Seth, the favored line, and Cain

– Remember the choosing of Noah and his family as the only ones to enter the ark; Then we have the descendants that flow from the 3 sons of Noah with the line of Shem being singled out

Parunak: Genesis is a history of successive election, as God repeatedly distinguishes between the chosen line and those not chosen.

• 11:27, God chooses Terah from the other descendants of Noah.

• 12:1, God chooses Abraham from the family of Terah. Abraham’s nephew Lot comes along, and it seems as though he might become the heir of the childless patriarch.

• 13:11, Lot departs, leaving Abraham.

Now in our story for today, we see the favor shown to Isaac over Ishmael.

Yet we also see that God controls the destiny of both individuals, despite their contrasts – which the Apostle Paul developed in his commentary in Gal. 4 as a description of an allegory describing two very different people groups.

Def. of Destiny: “the events that will necessarily happen to a particular person or thing in the future.” “your future or the pre-ordained path of your life.”

How is God’s Control Demonstrated as we work our way through the passage?

List of 14 observations —



A. (:1-2) God’s Intervention with Sarah – Birth of Isaac

1. (:1) God’s Control Shown in Faithfulness to His Promises

“Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said,

and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised.”


Parunak: Probably the reference is to God’s gracious intervention in the lives of Abraham and Sarah to enable them to have a child. This is the sense of the verb “visit.” It never means simply to “drop in,” but always implies purposeful intervention in someone’s life, either for good or for bad (cf. Zech 10:3). One study on the verb concludes that its overall meaning is “determine someone’s destiny.” It indicates that God has not forgotten Sarah. He intervenes in her life as he has promised, to give her a son.

Constable: a common metaphor that describes God’s intervention in nature and human afffairs. The Hebrew word translated “visited” (paqad) also appears when God intervened to save the Israelites from Egyptian bondage ( Genesis 50:24-25; Exodus 4:31) and when He ended a famine ( Ruth 1:6). It also occurs when He made Hannah conceive ( 1 Samuel 2:21) and when He brought the Jewish exiles home from Babylonian captivity ( Jeremiah 29:10). Thus its presence here highlights the major significance of Isaac”s birth.

Deffinbaugh: I have a friend who is an insurance agent, and he would be quick to tell me that an “act of God” in his line of work is a disaster over which man has no control. Isaac was an “act of God” in a very different sense. He was the result of divine intervention in the lives of Abraham and Sarah, both of whom were too old to bear children. It was the fulfillment of a promise made long before the birth of the child and often reiterated to Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:2; 15:4; 17:15-16; 18:10):

2. (:2) God’s Control Shown in Working According to His Timetable

“So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age,

at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him.”

A very special birth – next big step in God’s kingdom purposes for mankind

Major defeat for Satan in his efforts to thwart the kingdom purposes of God

Parunak: The event itself is described as simply and sparsely as it can be: “Sarah conceived and bare Abraham a son.” Like a diamond in a solitaire setting, with no other adornment around it, the fact itself needs no elaboration. Sarah and Abraham have a baby. This fact is sandwiched between assertions of God’s faithfulness both to Sarah (before, v.1) and to Abraham (after, v.2b), two on each side, both founded in the dual promises of ch. 17 and ch. 18. Moses leaves no doubt about the supernatural nature of this occurrence. Contrast the detailed narrative in ch. 16, around the birth of Ishmael. Here, the focus is not on what Abraham and Sarah did, but on what the Lord has done.

Parunak: “in his old age” – This word occurs only in Genesis, here and in v.7 (with reference to Abraham at the birth of Isaac), and 37:3; 44:20 (describing Joseph and Benjamin respectively as dear to Jacob). The issue here is not childlessness. The references to Jacob show that it was considered a special blessing for a man to have a son in his old age, independent of whether the man had other sons already or not. It would be a comfort to him as he grows feeble to see the continuity of life.

“at the appointed time” – God works according to His established timetable; we have been anticipating this birth for some time; finally it arrives; but no delay from God’s perspective

Gal. 4:4

God is always on time; never late; never early; how dependable is our God!

B. (:3-5) Response of Abraham – Obedient in Naming and Circumcising Isaac

3. (:3) God’s Control Shown in the Name Given to the Promised Son

“And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him,

whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac.”

“He laughs”

4. (:4) God’s Control Shown in the Covenantal Sign of Circumcision

“Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old,

as God had commanded him.”

