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Isaac's prayer for his barren wife related to twentieth century Christianity
Abram awoke from his deep sleep with the knowledge that God had confirmed the promise made to him for a seed and a land, however, Abram was now eighty-six years old and evidently believed that he needed to help God fulfil the covenant. Abram thus demonstrates man's continual trend to forget that every promise of God occurs in His timing but, rather than depend on Him to bring them to pass, we too often think He needs our help and plans to bring them to fruition. Archaeology has discovered that the custom of the tribes of the day was for a barren wife to present her husband with a handmaiden, servant girl, or concubine, through whom the husband could have a male heir to carry on the name of the family. We read clearly of God's promise to Abram of a seed and land (Genesis 15) but, in shades of the original sin of Adam and Eve, Abram demonstrated a lack of faith and was tempted by Sarai to father Ishmael through Hagar the handmaiden:
Genesis 16:11 Now Sarai, Abram's wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. 2 So Sarai said to Abram, "Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children through her." And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 And after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram's wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. 4 And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight. 5 And Sarai said to Abram, "May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms; but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the LORD judge between you and me." 6 But Abram said to Sarai, "Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight." So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence.
Abram's attempt to bring God's covenant to pass through this ill-conceived plan led to their hard-hearted sin against Hagar and her unborn child, for they drove Hagar away into the wilderness - but God healed this relationship and made a promise to multiply the descendants of Hagar:
Genesis 16:71: Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, "Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from and where are you going?" And she said, "I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai." 9 Then the angel of the LORD said to her, "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority." 10 Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, "I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they shall be too many to count." 11 The angel of the LORD said to her further, "Behold, you are with child, And you shall bear a son; And you shall call his name Ishmael, Because the LORD has given heed to your affliction. 12 "And he will be a wild donkey of a man, His hand will be against everyone, And everyone's hand will be against him; And he will live to the east of all his brothers." 13 Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, "Thou art a God who sees"; for she said, "Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?" 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered. 15 So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 And Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him.
So we learn from Genesis 16:16 that Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, and Genesis 17:1 tells us that he was ninety-nine years old when the Lord spoke to him again. Thus thirteen years elapsed between the last verse of chapter 16 and the first verse of chapter 17, plenty of time in which Abram could ponder his disobedience and consider the final outcome of the covenant promise. When Abram was ninety-nine years old God reaffirmed to him that He alone - the unilateral covenanter - would bring about the birth of the son through whom the promised seed would continue. Thus God would generate the nation of Israel through Sarai, Abram's barren wife. Genesis 17 describes how Abram's name was changed to Abraham and Sarai's name was changed to Sarah. We now learn something of the thoughts of Abram's heart for, not surprisingly, as a father who has lovingly watched his own son grow up into his teenage years, he desires only the best for him and begs that Ishmael might be the one through whom God would bring this blessing. God again reaffirmed that it would not be through Ishmael, and gave assurance again that the son of promise would be born from Sarai (now called Sarah), and even his name, Isaac, was given in advance (vs. 21). Thus Abraham's prayer request is denied.
Genesis 23:1 tells us that Sarah lived to be 127 years of age, so we know that Abraham was 137 years old and Isaac was thirty-seven when she died. In chapter 24, when Abraham was approximately 140 years old and Isaac was forty, Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for his son. The servant obediently travelled to visit the relatives of Abraham. We learn from Genesis 24:10 that there were some relatives living in the distant country of Mesopotamia, in the city of Nahor (vs. 10.):
Genesis 24:11 Now Abraham was old, advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in every way. 2 And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, "Please place your hand under my thigh, 3 and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, 4 but you shall go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac." 5 And the servant said to him, "Suppose the woman will not be willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?" 6 Then Abraham said to him, "Beware lest you take my son back there! 7 "The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father's house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me, and who swore to me, saying, 'To your descendants I will give this land,' He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. 8 "But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there." 9 So the servant placed his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter. 10 Then the servant took ten camels from the camels of his master, and set out with a variety of good things of his master's in his hand; and he arose, and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor.
When the servant arrived there he followed the instructions that he had received from his master, Abraham, who had been instructed in detail by God, and he quickly became acquainted with Rebekah, and she returned with the servant to marry Isaac. Genesis 25:20 tells us that Isaac was forty years of age when he took Rebekah, the sister of Laban, to be his wife. Genesis 25:21 says that Isaac prayed on behalf of his wife because she was barren, and the Scripture simply says, "the Lord answered him" - a clear example of the importance of praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:171):
Genesis 25:201 and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 And Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived.
Thus we learn that Rebekah conceived, but only by reading to verse 26 and recognising that Rebekah gave birth to Esau and Jacob when Isaac was sixty years of age do we learn to appreciate that Isaac prayed for twenty years.
Genesis 25: 261 And afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau's heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.
Thus we learn how incredible consistency in prayer was rewarded by God as He brought His massive long-term programme to pass. Just as He had previously tested the perseverance, stability, and faithfulness of Abraham for many years, God now tested Isaac, a man faithful to the covenant promise (as he proved by twenty faithful years of praying for this conception and continuance of the line), in the self-same way.
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