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Our promise-keeping God who is life-giving and sovereignly wise

Date: 19 May 2024, 9.30 am

Speaker: Ps Daniel Tan Sermon Text: Genesis 20:1–21:21 CLICK HERE to join in our Livestream service on Youtube


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TRANSCRIPT

Introduction

Blessed Sunday to everyone.


Last Sunday, the society celebrated Mother’s Day. We acknowledged and prayed for our mothers in Hermon.


Today’s not going to be a belated Mother’s Day sermon but I hope to begin this sermon with a Mother’s Day story.


I came across this testimony of Ranjit Kaur, the woman managing the orchid sales at The Helping Hand. This story was featured for Mother’s Day 2021.


In the article, Kuar shared that her husband was an substance addict from the age of 14. Even as the children came along her husband continued to struggle.  


As her husband could not hold down even one job due to his addiction, Kuar became father, mother and provider for the family. She worked two jobs to make ends meet.


God graciously brought Kuar’s husband to The Helping Hands and he because a Christian and began to take his family to church every week.


Kuar became a Christian three years later, won over by the God who had the power to change her husband and by the love the church showed them.


While her husband was in Helping Hand’s programme, they owned a 3-room flat in Ang Mo Kio. To raise her children and make ends meet, Kuar decided to squeezed into one room with their two boys, and rented out the other one at $350.


Combined with her husband’s allowance of $250 from Helping Hand, she would raise her family on a grand total of $600 a month.


After working for 20 years at The Helping Hand, Kuar’s husband pursued formal training in counselling. Today, he is a certified counsellor, and works in a hospital where he journeys with people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.


With much joy, Kuar shares, “My boys are not ashamed of their father’s past. In fact, when their own friends started experimenting with drugs, they would tell their father, ‘please talk to my friend, he needs help.’”


What a wonderful testimony of God’s enabling grace upon the life of Ranjit Kuar. How God drew her to Himself and enabled her to play the role of Father, Mother and Provider for the family.


I’m sure her story is found in big and small ways in the lives of mothers here in Hermon as well. The resilience and sacrificial love of our mothers are the glue that keeps our families intact.


May we honour our mothers not just on the 2nd Sunday of May, but regularly throughout the year.


How many times do you think Ranjit Kuar’s husband would have relapsed into his drug habits? I’m sure it was multiple times.


Did he know that it was wrong? I’m sure he did.


If we are honest with ourselves, we too should acknowledge that habitual sin is also part and parcel of our lives.


I’m sure this verse describes our daily challenge  - Rom 7:19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.


It’s when we accept this fact of habitual sin, that we won’t then be disillusion with Abraham in Genesis 20.


As we read Genesis 20, we see the journey Abraham took away from Sodom towards Gerar. And at Gerar, we see a repeat of Genesis 12. The lie that Abraham told about Sarah in Egypt.


It helps us to realize that Abraham is truly a sinner saved by grace. Yes, Abraham is a giant of a man of faith, yet he is still a man. And the bible does not gloss over his shortcomings.


It is a comforting thought isn’t it that God counted Abraham righteous because Abraham believed. It was not based on his actions nor his struggles.  


So too today, it is by faith in Jesus Christ that we have been made right with God. It is not anything that we have done, thus there is nothing we can boast about.


For if not, because we are like Abraham, redeemed sinners, our habitual sin will disqualify us.


As I’ve mentioned last Sunday, the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 has taken many detours and we are now about to see it come to fruition.  


In all the detours and mishaps, I submit, Moses the author is giving us a picture of a promise-keeping God. A God who is faithful to His promises because He is sovereign. For nothing will derail His plans.


Last week we learnt in Gen 18, God said “At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”


This son we know is to be the fruit of the union between Abraham and Sarah.


And so, Genesis 20 seems to putting a wedge into this divine plan. A wedge that seems surprisingly to be driven by the actions of Abraham.


Life-giving

Church, as we see God respond to this wedge Abraham has driven into the plans of God, may I submit that we see a promise-keeping God who is life-giving in spite of this wedge.