Sign of God’s ownership – Gen. 17:12

5. (:5) God’s Control Shown in Doing the Impossible with Abraham

“Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.”

C. (:6-7) Response of Sarah – Testimony of Transformation from Incredulous to Rejoicing

7. (:6-7) God’s Control Shown in Doing the Impossible with Sarah

“And Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me;

everyone who hears will laugh with me.’”

[Before she had made herself to laugh]

“And she said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’”

From laughter of unbelief to laughter of joy and praise and thanksgiving

All the years where people had made fun of Abraham for his name = Father of a multitude

Now God has the last laugh

Luke 1:58 – after Mary’s Magnificat – neighbors rejoicing with Elizabeth at birth of John the Baptist

S. Lewis Johnson: when the Virgin Mary sings the Magnificat, there are expressions from that Magnificat that are taken from the Greek translation of this chapter right here. Evidence of the fact that Mary herself had studied this chapter and had made some of these things subjects of her own meditation and Luke further uses expressions from this chapter in order to describe our Lord’s growing. When we read the child grew and was weaned, the precise expression is used with reference to the Lord Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.

D. (:8) Healthy Development of Isaac Celebrated

7. (:8) God’s Control Shown in the Celebration of the Healthy Growth of Isaac in Anticipation of the Fulfillment of His Destiny

“And the child grew and was weaned,

and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.”

Great Thanksgiving Day Feast Message

Borgman: Isaac center of attention; probably more than a little spoiled

Parunak – 2 reasons for the feast:

– High rate of infant mortality — a study of evidence for ancient Israel ( suggests that 30% of infants born did not live to maturity.

– Children nursed for longer period of time (even up to 2-3 years)



A. (:9-14) Separation of Hagar and Ishmael from Household of Abraham – to Protect Isaac’s Destiny

8. (:9) God’s Control Shown in Disrupting the Status Quo

“Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking.”

Ishmael around 16 years old – bullying younger brother; name not mentioned throughout chapter; being dismissed; disrespected in the narrative

Constable: The Hebrew word translated “mocking” ( Genesis 21:9) comes from the same root as Isaac’s name and means “laughing.” However, this participle is in the intensive form in Hebrew indicating that Ishmael was not simply laughing but ridiculing Isaac (cf. Galatians 4:29 – persecuting Isaac). Ishmael disdained Isaac as Hagar had despised Sarai ( Genesis 16:4). Abraham understandably felt distressed by this situation since he loved Ishmael as well as Isaac (cf. Genesis 17:18).

9. (:10) God’s Control Shown in Initiating the Separation Between Ishmael and Isaac

“Therefore she said to Abraham, ‘Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.’”

God working behind the scenes to secure the full inheritance for just Isaac; no sharing with Ishmael

10. (:11-13) God’s Control Shown in Overriding Abraham’s Paternal Instincts

a. (:11) Abraham’s Hesitation

“And the matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son.”

He loves his son greatly

S. Lewis Johnson: the great divine sanctifier, by discipline prepares, Abraham for loftier expressions and experiences of trust in God. . . if Abraham is able to lean upon Ishmael, then the test in the offering up of Isaac would be that much easier. It’s easier to give up Isaac if one still has Ishmael at home, and so consequently God must wean Abraham from Ishmael and Ishmael must be sent off in order that when the test comes in Genesis chapter 22, it’s the kind of test which, if by the grace of God, Abraham manages to succeed in, then it is true.

b. (:12-13) God’s Confirmation

“But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named. And of the son of the maid I will make a nation also, because he is your descendant.’”

Great verse on husband listening to voice of wife

Griffith Thomas: Her counsel is to be followed even though her conduct could not be approved

God encourages Abraham by reminding him that Ishmael will still be blessed with the blessing of Abraham and be made a nation

Deffinbaugh: We should notice that it is both Hagar and the boy who are close to Abraham’s heart. Heretofore Hagar has been referred to as Sarah’s maid, but here she is called “your maid” by God. Sarah, we recall, was intensely jealous of Hagar and of her son (cf. Genesis 16:5). It is impossible for a man to enter into an intimate relationship such as the one Abraham had with Hagar and then to simply walk away. Sarah knew this, and so did God. In more than just a physical way Abraham had become one with Hagar, and Ishmael was the evidence of this union.

11. (:14) God’s Control Shown in Hagar and Ishmael Departing

“So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba.”

