Bible Text: Genesis 12:1–4a, 10–20; 15:1–6; 16–18; 21:1–21
Lesson Focus: We can trust God to follow through on promises, even when we don’t keep ours.
Big Question: Can I really trust God?
Key Words: TRUST, COVENANT, DESCENDANT, RIGHTEOUS
• God makes a covenant with Abraham and Sarah. The promise of descendants and land and blessing first introduced in chapter 12 is reiterated, and the sign of the covenant (male circumcision) is instituted.
• God hears Abraham and Hagar’s pleas for Ishmael and promises to make of him a great nation, as well. Ishmael is the family line that more than one billion Muslims claim.
• God “opens Sarah’s womb,” Abraham provides the “seed,” and Sarah carries the baby and gives birth. Isaac is born of this against-all-odds partnership.
• God remains faithful to the promise even when the human part of the partnership does not.
• People do not somehow achieve perfection before God works with them, nor does God magically perfect them before calling on them. The “heroes” of the Bible are very real people.
By Genesis 13, Abram is very rich and well on the journey God commanded him to undertake. Blessings are becoming a reality for him—but still he has no heir. Along the way God continued to repeat the promise of descendants so numerous they will be like the dust of the earth and the stars in the sky, but Sarai remained barren far past childbearing years. The promise seemed to be an impossibility. Abraham questioned it, but in the end, he believed God without any proof or evidence—God’s word created the faith he needed to continue on the journey. God’s faith-creating word, not Abraham’s merit or goodness, is the source of Abraham’s “righteousness” (15:6).
Another covenant is made in Genesis 17. The promise of descendants and land and blessing first introduced in chapter 12 is reiterated, and the sign of the covenant (male circumcision) is instituted. Just because a covenant has been made does not mean things unfold seamlessly, however. When Abraham was afraid of Pharaoh, he claimed Sarai was his sister. Sarai herself also becomes more of a player in these chapters. Hagar served as a surrogate mother for Sarai at Sarai’s request, and Ishmael was born. The birth of Ishmael does not fulfill the promise that God made, however. God renames Sarai as Sarah (“princess [of a nation]”) and Abram as Abraham (“ancestor of a multitude”) and promises them that they will have a baby together in their old age.
“Your wife Sarah shall bear you a son,” God promises (Genesis 17:19). And we learn that God will establish a covenant with Abraham and Sarah’s child—a nation will be built from this child of promise they will have.
Ishmael fades but is not dropped from the biblical storyline. God hears Abraham’s plea for Ishmael and promises to make of him a great nation as well. And indeed, Ishmael is the family line that more than one billion Muslims claim. God hears Hagar’s cries in the wilderness and opens her eyes to see a well—life-sustaining water for her and Ishmael. God is faithful to Hagar and Ishmael but gently redirects Abraham. “But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year” (Genesis 17:21). It is such a ludicrous idea, Sarah laughs, but the promise holds and the miracle gift of the child of promise comes to be when Abraham is 100 and Sarah is 90. God “opens Sarah’s womb,” Abraham provides the “seed,” and Sarah carries the baby and gives birth. When Isaac (“laughing boy” or “laughter is born”) is born of this against-all-odds partnership, the cynical laughter of doubt turns to the laughter of joy.
We learn a lot about both God and humanity in the narrative of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah. God is a vulnerable and suffering God at times. God sees and responds to human need. God takes human action, thought, and partnership seriously. Most importantly, God remains faithful to the promise even when the human part of the partnership does not. For their part, humans actually help shape the future in many instances. People do not somehow achieve perfection before God works with them, nor does God magically perfect them before calling on them. The “heroes” of the Bible are very real people. God works for life and goodness and blessing for all, with—and in spite of—the chosen ones. Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar provide many complications and difficulties, but they remain God’s vehicle for blessing the world.
Can I really trust God?
Youth may find it difficult to trust God as they begin to test their trusting relationships with all authority figures. The story of God fulfilling his promise to Abraham after many years is the quintessential story of trust in the Bible. Youth need to hear and respond to this story as it affects their own lives. Who do they trust? How is that trust lived out? What warrants trust in others and themselves? Leading youth in an honest discussion of how they might have felt about trusting God (or not) will allow feelings to be brought forth. This open discussion will bring home the profound element of trust that was involved. Touching on the emotions involved in this story will help youth to see the magnitude of trust that Abraham had with God. If they feel they are in an arena where they can speak their minds openly and without judgment, the issue can lead to deep discussion of feelings.