Why is our promise-keeping God life-giving? We see that in God’s conversation with Abimelech in v3 and 7.  


Gen 20:3 …“Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.”…. 7 Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”

God says to Abimelech because you have taken somebody’s wife, you will die as a punishment unless you return Sarah to Abraham.


Not only does God hold the life of Abimelech in His hands, God also holds the posterity of Abimelech’s family as well.


Gen 20:17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children. 18 For the Lord had closed all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.


V17 & 18 tells us that God is the one who closed all their wombs and God healed them after Abraham interceded in prayer.


Our promise-keeping God can give and take away life.


And God gives life based on His perfect will, which as we see, is usually in spite of the many sinful actions we believers do.


May I submit the 3 situations we can see in this episode.


·      In spite of our self-preservation


Firstly, God is life-giving in spite of our self-preservation.


Why did Abraham say Sarah is his sister a 2nd time? Abraham gives us the answer in v13.


Gen 20:13 And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, “He is my brother.”


Not sure why Sarah would agree to this, but it seems even as they began their journey to the Promised Land, Abraham already asked Sarah to agree to this half-truth.


We now know is because of self-preservation. In Egypt and now in Gerar, outside and inside the Promise Land, it’s all about preserving the life of Abraham himself.


This seem such a contrast to a man of faith that Abraham is. If Abraham really believed God will make him into a father of many nations, would God not preserve Abraham’s life?


Jesus said to his 12 disciples, Mt 10:39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.


If you and I seek self-preservation, in the end we will lose our lives. But if we place it in the hands of Jesus our Master, He is the one who will preserve us both now and into eternity.


In both Egypt and Gerar, God continued to not only preserve Abraham’s life but also graciously enrich it.


Today, I submit, if we do not allow God to dictate the rhythm of our days and our weeks. If we abuse our bodies by yielding to the tyranny of the almighty dollar.


We are in self-preservation mode. This is not the mode that we should be in.


The fact that we are able to sit back this morning and reflect, let us count it as a gracious pause God is giving for us to be circumspect.


Our promise-keeping God who is life-giving desires that we trust in His providential care.


·      In spite of our dire situation


Secondly, God continues to be life-giving in spite of our dire situation.


Abraham through physical eyes, felt that he had entered into a godless town (v11)

Gen 20:11 Abraham said, “I did it because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.


Yet, we see that Abimelech was totally the opposite. In his conversations with God, he showed fear and reverence towards God (v406).


Gen 20:4 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.


Abimelech appeals to God’s justice that God should not punish Abimelech because he was innocent. He had integrity of heart. He would not have taken Sarah if he had known she was married.


And since we have just gone through Genesis 19, we can put Abraham’s intercession of Sodom side by side with this. Ironic right?


Abraham was interceding that God spare Sodom if 10 righteous were present. Here he is the one who has deceived Abimelech.


Not only was Abimelech God-fearing, his people were too. We see that in v8.


Gen 20:8 So Abimelech rose early in the morning and called all his servants and told them all these things. And the men were very much afraid.


Abraham thought, there is no fear of God in this place, but he was wrong.


To Moses’ first audience, they were about to enter the Promise Land. They were going to confront pagan citizens in Canaan. People who viewed marriage very differently.


I submit, this passage was God’s way of showing them how He viewed marriage. 


Some could be like Sodom and see marriage is not just between one man and one women. In settling in the Promised Land, Israel will live amongst the Moabites and Ammonites. Descendants of Lot’s daughters and God explicitly said Israel, is to have no partnership with them.


Deut 23:3  “No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.


King Solomon is the classic example of why Israel should not marry outside the faith. His foreign wives turn him away from the worship of Yahweh.


Here in Genesis 20, we get a glimpse of how God views the purity of marriage. To him, taking another man’s wife is so evil that it deserves death.  


In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus quotes from Genesis 2:


Mt 19:4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

God has joined husband and wife together as one flesh. If so, then adultery is a grievous sin in God’s sight.


