HYMN By faith we see the Hand of God (Gettys)
1 By faith we see the hand of God
in the light of creation’s grand design,
in the lives of those who prove his faithfulness,
who walk by faith and not by sight.
2 By faith, our fathers roamed the earth
with the power of his promise in their hearts,
of a holy city built by God’s own hand.
A place where peace and justice reign.
We will stand as children of the promise.
We will fix our eyes on him our soul’s reward,
till the race is finished and the work is done.
We’ll walk by faith and not by sight.
3 By faith, the prophets saw a day
when the longed-for Messiah would appear.
With the power to break the chains of sin and death,
and rise triumphant from the grave.
4 By faith, the church was called to go
in the power of the Spirit to the lost,
to deliver captives and to preach good news
in every corner of the earth.
5 By faith, this mountain shall be moved
and the power of the gospel shall prevail.
For we know in Christ all things are possible
for all who call upon his name.
READING GENESIS 25:1-18
Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah. 2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. 3 Jokshan was the father of Sheba and Dedan; the descendants of Dedan were the Ashurites, the Letushites and the Leummites. 4 The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanok, Abida and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah.
5 Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. 6 But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.
7 Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. 8 Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. 9 His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, 10 the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. 11 After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac, who then lived near Beer Lahai Roi.
12 This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Ishmael, whom Sarah’s slave, Hagar the Egyptian, bore to Abraham.
13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. 16 These were the sons of Ishmael, and these are the names of the twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps. 17 Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people. 18 His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt, as you go towards Ashur. And they lived in hostility towards all the tribes related to them.
SERMON Isaac takes the reins
This chapter may come as something of a shock to you. You knew that Abraham’s son was Isaac. You also knew he had fathered Ishmael. But now we read of 6 more children with another woman. It is a bit like when we discover that Mary and Joseph had several children after the birth of Jesus. And the point of both families is the same. Just as Jesus’ birth was miraculous, and his siblings were born of natural means. So Isaac was the miraculous child – these others born to Keturah were merely natural children.
Now there are some difficulties in this passage. One relates to Keturah. Was she a wife (vs 1) or a concubine (vs 6). The most likely answer is that she was taken by Abraham after his marriage to Sarah, and so was considered a concubine.
That raises the issue of multiple wives or concubines. It does seem as though a number of the OT men of God had more than one partner and that the practice was not explicitly condemned in those days (David would be a prime example). However, for practical and for theological reasons monogamy was clearly God’s intention from the start. Polygamy was allowed (Mt 19:1-9) because of the hardness of men’s hearts.
And there is a further problem relating to these additions to Abraham’s family – namely WHEN did they appear. If they all appeared after Isaac’s birth, then you might say that they were even more miraculous than Isaac himself. It seems more likely that they were born before Isaac, but simply recorded here towards the end of Abraham’s life.
But the key verse out of the first 6, is verse 5 – Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. Isaac was the only child of Abraham’s first and only wife – a child promised and delivered by God – the child through whom all God’s promises for the world would come. Yes, there were other descendants – their families attested in Ancient Near-Eastern history, but they had to leave the land of promise (vs 6) – that could only be given to Isaac and his descendants.
With that said, we come to the end of the account of Abraham and to his death. And the description of his death is just lovely:
Altogether, Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. 8 Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people
This is what we might call a good death. There are those who die in torment – in days of trouble (Ecc 12:1) – but not so Abraham.
He dies a blessed death. You may have watched a saint die and seen them being translated from a close relationship with God here – to their longed-for closer relationship with God hereafter. Such is Abraham’s death.
He had lived exactly 100 years in the Promised Land and now was going home to his real home. God had promised (15:15) that Abraham would live to a good old age – and God is always as good as His word.
The NIV says he was an old man and full of years, but many of the oldest manuscripts simply say that he was “full”. He had enjoyed plenty in this life – and had enjoyed the blessings of God during his earthly pilgrimage.