Help kids dive into the Key Words by asking for definitions and/or providing these definitions:
TRUST: believing in and relying on others.
COVENANT: a contract or an agreement of promises between two parties.
DESCENDANT: someone whose family relationship can be traced to a particular individual or group.
RIGHTEOUS: justified and good. Righteousness comes from faith, and faith comes from God. Righteousness does not come from human works or merit.
Choose one of the following three options to introduce the lesson. Then lead students in the Opening Prayer.
Guest Speaker Option: Descendants
Invite someone from the congregation with a new baby to talk to the class (and bring the baby with them if possible!) Ask the speaker to describe the blessings and challenges of giving birth or adopting and of taking care of a newborn.
Debrief the presentation with these questions:
• How are children blessings? How are they challenging?
• What kind of trust should there be in parent/child relationship?
• How is that like/unlike the way we trust in God?
Pass out pieces of paper and writing utensils. Challenge them to fill the paper with the names of people they know. Give them three minutes to fill the paper with names, then ask them to keep the paper in front of them as you pray together.
God our parent, you made Sarah, Hagar, and Abraham the parents of us all. We give thanks for all your children, more numerous than the stars, especially for those we name now: (Invite the class to read as many of the names off their sheets as they can, all speaking at once.) Strengthen our trust in you as we look to the promise of your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
My Faith Story
Ask kids to respond to the Big Question: Can I really trust God?
Then share a part of your own faith story using the suggestion below or another way to share about how God has kept promises in your life
Time is an important element of the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. God expected Abraham and Sarah to go without delay and then wait for years and years. Bring some of the clocks and watches you keep at home and share your thoughts on how quickly or slowly life is passing by. What makes time seem to fly by? What makes it seem to go slow? What does being on God’s time mean and feel like to you?
Open the Bible
Have the class turn to Genesis 12:1–4a. Before you read it, pose these questions: What is God promising? What does God ask Abraham and family to do? What do they do? Then read the passage together with those questions in mind. Pass out pieces of paper and have students write the name “Abram/Abraham” in the center of one side of the paper, and “Sarai/Sarah” in the center of the other side. Use these pages to create character webs for Sarah and Abraham, and add adjectives to describe them after you complete each reading. You could also create large poster-sized versions of these webs instead and have students step up to add to them between each reading.
Continue with Genesis 12:10–20. This story may be completely new and unknown to your students. If this is the case, ask what it is about this story that makes it less popular than other stories about Abraham and Sarah. Add more adjectives to your Abraham and Sarah character webs.
Continue with Genesis 15:1–16. What is God promising? What does God ask Abraham to do? What does Abraham do? How is this covenant like and unlike the one you read in Genesis 12? Add more adjectives to your Abraham character web.
Turn together to Genesis 17. What is God promising? What does God ask Abraham to do? What does Abraham do? How is this covenant like and unlike the ones you read in Genesis 12 and 15? Add more adjectives to your Abraham and Sarah character webs.
Before you turn to Genesis 18, choose two students and one adult volunteer to take the part of visitors and ask them to temporarily leave the room and return in five minutes. In those five minutes, decide as a class what you will do to welcome the visitors. What kind of hospitality can you show on such short notice? When the visitors arrive, put your plan into action immediately and welcome the visitors. When everyone has settled back into their places, read Genesis 18 together. What kind of hospitality did Abraham and Sarah show? Add more adjectives to your Abraham and Sarah character webs.
Go back to Genesis 16 and 21:8–21, the story of Hagar and Ishmael. Have some student volunteers read out loud the narrative parts of the story, while others read the parts of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and God. What promises does God make to Hagar? What does God do? What does Hagar do? How is this covenant like and unlike the covenants God made with Abraham and Sarah? This story reveals more about who Abraham and Sarah are as people. Add more adjectives to your Abraham and Sarah character webs.
As you continue through Genesis, note that the “sister” trick Abraham pulled on the pharaoh in chapter 12 is repeated in chapter 20. What is going on, here?
Read Genesis 21:1–7. What did God do? What did Abraham and Sarah do? Add more adjectives to your Abraham and Sarah character webs and note the mix of positive and negative traits. Did Abraham and Sarah “deserve” such favor from God? What does it mean that God loved them, and kept God’s promise to them despite all their human imperfections?
Open the Catechism
Here We Stand Student Book page 306: Read through Luther’s description of confession. What does God promise? What are we trusting God to do? Provide materials and time for everyone to write down a list of their own confessions. These are not to be shared with the class, but if any of the students want to make individual confession at some other time with the pastor they can use this list as a starting point for that. Use these or other questions for class discussion: what is the purpose of making confession? How does it provide comfort and relief? Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t have any sins to confess?
