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All Bible references are to the Anglicised New International Version (NIV-UK)

A SERIOUS DILEMMA faced the ageing Abram and Sarai. Having obeyed God’s instructions to leave Ur of the Chaldees and settle in a land He would show them, Abram had brought his wife, his nephew, and their numerous servants with their families, to the land of Canaan, an emigration that took many years to complete.

The Lord had revealed His intentions to Abram, which were quite amazing. This land, as far as the eye could see in every direction, was to belong to Abram and his descendants for all time. He would become the ancestor of many nations, and through him and his offspring the entire human race would be blessed (Genesis 12: 1-3; 13: 14-17). What God did not reveal was the time-scale of this plan, so that the faith of Abram was to be tested for many years before he would understand more fully what the Lord had in view.


The dilemma facing Abram and his wife Sarai was that they had no children, and with the passing years it seemed increasingly unlikely that they would ever become parents. Infertility is still a serious condition today and it is estimated that one in every ten women is affected. Biological research has in many cases overcome the problem, and sometimes babies have been born when hope has been almost entirely lost. In many cases where couples prove unable to have their own children, they find fulfilment in adopting an unwanted child, perhaps an orphan, and there is no doubt that a deep and satisfying bond grows between parent and child in such cases.


Should Abram and Sarai consider adopting a son? This might have been the answer to their childlessness. But the Lord had said:


a son coming from your own body will be your heir. . . . Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them. . . . So shall your offspring be.  Genesis 15: 4, 5


Evidently Abram was himself to be the father of a son, though he was now 85 years of age. But who would be the mother? Surely Sarai at 75 could never have a baby. Adoption was not the answer, but perhaps God intended Abram to take a second wife, a young woman who could give birth to the promised son. They talked over the possibility at length and decided that this might be the solution. Sarai had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar, and if she became pregnant with Abram’s son the child would legally belong to Abram and Sarai.


This plan went ahead and Ishmael was born. Abram was of course the father of the boy, and so Sarai regarded Ishmael as her own child, although he was the offspring of a surrogate mother. Surrogacy is a relationship in which a woman gives birth to a baby, usually for a couple with fertility problems, who then adopt and take legal custody of the child. It is a familiar practice in the world today, but the experience of Abram and Sarai is one of the earliest in recorded history.


The Child of Promise?

Ishmael was a healthy and lively lad, and Abram and Sarai loved him dearly. They believed this was the son destined to inherit the honours and blessings God had promised. But the Lord’s dealings with Abram were by no means finished. After the birth of Ishmael, God spoke to Abram again, confirming the promises already made, but adding a further astonishing detail:


No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. . . . I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. . . . As for Sarai your wife . . . her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. . . she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her. Abraham fell face down; he laughed and said to himself, Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?   – Genesis 17: 5, 6, 15-19


Despite Abraham’s laughter at the very idea, he believed God, who commended him for his great faith. It may have been harder for Sarah to accept such an incredible idea, but her faith was also under test by the Lord, and it may have been for her sake that a further assurance was soon given.


One day three messengers arrived outside the tent dwelling and Abraham knew at once that they had come from the Lord. He made them welcome and they accepted his hospitality rest and refreshment, and an excellent meal. In the shade of a tree they talked with Abraham about the promised child soon to be born, while Sarah listened just inside the tent door, trying to smother her laughter. The messengers heard and one said to her: ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’ She was nervous and denied that she had laughed, but the messengers knew better (Genesis 18: 1-15).


Within a year, the miracle had happened! Sarah gave birth to the long-promised son, whose God-given name was Isaac, which means ‘laughter’.


Copyright May 2009

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