Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was 75 years old and still childless. Though God had promised she and Abraham would have a son, Sarah felt she’d run out of time. She convinced Abraham to take her handmaid, Hagar, as a second wife. Soon Hagar became pregnant. Carried away with her new status, she began acting high and mighty around her former mistress. Enraged, Sarah lit into her and Hagar escaped in panic into the wilderness. There God communicated to her that He would greatly multiply her future descendants through the son who would be born. God also instructed Hagar to go back to Sarah and submit herself to her.
Soon Hagar bore a son and named him Ishmael. Finally, years later, God did miraculously give Abraham and Sarah a son in their old age and they named him Isaac. At Isaac’s weaning celebration, Ishmael was in his late teens. Sarah spied him either mocking Isaac or perhaps simply playing with him as an equal. Outraged, she told Abraham that this son of a slave woman would never be heir with her son. She demanded that Ishmael and his mother be banished.
At this point, it may seem as if Ishmael was destined to be rejected and forsaken all his life. But Ishmael was loved… His mother loved him dearly. The Bible also tells us Abraham was grieved at Sarah’s attitude because he loved Ishmael. Most importantly, God loved the young man.
God instructed Abraham to go ahead and send Hagar and Ishmael away, implying that He himself would care for the two and enable survival. And this is exactly what happened. In saving Ishmael from death in the desert God assured that from him would grow a great race of people.
There is a sad footnote to this story. At its root, Abraham’s union with Hagar reflected a lack of faith that God could give Abraham and Sarah a Hebrew son of their own, even though they were elderly. From the faithless marriage to Hagar came the Arabic peoples. Though it is obvious in our story that God loved Ishmael and his promised descendants, it is also true that the Arabs and Jews have been locked in a self-perpetuating, murderous hatred for many centuries. May God someday bring lasting peace and forgiveness between these two races. May the ghastly bloodletting someday come to an end.
What can we learn from Ishmael?
In a sense, Ishmael was a symbol of Abraham and Sarah’s lack of faith. God knew that they should have faithfully waited for the promised son. However when Ishmael was conceived, God did not angrily reject him and toss him aside. Instead, God loved the boy and agreed to bless him. When our frail faith results in costly mistakes, God can turn our penitent regret into blessing for His own purposes.
Bible Verses about Ishmael
Genesis chaps. 16, 21, 25:12; Judges 8:24; Ps. 83:6; Gal. 4:22-30
What questions does this help to answer?
- Who was Ishmael?
- Was does the Bible say Ishmael is?
- Did God love Ishmael?