By Faith, Abraham
Lesson 3: A Little Faith in a Big God
Grades 3-6 Sunday School Lesson
Author’s Notes: This week we’ll be continuing our lesson series on Abraham, based on the accounts recorded in Hebrews 11. We’re going to see that Abraham is commended for his faith in believing God for a son. But as we look back in the account in Genesis, we’ll see a little wavering in his faith. The good news we’ll learn is that even a little faith is more than enough when it’s placed in the right place…in God.
Do you ever hear stories of great heroes of the Bible and think, “There’s no way I could ever be like them? I could never be as brave, or have as much faith as they did?” If you’ve ever felt that way, I have good news for you. God’s Word isn’t limited to just stories of His servants who did everything right. Sometimes He included lessons of how godly people didn’t quite live up to His standard.
In fact, there are stories in the Bible about men who usually obeyed God, but at other times denied that they ever knew Him, or got mixed up with the wrong people, or even murdered another person. Why do you suppose God chose to include stories like these in His Holy Bible? (allow the students to suggest answers)
Perhaps God wanted to remind us that each and every one of us is capable of sinning, if we don’t keep our eyes on Him. And that if we try to do things our own way, instead of God’s way, that even though He’s ready to forgive us, there will still likely be consequences. And perhaps He wanted to let us know that if we find ourselves in a situation where we’ve failed Him, that He always gives us the opportunity to start over, and do things the right way… His way.
Today, we’ll be looking at the life of Abraham, again. And we’ll see how God once again commends him, in the book of Hebrews, for his great faith. But as we look at the account back in Genesis, we’ll see that Abraham didn’t always demonstrate great faith. Instead, he did something many of us are guilty of; he tried to help God’s plan along with an idea of his own. But when God looked at his heart, the faith that He saw there was enough for Him to say, “Look at my servant, Abraham. He was a man of faith!”
We’ll look at the story in just a moment. But first, I want to take you to a New Testament account where another man felt much the same way as Abraham. He believed Jesus. But he also knew that deep down, there was still some doubt when it came to believing that Jesus would heal his son. God knows that we’re only human. And that sometimes we have doubts. But that doesn’t mean He won’t bless us. He looks at that little bit of faith that we do have, and is pleased that it is faith in Him. And based on the faith that He finds, God does big things, because He is a big God!
Our memory verse for today is the words this father spoke to Jesus, as he knew his faith fell short. When we are having doubts about whether God can or will help us, we can say these same honest words…believing that God will hear and understand our hearts.
Memory verse: (Have the children repeat this verse with you several times, until they are able to say it themselves. And encourage them to repeat it to others several times during the week, so that it’ll have a place in their hearts.)
“And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Mark 9:24
Opening prayer: Lord, thank You for each student who’s here, today. And thank You for the examples of Abraham’s faith that we find in the book of Hebrews. Help each one of us to be attentive to what You would have us learn, today. Give us open ears and hearts, ready to listen to Your words. Amen.
This Week’s Lesson: A Little Faith in a Big God (Hebrews 11:11-12 and Genesis 16:1-18:15, 21:1-13 )
(Reminder of God’s promise)
Today’s lesson is based on a promise that God made Abraham. A promise that we’ve looked at in our first lesson on Abraham. So let’s begin by doing a little review of the promises God made to Abraham when he headed toward the Promised Land. You can find them in Genesis 12:1-3.
God had promised to make a great nation come from Abraham. But does anyone remember how many children he and his wife, Sarah, had? They didn’t have any. So Abraham began to wonder how God was going to accomplish all that He had promised. He even wondered, at one point, if his heir would have to come from one of his servants, since he had no children of his own. This idea would have been customary in that culture. But it was not what God intended. God assured Abraham that his heir would be his biological son. “…but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.” (Genesis 15:4) God intended to make Abraham a father. And Genesis 15:6 says, “…he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”
(Abraham and Sarah have a plan)
So it’s clear that Abraham believed that God was going to keep his promise. But we see, at the beginning of Genesis 16, that when ten years had passed in the Promised Land, and they still had no son, Abraham and Sarah decided that perhaps they needed to help the Lord by coming up with their own plan to have a child.
1Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.
2And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.
3And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.
4And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived:
It must be that Sarah had given up completely on God ever using her to produce a son for Abraham. So Sarah came up with a plan of her own, to accomplish, for God, what He had promised to Abraham. She suggested that Abraham take a second wife, her own maid Hagar, so that he could have a son through her.
