When Despair Turns to Hope

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Pentecost 3
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 69: 7-18 and Genesis 21: 8-21
Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.
Genesis 21: 18 (NIV)


This morning is our third instalment in a series of messages about how God is the God of the turnarounds. Two weeks ago, we used the story of creation in Genesis 1 to talk about how God turns chaos into order. Last week, we learned from the story of the three angels who visited Abraham and Sarah that God can turn complacency into surprise. And today, we’re going to carry on with the story of Abraham and Sarah to discover that God can turn despair into hope.

You may recall that last week we read that three angels visited with Abraham and Sarah with a message. It was that Sarah would become pregnant and give birth to a son. This was a bit of a surprise since she was eighty-nine and Abraham was ninety-nine, not the usual age for having children. And this would be Sarah’s first child. Her response was that she laughed because she just could not believe it. But the angel assured her that it was true, that he would return in a year and, by then, she would be a mother.

Now let’s fast forward a year or so and let’s find out what’s happened. We’ll start at Genesis 21:1-2 (NIV) which says, “Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.” So, just as the angel had said, Sarah had her first born son when she was ninety and Abraham was one hundred years old.

The irony of this is not lost on Sarah. Do you recall her reaction when she learned that she was going to have a baby? She laughed. In Genesis 21:6 (NIV) she says this: “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears me will laugh with me.” She’s laughing again but this time, she’s not laughing in disbelief. She’s laughing for joy because that which she always wanted – to have a child with Abraham – has finally happened. God has been true to his word. And so, what do they name the baby? They name him Isaac. Can you guess what Isaac means? It means “he laughs”. So there is lots of laughter going on when Isaac is born.

But then we move to Genesis 21:8-10 (NIV):

The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

This, my friends, is not Sarah’s finest moment. Remember that because she could not have children and she knew that Abraham needed a child to inherit his property, she came up with the idea of giving her servant Hagar to Abraham so that he could have a child through her. Remember also that we also said that that was probably not a good thing to do today but that’s just the way they did things back then. Nonetheless, Sarah at one time must have thought highly of Hagar because of all of her servants, Hagar is the one she gave to Abraham. And regardless of what we think about that today, in those days that would have been considered a great honour. So Hagar must have been very much her favoured servant. But that all changed very quickly when Hagar actually conceived. Immediately Sarah began to mistreat her. That story is found in Genesis 16 for anyone who might want to read it.

Sarah’s contempt for Hagar can still be seen in Genesis 21: “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” At one time, Hagar was her favoured servant. Now Sarah can’t even bring herself to say her name. It’s like when someone who is divorced talks about their ex-spouse. Do you ever notice how often they just refer to them as “my Ex” like they don’t have a name? This is the same thing. She’s that woman and that is her son. Remember also that Ishmael isn’t just Hagar’s boy. He’s also Abraham’s biological son. Ishmael isn’t just some runt kid whom they felt sorry for and brought in from the cold. He’s Abraham’s son just as much as is Isaac. Two sons from different mothers but both his. But now, as far as Sarah is concerned, he doesn’t even have a name.  “Abraham,” she says, “That boy has to go. Get rid of him.” Hell hath no fury like the jealousy of a momma bear who thinks that her cub is threatened. And make no mistake; that is exactly what is going on here.


Let’s see how Abraham responds. In Genesis 21:11 (NIV) we read: “The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.” Remember what we just said. Ishmael is just as much of a son to Abraham as Isaac but now Sarah is insisting that he be sent away, and not just temporarily but forever. Abraham is in despair at the thought of this. How is he supposed to send his first born son away into the wilderness? He is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. He has raised his son and he loves his son. What Sarah is asking him to do is inhumane. It is impossible for him to come to grips with it.

But remember that I said at the beginning of this message, that God turns despair into hope. What we now come to is the first example in this story of God doing just that. Listen to Genesis 21:12-13 (NIV):

But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maid servant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

In the midst of his despair, God gives Abraham a word of hope. “Abraham, I know how hard this is for you to understand but Sarah is right. It might be for all of the wrong reasons but she is right. You need to send Hagar and Ishmael away.” God tells Abraham what he must do but God also says something else. He gives Abraham the assurance that not only Isaac but Ishmael also will become a nation. That means that the boy is going to survive this adventure. Somehow Hagar is going to figure things out and they will survive.

The challenging part for Abraham right now is that he has to put his full trust in God. He has to give up control and trust in God to look after his beloved son. Up until this point, Abraham, as the head of his household, has had complete control over the life of Ishmael. He has provided for him, cared for him, played with him, made sure that his every need was met. But now God is telling him to let his son go not knowing if he will ever see him again and trust God to take care of him.

Do you know how hard that must have been? I can’t imagine. I have a hard enough time watching my kids go off to university knowing that I am going to see them again and that they are only a phone call or text away. But I can’t imagine saying good-bye to one of them knowing that I may never ever seen them again. But somehow, Abraham got past that because in Genesis 21:14 (NIV) it says, “Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then he sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba.”

