Community Group Study “Genesis: God’s Faithfulness in Family Brokenness”
Read Genesis 21:1-34
What comes to your mind when you think about God’s faithfulness?
Often when we hear the words “God’s faithfulness” we think that means God will work things out the way we desire them to work out. Yet, what we see throughout scripture is that God is with his people, God keeps his promises, He does not change and God can use even the broken and sinful experiences of life on earth for his good purposes. After 25 years of waiting for God to fulfill his promise, Abraham finally experiences the joy of holding Isaac in his arms. Genesis 21:1-2 show how God keeps his promise by giving us the statements “God kept his promise”, “just as he said” and “which God had spoken to him”. We see Abraham and Sarah’s joy in their naming of their son Isaac which means “laughter”. This name one one hand commemorates their doubt and laughing at God’s promise in Genesis 18, but on the other hand it points to God’s gift of joy; as Sarah says, “God has made laughter for me”.
God is faithful. Even though God made his promise 25 years earlier, he is faithful.
However, it does not take long for this trust in God’s faithfulness to be tested. Three years go by and at a family party to celebrate Isaac entering childhood and leaving the tenuous years of infant mortality in the ancient world, Ishmael is caught “laughing” at Isaac. On first reading this could seem like its not a big deal, but this type of “laughter” is one that alarms Sarah and for good reason. Galatians 4:29 will call this incident “persecution” and the Hebrew word used for laughter in Genesis 21:9 is often translated as mocking. It appears that out of jealousy and/or hate, 16 year old Ishmael picks on a toddler, mocking him as the “son of the promise”. Sarah moves to protect her son and demands that “the slave woman and her son” be cast out. Let’s remember that Ishmael is Abraham’s son too. Im a moment of desperation, doubt and fear Sarah comes up with a plan to provide for them an heir through the use of a surrogate named Hagar who was a servant of Sarah’s. Hagar conceives and flaunts it over Sarah who lashes back with abuse that causes Hagar to run away to the desert where the Lord meets her and sends her back. This is a long and complicated family drama that is filled with brokenness and sin. This most recent conflict between Sarah and Ishmael has Abraham divided between his love for Ishmael and his wife’s demand. God enters the story and tells Abraham that he is behind even this tragic scenario to move forward his plan and that God will use it to establish Isaac as the sole heir to the promise, just like God had said back in Genesis 12.
Even in the tragedy that comes next, we can see the beauty of God’s providence and faithfulness as the Lord pulls themes and “loaded” words from Genesis 16 into Hagar and Ishmael’s current dilemma. Hagar finds herself homeless and Ishmael is now a fatherless teen. They wander in the wilderness, exhaust their supplies and Ishmael finds himself near the point of death. Hagar lays him under a bush and moves away because she cannot watch him die. She sits down on the ground and does all she can think to do… weep and lift up her voice in desperation. We’d expect God to respond to her cry, but if you look at the text, Genesis 21:17 tells us God heard Ishmael, not Hagar. Why is that? Ishmael was named Ishmael because “the LORD had listened” to Hagar’s affliction. His name means “God hears”, and God has heard his cry from under the bush as he was near death. God them comforts Hagar and encourages her to not give up hope. We then read that God “opened her eyes” so she could see what was hiding in plain sight, a well of water. This once again points us back to Genesis 16 when Hagar called God “a God of seeing”. This “God of seeing” opens her eyes to see how he has provided.
What we learn in this section of Genesis is that God is faithful to his promise and his plan and that he uses even the sin and brokenness of this family to move that plan forward. God does this with love and care as he hears, opens eyes and provides.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Genesis 21:1-21. We learn that God is faithful to his promise in both what we would call good moments and bad ones. What are three or four examples of this from the text?
What conflict to Abraham and Sarah find themselves in?
Abraham finds himself in a difficult situation where he is “displeased” with the idea of casting out Ishmael. Looking back on the story of Abraham and Sarah, why are they in this difficult situation to begin with? How could this been seen as a result of unaddressed and ongoing sin?
We’ve learned over the story of Abraham that he wrestled with walking in fear and faith. This family is not the neat and perfect family many of us could expect God to use but one that is flawed and deeply broken. How does God use this brokenness to move forward his plan to establish Isaac as the heir to his promise to Abraham?
How should God’s use of this imperfect family encourage followers of Jesus today to know and trust God’s grace?