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.
What do you feel when you tell your friend to give you something and he simply says ‘no’? Usually we are not happy when we make a request to someone to do something for us or to give us and we are turned down. 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 people make promises that they will do something when they have no will or commitment to do it. Then they keep on avoiding you! How many promise-breakers there are!
The Bible teaches Christians to have very straightforward answers. This is what our Master says so plainly, “Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:37) and His Apostle James repeats the same,
But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your "yes" be yes and your "no" be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (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.” (Mathew 7:7). On the basis of this invitation we pray… so “how can He tell us to pray and deny us when we pray?” Some people ask and then end up with the conclusion that God never answers NO!
Does God answer prayers with a definite NO? We need a Biblical attitude to understand this question. We are supposed to understand what prayer accomplishes for us and in us before the Lord. The basic question is, “What is prayer?” Prayer is depending on God’s will and goodness. It is the understanding that we are not all-sufficient, God is. 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?
Two lessons to encourage us about prayer: God answers prayers and secondly God may answer NO to our prayers. These two lessons are meant to encourage us to pray.
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 the entire 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 us His Son, Jesus Christ to bring us closer to Him. So He 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! The most difficult answer for us is ‘NO’ 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, (this was the first time recorded, that he was making a direct petition to God) all he got was a ‘No’ for an answer from God!
Abraham was not discouraged from prayer because God told him no. He was glad 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 whom 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. Impatience is a great hindrance to prayer! 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 – no hope! 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 generosity of His grace! No desperation is beyond the richness of the grace of God!
We are not to give up even when 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 seems like nothing would happen, let us be persistent and patient to wait. This is the time to particularly to request for more faith to persevere and keep on trusting in the faithfulness of God to do good. Soon God will give an answer even beyond our imagination. God will come at His appointed time. What a wonder that our God answers all prayers!
This is because God answers prayers. In this passage He gave an answer, it was a negative answer, yes, but an answer nonetheless.
We must know that an answer from God is a good answer since it is an all-wise answer, from the infinitely holy, good and gracious God. In fact a negative answer from God is all-dependent on His infinite wisdom. Remember that He gave a negative answer to the Lord Jesus when He prayer for the cup of God’s wrath to be taken away when He prayed in Gethsemane on the eve of His crucifixion. Paul also pleaded with the Lord three times for the thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to be withdrawn but all he got was a negative answer!
2. God answers ‘NO’
You would think that the man who had so much faith as to please God (since without faith it is impossible to please God, Hebrews 11:6) would not be told No by God at all. You would assume that because he was called a friend of God (James 2:23) his prayers will always be answered YES. But God here told No because, he was not always wise in his prayers. Like in this case his prayers were completely unwise because God had spoken to Him.
Abraham was as human as you and I. He had his times of discouragement as to look for shortcuts, even of sin! Consider such incidents with Hagar (Genesis 16:4). Surely you know that on two occasions he lied about his own beautiful wife Sarah that she was his sister – to Pharaoh (Genesis 12) and then to Abimelech (Genesis. 20). This 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 has so dearly loved us with an everlasting love. We are all in need of a Saviour. Thank God we have Christ who helps the sons of Abraham as opposed to angels! (Hebrews 2:16). Thank God who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses for He was tempted in every way, on our behalf, and yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Thank the Lord that Christ Jesus is able to save completely those who draw to God through Him (Hebrews 7:25).
The point is that Abraham was a sinful man and had finite mind. He needed to depend on the wisdom of God. When God says ‘NO’ you can be sure that you are fully depending on 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 (Romans 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? (Romans 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. (Ephesians 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." (Genesis 17:19-21)
Three blessings for Abraham concerning the son of the promise
· Sarah – His wife shall bear him a son (not a daughter, but a son as promised in Genesis 12, 15, 17 who is born in Genesis 21). (vv.19, 21)
· Even his name is known far beforehand like Jesus! – he shall be called Isaac (meaning happy one), (v.19). He was a type or was pointing to Christ.
· 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 notice that Isaac’s blessings are 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 of intercession. Let us pray for others like Abraham prayed for his son Ishmael and for Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:23ff.
We are to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We are to pray with our spirit and with understanding (1Corinthians 14:15) We are to pray expecting God to answer as we asked because Christ promised that “Whatever you ask in my Name this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my Name, I will do it” (John 14:13,14).
Moreover, we are to pray expecting God to answer us as far beyond our imaginations (Ephesians 3:20). Never limit God in you prayers. What is it that we need? Is it wisdom or salvation or healing or money? Ask of God … He is able to give you. There are times when He wants to give you something better than your thought – submit to His will and you will be shocked at where He will take you in His love.
And now To Him who is able to do far more than we may ever ask or even think, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.