God’s Compassion and the Weakness of Faith

God’s Compassion and the Weakness of Faith | Genesis 16
Brian Hedges | July 7, 2019

We all know that one of the features in any great story is character development. Character development happens in a story when you see a character go through this journey where he or she faces a dilemma, a challenge or a conflict, the tension is raised. Perhaps they fail or they make a bad choice, they get on a detour, they got off of the right path, and they have to somehow get back into the right path of development for their character of the story. This is true whether you’re reading a Jane Austen novel or you’re watching a Marvel superhero movie; at least in the best storytelling, you always see characters going through this development.

The same thing is true in the stories of Scripture. When we’re reading stories in Scripture of characters such as Abraham, as we’re studying together this summer, we see them on a journey. We see them developing over time, and they develop through a series of choices, oftentimes bad choices and failures that bring them to a point of crisis, and then a need for renewal, coming back to the Lord and getting back on the right path as they are growing in faith.

That is certainly the case with Abraham. This morning we come to Genesis 16, and it’s the first narrative that involves not only Abraham, but Hagar, and then eventually it’ll be Hagar and her son by Abraham, Ishmael. So Genesis 16 is where you want to turn in your Bibles.

This is a story that challenges us in all different kinds of ways, and as we work through it together I want us to look at three things, we’re going to categorize our thoughts into three groups. I want us to think about the problems of the story, and then we’re going to look at some lessons from the story, and then at the end I want you to see the gospel in the story. Okay?

I. The Problems of the Story
II. The Lessons from the Story
III. The Gospel in the Story

I. The Problems of the Story

Turn to Genesis 16:1, and in the very first half of the first verse you get the initial problem, and this is the central problem in this story. This is the problem that leads to all the other problems that will follow. Look at it in Genesis 16:1. It says, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children.” Now that’s the problem. This is the crisis, because you remember that God had made a promise to Abram in Genesis 12. He said, “I want you to go to the land I’m going to show you, and I’m going to give you this land, and I’m going to give you a son, I’m going to give you a descendant, and through you and your descendants all the nations of the earth are going to be blessed.”

Then throughout the Abraham narratives God is confirming and ratifying and expanding on that promise, as we saw a couple of weeks ago in Genesis 15. In fact, by this point in Abram’s life God has said not only, “Abram, you’re going to have a son,” but he said, “Count the dust of the earth, and your descendants are going to be like the dust. Look up into the sky and count the stars, if you can; your descendants are going to be like the stars. It’s going to be your very own child; it’s not going to be your servant, Eleazar.”

And yet, here Abraham is, Abram and Sarai (their names haven’t been changed yet). Here they are, ten years into their journeys in the land of Canaan. At the end of the chapter Abram is 86 years old, so here at the beginning he’s 85 years old, Sarah’s ten years younger, she’s 75, she’s far past the age of child-bearing, she’s been barren all these years; and this is the crisis. Where is this child going to come from?

Well, their response to that problem leads to all other kinds of problems. Let’s keep reading the text, okay? Chapter 16:1-3 now.

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, ‘Behold now, th eLord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptians, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife.”

Now, you don’t have to think about that for very long to see that there are all kinds of moral and ethical problems with this story. Now to be sure, in the time period in which Abram and Sarai lived, what they did was legal. It was legal for Sarai to have children through a concubine, through a servant.

But the English translations kind of gloss over some of the things that commentators point out in the Hebrew. They almost hide the fact that this is a situation involving slaves, it’s a situation where Abram is actually sleeping, he’s going to bed, with a slave in order to have a child. We can almost miss it by the way it’s translated here.

Robert Alter, who is a great Jewish commentator, says that “the tradition of English versions that render this word for slave as ‘maid’ or ‘handmaiden’ imposes a misleading sense of European gentility on the sociology of the story. The point is that Hagar belongs to Sarai as property, and the ensuing complications of the relationship built on that fundamental fact.”

So I just don’t want us to hide the fact at all that what we’re dealing with here is a slave in this household of faith, and then Abram sleeping with a slave in order to have a child by her. Pick up in verse 4.

“And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. And Sarai said to Abram, ‘May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace…’” Again, that’s a pretty polite translation; it literally says, “I gave her into your lap,” so very strong sexual overtones here. “‘I gave her into your lap, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!’ But Abram said to Sarai, ‘Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.”

