September 19, 2012

As an introduction to this blog, read the article, “The Isaac Connection,” on our Glimpses of Grace webpage.

Many unbelievers want to know, “Why does a loving God seemingly allow bad things to happen to good people?” My go-to passage for this is Genesis 50:20. Joseph asserted, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”

Joseph’s life was enveloped in the extraordinary. He was the object of jealous revenge from his brothers; his parents misunderstood him; he was kidnapped and sold into slavery and taken far from his home. He was then lied about to his grieving father; his employer falsely accused him; and he was cast into prison for years for something he did not do. If there had been anyone who had the absolute right to question the works of a loving God, it was Joseph. How did Joseph respond? He summed it all up with the words “you sold . . . God sent.” These words shout to me, proclaiming God’s amazing plan to use events that appear bad to us in order to bring about our ultimate good and to fulfill His ultimate purpose (Romans 8:28).

Israel’s leaders rejected Jesus as their king. Our Lord’s response?  He clearly told them that they would not see Him again until the time comes when they would say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35). What will God use to move an entire generation of unbelieving Jews to finally accept Him?  A more pointed question might be, “What could cause an entire generation of Jewish people to be born again in a day?” (Romans 11:26-27). Centuries ago God amazingly brought in a group of divine antagonists to pressure His chosen people through intimidation to finally come to grips with the truth that the Carpenter from Nazareth is indeed their promised Messiah.

God blessed Abraham and Sarah by giving them the desire of their heart – Isaac. He was their miracle child, born as the result of God’s promise. Sarah and Abraham had mudded the waters by trying to help God help them. Sarah suggested that Abraham have a son by her handmaid, Hagar. The result was an apparent disaster! Ishmael was born to Abraham and Hagar. Sarah soon became very uneasy with the outcome.  She noticed that Ishmael, the older, would pick on Isaac, the younger. The text simply reads, “And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing” (Genesis 21:9). This was no ordinary horseplay between two brothers; it was hazing with a divine purpose. Ishmael and his biological mother realized that they were not a highly regarded part of Abraham’s family.  Ishmael evidently took vengeance upon Isaac at every private opportunity. In this case, he was busted!

Sarah insisted that Abraham cast out the bondwoman and her son. The reason? They will have no part in our family’s future (Genesis 21:10).  What a cruel thing to do! Abraham was understandably upset. He loved Ishmael as any father would love a son from his own flesh. God instructed Abraham to listen to his wife! “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” That was all the explanation God deemed necessary. He promised Abraham that He would make Ishmael’s family into a great nation.

Paul alludes to the Ishmael-Isaac hazing scene in his letter to the Galatians. “He who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.’” (Galatians 4:29-30)

That little phrase “even so it is now” jumps out at me. Catch this glimpse. Paul recognized that during his day God was in the process of fulfilling his promise to Abraham to make Ishmael’s line into a great nation of people – the Arabs. And the same persecution exhibited by young Ishmael toward his younger brother was being multiplied through his family line toward the entire Jewish family.  This persecution has increased in intensity through the centuries and is stronger than ever today. One day it will peak and, along with other factors, be used by God in an amazing way to help motivate the Jews to cry out for their Messiah to return. He will return to perform the greatest rescue mission in human history.

God always has a reason for everything that He ordains, no matter how awkward it may appear to us. The Arabs mean their intimidation for malice, but God will use it in order to accomplish His ultimate good. God, you are amazing!

We will discuss more divine antagonists in the next blog!