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October 24, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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“And Sarah said, ‘God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.’ She also said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.’”—Genesis 21:6-7 (NKJV)
The lifelong burden of bareness had finally come to an end! True to His promise, God miraculously granted Sarah the ability to conceive, carry, and deliver a son of her own. Her reaction was the laughter of joy and amazement that such a blessing would happen at such an unthinkable stage in her aged life. No wonder they named this son Isaac, which means “laughter.”
But there wouldn’t always be laughter in Abraham and Sarah’s camp. No sooner does the Bible celebrate Isaac’s birth than it details a dilemma that developed as the promised son grew: “So the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the same day that Isaac was weaned. And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing” (Genesis 21:8-9 NKJV).
To refresh, Abraham was not only the father of Isaac, but also the father of Ishmael. However, Ishmael was the product of Abraham’s physical union with the Egyptian servant, Hagar.
The Bible consistently contrasts this union and Ishmael’s life with Isaac’s. Ishmael represents the human effort to realize what God has promised while Isaac represents God fulfilling His promise. Ishmael represents the works of the flesh, while Isaac represents the work of God’s Spirit (Galatians 4:21-23). And by “flesh,” we mean the natural state of mankind devoid of the Lord’s influence.
With this in mind, we see what happens as Isaac matures and becomes more prominent. Ishmael does not accept him; he scoffs and mocks him. It becomes clear that the two sons, that represent the two different natures of the flesh and the Spirit, are incompatible. Sarah sees this and immediately understands what has to happen next: “Therefore she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac’” (Genesis 21:10 NKJV).
Ishmael had to go. He couldn’t live side by side with Isaac. And in a spiritual sense, this is a picture of what has to happen in a Christian’s life. There’s an element of Ishmael in all of us, as we have all inherited a natural and fleshly nature when we came into this world. But when we become born again by God’s Spirit, a new nature exists inside of us, a nature represented by Isaac. But these two natures are incompatible and cannot peacefully co-exist—one must go!
Like Sarah, we need to recognize this and continually submit to God’s process of burying our flesh and making us more like Him (Romans 8:29). Our old natural nature has to go in order to make way for the new life God has placed in us.
DIG: What do Ishmael and Isaac each represent?
DISCOVER: Where do you see an element of Ishmael and Isaac in your own life?
DO: Consider the solution to the irreconcilable differences between the flesh and Spirit. Think about how you can put to death the flesh and walk in step with the Spirit more and more each day.
Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.