I want you to note two things about this verse.  First, Abraham does not dawdle around. God told him to send Hagar and Ishmael away and he did it. In fact, he does it the very next morning. He doesn’t think about it. He doesn’t fret over it. He sleeps on it one night, understands what he is being called to do and then, as much as it must have hurt him, says good-bye and sends them on their way.

But I also want you note something else. Before they leave, Abraham gives them food and water. He doesn’t ask one of the servants to do it. He doesn’t leave it to Sarah because he knows that it might not get done. He does it himself as a last act of kindness and love to these two people who have been such a huge part of his life. And then he sends them off not knowing what will happen to them.

And then they go. But even though they are leaving Abraham is no longer in despair over his son Ishmael. He might be concerned about the future. He might wonder what God has in store but his despair has turned to hope because God has promised that it will all work out according to God’s great plan and purpose.


Despair is turned to hope. It doesn’t happen only once in this story. It happens twice and number two starts right now. Genesis 21:15-16 (NIV) says this:

When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.

Once more we see despair, this time not from Abraham but from Hagar. She’s been wandering around in the wilderness with her son – we don’t know how long. But the food is gone and the water is gone and the sun is hot and maybe there’s a vulture or two circling overhead. Hagar thinks it’s the end. Not long ago, she was protected by Abraham. All that she needed for herself and her son were provided but now she’s staring death in the face.

People can only survive in the desert for so long without water and there is none in sight. And so she does the only thing she can think of. She finds whatever shade she can under a bush and she lays Ishmael down. He’s hungry. He’s thirsty. He’s crying. And she can’t stand it anymore. She can’t bear to watch her only son die and so she leaves him there under the bush, and goes and sits down not too far away but far enough so that he can’t hear her and she starts to sob.

Doesn’t that just break your heart? Can you imagine what that must have been like? Most of us simply can’t comprehend that experience and let’s pray that we never have to face it. But people all over the world experience it on a daily basis. Refugees in war torn areas of the world know what it’s like. People who are forced to flee from their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs understand this. A lot of Syrian refugees who we have welcomed into Canada this past year or so know all too well this horrible experience. No wonder they are so grateful to Canadians for welcoming them.

That’s Hagar’s situation. She has been forced from her home and she is in the wilderness at death’s doorstep. The story is thick with despair. But again, into the despair, God speaks a word of hope. Genesis 21:17-18 says:

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

There’s that promise again, to make Ishmael into a great nation. It’s the same promise that God gave to Abraham in verse 13 so God is being consistent about his plans for Ishmael. He will become a great nation just like Isaac will. And as we will find out in a few minutes these two nations will be forever linked in the annuls of history.

I’m sure that, at the time, Hagar would have had about as difficulty believe it as Sarah had difficulty believing that she would have a baby at the age of ninety. But then we get to Genesis 21:19 (NIV) which says, “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.” In the midst of her despair, when Hagar thought that all was lost, God promises that her son will survive and then he gives her what she needs. He opens her eyes so that she can see the well and the life giving water that it contains. She fills the same skin that Abraham had given her, takes it to her son as he lay under the bush and gives him a drink. Hagar still doesn’t know what the future holds but at least the immediate tragedy has been averted.

Isn’t that the way that God often works? Like Hagar you begin to despair because you think you have a serious problem – in fact, you know you have a serious problem – and you wonder how you’re ever going to get past it. The time gets tight and things get rough and just when you think you’re totally sunk, something happens to lift you out of that situation. I can’t tell you how many times that happened to me. I started to realize these things way back in my university days. I specifically remember second year, second semester and money was very tight because I was doing this on my own with no student loans. I needed two text books the total value of which was about $95. And I didn’t have the money. And classes began the next week. I had just resigned myself to the fact that somehow I was going to have to try to get through the course without the textbook and then I went down to the laundry room in my residence to put my washed clothes into the dryer and when I opened the drying to toss my clothes in, there I saw a $20 bill. I picked it out and then I looked again and found another one. Long story short I found three more bills in the dryer. Five $20 bills equals $100 and the two books I needed cost $95. And I said, “Thank you God.”

But I also realized that that $100 came out of someone else’s pocket who was probably also a student in the same residence who also needed text books. So I told the doorman (yes we had one back then) and I posted a message on the bulletin board saying that I had found some money in the dryer. A week later, no one had claimed it so I went and purchased the text books.

That was a teachable moment for me as a poor student. God was interested in my welfare and when I saw God at work in little things it enabled me to put my trust in God for ever bigger things. I know that there are a whole lot of you who know exactly what I’m talking about because you have shared your stories of seeing God’s hand at work in your lives. And I know that things don’t always work out that way and I don’t know why. But I do know that when I give up and give things to God, they usually work out far better than I could ever have imagined and it happens with some regularity.

But to get to that point, we have to learn to let go of things and give them to God because as long as we hold on to them and try to control the situation, we might just be getting in the way of God’s plan.

That’s the place that Abraham and Hagar had to get to. They had to learn to give things that they despaired over to God. They had to come to the point where they could no longer fix things so that they could step aside, trust in God and let him deal with them in his own way and in his own time.


