Abraham and Isaac among the Nations
Lot's Foreign Children and Abraham the Foreigner (19:30-Chap. 20)
Abraham's Child and the Foreigners (Chap. 21)
The first picture is stark. It tells how the incest of Lot and his daughters gave rise to the Moabites and Ammonites.
But the next picture is very different: Abimelech and his people, down in Gerar, are like Abraham at his best, speaking to God and seeking justice. Here Sarah seems at first to be endangered, as she once had been in Egypt, but, through the combined work of God and Abimelech, Sarah comes out smelling like a rose.
Then, amid old age and laughter, Sarah gives birth to Isaac—thus raising the prospect of yet another people, the people of God's promise.
The birth of Isaac brings a curious twist. The story, instead of concentrating on this long-awaited child, switches back to incidents concerning other peoples. First, there is an incident with implications for Egypt: the expulsion of Hagar the Egyptian and the marriage of her son to a woman from Egypt. And then there is an incident involving Abimelech and the land of the Philistines.
Thus, the centerpiece of the story is the birth of the child of Abraham and Sarah, but this birth—however personal for his own family and nation—is not a narrow event. It is linked to surrounding nations. Even Sarah, in her joy, proclaims that her birth-giving is open to all (21:6): “Everyone who hears will laugh for me. ”
The panels of this diptych begin with contrasting images of children being born—the children of Lot (Moab and Ammon, 19:30–38), and the child of Abraham (Isaac, 21:1–7). The previous scene also (18:1–19:29) had been headed by an Abraham-Lot contrast (diverse pictures of hospitality, 18:1–8; 19:1–3), but here, in Lot's last appearance, the contrast reaches its high point and so is sharper. Lot's children come from incestuous coercion; Abraham's child comes in God's time, amid harmony and laughter. Lot, in a cave, with just two daughters, seems fearful and enclosed, knowing nothing. Abraham, however, appears unconfined and his wife Sarah calls out poetically—sings almost—for all to hear. One episode is of shame, the other of joy.