Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: The Birth of Isaac

Scripture: Genesis 21:1-8

Background: After years of waiting for God to fulfill His promise to provide Abraham and Sarah a son, Sarah finally gets pregnant and gives birth to Isaac. Abraham was a hundred years old, and Sarah was in her nineties.

Observations: The supernatural of this passage seems to center around two main phrases:

“The LORD did for Sarah as He had promised.” Sarah conceived and bore a son. If you don’t know the background of this event, such a statement seems rather dull. Women have been getting pregnant and bearing children for millennia, ever since God created Adam and Eve.

But as you study the surrounding circumstances, the impossibilities stack up. First, Sarah was barren. The story of Hagar and the birth of Ishmael proved the problem didn’t lie with Abraham. So despite trying, Sarah apparently couldn’t conceive. Second, Sarah was well past child-bearing years; biologically a woman shouldn’t be able to conceive at that age. Third, this all occurred in ancient times. There was no possibility of artificial insemination or any other medical procedure to override the natural problems.

So rightly the first verse of chapter 21 declares that God did this. Yes, He used natural ways to bring about the birth of Isaac (e.g. He didn’t make Isaac materialize out of thin air, though He could have). But God manipulated the natural in supernatural way so that it would be obvious the miracle child was from Him.

Moreover, this miracle came as God said. He keeps His promises, no matter how impossible it seems to us humans. In fact, God seems to favor the impossible promise, because it proves that He did it and therefore He is God.

“…At the appoint time of which God had spoken to him.” God is precise in His timing. He is never late. He is never early. Everything occurs exactly when He intends and nothing can thwart Him. He does not have to wait around, hoping circumstances align in a certain way so that He can act. He can align the circumstances however He wants, whenever He wants to whatever specifications He wants, even overriding the natural order of things, if need be. After all, He is the One who created time and the “natural” order in the first place!

Significance: Miracles, like angels, are often a source of human fascination and misunderstanding. In my experience, people are either quick to claim the miraculous—or to denounce it. So passages such as this one help us regain a balanced perspective about the true nature of miracles:

Miracles can—and do—happen. The account of Isaac’s birth and scores of other miraculous events recorded in Scripture reveal that God can and has broken into human history and performed impossible acts on the behalf of both individuals and nations. Since God’s character does not change, it would logically follow that He can and does the same today, though the amount and type may vary.

Miracles deal with impossibilities. Getting that prime parking spot at the mall on the busiest day of the year may be unlikely or statistically improbable, but it is not impossible. After all, someone has to park in that spot in order for it to be taken. So while such an event may be seen as a gift from God or even an act of His providence, it is not a miracle. Rather, miracles are supernatural—that is, they supersede or override the natural because the natural cannot cause it to happen; only a supernatural power can. Therefore, a true miracle can have no real natural explanation (though a skeptic may try to assign one).

Miracles don’t occur on demand. While miracles often occur to fulfill a desire or a request, God is not a genie or a vending machine, dispensing miracles when and how we want. He does what He wants when He wants. He may choose, for reasons we may never understand, to deny us the miracle we request. Or as in the case with Abraham and Sarah, God may wait, because as I noted earlier, He is very precise in His timing. Many times, He decides to reserve the miraculous for the truly impossible situation, using the less spectacular natural means He has provided already, such as medicine to heal the body. Or He may provide a different miracle than the one we requested or expected.

That said, God keeps His promises—even if it requires a miracle. Impossibilities don’t hinder God. Human timetables don’t worry Him. Circumstances form no barrier or obstacle to Him. God can do whatever He wants whenever He wants. Therefore, we don’t need to worry or get impatient. If God has promised to do it, He will, no matter what.

No comments: