Genesis 16 begins with a story that we’re not much used to in this culture. The idea of concubines is foreign to us, something I’m glad for.
Nonetheless the story happened, and the results were not good. There were problems from the very beginning, and the conflict between Hagar and Sarai has never really ended. To this day the Arabs, descendants of Ishmael, the son of Hagar, make war with the Israelites, descendants of Isaac, about whom we will read tomorrow.
Paul uses Hagar and Sarai as an example of the old and new covenants in Galatians 4:21-31. I’ll let you read that passage for yourself. Do read it, however, as it will give you an introduction to the way that the earliest Christians, including the apostles, interpreted the writings of the old covenant.
Do notice that even though Hagar was the servant and represents the old covenant, she was treated graciously by God in the wilderness.
Genesis 17: New Names and the Covenant of Circumcision
In chapter 17, God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. Abraham means the father of many nations.
God also institutes the covenant of circumcision, which is still of great importance to the Jews today. The new covenant, however, introduced a new circumcision, a spiritual circumcision of the heart, and through that spiritual circumcision we are made spiritual Jews (Rom. 2:28-29; Php. 3:3). Paul ties that spiritual circumcision to baptism in Colossians 2:11-12.
As we read through the Law of Moses we will see the importance of circumcision. It is important to keep in mind as we read the Tanakh that God always had a new covenant in mind. He knew that a spiritual people would come along who would understand and apply the Law spiritually, and he gave the Law in preparation for them. It is for this reason that circumcision was so important to the Israelites. It was a picture of God circumcising our hearts in Christ.
It is for that same reason that Paul interprets Sarah and Hagar as the two covenants. The Law is spiritual. Don’t get lost in the details and miss the spiritual truths. And don’t limit yourself to those spiritual truths that are specifically explained in the new covenant writings. As a spiritual people we are not only free, but obligated, to derive spiritual meaning from the Tanakh as we read it.
God Appears to Abraham
In chapter 18, God appears to Abraham with two angels and has a meal with him. Excuse the modern terminology, but how cool is that?
There God says again that Sarah will have a child in her old age. In chapter 17 Abraham laughed when he was told that. In chapter 18, Sarah overheard and she laughed. Why was only Sarah rebuked?
The most probable reason is that though Abraham laughed, he was ready to believe. Sarah, however, was filled with unbelief. On that, though, I can’t say for certain, and it might be wise to listen in case God gives you something concerning the two that will bless the saints.
God then explains to Abraham that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham does not leave it at that, but he stood before God and appealed, though just for Sodom. It is likely that he was thinking of his nephew Lot.
He argues God down to having mercy on the city if there are just ten righteous men in it.
We can learn from this that the will of God is often not set. It can be changed by our intercession. He has given the earth to men (Ps. 115:16), while he will intervene to accomplish his eternal purposes, much of what happens on this earth has been left to us, to our good or bad choices, and to our prayers.
Lot Flees Sodom
In Genesis 19 the two angels arrive in Sodom and get a taste of the evil of the people of Sodom.
The angels helped Lot and his family out of Sodom. The angels told them to flee without looking back. Lot’s wife didn’t listen to this admonition, and she was turned into a pillar of salt.
Here, too, is something that we modern Christians can learn. God is merciful, but when he gives us warning, we can expect that there is a reason. Sometimes truly terrible events result from not heeding the warnings that God puts into our lives.
Ammon, Moab, and Genesis 20
The rest of chapter 19 gives the story of the ancestors of the nations of Moab and Ammon, a story I shall not delve into here.
In chapter 20, we find that Abraham hadn’t learned his lesson from his trip to Egypt, and he ends up turning his wife over to the king of Gerar. Once again, God comes to the rescue of Abraham and Sarah.
God Appearing To Man
There are many appearances of God to men under the old covenant. John 1:18 tells us, however, that no man has seen God at any time. These old covenant appearances are known as Christophanies because this is God’s Son appearing as "The Angel of the Lord."
We see one further evidence of this in Genesis 19:24. There we are told that the Lord called down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah from the Lord in heaven. In other words, there are two Lord’s is this verse, one in heaven and one on earth. This is the Father and the Son long before the Son was born as a human.
Let’s address God’s name here as well. Whenever you see GOD or LORD capitalized in your Bible, the original Hebrew writing had YHWH, which is normally understood to spell Yahweh. The vowels to YHWH have long been lost because the Hebrews didn’t pronounce his name for centuries in an attempt to avoid using Yahweh’s name in vain.
I point that out because in Genesis 19:24, it is important to see that both the Father and the Son use the divine name Yahweh.