Multiple Choice Questions
1. The name Abraham means . . .
a. man with a thousand sheep.
b. father of many. (Correct)
c. one who waits patiently.
d. There is no meaning to this name.
2. The name Sarah means . . .
a. a person everyone likes.
b. noble shepherdess.
c. princess (of a nation). (Correct)
d. perfect wife and mother.
3. Waterproof tents used by Abraham and his people were made of . . .
a. coarse goat hair. (Correct)
d. duck feathers.
4. The name Isaac means . . .
a. he laughed. (Correct)
b. he cried.
c. he scowled.
d. he lived.
5. Abraham got Pharaoh and Abimelech into trouble by saying that Sarah was his . . .
b. sister. (Correct)
c. very good friend.
True or False Questions
6. All families experience conflict. (True)
7. The heroes of the Bible are nearly perfect. (False; Sarah, Hagar, and Abraham are great examples of less-than-perfect people being beloved servants of God.)
8. Hagar is the mother of Isaac. (False; Hagar is the mother of Ishmael.)
Take a Break
Serve a cup of tea to each student, adding lots of sugar. In desert cultures in West Africa today, similar to the desert culture Hagar, Sarah, and Abraham knew, men enjoy a daily tea ritual. They drink tea out of small cups. Each round of tea becomes sweeter. They sit together at a table or on a blanket, drinking tea and talking and laughing. What rituals does your church, family, or community have that are similar to this?
Select one of the options below to explore in your small group. Then finish with the Best/Worst activity and prayer.
Option 1: Object Lesson Option: Map It
Use a map in your Bible or in a Bible atlas to estimate how far Abraham and Sarah journeyed. They started from Haran and traveled through the land of Caanan and into Egypt. Have students locate some of the places they stopped: Shechem, Bethel, Hebron, and Beersheba. We don’t know the precise route, but Abraham and Sarah may have traveled about 480–500 miles (770–800 km). Help the students appreciate how far that is by naming places that far from your community. What does your family do to prepare for long journeys? How long does it usually take to get ready? Would you be able to get up and move everything tonight? What would you be sure to take with you, and what could you leave behind?
Option 2: Visual Art Option: Listen to This!
For this activity, prepare these materials: white paper, markers or colored pencils, and two photos or magazine pictures per student.
Ask students who they trust enough to listen to. Without people in our lives to trust and depend on, life would be pretty hard. Throughout the Bible, people trusted and listened to God, but God also wanted people to trust and listen to each other. Do a listening exercise together. Pair up students and have them sit back-to-back. Give one student a photo or picture, and the other student the paper and drawing tools. Direct the student holding the photo to describe it for the partner, and have the listening partner draw exactly what the other person is describing. When done, check the drawing against the actual photo or picture. Did the students communicate and listen well? Was the drawing accurate?
Have students trade positions and let the other student draw the other photo. Is the communication any different this time? Were descriptions given in the same way, or did the student pairs adjust their descriptions for more accuracy?
Will the drawing ever be exactly the same as the photo? Even if the artist and describer do their very best, the drawing and photo probably won’t be exactly alike. If the drawings aren’t a perfect representation of the photo, can they still be good? Can they still convey the intended message?
Option 3: Music Option: Waiting for Results
Play the song “Have a Little Faith in Me” by John Hiatt from 20th Century Masters—Millennium Collection: The Best of John Hiatt (2003). Please preview this content to determine its appropriateness for your setting.
As we learn in the continuing saga of Sarah, Hagar, and Abraham, sometimes faith takes a lot of patience. In this song by John Hiatt, we are reminded of the patience we often need in human relationships when we ask for someone else to trust us. By listening to this desire for faith in a human relationship, we might be able to better understand how God feels when we do not trust God. Who do you trust? Does that person know you trust them? How do they know? This song says, “Your love gives me strength.” Have you ever felt strengthened by someone else’s faith in you?
Best/Worst and Prayer
Go around the group and have each student share the best and worst thing from his or her week. Remind them to pay special attention to (for example) the person on their right, as they will be praying for that person in a moment. Alternate prayer partners from week to week.
Gracious God, at our best and at our worst, you love us, forgive us, and claim us as your children. Thank you for keeping your promises even when we don’t. We pray for everything on our hearts and minds this week, especially (students pray for each other here). In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Pass out pencils and Student Sheets. Look at the front of the Student Sheet together. Pick a volunteer to read each bullet point aloud for the group. Talk about the points with students.