That verb “dealt harshly” is the same word that’s used of the Egyptians later mistreating the Hebrew slaves, but here is the eventual mother of the all the Hebrews who is mistreating an Egyptian slave.

So you can see there are problems right here in the text — ethical problems. It’s a sad, ugly chapter in the story of faith, and it raises problems for us about Old Testament ethics. I want us to think about that for a few minutes this morning.

I think it’s important, if we’re going to be not Christians merely in name only but we’re going to be Bible-reading Christians, we’re going to be Bible-believing Christians, it’s important for us to know how to read our Bibles, and it’s important for us to know how to interpret and rightly apply Old Testament narratives.

One of the objections that non-Christians will often make to Christianity concerns the ethics of the Old Testament. For example, have you ever heard of Christopher Hitchens, one of the famous New Atheists? He wrote a book a number of years ago called God Is Not Great. There’s a chapter in that book called “Revelation: The Nightmare of the Old Testament,” where Hitchens claims that the Old Testament contains a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride price, and for indiscriminate massacre. “But,” he says, “we are not bound by any of it, because it was put together by crude, uncultured human animals.”

Well, you can hear the dismissive, almost sarcastic tone of Christopher Hitchens, but I can guarantee you that if you are a thoughtful Christian who is engaging with a thoughtful non-Christian, these questions are going to come up. In fact, your children may ask you questions like this, like, “How do we understand these problems in the Old Testament? How could there be slaves in the Old Testament if slavery is wrong?” and so on.

So, how do we answer this? That’s the question. How do we answer and respond to the challenge of these ethical issues in the Old Testament?

I want to give you three principles for interpreting these passages. I could probably give you six; I’m going to keep it down to three, and try to keep these brief, but I hope these will be helpful for us.

(1) Here’s the first thing to note: description does not always indicate approval. Just because the Bible tells you how people behaved doesn’t mean that God approves of how they behaved! Now, that should be pretty self-evident, and I think when you read the text closely it does become very evident; but I think sometimes people forget that.

This is what Paul Copan, in his book Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God, this is what he calls "the is/ought fallacy." He says, “Is doesn’t mean ought. The way biblical characters happen to act isn’t necessarily an endorsement of their behavior.”

Again, I think that’s pretty obvious when you read these stories, but we have to make sure that it’s obvious, especially to our children and to teenagers and college students, that when they’re reading the Old Testament they understand that what is descriptive is not necessarily prescriptive. Just because heroes of the faith, as we sometimes call them, acted in very unfaithful ways doesn’t mean that we should imitate them. There’s nothing in the text here that is giving approval or endorsement to Abram and Sarai’s actions.

(2) Here’s the second principle. We need to learn to read the stories of Scripture as part of the Story. Read the stories as part of the Story.

Here’s what I mean by that. You know that the Bible is a collection of many books, and together those books are telling a big story, a metanarrative, a story that goes all the way from Genesis to Revelation. I think it’s right to say that this metanarrative has four big movements, this big story has four big movements, and those movements are creation (Genesis 1-2), the fall (Genesis 3), with the outworking and the consequences of the fall running from Genesis 3 all the way through the book of Revelation. Then there’s restoration, or salvation, or redemption that comes to us ultimately through Jesus Christ, but it is a gradual unfolding of the plan of redemption. It begins in Genesis 3 and is not consummated until Revelation 21 and 22.

But here’s what you have to understand, is that this gradual unfolding of the plan of redemption happens concurrently with all the consequences and the effects of sin and the fall, and these two things are mixed together through the rest of Scripture. You have the consequences of sin, you have people who live in a fallen world and who act in fallen ways, even as God is slowly, incrementally disclosing his redemptive plan.

Then you get to the end of the story, the book of Revelation, where Jesus comes back and there’s a new heavens and a new earth; it’s new creation, and the world is returned to creation in many ways, except even better. There’s the city of God descending with all of this imagery related to the garden of Eden, descending to the earth, and God makes his home with man once again.

But as we’re reading these stories, such as the stories of Abraham, we have to recognize that these stories take place after the fall, they take place within a fallen world, with all of the consequences of sin that are in that particular fallen culture, that particular society. We have to pay attention to God’s unfolding revelation of his saving plan and of his moral will. He doesn’t give everything at once.