And that is highlighted for us in God’s explanation to Abimelech (v6). 


Gen 20:6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.

Adultery is sinning against God not just your spouse.


Are we today living in as dire a situation as Abraham thought he was? I think so. For many there is no fear of God for we do not consider the holiness of marriage.


From 1 July 2024, divorce can now be by mutual consent. It might make some parts of divorce proceedings less acrimonious. But I think it provides a lower bar now for those wanting to opt out of a challenging union.


But for Christians, should this latest round instead encourage us to fight for the sacredness of marriage. Let’s spend time to invest in our marriages so that it stays healthy. Let us encourage others as well to be faithful.


Our promise-keeping God who is life-giving, desires marriages to be a Holy Matrimony.  


  • In spite of our frail faith


Thirdly, God continues to be life-giving in spite of our frail faith.


Abimelech’s reproach of Abraham in v9 I submit is like a proxy for God. God was confronting Abraham through Abimelech.


Gen 20:9 Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.”

Abraham in his lie, has brought upon Gerar a great sin. A sin that had repercussions as God closed the womb of Abimelech’s household.


And as we have seen, Abraham’s justification has little grounds. It reeks of self-preservation and lack of faith in God’s promises.


Yet, church, we see God’s merciful hand still upon Abraham. He of frail faith is called a prophet.


God invites Abraham again to take up the actions of an intercessor. Be that person again who stood before the Lord pleading for Sodom.


God is able to use a repeated liar even to be an intercessor.


Gen 20:7 Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”…. 17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children.

This is a wonderful example of how God in His grace uses Abraham for His glory. Doing so in spite of Abraham’s frail faith.


To a man who lied again to preserve himself, God hears Abraham’s pray for Abimelech. And I submit it is because Abraham prayed in line with God’s will.


See, God is determined that His purposes will stand. Issac is to be born between the union of Abraham and Sarah. God sovereignly protected Sarah for that very purpose.


God has determined that Isaac’s birth is to be a miracle. So that mankind cannot claim any credit.


A miracle that Abraham’s frail faith still clung on to. And thus, in God’s commendation of Abraham, God so graciously sums up Abraham’s life as -


Heb 11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

In this summary, God does not refer to Abraham’s past that we have seen from Genesis 12 to 20. God does not recall Abraham’s failures at all. It is forgiven, it is wiped out.


Abraham was righteous not because of what he did, but because Abraham believed in God’s promises.


It is good is it not, to worship and serve the God of Abraham? Let us in thanksgiving say Amen to that.


Our promise-keeping God who is life-giving, encourages us to persevere even though our faith is frail.


Sovereignly Wise

Not only did God open up the wombs of Abimelech’s household, God also did that to Sarah.


Our promise-keeping God is life-giving. And finally, in Genesis 21, 25 years after God’s promise to Abraham, Sarah gives birth to Isaac.


  • He delivers


In the first 2 verses of Genesis 21, Moses writes unmistakably that it is God who has sovereignly brought forth Isaac.


Moses emphasized that God ‘said’, God ‘promised’ and God ‘spoke’. Reminding us of Genesis 1 & 2.

 

Gen 21:1 The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised.And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.

God spoke and the world came into being. Moses is emphasizing that God is sovereign, He is powerful and in absolute control. Nothing is impossible for God.

In modern speak, God delivers.


One of the many phases which I wish I had the opportunity to say to my team members during my secular employment was ‘make it happen’.


It always has been said to me since I’m the one to carry it out.


But whatever I make happen always is within the constraints of nature and with lots of help from others.


But Scripture informs that God delivers what is humanly impossible and does it all on His own.


And since we have gone through Gen 12 to 20, we see that God had to do it in spite of obstacles that Abraham and Sarah created.


Yet, God so graciously included them in His plan even though they seem to be more of a hindrance than a help.


Lk 3:21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” 23 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph,…. the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, …. 34 the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, …. 38 the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

May I remind us again of the genealogy from Luke’s gospel. Luke frames the significance of Jesus who is divine and human at the same time with the history of Israel.


