A Metaphor of Grace in Eliezer, Ishmael, and Isaac
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness...
Romans 4:4-5 ESV
Forgiveness of sins and eternal life are gifts of God, granted by his grace alone. Nobody can buy or work their way into eternal life. Eliezer, Ishmael, and Isaac make a great illustration of God's plan.
Eliezer was Abraham's chief servant. He worked for Abraham his whole life, helping him build his wealth and watch out for his family. If Abraham had died without children, Eliezer would have been his heir according to the traditions of man. He was a faithful servant, but his inheritance would have been the wages of his own efforts.
Ishmael was Abraham's firstborn son according to the flesh. However, he was also the son of a slave. If Abraham had not had another son by a free wife, Ishmael would have inherited God's covenant as Abraham's firstborn, displacing Eliezer, in accordance with the laws of both man and biology.
Isaac was a child of promise, conceived through miraculous intervention. Sarah's time in Abimelech's house might cast a shadow over Isaac's right of inheritance as Abraham's biological son, but God's decree overrides anything man might do. Isaac inherited the covenant promises of Abraham because God intervened and made it happen, apart from any natural or man-made law, and Abraham believed him.
This is an image of our salvation, which is granted by divine intervention according to our belief in God's promises.
See also Genesis 15:1-5 and Genesis 17:15-21.
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