Here’s another way to say this. When we’re thinking particularly about issues of marriage —in this passage you have marriage compromised by something like polygamy, as Abram sleeps with his wife’s slave, sleeps with this woman who becomes like a concubine to him — when you’re thinking about marriage, God’s ideal for marriage is not revealed in the Abraham narratives. His ideal for marriage is revealed in Genesis 1-2, where God gave one man one woman to be his wife. One man and one woman for life; this is a monogamous, lifelong union.

That’s the pattern for marriage, but we see all different kinds of distortions of that path through the rest of Scripture. That ideal for marriage is restored gradually in the course of redemptive history, and once again is held out as the highest possible standard for marriage in the New Testament.

You could say the same thing in regards to slavery. It’s very clear in the early chapters of Genesis that all human beings are created in the image of God, and they are therefore created with equality, they’re created with dignity, they’re created with worth, they’re created in the image of God. But after the fall, you see these image-bearers treating one another with something less than dignity, so you have this social institution of slavery.

That social institution, that cultural institution of slavery, does not get overturned all at once, but when God begins to reveal his will and reveal his law to his people, this is what he does: he incrementally, gradually begins to work at the undermining of that institution. He does it first in the Old Testament law by giving the Israelites higher standards for how they are to treat slaves. They are to treat slaves in ways that were much more humane than the way they were treated in the surrounding culture.

When you get to the New Testament, Paul elevates the status of slaves to that of brothers, and he tells masters and slaves that they are to embrace one another as brothers. He relativizes these distinctions. He says that “there is neither male nor female, nor slave or free, in Christ.” They’re all one in Christ.

Of course, you look at the rest of Christian history, it was the Christians who were the first ones to recognize that slavery is sinful, slavery is something that needed to be done away with. Then you have the great stories of William Wilberforce and others who finally brought about the abolition of slavery in the 19th century. The roots of it, the seeds of it, are right there in Scripture.

So we have to read these stories as part of a bigger story. We have to see that there is a trajectory, there’s a movement that is running through the Scriptures, running through Old Testament and New, a movement that is gradually disclosing God’s redemptive plan, and when we read a story like this we have to recognize that it’s pretty early in that history.

(3) Here’s the third thing to remember: remember that the Bible wasn't written by dummies. Remember that the Bible wasn’t written by ignorant people. The Bible is foreign to us, yes, but for us to take the attitude (such as Christopher Hitchens and the other New Atheists take) and to sarcastically suggest that the Bible was written by these primitive, unenlightened people; that’s really falling into what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery,” which is the attitude that essentially says, “We live in the most enlightened time in human history, and we know more than anybody else has ever known,” and we can kind of write off this ancient literature as having nothing to teach us. It’s really not giving the Scriptures themselves, even on a purely literary level, it’s not giving them a fair shake.

Here’s what I want you to see: that the Bible is a highly sophisticated, artistically woven piece of literature, and the details themselves, the details in the story often deconstruct the disastrous moral decisions of the characters in the story. I want to show you this in just one way right here in Genesis 16.

Look again at verses 2 and 3, where it says that after Sarai said, “Here, take my slave, take Hagar, and maybe I can get children by her,” look at what verse 2b says. It says, “And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai,” and then the second half of verse 3 says, “Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife.”

Does that sound familiar to you? The verbs there should sound familiar to you, because it is a direct echo of Genesis 3. Let me read it, Genesis 3:6. “Eve took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” Verse 17, the Lord says, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree, cursed is the ground because of you.”

I think the writer of Genesis is very intentionally drawing a parallel here between Abram and Adam. He’s showing that in the same way that Adam rebelled against the word of the Lord, he turned away from the word of the Lord by listening to the voice of his wife (she took and gave the fruit and he ate), in the same way Sarai here, in unbelief, not listening to the word of God which was just given to them in Genesis 15, in unbelief she takes and she gives Hagar to her husband, and he listens to the voice of his wife. It’s showing us that Abram, just like Adam, is falling, he’s failing, he is turning away from the Lord. In doing that, he’s repeating that primal sin.

So the point here is that even the way the story is told is showing us God’s disapproval of what’s happening in this story. So remember, when you’re reading the Bible, it’s not written by dummies, and don’t be too quick to write things off. Instead, what we need to learn to do is read the Bible more attentively, we need to read the Bible more carefully, we need to pay attention. We need to read and re-read and ask questions, try to understand what’s really going on in these stories, and that will help us know how to better interpret the story.