We read that he was “gathered to his people” – a phrase unique to the first 5 books of the Bible. Whatever else it means, it certainly points to a belief that our souls are immortal – this life is not the end. Indeed, death is but a transition from this life to the next.
As at many funerals in our day, the 2 boys, Isaac and Ishmael are united – although probably for the last time. Isaac is listed first although he is the younger – and the point is clear – namely that he is the child who will inherit everything of Abraham’s.
Genesis is divided into ten sections all starting with the words “This is the account of …”.
So we discover that section 7 is very short – lasting from verse 12 – verse 18 (seven verses). And what section 7 does is to let us know what happened to Ishmael and his descendants.
Ishmael is a rather complex chap. He is not the child of promise, yet nonetheless God promises to bless him and his descendants. They have no inheritance in the Promised land – indeed, they are not promised any land – their lot is to be wanderers, yet God protects Ishmael. There is no record of wrongdoing against Ishmael, yet when he is gathered to his people (vs 17) it seems clear that this is to a different people than those to which Abraham was gathered.
Here was a race which God undoubtedly multiplied and made strong – yet (vs 18) – they lived in hostility toward all their brothers.
(This was a fulfilment of 16:12)
Ishmael also lived to an old age – not a good old age – not full – yet at 137 years, 48 years after his father’s death, he too breathed his last.
Maybe the significance is in the words which are omitted. Maybe we are meant to see that although he died an old man, yet he never experienced the knowledge of God and the peace of God as did his father. When he came to the river of death, he did not experience the loving hand of his heavenly father carrying him across.
We are meant to see certain similarities between Ishmael’s family and God’s chosen line – notice the 12 children – corresponding with the 12 tribes of Israel – and later the 12 apostles. Here is the sign that God has a hand on this wandering people. These 12 sons are called (vs 16) tribal rulers – they were powerful men with powerful families.
Yet the contrasts are clearer. The Ishmaelites never knew the fullest blessing of God, they never lived at peace, neither would they until the peace of God in Christ would come to them. Ultimately blessing for Ishmael would come through the chosen line of Isaac and his great descendant Jesus of Nazareth.
Before we go into section 8 and the life of Isaac, it is good for us to stop and ponder the life and legacy of this great man of God, Abraham. As with all great men, he had his great failings as well as his great faithfulness to God. We have been impressed, particularly, to see how quick he was to respond to the commands of God. He didn’t let the grass grow under his feet.
And this assessment of Abraham is not just mine. If you were to look at Hebrews 11 – the catalogue of the heroes of faith, you would find that most heroes have one verse or less, Moses is given 6 verses, but to Abraham is devoted 12 verses – the example of faith par excellence. Abraham and his successors mentioned in Hebrews died in faith – not having received the promises of God – namely God’s great promise to send the Messiah.
And although we live in these last days, having been introduced to the Living Messiah, yet we, too, live from day to day with a “not yet” quality to our faith and lives. We, too, are waiting – not for the coming of Messiah – but for His final return – when He will sit on the throne and every knee will bow before Him and every tongue will confess that He is Lord. As we prepare for that day – or for the day of our death, we must be people of faith – and of faithfulness.
HYMN Jesus, Master, Whose I am
1 Jesus, Master, whose I am,
Purchased, Thine alone to be,
By Thy blood, O spotless Lamb,
Shed so willingly for me,
Let my heart be all Thine own,
Let me live to Thee alone.
2 Other lords have long held sway;
Now, Thy name alone to bear,
Thy dear voice alone obey,
Is my daily, hourly prayer:
Whom have I in heaven but Thee?
Nothing else my joy can be.
3 Jesus, Master, whom I serve,
Though so feebly and so ill,
Strengthen hand and heart and nerve
All Thy bidding to fulfil;
Open Thou mine eyes to see
All the work Thou hast for me.
4 Jesus, Master, wilt Thou use
One who owes Thee more than all?
As Thou wilt! I would not choose;
Only let me hear Thy call.
Jesus, let me always be
In Thy service, glad and free.