If there is a theme in Abraham’s life that keeps coming up it is submission. Submitting to others is something that he seemed to have no problem with, and it seems to have brought him favor his whole life.
He was in submission to God. Only a couple of chapters before God made a covenant with Abraham and that covenant on Abraham’s side was signified by circumcision. As an adult, he and all his men were circumcised. He circumcised his son Isaac upon his birth as well. Abraham’s faithfulness was rewarded by the fulfillment of God’s side of the covenant – to bless him and his offspring for generations.
He was in submission to his wife, Sarah. Here in the beginning of chapter 21, we find that Sarah is distraught by Ishmael, the son of Hagar, who mocked Isaac at a party in his honor. She asks Abraham to remove both of them from the protection of their home. Perhaps there was even more to it. Perhaps Sarah couldn’t stand the sight of Hagar for having a child with her husband and had been fuming years with this event being the straw that broke the camel’s back. Abraham was troubled, as I’m sure he didn’t want to subject Hagar and Ishmael to hardship, but out of respect for his wife and to protect his family, he reluctantly sends them away. Abraham is blessed for this submission though, as God promises to look after Hagar and Ishmael, thus relieving Abraham of his guilt.
Finally, we see another type of submission result in prosperity for Abraham when he meets with King Abimelech. Abraham was always in submission to the authorities of the land. Admittedly sometimes to a fault, but overall, we must assume that his general submission to their rule was God-honoring. We can say this, because of the words of apostle Paul…
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. – Romans 13:1
This is a difficult verse to hear in America. We tend to be proud of the battles that we’ve fought and won for our freedom and with good reason. It would be inappropriate to say which of our wars were just and which ones weren’t. The wars that we are perhaps most proud of, however, are the ones that have resulted in the rights that we all share today, among them, the right to overthrow our own government.
Perhaps there are times when this kind of thing honors God. Perhaps an evil ruler should be removed, and outright oppression should not be tolerated. However, a general disposition of defiance to government and the authorities that lead them is not right. The leaders of this world have been ordained by God for some purpose or another. Jesus never taught about overthrowing the state, but did say something about rendering to Caesar what is due to him. One might suggest that this means pay every dime that you owe in taxes.
Even in the most ungodly segments of our culture – like the American government, for example – God is still working. In the part of our lives that lack most in spiritually – like politics – God can still teach us something.
Submission to authorities teaches us to trust that God is ultimately in control. So let’s get right down to it: what does this mean practically? You might ask, “what exactly do you want us to do, not speak up in politics? Not join political parties? Not run for office?”
Of course not. In fact, what you see in Abraham’s life is that God used his submission to bring about change in the government’s position on things. Abraham had shown over years to be a man who respected Abimelech, so the King meets with Abraham as he is gaining influence to work out some sort of mutual understanding. Abraham uses this platform of influence and brings the King up short on what would appear to be a civil matter about the local water supply. He is able to persuade Abimelech to reverse course on this particular action and the King moves his entire army out of the land as a result.
So how do we know when it’s time to take action? I will leave some of those questions up to you and let you prayerfully consider them. I’d rather start with this: as Christians, we should not speak badly about our president or other elected officials. We should pray for them. I’d even take a one-for-one deal at this point. For every time that you think badly of, or discuss in a negative way about, or post on Facebook your displeasure toward our elected officials, you have to say a prayer for them. AND you have to do it in the same audience. If it’s just you thinking badly about them, say a private prayer. If you’ve talked with someone badly about them, grab that same person or another church member and invite them to pray with you. Or, you may find yourself in the latter camp, in which case your heartfelt prayer needs to be blasted across your social media channels without any ambiguity or sarcasm.
If we all committed to that kind of challenge, one of two things would happen. There would either be an overwhelming outpouring of prayer for our government officials or we’d all find much better things to talk about. Either way, God’s name would be more glorified in our lives and I think that’s kind of the point of all of this isn’t it?