II. The Lessons from this Story

Now, having said all of that, there are some lessons for us to learn from this narrative, and I want to point out three of them. There is, first of all, a warning for believers. There is, secondly, an exhortation for married people, and then thirdly there is an encouragement for marginalized people. Let me show you each one of these.

(1) First of all, there’s a warning for believers, and here’s how I would state the warning: remember that sin and unbelief always charge compound interest. You know what compound interest is, right? Compound interest is when you’re paying interest on the interest. You get a high-interest loan and you’re not paying back the principal, and before you know it you’re paying interest not only on the principal of the loan, you’re paying interest on the interest. In other words, the consequences are compounding, they’re growing more and more.

Sin is like that in our lives. When we sin, we always end up paying compound interest on the sin. I think one reason we can say that in this story is because Abram’s failure here and his trouble in Genesis 16 most likely goes all the way back to Genesis 12. In Genesis 12, again we see Abram. We saw this a few weeks ago.

God had sent Abram to this land, the promised land, and there’s famine in the land, and do you remember what he does? He doesn’t built an altar, he doesn’t pray; he goes to Egypt, and when he’s in Egypt he lies about Sarai his wife, Sarai ends up in Pharaoh’s harem, and Abram is getting paid for it. He’s getting paid a bridal price, a dowry, and part of that dowry are slaves. Most likely, that is how Hagar came into the picture, and now, ten years later, Hagar is proving to be a problem once again.

His failure ten years before is coming back to haunt them, and in the same way (it’s important for us to recognize this), sometimes the decisions that we make in our 20s haunt us in our 40s, or the decisions we make in our 40s will haunt us in our 60s, that the sin and the unbelief in an earlier point in life will come back later with consequences. We see that in Abraham’s story.

We also see that their decisions here for Abram to sleep with Hagar will lead to other further repercussions in their lives later on. That’s always how sin works.

So it’s a warning for us, don’t act sinfully, and don’t act out of unbelief. The root of their sin here is that they did not believe the promise of God. God had made a promise to them, remember, in Genesis 15, and they didn’t believe that promise, they didn’t act on that promise, in this particular situation, so it led to further consequences.

(2) Here’s the second application, second lesson. This is for married people. You need to know that you have powerful influence over your spouse, and you need to be careful to use that influence carefully.

You see it right here in the story. You see that Sarai is the one who brings this suggestion to Abram, right? “Why don’t you do this? We can have children this way.”

Now, what she’s doing, in their culture, of course, seemed like a common-sense kind of thing. It was legal, she had the legal right to do that, even though it was ethically wrong, it was morally wrong. The problem here is that Abram listens to her in this situation when he shouldn’t have.

Did you ever see that movie My Big, Fat Greek Wedding? It was a romantic comedy years ago. There’s a place in that movie where the daughter, whose name, I think, was Toula, is wanting to leave the family restaurant, she’s wanting to go to a community college, and her dad is all against it, he’s insisting that she not do that.

She’s crying to her mom and she’s saying, “Dad is so stubborn; he’s the head of the house, and what he says goes.”

Do you remember what the mom says? She says, “The husband is the head of the house, but the woman is the neck, and the neck can turn the head any way she wants.” So she’s going to exercise influence over her husband.

Well, listen. However you understand the different roles that men and women have in marriage, this much is absolutely indisputable: men and women, when they’re in a marriage relationship, have a lot of influence over one another. They really do, and they therefore have a responsibility to use that influence wisely.

Sarai didn’t. She didn’t use it wisely. She led Abram down the wrong path, and Abram, just like Adam before him, is complicit. He goes along with it.

There was a book written years ago by a Christian psychologist called The Silence of Adam, written by Larry Crabb. The whole premise of the book is that when they’re in the garden of Eden, Adam was silent and he was passive. Instead of exercising leadership and saying, “No, we’re not going to eat the fruit,” he was silent, didn’t contradict the word of the serpent. He just went along with it.

This is, I think, one of the great sins that husbands sometimes commit, is that they will be silent when they should speak up. Let me just say this: it works the other way around, too, because in Genesis 12 Abram was the one who was leading Sarai into sin, and Sarai is complicit, she is silent, she doesn’t say, “No, I’m not going to lie about who I am and I’m not going to be a part of Pharaoh’s harem.”