We should first understand that this, too, would not have been unusual in that time period. Many men had more than one wife. But it’s not what God intended when He instituted marriage with Adam and Eve. God’s plan was for one man to be married to one woman. And over and over again in the Bible, when we find men with more than one wife, it almost always caused problems between the wives. We’ll look at the consequences of Sarah’s suggestion in just a moment. But first, didn’t Sara’s plan accomplish God’s promise? God said the heir would come from Abraham. And this child who would be born to Hagar would be Abraham’s son. But of course, God’s will is only fully accomplished when it’s done His way.
Now, before we get too judgmental of Abraham and Sarah, for taking matters into their own hands, I want you to imagine something with me. Imagine that today when you get home, your parents tell you that they are going to get you a new puppy. And it’s going to come with special papers that say it’s a pure bred dog. Then, when it gets older, you can let it have even more puppies to keep or sell. You get so excited to have a new puppy that you can hardly wait. But then weeks go by, then months…and no puppy. Before you know it, a whole year has passed since your mom and dad promised to get you a puppy. But there’s still no sign of one.
Then one day, you are walking along the road, and you see a scrawny little puppy that looks like it could use a good home. And hey…didn’t mom and dad say they were going to get you a puppy anyway? You could bring this one home with you, and it would take care of that promise for them. They wouldn’t even have to spend any of their own money for this one. He doesn’t look like a pure bred puppy. But you don’t think it really matters.
So you decide to pick that stray puppy up and bring it home with you. It may not be the puppy mom and dad had in mind. But it’s pretty cute. And you think she’s perfect!
How do you think you’d feel about your new puppy? Do you think you’d love it right away? After all, it is your very own, and you’ve waited so long to have one.
And how do you think your parents would feel about it? They had wanted to be the ones to give you your first puppy. Do you think their feelings might be hurt that you couldn’t wait for the special one they were planning to give you?
Now, move with me back to Genesis – and Abraham and Sarah. And thinking about that puppy, maybe you’ll understand a little better what Abraham and Sarah might have been going through in waiting for a son.
(Consequences of doubt)
Just as you might be with your new puppy running alongside of you, Abraham was very proud of his son, Ishmael, when he was born to Hagar. He loved his son very much, and must have thought sure that God would be happy that what He had promised had finally happened. But when we decide to step out of God’s will, and do things our own way, there are often serious consequences that we have to face. And this was true for Abraham and Sarah. And it affected the lives of Hagar and her son, Ishmael, as well.
4And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.
5And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the Lord judge between me and thee.
Both Sarah and Hagar were very aware that Hagar was able to give Abraham the one thing he probably wanted most, and that Sarah was unable to give him…a son. Hagar felt like she was better than Sarah once she became pregnant. And Sarah could not bear what had happened. Not only did Hagar have something that Sarah could not have, now Abraham’s whole life would be centered around a child that was not hers. When she thought of this plan to help God’s promise along, she hadn’t realized how seriously it might affect her, personally. So Sarah put the burden on Abraham to solve the tension between the two women. At that point, Abraham’s eyes were opened to the poor decision they had made. And he realized he would have to let things take their course, for now.
6But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thine hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face.
7And the angel of the LORD found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur.
8And he said, Hagar, Sarai's maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai.
9And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands.
10And the angel of the LORD said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.
11And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction.
15And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son's name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael.
16And Abram was fourscore and six years old, when Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram.
What did Sarah do when Abraham told her that she could do what she wanted to with Hagar? Verse 6 tells us that Sarah treated Hagar “hardly.” Would anyone like to guess what that means? It means she treated her very badly. So badly, in fact, that Hagar ran away. But God had promised to bless Abraham’s seed, and that would include his descendants through Hagar, too, since Abraham had chosen to have a child with her. So God didn’t let her stay in hiding. He told her she needed to go back, and submit to Sarah, and that would mean putting herself under Sarah’s authority. And it must be that this was enough for the two women to live peaceably for many years. But when God puts His own plan back in motion, we’ll see that this issue will come back to the surface, once again.
