Calvary Road Baptist Church


Genesis 17.18


Turn in your Bible to Genesis chapter seventeen:


1      And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.

2      And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.

3      And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,

4      As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.

5      Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.

6      And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.

7      And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.

8      And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.

9      And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.

10     This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.

11     And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.

12     And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.

13     He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.

14     And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.

15     And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.

16     And 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.

17     Then 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?

18     And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!

19     And 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 an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.

20     And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.

21     But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.

22     And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.

23     And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him.

24     And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.

25     And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.

26     In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son.

27     And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him.


Friday night, beginning at midnight, our praying men will gather for an all-night vigil, seeking God’s face and pleading with God on behalf of our church, pleading with God on behalf of our families, pleading with God on behalf of our unsaved loved ones and acquaintances, and spending a very inconvenient time displaying to God our conviction that He is worthy. Along that line of thinking, I thought it would be good for us to consider the matter of praying to God tonight, especially father Abraham’s intercessory prayer on behalf of his son, Ishmael.

It is highly unlikely that Abraham’s prayer of Genesis 17.18 is the first prayer ever offered up to God. However, it is the first time in the Bible that a prayer offered up to God is recorded, incredibly, the prayer of a father on behalf of his son. Think about it, men. The first prayer recorded in the Bible, which is to say, the first time we find that someone’s desire is coupled with the opportunity and privilege of talking with God, is an occasion when a father pleads to God on behalf of his son. Should that not comprise a great many of our prayers in the wee hours of Saturday morning?

“An old divine commenting on Abraham’s practice of prayer gives us these two thoughts - 1. All God’s people are praying people. As soon will you find a living man without breath, as a living Christian without prayer. 2. Thousands who would approve themselves upright with God must be constant and persevering in religion. Abraham did not leave his religion behind, as many do, when they travel.”[1]

In the previous chapter of Genesis, we have what many think is a response to prayer, in Genesis 16.11: “And 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.” However, careful consideration of the verse will convince you that Hagar offered up no prayer on this occasion. Rather, God has heard her affliction. “We can see and feel affliction but hearing it is something of which only God is capable. Hagar’s need was her prayer, and in her wilderness God met her.”[2]

Thus, our great and glorious God is wonderfully sensitive to our needs and to our heart’s desires, if only our own attitude toward Him is fitting and proper. Before we focus on Abraham’s prayer for Ishmael, let us remind ourselves of the proper approach to God.

First, Abraham’s intercessory prayer should remind us that whenever we approach the Lord Most High, we must recognize that His throne is one of Grace, Hebrews 4.16, meaning that prayer is an exercise of privileges granted, not rights exercised. Accompanying that realization, we should take great care to humble ourselves in His sight, First Peter 5.6-7: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God . . . Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” There cannot be true prayer apart from deep humility, or lowliness of spirit. Humility, then, is the first essential of efficacious prayer.[3]

These things clear in our minds, consider this man’s prayer to God on behalf of his Son, Ishmael, in Genesis 17.18: “O that Ishmael might live before thee!”

Three considerations about Abraham’s prayer for Ishmael:




Keep in mind the torrent of events surrounding this ninety-nine year old man as God speaks to him, causing him to fall on his face before God. In verse 4, God reiterates His covenant with Abraham: “As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.” In verse 5, He changes his name from Abram to Abraham. In verse 6, He renews His vow to make Abraham extremely fruitful, begetting both nations and kings. Verse 7, again a statement about His covenant with Abraham, to be his God, and to continue the relationship with Abraham’s posterity. Verses 8-9 speak of the land God gave to Abraham and his posterity. In verses 10-14, God’s will concerning the rite of circumcision is set forth. In verses 15-17, we find God changing Sarai’s name to Sarah and promising her a son when she is ninety years old.

A ninety-nine year old man, is being spoken to by God Himself, is the recipient of a staggering series of revelations, not the least of which is the news that his aged wife will deliver a son when she is ninety! In the midst of all that, Abraham cries out, “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” Imagining the emotional momentum that God has built up in the life of this old man, I find it absolutely astonishing that he is able to utter these words considering what was going on at the time.




