Abraham plays the same old "Sarah is my sister" trick when he comes up against Abimelech. Sometimes we just can't help giving in to our worst instincts and despite Abraham's closeness to God, he is no different that we are in that quality. I always wondered what charms a 90-year-old woman had to make every man want to take her away. This makes it a little easier to understand.
... The average age span of that day was about 120-130 years; at the age of 90, Sarah would have been at the stage of her life equivalent to a 40-50 year old woman today.I also like the fact that although Abimelech was innocent of any known wrong-doing he is told to go to Abraham and ask him for healing prayers. Not only does this show Abimelech just how close Abraham is to God but it shows us the power of prayer.
|Sarai Is Taken to Pharaoh's Palace by James Tissot.|
Think about what we have observed up to this point in Abraham's life concerning prayer. It is really most remarkable. We have seen that God answered his prayers for mercy on Lot's behalf. This was a prayer he prayed out of righteous love of justice and love for his kinsman. We have seen that God showed mercy and favor to Hagar and Ishmael through the intercession of Abraham, even though the unfortunate circumstances that required prayer were due to Abraham's departure from God's plan for him. Now, in these chapters, we have seen God withhold His healing from a gravely ill man until he did what was right (restore Sarah) and had Abraham, the one who wronged him, pray for him. What can we make of all this?
The best way to understand what Abraham's life shows us about prayer is to remember a thought from the previous lesson. Recall that when God revealed His plan to judge Sodom to Abraham, it was Abraham's human voice that defended the justice and goodness of God against the appearance of something otherwise. That was a sign to us that when God chose Abraham and made a covenant with him, it was the beginning of the Great Reversal for His enemy, Satan. Why? Never again would human voices fail to defend the character of God, as Adam did in Eden. The life of God in men (which is "grace") will enable them to be His presence within the fallen creation. Flesh and blood will thwart and eventually, in the Incarnation, destroy the power of the devil, just as God promised in Gen. 3:15.
What was it that Adam didn't do in Eden? He didn't pray for help from God. He did not lift his voice to object to the serpent's attack on God's character, and he did not cry out for guidance about what to do next. What would that prayer, had he prayed it, have done? It would have preserved his supernatural grace, the likeness of God that was his as a gift. Instead, he lost it. He was still in God's image but not in His likeness. Abraham, as we have seen, prays. He asks God to act, and the details of his story in Genesis show very clearly that his prayers loose God's power and mercy. Even when he is weak and culpable, his prayers are efficacious. This is an astounding statement about prayer. As the Catechism says, "Prayer restores man to God's likeness and enables him to share in the power of God's love that saves the multitude." (2572) Just as the lack of prayer led to the loss of God's likeness in man, the action of prayer is the first step to its restoration.
When we get to the New Testament, we can hardly fathom the power of the prayers of the New Covenant family of God. What we see here in Genesis of the way in which God uses the prayers of Abraham as His instruments for unleashing His power, love, and goodness on fallen human creatures is only a shadow of what lies ahead. If we have been baptized into Christ, we share in that special relationship between the Father and the Son. Therefore Jesus says, "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." (Luke 11:9-10)
Once it sinks into our minds and hearts that prayer makes us like God and that, because He wants to vanquish His enemy through human beings, He uses our prayers to pour out His blessings on all mankind, we should comprehend why St. Paul says, in 1 Thess. 5:17, to "pray without ceasing." Amen!
Until going through this study I had never considered how deeply Abraham probably loved Ishmael. He would have been terribly grieved to cast him off and Ishmael would have been stunned to have his heretofore loving father cast him and his mother out. Why would Sarah have insisted on such actions?
... Isaac would have been perhaps 2 or 3 years old when he was weaned. At the feast given to celebrate his weaning, Sarah observed Ishmael (who would have been about 16-17 years old) "playing" with Isaac. St. Paul, in Gal. 4:28-31, says that this was not innocent child's play but "persecution." The implication is that Ishmael was mocking or taunting Isaac about becoming a "big boy" but not being as important as a firstborn son, as Ishmael was. This was the traditional Jewish understanding of this episode.All quotes from Genesis, Part II: God and His Family. This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.