Sing O Barren!
I continue this week looking at Abraham and Sarah’s journey of faith. We pick up our story in Genesis 17 with God’s renewing of His covenant and promises to Abraham.
It’s been about 23 years since the Lord first spoke to Abraham in Genesis 12 to leave his country, his family, and his father’s house, to a land God would show him. God also promised to make from Abraham a great nation, and all the families of the earth would be blessed through him.
But as we discussed last week in the article You Are the God Who Sees, Abraham and Sarah weakened in faith due to delay of waiting for the promise of a son. In Genesis 16, we read the difficult story of Sarah offering her maidservant Hagar to Abraham to have a child. Hagar conceives and gives birth to a son named Ishmael.
Thirteen years later, our story resumes in Genesis 17. Despite the delay and hardships along the way, God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah is just as true as the day He first spoke it to them in Genesis 12.
Abraham, Sarah, and the son of promise—Isaac
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.” Gen. 17:1-5
God declares to Abram that He is Almighty God, re-affirms His covenant to him, and changes his name. Abraham is now 99 and has another encounter and word from God.
As I shared last week, God’s prophecies to us can have delay—sometimes years before fulfillment. Tension can occur with God’s promise and the fulfillment. Remember there is a timing only God can arrange—be patient. Don’t let human reasoning guide you—wait on the Lord!
Know that “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19 NKJV) And know that with God, all His promises are yes and amen! (2 Cor. 1:20) James declares, that there is “no change or shadow of turning with” with God (Jam. 1:17 NKJV). God’s word is His bond, He shall bring to pass what He has promised.
God reveals Himself to Abraham as Almighty God, which is translated from the Hebrew El-Shaddai, which is the eighth name God attributed to Himself and whose root meaning emphasizes God’s might over man’s weakness. El-Shaddai first occurs here in Gen. 17:1, regarding the promise of the birth of Isaac—the son of promise. El-Shaddai is a title for the true God, often with a focus on the power to complete promises of blessing and prosperity. 
Other meanings of El-Shaddai, He is “The God Who is Enough,” “The All-Powerful,” and “The One Who is Self-Sufficient.” All these descriptions signify God as our source of all blessing and power to deliver.
El-Shaddai is used in situations where people are hard-pressed and need assurance. For example, in Gen. 28:3 we read of Isaac asking El-Shaddai to bless Jacob as he goes to obtain a wife. In Gen. 35:11, El-Shaddai reaffirms the Abrahamic covenant with Jacob, and affirms his new name as Israel, just prior to Rachel’s death. Also, in Gen. 49:25, Israel declares that El-Shaddai will bless his son Joseph.
My simple definition of El-Shaddai is, “He is the all-powerful God who is enough! He is able to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves!”
When Jesus said, “I and My Father are one,” He was saying, “I am El-Shaddai, the all-powerful God who is enough!”
In John 14, Jesus tells the disciples that He is soon to leave. But He wants us to know that we can be with Him, tells us the way, and then declares plainly that He is the exact representation of the Father:
Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.” John 14:5-7 NKJV
Then Philip says, “ … Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” NASB
Jesus replies, “… He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” NKJV
The English word enough in verse 8 is from the Greek word arkéō, meaning to be content or satisfied, filled with unfailing strength. A strength that wards off negativity and fear.
Jesus is enough—He is El-Shaddai—the all-powerful God who is enough in every circumstance of life! He can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves!
God, speaking prophetically and building Abraham’s faith to be a father of many nations, changes his name from Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of a multitude). God is simply El-Shaddai, this will happen Abraham—I Am Enough!
The External Sign of the Covenant
Our story continues with God giving Abraham instructions for circumcision as the external sign of the Abrahamic covenant.
This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. Gen. 17:10-11 NKJV
The cutting away of the foreskin represented the cutting away of dependence upon the flesh. Abraham and Sarah’s son of promise, and the promise of many descendants, was to rest upon El-Shaddai—Almighty God! Their future prosperity and posterity were not found in their ability, but in God’s ability.
Now We are Led by the Spirit
Paul, in writing to Christians, contrasts the works of the flesh to being led of the Spirit and Godly character. I believe he had Abraham and Sarah in mind, and their attempt in the flesh to bring about God’s promise and purpose in their lives:
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Gal. 5:16-18 NKJV
When we are led by the Spirit, we do what is right freely, not by the compulsion of the law. Abraham and Sarah, because of human reasoning, acted apart from God when they schemed to have a son through the maid Hagar. They were acting by human compulsion, rather than being led by God’s Spirit.
Paul adds in Gal. 5:24,
Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” NKJV
We, therefore, are free from the legalism of the law because there is the law of the Spirit found within our hearts—hearts that are circumcised to the lust, passions, and desires of the flesh.
New birth in Christ creates desire to live by the Spirit. You may have issues to work through, but your heart’s desire is to follow the Spirit. This reality also pertains to faith-filled living that waits upon God to fulfill promises. It is not our religious efforts (flesh) to be in right standing with God or to bring about His promises—Jesus did it for us—we simply believe and trust Him!
But often, like Abraham and Sarah, we hear God’s promise and begin to plan. But the promise invites us to trust and wait, allowing God to unfold the details. God’s promises prepare us for increase.
God changes Sarai to Sarah, from “a princess” to “the princess”, she shall have a son to be named Isaac, and she who is barren shall be the mother of nations!
Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.” Gen. 17:15-21 NKJV
Abraham falls on his face and laughs! But a few years before, we read:
And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.” Gen. 15:6 NLT
Paul twice quotes this, in Rom. 4:3 and Gal. 3:6, and James once in Jam. 2:23. It is the basis for the NT teaching that God’s way has always been by faith, as we obediently trust His word, which causes right living.
Abraham says, “I’m 100, Sarah is 90, oh that Ishmael …” He begins to doubt God again, and like before, begins to rely on the flesh—his human reasoning and abilities.
God is giving Abraham a reminder, “Abraham, your son’s name will remind you of this day. You laughed in disbelief, but I am God Almighty! Is there anything too hard for Me?!” God reaffirms the promise of a multitude of descendants.
Why does Abraham doubt God now?
1) more delay; another 13 years have passed and
2) now he can’t have children either! Not only is Sarah’s womb barren, now Abraham physically can’t have children either!
Paul writes in Romans, “he did not consider his own body, already dead,” (NKJV) in other words, he was impotent! Another translation says, “He did not weaken in faith when he considered the [utter] impotence of his own body,” Rom. 4:19 AMPC
God waited 24 years, until there was no way they could have children on their own. That they, and all who would hear their story, would know He is God Almighty!
What promises have you been waiting for? You’ve tried in your own strength, and there is no hope in the natural? Good news: you’re ready!
Abraham doesn’t stay unbelieving; he responds in faith and has all the males circumcised in his house—the same day.
So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him. Gen. 17:23 NKJV
Something happens in Abraham; he goes from laughing in disbelief to believing God and acting on God’s word. He puts action to his faith!
Faith in its simplest form believes and trusts that what God says will happen. The very One Who promises, gives grace to us to believe. Ongoing dialogue with God builds faith in our hearts. Rom. 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing”, it does not say that faith comes from having heard, but by hearing God today.
Faith increases as we position our hearts and minds to receive presently what God is revealing. It’s all by His grace, but we posture ourselves by believing and acting on what is revealed.
The Lord appears (theophany) with two angels, and once again reaffirms to Abraham and Sarah that they shall have a son, and Sarah laughs.
And He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” (Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.) Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.” Gen. 18:10-14 NKJV
At this point, it may seem that Sarah had no faith, and was only filled with sorrow. However, Heb. 11:11 says:
Because of faith also Sarah herself received physical power to conceive a child, even when she was long past the age for it, because she considered [God] Who had given her the promise to be reliable and trustworthy and true to His word.” AMPC
Sarah considered what God said, and determined in her heart that He was reliable, trustworthy, and true to His word. On that, she believed, God moved in power, and the promise was fulfilled. Sarah didn’t operate in just hope, but also in faith.
Hope without the foundation of faith will not persist. Hope can be blinded, hope can be hurt, hope can make an excuse where it says, “Well, I was only hoping for it anyways.”
Faith is a strength, a foundation, a fort. It is an impregnable mountain that will not move. Faith persists; it has staying power! Sarah stood on what God said, she didn’t look at the bareness!
Promise Fulfilled—Isaac Born!
At the appointed time, Sarah conceived and gave birth to Isaac:
And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him—whom Sarah bore to him—Isaac. Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.” She also said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.” Gen. 21:1-7 NKJV
God made Sarah to laugh and all who heard laughed with her! No longer laughter in disbelief, but joyous laughter of the promise fulfilled! The key understanding for Sarah’s faith is “because she judged Him (God) faithful who had promised. Therefore, from one man, and him as good as dead…” an innumerable multitude (Heb. 11:11 NKJV)!
Sarah judged God to be faithful as He had promised. If we could speak to Sarah and ask, “God said you had faith, so what is faith?” I think she would simply reply, “Since God said it, that is the final word on the subject, I simply took Him at His word.”
When God makes a promise, He will fulfill that promise. When God says He will do something, He doesn’t want us to cringe and say, “Well, maybe.” There are no maybe’s with God! Sarah saw with the eye of faith her son being born and held on!
Sing O Barren!
Paul quotes Isaiah 54:1 in Gal. 4:27, when writing about the birth of Isaac. Isaiah 54:1 speaks of Israel as barren, and God preparing to expand His covenant kingdom. Spiritually it applies to the covenant promises to Abraham and Sarah and their descendants through Christ.
For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband.” Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise.” Gal. 4:27-28 NKJV
In Galatians 4:21-31 Paul describes the birth of Ismael as according to the flesh and the birth of Isaac as according to promise, and he states they are symbolic and represent the law and the new covenant in Christ, where we are free from the bondage of legalism. Those who believe in Jesus are the children of promise!
When God personally visited Abraham and Sarah in Gen. 18, it was as though He was speaking this to their hearts, “Sing O Barren! Laugh, shout for joy!”
The Hebrew word rā·nǎn for singing in in Isa. 54:1 can also be translated as “sing for joy,” or “loud rejoicing.” 
The Lord saw the end from the beginning, He knew they would have Isaac, the son of promise. God knew that through Isaac, Jesus would come, and the spiritual barrenness over humanity would be broken! Abraham and Sarah couldn’t fully see it, but God could.
For some of you today, you need to hear the Lord say to you, “Sing O Barren, rejoice, break forth in shouts of triumph, for I am going to bring your desolation to an end!”
Take God at His word over your situation, there is a joyous shout coming!
For a more in-depth look at this topic, watch the Passion Church message, “Sing O Barren”
 James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
 J. Barton Payne, “1905 צָחַק,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 763.
 James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).