Genesis 21:1-21 “Ishmael vs. Isaac/The Flesh vs. the Spirit”

Posted on May 23, 2010. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Redeemer Church Sunday School- Genesis Class

Genesis 21:1-21 “Ishmael vs. Isaac/The Flesh vs. the Spirit”

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bryan E. Walker


The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. 2 And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac.  4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” 7 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.”

8 And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9 But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing.  10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” 11 And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. 13 And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” 14 So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, “Let me not look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17 And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18 Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. 20 And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.








  1. I.                   God Is Faithful To Keep His Word
    1. A.     He Kept His Promise of a Son for Abraham and Sarah
      1. 1.      Last week I did show you how there was an emphasis on God’s Word in the text. But there is more to the story. There is very clearly an emphasis on God’s Word being Kept by God himself. We see this most clearly in the promise of the birth of Isaac himself. Back in 17:16 God promised a son through Sarah and again in 18:10. Now in 21:1-2 that promise is kept. Last week I showed you how there are some parallels with the birth of Christ so that we can say that Isaac is a Type of Christ, a foreshadowing of Christ.
    2. B.      He Kept His Promise By Protecting Isaac

1. Throughout this story, there are other aspects of God’s   keeping his word that we can also bring out. This chapter has some high drama in it as the long awaited child of promise is born to Sarah, with the resulting joy that talked about last week, with the word laughter being key. But there is sadness here as well because there is strife in the family and it leads to a separation- Hagar and Ishmael are kicked out into the desert. As sad as that is, we must keep in mind that God’s greater plan was Redemption. What we see in 21:9-10 is that Sarah perceived a serious threat in the mocking of little Isaac that Ishmael was doing. While we know that God hates divorce (Mal.2:15-16) we do see him at times commanding his children to separate from “foreign wives”, as in Ezra 9-10. Jesus said in Luke 9:62 “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back  is fit for the kingdom of God” in reference to the one who wanted to say farewell to his family first. In this episode between Isaac and Ishmael, Sarah perceives the danger and Paul rightly interprets it as persecution in Gal. 4:29. Ishmael likely understands at this point that Isaac is the favored son and that he will not receive the inheritance because of his new little brother. In no way should this passage be used by someone as support for an unbiblical divorce. In some ways this part of the story can be compared with Herod seeking to harm baby Jesus, and Jesus’ family fleeing to Egypt is the parallel, except here it is the persecutor of the child of promise who has to flee, though still under God’s direction and protection. TOTC Derek Kidner, p.140 “Cast out this bondwoman… is cited in Galatians 4:30 as an inspired demand. In her anger Sarah had her eyes opened to the true colours and proportions of the clash. The words In Isaac shall thy seed be called put God’s choice beyond all doubt, bringing into the open both the fact of election, as Paul shows in Romans 9:7-9, and, for Abraham, the irreplaceability of Isaac. On this anvil there was no escape from the hammer blow of the next chapter and Hebrews 11:18-19 shows that Abraham’s faith was brought to perfection by this very means.”

  1. C.     God Kept His Word to Abraham and Hagar by Preserving Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness.
    1. 1.      In 16:10-12 the LORD promises to multiply her offspring so that they cannot be numbered. In 17:20 God promises Abraham that Ishmael will father 12 princes and will be a great nation. Now here we are in chapter 21 and we find the boy and his mother about to die of thirst in the desert. But God hears the voice of the boy and the angel of the Lord calls to Hagar from Heaven and again promises to her that He will make of the boy a great nation and then shows her the well of water, thus preserving their lives.
    2. 2.      The use of God instead of the LORD here could be a sign showing that Ishmael was not the chosen son, not of the elect, although in 16 the covenant name, LORD is used.


