And the Lord did exactly what He had said.
The year after He had visited Abraham and delivered the news that he and Sarah would have a son, Sarah conceived and gave birth to a little boy (Genesis 21:2). Abraham circumcised the child as God had instructed, and he named him Isaac, which means laughter. Only this time, the laughter caused by Isaac wasn’t that of disbelief, but of great joy. Who would have guessed that Abraham and Sarah would have a child in their old age or that such joy would fill Sarah’s heart after so many years of heartache.
Isaac’s birth, however, didn’t bring joy for everyone. If you remember, there is another woman and another child thrown into the mix: Hagar and Ishmael. Sarah notices her handmaiden laughing, probably in mockery, at Isaac one day and quickly turns to her husband. “I can’t have this woman in my home,” Sarah told Abraham. “Send her away. I will not have her son being an heir with Isaac” (verse 10). His wife’s request hurt Abraham’s heart. After all, Ishmael was his son too. But the Lord assured him that Ishmael would be taken care of. He was to do as his wife requested. Isaac will be the heir of promise.
As Hagar was loaded up with food and water for a journey of who-knows-how-many miles, her heart was probably heavy. She had done this before, only last time she had left of her own will. Now she was being sent away. What would happen to her and the boy? Would they survive? Along the way they ran out of water and Hagar was convinced that this was the end. She left the boy under some bushes and walked several paces away so that she wouldn’t have to listen to him as he died from dehydration. She prepared herself for the worst.
Once again God spoke in the midst of Hagar’s desperation. “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation” (verses 17-18). God opened the woman’s eyes to see a well standing nearby, a well that probably had been there the whole time, but Hagar hadn’t seen it for her despair. She had expected death, but God showed her life.
The end, right! Sarah has her boy. Hagar is going to live. Abraham will become a nation through his two sons. Sounds like a nice way to wrap up our study, doesn’t it. God’s promise is fulfilled. That’s all there is.
Well, not exactly.
When I started this series, I had a question I wanted answered: Is it wrong to have expectations? And if not, how do I handle them in a way that doesn’t tie me up in knots or leave me disappointed?
I see now that expectations aren’t dealt with by clinging to them or even trying to ignore them. It doesn’t really matter whether or not life happens how we expect, and most of the time things are going to be different than we hoped or planned. What does matter is that we surrender those plans and expectations.
You see, even after Abraham had his son, there was one more test, one more thing God wanted to do. Yes, He had made a seemingly impossible promise and had made good on His word; but where did Abraham’s allegiance lie? Was it with the promise or with the One who made that promise? If God decided to take the promise from Abraham, would he still worship as he did in the beginning when he built those alters?
So God tested Abraham. He called him out and asked him to take his son, his only son Isaac and take him up the mountain and sacrifice him. And Abraham went. He went in obedience and hope that God would come through, that somehow Isaac would be spared or raised from the dead after the sacrifice was completed. Every expectation for the future, every hope for what was ahead lay on the child over whom Abraham’s hand was raised, knife poised and ready to kill. God stopped him before the knife fell. Isaac lived and a ram was provided for the sacrifice. But something else was sacrificed that day too: Abraham surrendered and sacrificed his expectations. He laid them on the alter with Isaac and once again we see his faithfulness to the God who called him out of Ur.
Life is hard sometimes. We all have hopes and plans for how our lives will go and often life ends up looking very different. Things get messy, we make mistakes, jobs are lost, people move, relationships are broken, God takes us a different direction, makes us wait a little longer, or things just plain don’t work out. That isn’t to say that we can’t dream or that it’s wrong to have expectations of any kind. What it does mean is that we hold those dreams and expectations with open palms. We lay them on the alter as Abraham did and let God do with them what He will. We cling to the one thing we know we can expect: that God is good, His plans are good, and He will make good on His promises.
That’s how we end–back at the point of surrender. Where our lives are in God’s hands and we cling to Him with everything we’ve got.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this series, that you’ve been challenged and have seen the story of Abraham in a different way than before. I also hope that this man’s journey has come to life like never before. Remember, these stories we read in the Bible aren’t just stories. They are history. Real people, real events, real encounters with the One True God.
May you be blessed as you continue to seek the Lord and may you find peace and freedom as you surrender your expectations to Him. And always remember, God has good plans for you, far greater than you can imagine or even expect.
Live in His love!
Photo by Debbie Riley