So, understand this, that in your marriage relationship you have influence, and you have to use that responsibly, you have to use that wisely, and you have to know when to stand up and say, “No, for us to walk in faith, for us to do what is right, we should do this, not this.” Sometimes because we don’t want to rock the boat, because we don’t want conflict, we just go along with our better half. Sometimes they are less than wise suggestions. Let’s be careful about that, and as married people understand the kind of influence we have over one another, and use it wisely.

(3) Here’s the third lesson, an encouragement for the marginalized. This lesson we could state this way: the God compassion sees you in your suffering. I’m thinking here about Hagar.

Hagar, in this story, is the victim. Hagar is the mistreated slave. She’s forced to sleep with her mistress’s husband. Then, when she finds out she’s pregnant, she recognizes that she’s actually going to have a child, she starts to feel like she has some equality in this household, right? She’s looking down on Sarai in that moment, and then she’s even more severely mistreated. When it says that “Sarai mistreated her,” it probably means that Sarai beat her. She was probably beaten. She was harshly treated.

So what does she do? She runs. When she runs, she’s headed, most likely, to Egypt. When we look at the geography in this passage, she’s on her way back to Egypt, and I want you to see what happens to her on this journey. It’s the most beautiful part of this passage. Pick up in verse 7.

So she’s on the way to Egypt, and it says, “The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way Shur. And he said, ‘Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?’ She said, ‘I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.’ The angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Return to your mistress and submit to her.’ The angel of the Lord also said to her, ‘I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

So, God speaks to her, and God works in this situation. It’s interesting that this phrase, this angel of the Lord, this is the very first time the angel of the Lord appears in Scripture. The angel of the Lord, I think that phrase shows up 40-something times in the Old Testament, and a lot of Old Testament scholars believe that this is actually--it’s more than just an angel, it’s the angel of the Lord, but a lot of scholars believe that this is a theophany, or even a Christophany, that it is a preincarnate appearing of Christ, that it is the Lord himself who’s coming and who is speaking to this person.

So here you have a slave, you have a woman who is mistreated, you have a Gentile, right, she’s not actually a part of this family; and she is the very first person that the Scripture tells us that the angel of the Lord appears to, and he appears to her in her suffering, or speaks to her in her suffering.

What is it that he does? He makes a promise, and the promise is about the son she’s going to have. We just read it in verse 10: “I will surely multiply your offspring, so that they cannot be numbered multitude.” It echoes Genesis 1:26 and the original creation blessing. God is promising blessing through her son.

Now it’s not the same as the blessing of Isaac, there’s still a contrast between Isaac and Ishmael; but nevertheless God meets her in her suffering, and he meets her with compassion.

III. The Gospel in the Story

This is what leads us to the final part of this message: the gospel in this story. If you wonder where the gospel in this story is, it’s right here in the revelation of God’s character that is given to Hagar. Really, you see it in three names that are given here in this story.

First of all, there’s the name for Ishmael. You see this in verse 11. “And the angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishamel, because the Lord has listened to your affliction.’”

Now the name Ishmael means “the Lord has listened,” and what God is doing here is he is showing that he is a God who listens to the cries of the oppressed! He hears the suffering of the marginalized and of the afflicted. God is the God who listens and the God who hears.

Verse 12 says, “He shall be a wild donkey of a man.” That sounds derogatory; it’s not, it’s actually a wordplay. The word “wild donkey” is a wordplay on Paran, the wilderness of Paran, which was later associated with the Ishmaelites, and what the angel here is saying is that Ishmael is going to be a very independent man, he’s going to live the life of an independent nomad, which is probably an advance, right? This is something better than a slave.

He is going to have a life of conflict, thought. It says, “His hand [will be] against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”

Then you have the second name in verse 13. “So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God of seeing...’” The Hebrew is El-Roi, the God who sees. “...for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.’” This is why some people think the angel of the Lord here is the Lord himself, because she says, “I’ve seen him, I’ve seen the Lord who looks after me.”

So God is the God who hears, the Lord who listens (Ishmael); he is the God who sees, El-Roi; and then she names the well in verse 14. “Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.” That means the well of the living God who sees, or something like that.