  1. D.    God is Faithful To Keep His Covenant with You
    1. 1.      In John 3:16 we find the promise, “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Eternal life is both life without end and a higher quality of life lived in the presence and blessing of God forever and ever. If we believe in him, THEN we WILL NOT PERISH but HAVE ETERNAL LIFE.
    2. 2.      In John 6:38-40 again stresses that those who believe in Him will have eternal life. John 10:27-29 stresses that it is Jesus who gives eternal life and they shall never perish. 1John 5:13 “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”
    3. 3.      The Church is the covenant Bride of Christ. Though we may surely suffer persecution, and many fall away and develop many horrible heresies, yet, in the end, Christ will preserve for himself a Bride, awaiting his return.
    4. 4.      For our Sanctification we can feel free and safe in obeying God’s Word because we know it is true and He always keeps His Word. Though obedience may be costly in this life, Abraham had to send his 2nd wife and his first born son out into the desert, yet we know that any sacrifice we make for obeying the Lord will give Him glory and build up our faith.


  1. II.                Isaac and Ishmael Represent the Battle Between Flesh and Spirit
    1. A.     Ishmael is born of the flesh, Isaac of the Spirit
      1. 1.      Back in ch.16 we find that Sarah had reached the point of defeat in regards to having a child, so she came up with a plan that was culturally acceptable, but not rooted in faith. It was a fleshly plan, not a spiritual plan. It was settling for what the world calls good instead of trusting in the goodness of God. The plan was to give her Egyptian  handmaiden, Hagar, to Abraham as a wife so that she could have a child through her handmaid. Back then I said that things that are acceptable in the culture are not necessarily acceptable in God’s sight. From that episode we get Ishmael, and his descendents, the Arabs.
      2. 2.      In Paul’s interpretation of that episode in Galatians we find that in Gal.4:21-23 21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise.
      3. 3.      All of us are naturally born in the flesh; we are born corrupted by sin, desiring things of the flesh. Then, when confronted with the Gospel, applied by the Spirit, we receive the Second birth- we are born again. This second birth is from above, from the Spirit. When we are born again we receive the twin gifts of faith and repentance and we then freely exercise those gifts and are converted. We will now walk in the Spirit and grow spiritually. We have entered into the New Covenant with Christ.
    2. B.     Ishmael Brings Strife While Isaac Brings Joy
      1. 1.      When Hagar became pregnant she got some kind of an attitude towards Sarah and the strife began. Sharing your husband with another woman has got to be embarrassing and painful anyway, so there was already some hurt feelings going on between Abraham and Sarah in all likelihood. Then Sarah made Hagar’s life so miserable that she ran away, even though she was carrying Abraham’s child. Confronted by the Lord, she returned to submit to Sarah, but you have to assume that things were awkward and painful ever since.
      2. 2.      After the birth of Ishmael, Abraham clearly loved his son and was planning on making him the heir. This would still be a source of pain for Sarah. But after Sarah became pregnant, I wonder what Hagar and the young teenage Ishmael thought? There could have been some degree of plotting and planning. The tension and disappointment rose in the Hagar side of the tent. The miracle was not welcome news for all in Abraham’s camp.
      3. 3.      When Isaac was born there is laughter on Sarah’s lips, indicating great joy. The one who laughed in scorn of God’s promise, is now laughing in joy. The child is named “Laughter” in obedience to God and the sin that could have brought shame was turned around into joy.
      4. 4.      In the scene from 21:8-9 we see the mocking laughter of Ishmael towards his 3 yr old brother. We have a teenager about 15-17 ridiculing, mocking, laughing derisively at a three yr. old. That is cause for concern. Ishmael brings strife. Go back to what the LORD’s angel said in 16:12 “He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.” Already that wild and rebellious spirit has borne fruit and brought strife into the camp.
      5. 5.      Again, Paul’s interpretation of this is “persecution” in Gal. 4:29, and that is our key to understanding the deeper spiritual truth here: the flesh will always war against the spirit. Gal.5:17 “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other…”
      6. 6.      Ishmael represents doing things man’s way, a salvation by works, man contributing what he can to doing God’s work. It only leads in strife, mockery, and persecution. Just in the last couple of weeks we have received word from our missionaries in Africa that the recent converts are now facing some serious persecution. They did not DO anything to their neighbors. Their changing of faith from muslim to Christian did not harm their neighbors in any way. Yet the result is persecution, and intolerance for the things of the True Spirit of God. The flesh wars against the spirit. The world doesn’t mind religion as long as it is a man centered fleshly religion. Right now in world politics and in the media, Islam is absolutely getting a pass despite the raw fact that islam is causing 99% of the terrorism, wars and other misbehaviour. But the press and western politicians refuse to link the violence with Islam and the Koran. But the press will always give Christianity a tough time. The world would rather submit to the barbarian practices of Islam than worship the Lord Jesus Christ.
      7. 7.      In your own life I believe you can attest to the ongoing battle between your flesh and the Spirit. We suffer from temptation after temptation and when we give in to the temptations we then suffer guilt, remorse, and consequences and have to go through the painful process of confession, repentance, and correction. And then it happens again!
      8. 8.      It is this passage that convinces me, along with world history and current events, that the end times battle will very likely be Islam against the Christians and Jews. I used to think it would be communism or just atheistic secularism, but now I am convinced it will be Islam, the spiritual descendents of Ishmael.
      9. 9.      Isaac grew on his mother’s milk but has reached the point of being weaned and going to solid food alone. They celebrated the occasion with some kind of a party apparently, which was the setting for the persecution. So, too, after being born again, we believers must be nurtured on the pure spiritual milk of the word 1Peter 2:2, but we should grow to the point of desiring and eating solid food, Hebrews 5:12-14. We have to put away the childish, 1Cor.13:11, and become mature 2Tim.3:16-17.