A lot takes place early in the morning – Gen. 20:8; 22:3

Borgman: Abraham does not always obey God, but when he does he does it immediately

Parunak: The current episode recalls the history of Lot’s departure. In both cases,

• There is a potential rival heir,

• The heir leads to strife in the family,

• And the strife is resolved with the departure of the rival.

Hagar and Ishmael only given the provisions they could carry

Why not sent away with a delegation of servants and beasts of burden to carry some wealth?

No sharing of the inheritance between Child of Promise and Child of the Flesh

John Gill: perhaps this was all she would grant; or it might be so ordered by the providence of God, as a chastisement for their ill behaviour, and that they might know the difference between being in Abraham’s house and out of it; and that there might be an opportunity given to show favour to them for Abraham’s sake, who might probably direct them to some place where to go; and, till they came there, this might be a sufficient supply, when he gave them reason to expect more from him; but they got into the wilderness, wandered about and lost their way, and so became destitute of provisions; and this may be an emblem of the low, mean, and starving condition such are in who are under the law, and seek for happiness by the works of it:

B. (:15-21) Special Provision by Divine Intervention to Preserve Ishmael’s Destiny

12. (:15-16) God’s Control Shown in Draining Hagar of All Resources and All Hope

“And the water in the skin was used up, and she left the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, ‘Do not let me see the boy die.’ And she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept.”

13. (:17-19) God’s Control Shown in Providential Provision

a. (:17a) God Hears All Cries

“And God heard the lad crying;”

Ishmael = the God who hears – responding to cries of Ishmael, not Hagar

Parunak: It contains a hidden occurrence of Ishmael’s name. Otherwise the boy is unnamed in the episode, fading into the background as Isaac becomes prominent. But the phrase “God heard” is in Hebrew “wayishma ‘el”, echoing his name, “yishma ‘el”, reminding us that God’s earlier promise to Hagar still holds. He is as faithful to his promise to her as he is to his promise to Abraham.

b. (:17b) God Encourages and Builds Courage

“and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.’”

The angel of the Lord – pre-incarnate Jesus Christ – directly intervenes

Nouthetic, biblical counseling

God meets the desperate and the hopeless right where they are

We might have expected judgment on the mocking Ishmael;

Instead illustration of common grace (goodness on both the just and the unjust) – even inclusion of Gentiles in family of God

c. (:18) God Instructs and Promises a Future

“Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand; for I will make a great nation of him.”

d. (:19) God Supplies All Needs

“Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water;

and she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink.”

Always act of mercy on God’s part when He opens our eyes – shows her what is there already

14. (:20-21) God’s Control Shown in Directing Ishmael to the Fulfillment of His Destiny

a. (:20a) Growth due to God’s Favor

“And God was with the lad, and he grew;”

Father of many of the Arab people

Blessed because he is Abraham’s son

Deffinbaugh: God’s working in Hagar’s life may seem harsh to us, but I understand His dealings to be such that His promises were accomplished. You remember that Ishmael was to be a “wild ass” of a man, hostile toward his brothers, and a free spirit. This kind of man could not be raised in the city with all of its conveniences and advantages. Learning to survive in the desert, to prevail over hostile elements was just what it took to make such a man out of Ishmael. As boot camp makes a good Marine, so desert survival made a man of Ishmael.

b. (:20b) Survival Skills for Hunting in the Wilderness

“and he lived in the wilderness, and became an archer.”

c. (:21a) Geographic Focus

“And he lived in the wilderness of Paran;”

“beauty, glory, ornament”

Num. 10:12 – children of Israel in that region during their wilderness wanderings on the way to the Promised Land

d. (:21b) Egyptian Wife for Nation Building

“and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.”

Not good to go down to Egypt for a wife – even though natural for Hagar


– Fate is usually thought of as a predetermined course of events beyond human control. A typical response to a belief in fate is resignation—if we can’t change destiny, then why even try? Whatever happens, happens, and we can’t do anything about it. This is called “fatalism,” and it is not biblical.

– Psalm 139 says, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (verse 16, NIV). God created you for your destiny, and your destiny is part of a long plan that extends before and after you.

– Precursor to Arab Christians – just as Hagar and Ishmael rescued in the wilderness – points to greater rescue by Jesus Christ, the ultimate Isaac, the Promised Seed

– Heart of Thanksgiving and Praise for the one who controls our destiny