Before we get to God’s plan for Abraham and Sarah, let’s jump back to your new puppy illustration for just a moment. Remember you chose to pick up that stray puppy, instead of waiting for your parents to provide one. Well… you soon find out it’s not the great idea that you thought it would be. The older she gets, the stranger she looks. She has kind of a wild look in her eyes. But you’ve had her for almost six months, and you just love her so much. But she doesn’t obey very well, and the bigger she gets, the harder it is to control her. She even tried to bite one of your friends. How is your decision looking now? Do you see that your choice to go ahead with your own plan has consequences you weren’t prepared for? Do you think your parents were aware that this might happen, if you got a puppy you didn’t know anything about? Our choices outside of God’s will always come with consequences.
But here’s the good news. God will sometimes come along and put His plan back into full motion, whether we’re ready for it, or not. And His plan always works out best! So let’s find out exactly what God has in mind for Abraham, and for Sarah.
(Doing things God’s way)
For thirteen years, Ishmael was the only son and only heir of Abraham. But Ishmael was not the heir God had chosen for Abraham. God wanted to make His plan absolutely clear to Abraham. And there would be no mistaking that His plan required His doing, and no one else’s. Because what God planned to do was humanly impossible; and nothing is too hard for Him!
15And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.
16And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.
17Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?
18And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!
19And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for and everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.
What was God’s plan for fulfilling His promise to make Abraham a father? He planned to give Abraham a son through Sarah. How old does this passage say Sarah was at that time? She was ninety years old. And just to be perfectly clear, in Genesis 18:11 it says “and it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.” In other words, she was physically past the time of being able to have children.
What was Abraham’s reaction to God’s plan? He fell on his face and laughed. And then he begged God to let Ishmael be the son that was promised. Does that sound like faith on Abraham’s part? No. It sounds like Abraham doubted if God could really do what He said He was going to do, in the way He said He was going to do it. Maybe Abraham doubted his ability to be a good father now that he was almost one hundred years old. Or maybe he thought it would be too hard for Sarah. Whatever the reason, Abraham did not embrace the plan God shared with him. So just to be clear that Abraham fully understood God’s plan, and also to let Sarah know what was going to happen, the Lord Himself chose to come and visit Abraham and Sarah, right at their home, to once again share the news with them.
1And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
2And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground,
3And said, My LORD, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:
4Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree:
5And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said.
6And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth.
7And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it.
8And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.
9And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent.
10And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.
11Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.
12Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?
13And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?
14Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.
15Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he Nay; but thou didst laugh.
This must have been very important to the Lord, that He would personally come right to Abraham’s home to deliver this message of his promised son. And although God had already told Abraham what His plan was, this was the first time Sarah had heard it, herself, from God. And what was her reaction? It was the same as Abraham’s. She laughed at the idea that she would have a son. She was, after all, ninety years old. And well past the time when she could have had children. She, too, seemed to doubt what the Lord could do.
Does it sound like the Lord was angry with them for doubting Him? No. He must have understood that they were just feeling like any other person would at that age. How could God’s plan work when they were both so old? But that didn’t stop God from insisting that nothing is too hard for Him. And that Sarah would, indeed, have a son.
And just as God promised, He returned to do an incredible miracle in Sarah’s life.
1And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken.
2For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.
3And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac.
4And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him.
5And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him.
6And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me.
7And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age.
8And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.
What an unbelievable time that must have been for Abraham and Sarah! They were both close to one hundred years old. And yet, the Lord had given them a baby boy, an heir, all their own. They even named him Isaac, as God told them to. Do you know what the name “Isaac” means? It means laughter. Do you think God wanted them to remember how they reacted when He told them of His plan? But Sarah also said that she wanted all those who learned of Isaac’s birth to laugh with her, in her joy. Yes, God can do anything! And what a testimony it must have been for all who knew them, to see the mighty hand of the Lord in their lives. God had, indeed, fulfilled His promise to Abraham. And He had done it in a way only He could.
Do you remember our puppy story? Imagine with me, now, that a whole year has gone by, and your little stray puppy has grown into a full size dog. The only thing is several people have told you that they think she looks like a coyote. And you’re beginning to wonder, yourself, if she just might be. But even if she is, you’ve had her since she was a little puppy. You know she loves you. And you love her more and more with every day.
Then, the day comes that you’d all but forgotten about. Your mom and dad come home with a brand new little bouncing ball of fur. It’s the puppy they had promised you a couple of years ago. They had been waiting for a friend’s dog to have her first litter. And finally, they had been born. Oh, the puppy is so cute!
