And Abraham said to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before you!" God said, "No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. (Gen 17:18-19)
Usually we are not very happy when we make a request to someone to do something for us to be given a negative answer. No one appreciate a definite ‘NO’ when a request is made. But so often the answers given are “NO’ only that they are given by people who have no guts to say so… many make promises that they will do something when they have no will or commitment to do it. How many promise-breakers there are! The Bible teaches Christians to have very straightforward answers as our Master tell us so plainly, “Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Mat 5:37) and His Apostle James reiterates the same (see James 5:12).
Does God ever tell us no when we pray? He is the One who told us to pray – "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Mat 7:7). How can He tell us to pray and deny us when we pray? We need a Biblical attitude to understand this question. We need to pray why we pray. We are supposed to understand what prays accomplishes for us and in us before the Lord. Is this the same attitude we are to have when we approach God in our petitions and He says a definite no? Do we have more insight?
1. God answers Prayers!
We are to be glad that our God is alive – He hears and acts. He is the sovereign God in total control of all the universe. He orders all things according to the counsel of His will. He is omnipresent and omnipotent as well as omniscient. He is holy and immutable. He is good and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love. He has the welfare of His people at heart that is why He gave them His son Jesus Christ to bring them closer to Himself. So gives His people the very best to His glory and to their good.
Our God answers the prayers of His people. He never ignores those who are called by His name because they are His children. When God answers prayers He may answer three ways – Yes, Wait or No! Of the three the most difficult answer for us is the latter and this is what we will consider from the passage that we read. Abraham was a man of faith and had God’s favour. However when he sought to pray and this was the first time he was making a direct petition to God. And the first answer He got was a ‘No’ from God.
Abraham was not discouraged from prayer because God told him no. He was happy because although the answer was negative, it was beyond his wildest dreams. What exactly did Abraham ask for? It was a very short prayer but with great implications."Oh that Ishmael might live before you!" was the prayer of Abraham. He was asking that God may give Ishmael the favour of the promise. He was asking that Ishmael would be the one through the Saviour Jesus Christ would come!
Why was he praying like this? It was because he had been waiting for the promise of the son for so long. To him Sarah was too old to bear son (v.17), he was also approaching the end of his life and there was not even a silver lining. HE WAS LOOSING FAITH!
Praise the Lord that He is so gracious as to answer prayers even of those who are loosing faith. Even those who are growing faint and are feeling like giving up and God comes for them because it all based on the benevolence of His grace!
We are not to give up even we feel like we are against all odds. Let us be prayerful and trust the Lord to come through for us is times of fainting. When we have prayed for the conversion of our husbands and children and relatives and it seem like nothing would happen let us be patient to wait for God will come at His appointed time. What a wonder!
2. God answers ‘NO’
You would think that the man who had so much faith to please God, since without faith it is impossible to please God would not be at his lowest moment in faith. You would assume that because he was called a friend of God (Jas 2:23) he would have a full tank of faith throughout. But no – he was as human as you and I are. He had his times of discouragement as to look for shortcuts of sin through Hagar (16:4). Surely you know that on two occasions he lied about his own beautiful wife Sarah that she was his sister – to Pharaoh (Gen. 12) and then to Abimelech (Gen. 20) shows that we are all frail human beings, men of dust with feet of clay – prone to sin and wander away from the Lord who so dearly loves us with an everlasting love. We are all in need of a Saviour. Thank God there is no one who is beyond repair as many people say. Thank the Lord that Christ Jesus is able to save completely those who draw to God through Him.
Anyway the point is that Abraham was a sinful man and had finite mind. He needed to depend on the wisdom of God. Let me tell you when God says ‘NO’ You can be sure that you are fully depending n His wisdom to grant you what you need. He says that for those He has called according to His purpose – all things will work together for their good (Rom. 8:28). Now, if He has given you His Son to die for you, how shall He not give you, along with Him all things? Yes this is the question… “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom 8:32). You see the point of this verse is that a no is not actually a ‘No’ for God’s children! It is because His power at work in us can do far more than we dare ask or imagine. Amen. (Eph 3:20 CEV). In saying ‘No’ He is giving us an answer that is beyond our imagination. Look at what follows Abraham’s answer:
God said, "No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.
As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.
But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year." (Gen 17:19-21)
Three blessings for Abraham concerning the son of the promise
· Sarah – His wife shall bear him a son (not a daughter, a son as promised in Genesis 12, 15, 17 who is born in 21). (vv.19, 21)
· Even his name is known far beforehand like Jesus! – he shall be called Isaac. (v.19)
· And the biggest promise is that God will establish His covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. (vv. 19, 21)
· The time period of the son of the promise is given – only 12 months from this discussion! (v.21)
Blessings for Abraham concerning Ishmael
· God had heard him! God Himself told Abraham that He heard His request concerning Ishmael and He would answer him. (v. 20)
· God would bless him and will make fruitful and multiply him greatly. He will have twelve princes whereas Isaac would have only two sons! (v. 20)
Yes Ishmael, in answer to Abraham’s prayer will enjoy wonderful physical blessings but Isaac will enjoy all the spiritual blessings! Abraham had indeed been answered beyond his imagination.
How many times we have been discouraged because there is no answer forthcoming from the Lord when we pray. We are not to give up … we are not to faint or grow weary. We are to pray with importunity and persistence and vigor. How prayerful are we? You know if there is a ministry that needs strengthening in this church and in all churches of Christ is that intercession. Let us pray for others like Abraham prayed for his son Ishmael and for Sodom and Gomorrah in 18:23ff.
We are to pray without ceasing and with understanding. We are to pray expecting God to come through for them as well as for us beyond our imagination. We are to trust Him to save our children and our relatives and our neighbors to the glory of His Name. Amen!