How did they get to the point that they were able to do that? How did they get to the point where they could let go and let God? I can assure you that it was not an easy process. In fact, it was a long process but it’s the same process that we have to go through if we are ever learn to trust in God to turn our despair into hope.

To learn how that is done, we have to go right back to the first verse of Genesis 21 which says, “Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised.” That is the most important verse in the entire passage. God was gracious and did what he said he was going to do.

That’s how we learn to trust in God. We do it my looking for the hand of God at work around us. We do it by understanding the promises of God and seeing them fulfilled in our lives. God did for Sarah just as he had promised. One of the reasons why Abraham could trust God was because he knew the promise and he saw it fulfilled in the birth of his son Isaac. The timing wasn’t exactly what Abraham might have expected but that’s another lesson for a future message, that God’s timing is not always the same as our timing.

The lesson for us here is that God is not distant. God sees our lives and God hears our sorrow and God acts in our lives to turn despair into hope.

The final two verses of this passage in Genesis 21:20-21 (NIV) say this: “God was with the boy as he grew. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.” God was with the boy as he grew up just as God had been with Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Hagar. God never deserted them. God never left them and, for all of them, God did just as he had promises. Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Through Jacob, Abraham had twelve grandsons and from these twelve men came the twelve tribes of Israel, a great nation. According to Genesis 25:13-16 Ishmael also had twelve sons and from these men came the twelve kings of what we now call the Arab people. Both of those nations, the Israelis and the Ishmaelites still inhabit the Holy Land to this very day in fulfilment of the promises that God made more than three thousand years ago. Those two nations always have and always will be intertwined just as they began with the two sons of Abraham.

God is true to his promises. And when we figure that out, we realize that when we turn things over to God, he takes our despair and turns it into hope.


Holy God, we walk this earth day by day receiving blessing upon blessing. We offer our thanks for your many gifts given freely to us out of your generosity and grace. We praise you and thank you for the beauty of summer, for bright flowers and rustling leaves, for clean water and refreshing swims, for lemonade and ice cream.

We are grateful for our freedom and for the privilege of living in this great nation. As Canada Day approaches, help us to comprehend the vastness of our choices and opportunities. So much of what we take for granted would be considered to be luxuries in most of the world. Keep us mindful of and thankful for those how protect the freedoms that we enjoy, Canadian Forces personnel, law enforcement agencies and our legal system. Also bless those who hold public office that they may feel our support and make decisions that are in accordance with your will.

We also ask for your wisdom and blessing as we continue on the path to building an addition onto the church. There have been some snags along the way and we aren’t exactly where we wanted to be at this time. So, help us to proceed faithfully, guided by your Spirit and your timing.

We lift up in prayer those who are anticipating the end of the school year. As summer vacations approach, we pray for safety on the roads and in the playgrounds. We also pray for regeneration and rest during the summer break.

Our prayers go to you for those who are sick this day or recovering at home or hospital. We remember especially Sharon Chalmers, Millicent Wormald, Don Raymont, Helen Upcott, Jacqui Seguin and Ken Brown. Bless them, O God, with your healing presence.

We also pray for Gail Jones and her family over the death of Gail’s step-mother. Give them a special measure of your peace of God as they mourn this loss.

Keep us always mindful, O God, of your presence. Keep us ever faithful to your word and your truth. Keep our feet upon the path of your making and when we wander, bring us back. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


June 25, 2017 / Pentecost 3


Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Matthew 10:40-42; Romans 6:12-23


Out of the depths, we call to our God who hears our pleas and answers our cries.

Out of the depths, we wait for our God whose love is unfailing and mercies endless.

Out of our need, we seek the one who meets all need.

Into our lives, the Saviour comes.


Holy God of Earth and Heaven, we come into your presence seeking words of encouragement and blessing. We are so thankful that you have extended your grace to us though we have neither merited or earned your favour. By your grace, we live life on earth to the very fullest. By your mercy, we accept the renewed hope of eternal life. Rain upon us with your unfailing love as we bow before your throne of glory. Amen.


In the midst of your blessings there is the reality of our sinfulness. We were made good but we fall far short of your perfection. As we grow more mature in you, we will not be deceived, for your truth will become ever stronger within us. Expose everything that we do to the light of your word, correcting any areas of sinfulness, and strengthening the rest. Help our lives to be lights and beacons of your salvation.


The great deceiver is set to bring us down from the grace of God. But nothing in heaven or on earth has any power to separate us from God’s love given to us in Jesus Christ. Hear the Good News of redemption. Receive the life that only Jesus brings. We are forgiven. We are free. Alleluia!


The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. The heavens are filled with the wonders of God. Our lives are gifts given to us by God our Creator. Our offerings to God are in gratitude for the countless blessings that come to us every day. We thank you, O God. Amen.


The great and wonderful love of God moves in our hearts. It shines through our words and actions. May we so live that all that we do and say will give glory to the One whose glory is everlasting. Let us go and live our faith to the fullest.

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