So, these names are telling us something about the character of God, telling us that God is the God who sees, he is the God who listens, he is the living God, he is the God of compassion who shows compassion on the weak, the marginalized, the suffering, and the oppressed.

Then you have one more thing here as part of the gospel of this passage: you have not only revelation of God’s character, you have the message of God’s faithfulness in verses 15 and 16, the last two verses in the passage. It says, “And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.”

Now, in some ways that just looks like a summary to the story. Hagar goes back, the angel told her to go back, “Go back and submit to your mistress.” Now why did he do that? Why did he says, “Go back and submit to your mistress”? Well, I think partly it’s because the only path of blessing in the Old Testament for non-Jewish people is to be connected to this family to whom God has made a promise and said, “In you and in your family all the other families of the earth will be blessed.” For Hagar to be blessed she has to be within the realm of the Abrahamic family. That’s part of it.

But I think there’s another reason here, because Abram and Sarai have been acting in unbelief. They have been acting as if God does not hear. They have been acting as if God does not see. They have been acting as if God were not involved.

The angel of the Lord sends Hagar back, and she goes back, and notice that in verse 15 it says that “Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.” Now how did he know to call him Ishmael? That revelation was given to Hagar. You know how he knew? He knew because Hagar told him what happened when she was in the wilderness. She told him about the angel of the Lord and what the angel of the Lord had said, and he believed it.

I think what happens here is that Hagar, the exiled, afflicted, mistreated slave becomes Hagar the emissary, Hagar the ambassador, Hagar the missionary, the one who comes back to the family and says, “I’ve had an encounter with the living God, and I can tell you he is a God who hears, and he is a God who sees.” They name this little boy Ishmael, and every time they speak his name from that day forward, it is a reminder that God sees and that God hears, and it is both a rebuke to them for their lack of faith and it is a reminder to them that they are to look to the living God who hears and who sees, they are to trust in him.

It’s a reminder to us, isn’t it, as well, that in our affliction, in our trials, in our suffering, and certainly in those moments when we hit a crisis in our own faith, a crisis in our lives--and every one of us does. We hit them in small ways and we hit them in big ways, these bumps in the road, these seeming detours, where it’s not going the way we thought it was going to go. We’re hit with a dilemma, we’re hit with a choice, and the choice is always, are we going to walk in faith, are we going to trust in the word of God; or are we going to rely on human effort and on what we ourselves can do to extricate ourselves from the situation?

So often we’re tempted to go that path, aren’t we? Maybe we do it in ways that are acceptable to everybody else, but it’s still a lack of faith, ti’s a lack of trusting God. The rebuke and the reminder to us is this name, Ishmael, “the Lord who listens.” It’s to be reminded that if we will seek the Lord, if we will pray, if we will ask his wisdom, if we will ask his grace, that God will direct, God will provide, God will do what he has promised to do in our lives.

I wonder where you are this morning. We’ve been all over the place in this passage. It may be that you have doubts about Scripture; if you do, let me encourage you to read the Bible more attentively and to pay attention to what’s going on in that text and to see how God is slowly disclosing his will, his character, and his plan. It may be that you’re in a crisis, it may be that you’re in trouble in some way in family or marriage or finances or a job or health. If you are, don’t think that God has forgotten about you, but instead look to the God who looks at you, the God who sees and the God who listens, and trust in him, and do that to God’s glory. Let’s pray.

Our gracious God, we come to you this morning and acknowledge that we often tend to walk by sight rather than walk by faith. Too often we do not believe your word or act as if we believed the word. We ask you for forgiveness for that, and we ask you for fresh perspective this morning, that we would see you as the God that you are, as the God who cares about us, the God of compassion, the God who sees, and the God who listens, as the living God.

Lord, you know our needs this morning, and we pray that you would meet them. I pray that you would draw near to us as we come to the Lord’s table in these moments. We pray that you would help us to examine our hearts, to examine ourselves whether we be in the faith, and to pay attention to our lives and to see whether we’re walking by faith and have been walking by faith even in the last week.

Lord, where repentance is needed I pray that you would grant that, that you would help us to turn from our sins, to turn from our self-sufficiency and to turn from unbelief and to lay hold once again of the promises of God. We pray that the Lord Jesus would be magnified in these moments, that he would be glorified, that we would cherish him, trust him, love him, that we would honor him as we take these elements. We pray it in Jesus’ name and for his sake, Amen.