Guests: Carl Cosaert and Zdravko Stefanovic
In the New Testament, Abraham is repeatedly used as an example of a man of faith (Hebrews 11:8-19). Sarah is used as a symbol for the new covenant (Galatians 4:21-31). This is somewhat surprising in light of the many failures that are evident in the life of Abraham and Sarah.
- If Abraham and Sarah were to come to your church, how readily would your church accept them as members? Could they every serve in leadership positions within the church? Why or why not?
- It is surprising how quickly we skip over the fact that Abram and Sarai had the same father (Genesis 20:12). Even though they were half siblings, they got married. Later in the Pentateuch, such marriages are repeatedly forbidden by God (Leviticus 18:9-11). According to Leviticus 20:17, such marriages are a “disgrace.” Those involved “must be cut off before the eyes of the people.” Deuteronomy 27 contains a list of covenant curses which were to be proclaimed before all Israel. There, amidst curses against idolaters, murderers, and those who have sexual relations with an animal, we find a curse pronounced on the man “who sleeps with his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother” (Deut 27:22). Abraham was just such a man! Isn’t it ironic that the child of the covenant, promised by God and miraculously conceived, comes from parents who, according to the covenant, were to be cursed and “cut off” from the covenant blessings?
- According to the Bible, which is the greater sin: to take a concubine (such as Hagar) or to marry a half-sibling (such as Sarah)?
- Why didn’t God punish Abraham and Sarah for their “unlawful” marriage? Was their initial childlessness a sort of punishment? (It is interesting to note that later in the Pentateuch, childlessness is one of the results of failure to adhere to God’s law.)
- We should note that the prohibitions against marrying a sibling or half-sibling were not explicitly given until after the time of Abraham and Sarah. What lessons can we learn from the way God dealt with them? Even though their marriage was “forbidden,” God chose to bless them with a miracle child, when the very act of conception was, according to the Bible, wrong. What does this teach us about how God deals with people? What does it say about God’s grace? How should we relate to those who, perhaps with limited knowledge of God, find themselves living in sin?
- On two occasions, Abraham and Sarah deny that they are married because Abraham is afraid for his life (Gen 12:1-20, 20:1-18). In both cases, those who intended to take Sarah as a wife were punished by God (Gen 12:17, Gen 20:17-18) while Abraham was given gifts and grew rich.
- What do we make of this? Doesn’t it seem wrong that the one who lies is blessed, while the one who acts “with a clear conscience and clean hands” (Gen 20:5-6) is punished by God? Seeing how nicely things worked out the first time Abraham lied about his marriage, is it any surprise that he lied a second time? Is there any indication in the text itself that what Abraham did was wrong?
- God promised Abraham and Sarah a multitude of descendants, yet they grow old and God’s promise is not fulfilled. So, they devise a plan to fulfill God’s promise by building a family through Hagar.
- When God makes a promise, do we simply wait for it to be fulfilled, or should we take a more active role is seeking to have God’s will realized?
- If we have a noble purpose, is it ever acceptable to “bend the rules” in order to insure the right result?
- In one of the most amazing interchanges in the Bible, God promises Sarah a son. She laughs at the promise (her husband had laughed earlier). The Lord responds by repeating his promise of a son and asks why Sarah laughed. Sarah “lied and said, ‘I did not laugh.’ But he said, ‘Yes, you did laugh’” (Gen 18:13-15). Isn’t is amazing how someone can laugh at the promise of the Almighty, lie about laughing, and yet still receive the blessing which was promised?
- Thus far, we have focused on some of the failures of Abraham and Sarah. In spite of their failures, they were indeed people of great faith. Give examples of the times when they demonstrated this great faith. If we were do describe them both with a single word, what would the word be?
- Is the story of Abraham and Sarah primarily a story of human faith or of God’s faithfulness?