10.  Notice also that it was Isaac who ended up with the inheritance Gen. 25:5-6, but his other children only received gifts. It is We, the Believers, who are the joint heirs with Jesus and receive our inheritance in heaven Eph.1:3-14. Just last week I preached a sermon on hell, I am considering preaching on Heaven the next time, because we have a wonderful inheritance awaiting us.

11.  Lastly, Isaac was born free and Ishmael was born of slavery. Paul makes that case in Galatians 4:31; 5:1. In the broader argument of Paul in the letter to the Galatians, they were wanting to go back to observing the law as a result of the teaching of some false teachers preaching another gospel, a gospel of works. We have a natural tendency to drift back towards working for our salvation and that will never work. We are born free in Christ and Grace is very liberating. Jesus kept the Law for us, because we can never keep it on our own. The Law does have its purposes: (1) it reveals our sinfulness so that we can turn to Christ. (2) the ceremonial law reveals Christ as our atoning sacrifice and our great object of worship, our prophet, priest and king. (3) the Law assists the believer in our sanctification. (4) the law does provide society with some moral guidelines for an orderly society. Again we can look at the Taliban, the Muslims and see what kind of society is built upon Sharia law. Anybody here want to live that way?

Conclusion: This concludes our Sunday School semester and is the last class until we pick up again in August. I guess it is about as good a place to have a pause as any, since we are just at the beginning of the Isaac stories, Ishmael and Hagar have departed and we now have about 10 yrs of quiet in the Abraham narrative. We will pick up where we left off in about 3 months.



Boice, James Montgomery. Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Vol.2 Genesis 12:1-36:43. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 1985 (pp.200-205)

Briscoe, D. Stuart. The Communicator’s Commentary, vol.1, Genesis. Word Books: Waco, TX. 1987 (pp.181-187)

Kidner, Derek. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Genesis: an Introduction and Commentary. Inter-Varsity Press: Downers Grove, ILL. 1967 (pp.139-141)

Ross, Allen P. Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI. 1996 (pp.375-383)

Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI 1991 (pp.289-297)

Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Obedient: Learning the Secret of Living By Faith-Abraham. Victor Books: Wheaton, Ill. 1991 (pp.97-106)


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Love it love it love it! I learned so much please keep this lesson coming.

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