The only explanation I can imagine for Abraham’s prayer under those circumstances, what with the feebleness of his old body, and the staggering series of pronouncements made by our majestic and glorious God, is that he loved his thirteen-year-old son very, very much.

How else do you explain his cry at so inconvenient a time? There is no indication God had paused for Abraham to begin speaking. We have not the slightest suggestion that Abraham’s prayer to God was solicited by God. In other words, God did not pause and say, “Abraham, is there anything you would like to say to me?” Not at all.

“O that Ishmael might live before thee!” Think about it, for a moment. God is speaking to Abraham about his legacy, about His covenant, about the land, about nations and kings, and then about Sarah and her yet-to-be-born son, when this man’s heart suddenly turns to his thirteen year old boy.




A prayer is an intercessory prayer when it is a prayer offered up to God, not for yourself, but for the benefit of someone else. Abraham already has wonderful assurance from God concerning himself, but his heart suddenly concerns itself with his boy, Ishmael.

Blessings for Abraham. Blessings for Sarah. Blessings for those descended from Abraham through Sarah. Abraham suddenly realizes that God’s plan is to bypass Ishmael. “O that Ishmael might live before thee!”

The emotions that coursed through Abraham’s thoughts are obvious to discern. He made a baby with a woman he was not married to, a woman who was not his wife, and that child is now his thirteen-year-old son, Ishmael. He obviously wants God’s best for the boy he knows as opposed to a child not yet conceived, much less born.

“O that Ishmael might live before thee!” I am so thankful that God allowed this prayer. I am so glad that God allowed this father’s love for his son. I am so glad that God is the kind of God who allows us to pray for our mistakes, and that He loves us enough to receive our pleas for Him to turn to blessings our mistakes, our sins, our errors, and even our flaws and defects.


Men, Abraham was the friend of God. However, we should take note that even the friend of God made a mess of things in his life, committing sins, exercising lousy judgment, wreaking havoc in the lives of others as a result of the things he said and did. Therefore, it is good for us to understand that we are certainly not alone when it comes to being at fault for situations we regret. However, we have a God who we can pray to at inconvenient times, offering up heartfelt prayers, not only for ourselves, but also interceding on behalf of those we find ourselves responsible for.

It is a wonderful thing that God is the God of the helpless, the hopeless, and the hapless. Though we are helpless, He is our strength. Though we are hopeless, He gives us hope in our soon coming Savior, Jesus Christ. Though we are hapless, He is our great benefit and guaranteed treasure of blessings. What a great privilege we have to pray to our heavenly Father. What a thrill it is to be able to enter the throne room of heaven without escort or invitation, rushing past the seraphim to the very throne of our Father, because our access is guaranteed by our adoption and by the blood of the Crucified One.

Herbert Lockyer once wrote, “Too often we fail God and man because of our lack of desire for prevailing intercession - the costliest service a Christian can render.”[4] Let us all agree with his evaluation of intercessory prayer as the toughest activity a Christian man can engage in. Let us also recognize the great value of a Christian man praying for his lost children and for others, and determine to do this thing because its cost is high.

In Second Samuel 24.24, when David refused Ornan’s offer to freely give him the threshing floor where his son, Solomon, would eventually erect the Temple he said, “neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing.”

We do not frequently engage in activities that are very difficult. Therefore, with regard to the inconvenience of a prayer vigil beginning Friday night at midnight, let me say that it is a relatively small thing. However, it is a cost to be paid, as opposed to costing us nothing. Therefore, let us pray like Abraham, by paying a bit of a price for it like David. If you cannot do this thing, because of age or infirmity, then do not do it. However, if your only concern is the inconvenience of it, the discomfort of it, or something of that nature, then by all means come pray with us.

[1] Herbert Lockyer, All the Prayers Of The Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), pages 20-21.

[2] Ibid., page 21.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., page 24.

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