Jesus the man is being baptised and God the Father says, Jesus, you are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased. And then Luke list for us the ancestry of Jesus, linking him back to King David and to Isaac, Abraham, to Seth and ultimately right back to God.


Jesus fulfils the Abrahamic covenant, for He is the blessing to all nations. Jesus is the King who will sit on David’s throne forever. And Seth and Isaac have been chosen by God to be part of this very specific line.


To the audience during the time of Luke and for us today, we can truly see the cosmic significance of the birth of Isaac. Isaac is part of God’s salvation plan.


And it all happens because our promise-keeping God delivers.


Thus, what is required of us? Abraham and Sarah are our models.


Gen 21:3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. 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. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” 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.”

Abraham in obedience to God’s explicit commands, named his son Isaac and circumcised him.


What might be our equivalent today?  Because God has delivered salvation in Christ Jesus, may I suggest the following:


Eph 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Secondly we see that Sarah testified of God’s goodness and grace. ‘Everyone who hears will laugh over me’.


God has turned Sarah’s laugh of doubt into shouts of joy. Instead of others looking down on Sarah due to her bareness, now they will rejoice with her.


And they will do so because Sarah will testify that God has made laughter for me.

Because the joy of the Lord is our strength, may Matthew 5:16 describe how we live daily:


Mt 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

  • He determines

Our promise-keeping God is sovereignly wise because He has determined the path of salvation. That path is the line we see in the genealogy of Jesus from Luke 3.


God the creator of the universe has determined that salvation will come through Jesus the Son of God and Issac will be part of that plan.


Remember earlier when Abraham was 99, he asked God whether Ishmael is part of the plan. To which God said:


Gen 17:18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” 19 God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.

Sarah didn’t have God’s grand plan in mind, but she felt Ishmael was a threat to Isaac because she observed that Ishmael laughed in mockery at Isaac.


Sarah spoke better than she knew for God in His sovereign wisdom subsequently affirmed to Abraham, listen to what Sarah is requesting.


Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote in Gal 4 about this incident.


Gal 4:28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.

Ishmael, Paul says, was not just mocking. Paul interpreted it as persecuting. And then he quotes Sarah words about casting away Ishmael and Hagar.


Paul goes on to say, the religious leaders are represented by Ishmael and those who believe in Christ Jesus are those aligned with Isaac.


So Paul says, those who do not believe in Jesus will persecute those who believe in Jesus.


So for those who do believe in Jesus, you are now children of the promise. Don’t go back and be like the religious leaders and under the law.


The flesh will always struggle against the spirit. And so those born of God’s Spirit should determine to live as God determines, not as the world determines.


Abraham, you only have one son, that is Isaac. God who is sovereignty wis had to get Abraham to cast out Ishmael because Abraham had to fully follow God’s ways.


And this because very clear in the next chapter – Genesis 22 when God says, ‘take your son, your only son Issac and sacrifice him as a burnt offering.’ Abraham has nothing to fall back on for Ishmael has already been casted out.  


Yet in the midst of this very faith challenge of Abraham, we see that our promise-keeping God continues to be merciful and gracious. He heard the cries of Ishmael and open Hagar’s eyes to see the well.


Thereby sustaining and subsequently enabling Ishmael to be an expert in the bow, to grow up and even having a wife from Hagar’s homeland in Egypt.


Knowing that this is how God dealt with Ishmael and Hagar, and that God is consistent in His character. I pray that it would encourage us to affirm that God is sovereignly wise.


And since He is sovereignly wise, therefore whatever He determines is best.


Conclusion

Church, I hope you can see how each chapter from Gen 12 to 21 is interlinked and builds on each other. As we put them side by side, we can see how Moses compares and contrast situations and human characters.


And at the same time, there is this overarching narrative of God’s ability to fulfil His promises. God keeps His promises in and through human history.


May I submit that this is one key benefit of sermons that go through books of the bible.


And as we get to understand the God of the bible more, may it encourage us to want to appreciate how each book of the bible fits into God’s big picture - Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration.

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