Isaac Receives the Sign
“Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him” (Gen. 21:4).
God’s covenant with Noah (8:20–9:17) and Abraham (15; 17:1–21) are two instances when the divine purposes for humanity moved forward in monumentally historic ways.
In today's study of Genesis 21, we see how Moses wants us to understand Isaac’s birth in a similar manner. His use of the Hebrew paqad in verse 1 helps indicate this. In context, this word, translated “visited,” has the sense of a destiny-altering meeting. Once the Lord “visited Sarah,” her life was never the same. No longer would she be the childless wife of His servant Abraham. Instead, she would be honored as the mother of God’s people, the matriarch of Israel.
Yet this visitation also heralds salvation, which is no surprise since there could be no inheritance — no blessed future for the patriarch’s offspring (12:1–3; Gal. 3:29) — if Sarah birthed no children!Paqad is also used in Genesis 50:24 when Joseph predicts Yahweh’s redemption of His people from Egypt. Like that momentous event, Isaac’s birth represents the mighty hand of God to save His chosen ones.
All that happens in 21:1–5 is clearly the result of the Creator’s sovereign will. The repetition of the Lord’s spoken promise three times in verses 1 and 2 is a literary device accentuating God’s absolute control of the situation. Likewise, Moses’ note in verse 5 that Abraham was one hundred years old when Isaac was born is not an incidental detail. It reminds us that there was no way this tired, elderly couple would have had a son without the miraculous touch of the Lord.
Finally, as we saw in Genesis 15 and 17, God’s sovereign oath to ensure the covenant is kept does not deny Abraham’s responsibility. The patriarch obeys Yahweh, naming the promised son Isaac(17:19; 21:3) and circumcising him on the eighth day (17:12; 21:4). In bringing life from Sarah’s lifeless womb and in making our dead souls alive in regeneration (Eph. 2:1–10), the Lord does for His people what they cannot do for themselves. But all those He has redeemed show they have life by their good works (James 2:14–26).
God’s sovereign and powerful work of salvation frees us to obey Him with joy. We do not have to suffer under the burden of having our own efforts measure up, for we obey in gratitude because Christ’s faithfulness has satisfied the Lord’s covenant. Our responsibility is real and obligatory and is yet the most freeing submission we have (1 John 5:3). Are you viewing obedience as a burden? Ask the Spirit to make you one who yearns to serve Him with great joy.
Passages for Further Study
- Ps. 100:2
- Matt. 24:45–51
- Rom. 7:6
- 1 Tim. 4:6–16
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