There’s only one, little problem. Your older “dog” doesn’t like the new puppy at all. In fact, she’s so mean toward the puppy that you’re afraid she might even hurt her. So you know what you need to do. It’s time to recognize the mistake you made in bringing home a coyote pup. You must find someone who knows what to do to properly take care of her, and send her away to live with them. But it’s going to be so hard sending her away. She’s been your best friend for a whole year. The two of you have gone everywhere and done everything together. What a hard situation to find yourself in.
Now, can you imagine what it would be like to have to send a family member away? I know there are times we don’t get along with everyone. But to have to actually send them away forever would be so difficult. And yet, this is what lay ahead for Abraham. You see, there came a time when having two heirs to one promise just wouldn’t work. God had made the right choice for Abraham. But Abraham had made a different choice, many years earlier, that would make this day break his heart. Yes, he was continuing to suffer the consequences of not fully trusting God.
9And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.
10Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.
11And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son.
12And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
13And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.
14And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away:
Abraham had to face many difficult faith-tests in his life. And this was another big one. He had to trust that God knew exactly what He was doing. And that His plan was best. And as a result, he had to send two members of his own family away. This was an incredibly painful consequence of Abraham’s own choosing. He took Hagar as a second wife when he didn’t see any evidence of God fulfilling His promise. And it would cost him great heartache to lose his oldest son. But God promised that He would bless Ishmael, too, since he was also Abraham’s son. Ishmael would just not be the heir God would continue His promises through. So Abraham put Hagar and Ishmael in God’s hands. Then went on to watch his promised son grow in God’s blessings, as God had intended all those years before.
No, Abraham did not always demonstrate great faith. For a time, he gave up on waiting for God, and took matters into his own hands. But the faith God did see in Abraham was enough, because it was in a great God! Here is God’s record of the faith of Abraham and Sarah, from Hebrews 11:11-12
Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.
When God wrote the final account, He saw only the faith of two people who were finally able to look past their own limitations, to see a great God who was able to accomplish all that He had promised. Because with God, all things are possible!
Is there something you know you should be doing today, but don’t think you are big enough, or smart enough, or strong enough to do? If you’re worrying about those things, then you’re putting your faith in yourself, rather than in God. If He’s asks you to do something, then He’ll give you the ability to do it. Look into your heart for that little bit of faith you have, knowing God has helped you before. Then put that same faith into our big God! He’ll be faithful… just give Him the opportunity to show you.
Special note for Palm Sunday
And before we close, this weekend many Christians around the world are celebrating a special event in the life of Jesus. Does anyone know what it’s called? It’s Palm Sunday – the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, as the crowds surrounding Him cheered Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! They were rejoicing over the arrival of the promised Messiah. They probably felt much like Abraham and Sarah did with the arrival of their promised son, Isaac.
Unfortunately, these crowds were looking for an earthly king, who would rescue them from the Romans, instead of a Savior who would rescue them from their sins. What the crowds missed was the revelation of God’s plan. Palm Sunday was also lamb-selection day; the day Jewish families selected the perfect lamb they would sacrifice on Passover. They didn’t even see that right before them, riding on the donkey, was the Lamb God had selected to be their sacrifice. Jesus was the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world. He was God’s only answer to the world’s need of salvation, just as Isaac had been His only answer to Abraham’s need for an heir.
Have you recognized Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? The One who came to take away your sins, and provide the only way for you to go to Heaven one day? If not, this Palm Sunday, this Lamb-Selection Day would be the perfect time to choose Him as your Lord and Savior. Why not choose Him, today?!
Closing Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your Word, and for the lessons we are learning about the faith that Abraham had in You. Thank You, too, for this reminder that our faith doesn’t have to be spectacular. It just needs to be in the right place, and that’s in You. Thank You for the times in the past when You have shown Yourself to be faithful, so we can be content to put our faith in You, again. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Activity: (Review Questions)
Fill in the Blanks
True or False
1. God agreed that Abraham’s servant could be his heir. (false – it would be his own son)
2. When Hagar became pregnant, she despised Sarah. (true)
3. God told Abraham he would also bless Ishmael (true)
4. Ishmael and Isaac got along very well. (false – Ishmael mocked the baby, Isaac)
5. Abraham had to send Hagar and Ishmael away. (true )