Read: Genesis 21: 1 – 34
Focus: “God is obviously with you, helping you in everything you do,” Abimelech said. Genesis 21:22b
The Old Testament can be difficult to understand. I remember several years ago when I first starting following Jesus, I was struggling to read the Old Testament. I kept asking myself why would God condone this kind of behavior that obviously goes against all that He seems to stand for. For example, let’s look briefly at Abraham and Sarah. In Genesis 12, Abraham (then Abram) lied to the Egyptians and Pharaoh about Sarah; to protect himself, Abraham told the Egyptians she was his sister not his wife allowing Pharaoh to take Sarah as his wife. In Genesis 16, Sarah and Abraham weren’t willing to continue to patiently wait for the Lord to fulfill his promise to give them a son and make Abraham the father of many descendants, so they took matters into their own hands. Sarah convinced Abraham to have an affair with her servant Hagar. This affair led to Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, being conceived. It also led to jealousy between Hagar and Sarah as well as strife in Abraham’s family. In Genesis 20, Abraham again lies about Sarah being his sister to protect his own hide, this time to the Philistine King Abimelech. And in today’s reading, we see continued strife among Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael leading to Abraham sending Hagar and Ishmael away into the wilderness.
Wow – that could make for the plot of a soap opera or a reality TV show, and that’s only a few chapters about one of our Biblical heroes; as we progress to other Biblical leading men such as Jacob and King David, it gets even more dramatic. My struggle as a new Christian was how could God, who is purely good, condone this lying, plotting, sleeping around, etc. I remember praying to God about my confusion over all of this. I also remember shortly thereafter, I was listening to a Charles Stanley sermon that just happened to be about this very matter that was causing me confusion and angst. In it, Dr. Stanley made a point that I hadn’t considered. He asked, where does it say in the Bible that God was condoning or approving the flawed behaviors of these Biblical heroes that I was struggling to understand? He continued that it doesn’t; God isn’t condoning Abraham’s, Sarah’s, Jacob’s, David’s, or anyone else’s sin in these Biblical accounts anymore than He condones our sin. God didn’t tell Abraham to go to Egypt and deceive Pharaoh; Abraham did that on his own, and there were consequences. God didn’t tell Abraham and Sarah to stop waiting for Him to give them a son; they did that on their own, and there have been consequences to that sinful decision that have lasted generations – Islam descends from Ishmael just as Judaism descends through Abraham’s heir Isaac, and just as the angel said to Hagar in Genesis 16:12, the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac continue to live in open hostility to one another. Instead, these were accounts of flawed people (just as we are flawed), who in spite of their sin, still turned to God with all of their hearts repeatedly.
God is truly good; He is good in a way that we can’t fully comprehend. Because He is purely good, He can’t be around sin. We know from the first half of Romans 6:23 that the price for our sin is death. However, that’s not what God wants for us. He loves us in ways that are too big and powerful for us to fully understand. For example, He loves me more than I love my wife or daughter (that’s more love than I can fully wrap my head around). God wants us with Him for eternity; He wants us in a relationship with Him where we seek Him and turn to Him at all times. So He gives us a way to escape the sin cycle, be free of sin, so we can be with Him. The second half of Romans 6:23 doesn’t end with us needing to die for our sins; instead it offers hope – “but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
As you read the Old Testament, don’t get confused by the sin you’ll see (there’s a lot of it). Remember that God’s not condoning the sin; it’s just an account of what happened so we see that even those who are close to God (David, who committed some of the most heinous sins in the Old Testament, was labeled a man after God’s own heart), fall short through their sin and need God’s redemption. It’s a reminder that we can’t do it on our own. God wants us to understand that we each need a savior, and He has provided that Savior through His Son, Jesus.
Prayer: Lord, thank You for Your Word and that You provide a way for me to understand that I don’t stand alone in my sin – sin is something that has affected every man and woman throughout history. Only Jesus stands innocent of sin. Rather than living with guilt and shame for my sin, I ask You to please forgive me. I accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for me, and acknowledge that He is my Lord and Savior. Please help me to understand what You have for me as I read Your Word and please help me to apply Your Word to my life. In Jesus’ name… Amen.