• Who is the oldest person you know? Can you imagine that person being a parent of a newborn?
• Why do you think Sarah and Abraham laughed at God’s promise? Do you think they laughed when they realized that God was going to keep this promise?
• Have you ever heard someone use the term “God’s time”? What do you think that means?
Turn to this week’s activity called “Sarah, Hagar, and Abraham Word Search.” Let your kids pair up to work through the activity page together. After a few minutes, discuss the answers as a group.
Use the cartoon and questions on the Student Sheet to kick off a conversation.
• What makes the story of Sarah, Hagar, and Abraham seem real to you?
Students may be reminded of similar situations in movies, television shows, celebrity news, or their own families. Emphasize that no family is perfect: the difficulties Sarah, Hagar, and Abraham encounter are what make them relatable as real people.
• How do you feel about Hagar’s banishment to the wilderness?
Sending a woman and child into the desert wilderness to die is unforgivable. God intervened to make an injustice into another promise: God would be with Hagar and her child, too, and bless them and multiply their descendants.
• What makes human relationships so complicated?
Idolatry means taking a good thing and turning it into an ultimate thing—making a god out of something that is not God. Even if we idolize something good—like love or our families—idolatry makes life more complicated and more difficult.
Student Book Connection
Here We Stand Student Book page 176: Hand out pieces of paper or cardboard to each student. Cover the whole chart with the paper. Ask students to write some things they already know about other world religions on the paper, focusing on Judaism and Islam. Then bring the paper down just enough so that the first row of the “Comparative Religions” chart is visible. Start by comparing Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Then, as time permits, also look at the other religions listed. What previous knowledge does this confirm for your students? What is new? What do they want to learn more about? Bring the paper down to reveal another row and repeat until you’ve gone through the whole chart. What does the class make of the fact that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam trace their roots back to Abraham?
Here We Stand Student Book page 45: Choose five students to read the “Five Facts about Life in Old Testament Times.” Ask which of these five facts surprised them the most. If a time machine dropped you into Old Testament times, what do you think you’d have the hardest time adapting to? In honor of fact number 2, play a few rounds of the game telephone. Sit in a circle. Have one person whisper a short message to the person sitting next to them. That person then whispers the message to their neighbor and so on until it makes it all the way around the circle. What happened to the message? Another option is to live out fact number 4 by having relay races with large containers filled with water.
Here We Stand Student Book page 96: Ask five volunteers to read “A Brief History of God’s Covenant with the People” out loud. For each covenant, have the class identify what promise God made and what sign God gave. What kind of covenants can you think of that exist between people? What signs and symbols do you associate with these human promises? How are these like and unlike God’s covenants with God’s people? Take a field trip to the sacristy, and if possible invite a member of the altar guild to give a tour of the place where the signs of the new covenant—the bread and wine for communion and the water for baptism—are prepared. How do they set up for baptism? How for communion? What traditions do they observe around the treatment of the sacramental elements? What happens to the leftover communion bread and wine, and why? Give students the chance to walk through the actions of setting up the church for a baptism or for communion.
Talk about last week’s Life Connection. Ask your group what they did this week to live out last week’s lesson. What did they learn? What might they do in the future to keep living out that Life Connection?
God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as innumerable as the stars (Genesis 15:5). Provide washable markers so students can draw a star on their hands. Remind them that the star will help them remember that God keeps promises.
Kids this age have lots of questions about right and wrong, stories in the Bible, and faith and life. Provide time for them to ask questions. Remember, there isn’t always a right answer, but encouraging discussion is great! Questions help kids explore their faith. Help them explore on their path to confirmation.
After their questions, ask one or more of the following questions to connect your conversations with the Lesson Focus:
• What makes God’s covenants different than human covenants?
• What makes people “righteous”?
• Why should we trust God?
Write students’ names and their meanings on a slip of paper and put them in a basket along with enough small stones for everyone. Ask one student to pick a name and read it aloud. He or she should hand a stone to that person, saying, “May your faith be strong like Abraham’s faith.” (The student may choose to say “like Abraham’s faith,” “like Sarah’s faith,” or “like Hagar’s faith.” Encourage students to alternate between the three.) The receiver accepts the stone and responds, “Amen.” The receiver then takes a slip of paper from the basket and repeats the process until everyone has a stone.
Before students leave, be sure to give each of them the following blessing as you trace the cross on their foreheads.
May you live in God’s time, trust in God’s grace, and live out God’s promises.