From Your Pastor: Ishmael and Immanuel: Learning to Wait Upon God


Read Genesis 16.

“Behold…you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael” (Gen. 16:11). “Behold…[you shall] bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31).

    God teaches us to wait so that He will fulfill His promises for us. This is to exalt God’s power and grace; this is to teach us that He is trustworthy and always faithful! Like a gracious and generous father who wants to bless his children, often by surprise, so God desires to bless and surprise His dear children (cf. Luke 11:13). Sadly, it is often the temptation of believers having begun with the Spirit of God, to desire to be perfected by the “flesh” of their own desires and endeavors immediately, rather than waiting on God (Gal. 3:2-3; 4:23). Abraham was promised a son by His gracious God and Father: “Behold…your very own son shall be your heir…number the stars…so shall your offspring be” (Gen. 15:4-5). God graciously commits Himself to a blood covenant (“a bond in blood sovereignly administered”) that He will be faithful to Abraham (Gen. 15:12-18). Yet Abraham acts impatiently, and this is what he learns the hard way:

“Behold…you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael” (Gen. 16:11).

    Though Immanuel was God’s ultimate intention for Abraham (through Isaac, see Matt. 1:1-3, 23), he first received Ishmael because of sinful impatience. “Laughter” (Isaac means “He laughs”, Gen. 21:1-3) was to be God’s merciful gift, but heartache and sorrow came through Abraham’s sin (persecution and many problems, Gen. 21:8-14). What but sin can we ever expect from our impatience? We are taught that God’s people are those who must learn to wait upon the LORD and for the realization of His promises (Psa. 27:13-14). Abram lived in an “Advent” season of waiting upon the coming arrival of the Lord’s promises in the person of his very own son (Gen. 15:4), yet there was great temptation to hurry the “delay” of God. We are to believe God by His grace, and to cultivate patience which is a fruit of the Spirit of the Christ (Gal. 5:22-23). Our God and Father has been patient with us, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance (cf. 2 Pet. 3:8ff), and yet we so easily forget His promises, grow impatient and set about to “make things happen” when we think that God has forgotten us (or particularly His promises).

    How is your patience coming along? Are you cultivating this virtue and fruit of the Spirit (cf. 2 Pet. 1:5-9)? How are you doing in waiting upon the LORD? Waiting doesn’t mean to be passive, but actively believing, trusting, walking, serving, loving, and growing. If God is sovereign, and rules and reigns over heaven and earth with wisdom and love, and knows what is best for us all, then why do we grow impatient waiting upon Him? Throughout Scripture, God is revealed as a faithful, trustworthy, committed, loving, gracious, generous, merciful God and Father that will keep His promises! In fact, we are taught that all of God’s promises are available to us every day in Christ (“All of God’s promises are “Yes” in Christ- 2 Cor. 1:20).

    What decisions have you sown in your life carelessly and impatiently, rather than waiting on God, that have caused you to reap the weeds of division and turmoil in your life and the lives of others? How can you learn wisdom and wait upon the LORD in the future? Children, how does your impatience with God and your family cause specific tensions and miserable conditions at times in your home? How might the impatience of your life be ruining all of the joy and peace that God has promised for believers in Christ? One of our forefathers, George Swinnock, wisely wrote:

“To lengthen my patience is the best way to shorten my troubles.”

    Try to think of anything worthwhile and satisfying, something really worth having, and you will find few things that describe as immediate, instantaneous, streaming, and quick (can you imagine ever being satisfied with instant grits, for example?!)! Rather, you will find that the things worth living and dying for are those things cultivated by Godly patience: sowing seed, and waiting on the harvest; friendship, and relationships that grow over time; sanctification and character; the vintage of a fine wine; waiting for the development of a baby in the womb, and patiently raising children to adulthood. All of these wonderful gifts of this life take patience, and thus why God often tries our patience. These trials are ultimately, so that we might share Christ’s holiness (Heb. 12:11-12).

    Though Abram and Sarai were impatient, God did not forsake them. He disciplined them as a loving Father. Ishmael is a historical, redemptive-historical reminder of God’s discipline that is extremely painful but by God’s grace also an instrument through which His people become sharers in His holiness (Heb. 12:7-14; cf. Psalm 119:67, 71). Though there is much sin of impatience in our lives, look ahead to Genesis 18, and then many years later to Luke 1:30-35 and Matthew 1:1, 17, and remember that God is faithful though we are faithless at times (cf. 2 Tim. 2:11-13). The name “Ishamael” means “God hears” and he is born in redemptive-history not merely to show our Father’s discipline, but also as a living reminder that God hears—and cares! God hears our prayers. God promises to keep His promises. The reason we act impatiently and impulsively, is because we think God doesn’t hear our prayers, that God doesn’t care, and we act to “help Him out a bit”. But this is wrong.

    Do you daily seek Christ at the throne of grace to be broken and humbled just because you know that you are more than able (and often willing) to impatiently disobey God to accomplish your own desires? Shouldn’t you seek Him now (“These things [in the Old Covenant] took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did…” 1 Corinthians 10:6, 12- “Take heed, lest you fall…”).

“Behold…you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael” (Gen. 16:11). The hand of discipline.

Behold…[you shall] bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31). The fruit of godly patience.

    If we are in Christ, we are the children of promise—children of Abraham through Immanuel, not Ishmael (Gal. 4:28). In Galatians 4 (21-31), the Apostle Paul reminds us that Ishmael should remind us of slavery and the terrible works of the flesh, but Immanuel has come to set us free from slavery to sin (including impatience!) in order that we might live freely as the sons of God!

    So when the culture around you seeks to promise you everything NOW, when you’re tempted to “instant messaging” (without first thinking compassionately and prayerfully), to “instant credit” (where you will stretch yourself thin for a hope immediately granted because you cannot wisely wait), when aggressive driving is the norm and there is no leisurely “Sunday drive” (and you are seeking to conform to the aggressiveness), when folks even are tempted to judge a sermon by how long it takes to be communicated, and when we unfairly expect our children to know and understand everything important immediately, let us cultivate patience with God and one another. Let us learn to wait upon the LORD our God who is always faithful to His promises, and let us live confidently and expectantly upon the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has promised to come and ransom captive Israel completely soon. The Spirit and the Church says: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

The Advent season should be an important time for us to learn patience as God’s people!

Immanuel is God with us and for us. And if God is for us, who can be against us?!

In Christ’s love,

Pastor Biggs