As Sarah before her, Rebekah was barren and unable to conceive a child. But there is a remarkable distinction between Abraham’s response to Sarah’s infertility and Isaac’s response to Rebekah’s infertility. Back in Genesis 16 we read about Sarah’s scheme to employ her handmaiden, Hagar, as a surrogate through which Abraham could produce offspring for their family:
“And 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.” (Genesis 16:2)
But what did Isaac do when his wife was unable to conceive? He went to the Lord in prayer. We know that Abraham was a great man of faith, so we naturally assume that he had prayed and petitioned God about his wife’s barrenness a great deal before resorting to the plan of using Hagar to bear a son. But perhaps we assume too much. We see in Genesis 15:2-3 that Abraham asked God about who his heir would be, but we do not see him asking God to give him a son by Sarah. Would this have made any difference in the time frame in which his son would be born? Only God knows. But we do know that it pleases the Lord when we specifically ask Him for those things which we desire.
How often do we neglect to ask the Lord for those things which we desire? We go about our daily lives without pausing to take the time to petition the Lord for those things of which we are in need. We know that of a certain God is not ignorant of those things which we need and desire, although we are also aware that He delights in our taking the time to acknowledge those needs to Him. And so we forgo the formality of bringing our requests to Him in prayer and hope that He will grant them anyway. It seems such a simple point to remember, but so often we overlook it. James penned a timeless axiom in regard to this reason for unmet needs:
“…ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4:2)
Who can know but God what heartache, what suffering, what needless pain that Isaac avoided by going straight to the Lord in prayer when he and Rebekah were unable to conceive? Unlike his parents before him, Isaac did not seek to take matters into his own hands. We learned in the life of Abraham that God can cause His will to come to pass regardless of our own failures and frailties. Abraham’s mistake of going to Hagar in order to conceive a son in no way frustrated the plan of God to bring about a line of descendants through Isaac, a line through which the Lord Jesus Christ Himself would ultimately come. But at what cost was this mistake to Abraham? At what cost to his descendants? To this day, the sons of Ishmael (the Arabs) afflict the sons of Isaac (the Jews) and there is a never ending strife between them.
Without any doubt Abraham must have surely told Isaac of all that God had promised him. He must have related to him many times how a multitude of descendants would come from them and that their seed would be too vast to number. Yet when Rebekah was unable to conceive, Isaac did not sit idly by, supposing that his petition to the Lord was unnecessary. No, he took his request to God and intreated Him for her. What a great reminder that we should do the same.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6 ESV)