January 28, 2024

Why Did Abraham Send Ishmael Away?

"When Isaac grew up and was about to be weaned, Abraham prepared a huge feast to celebrate the occasion. But Sarah saw Ishmael—the son of Abraham and her Egyptian servant Hagar—making fun of her son, Isaac. So she turned to Abraham and demanded, 'Get rid of that slave woman and her son. He is not going to share the inheritance with my son, Isaac. I won’t have it!' This upset Abraham very much because Ishmael was his son. But God told Abraham, 'Do not be upset over the boy and your servant. Do whatever Sarah tells you, for Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted. But I will also make a nation of the descendants of Hagar’s son because he is your son, too.' So Abraham got up early the next morning, prepared food and a container of water, and strapped them on Hagar’s shoulders. Then he sent her away with their son, and she wandered aimlessly in the wilderness of Beersheba. When the water was gone, she put the boy in the shade of a bush. Then she went and sat down by herself about a hundred yards away. 'I don’t want to watch the boy die,' she said, as she burst into tears. But God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, 'Hagar, what’s wrong? Do not be afraid! God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Go to him and comfort him, for I will make a great nation from his descendants.' Then God opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well full of water. She quickly filled her water container and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy as he grew up in the wilderness. He became a skillful archer, and he settled in the wilderness of Paran. His mother arranged for him to marry a woman from the land of Egypt." Genesis 21:8-21 (NLT)

Author
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David Terry

Executive Worship Pastor

Why did Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away?
An even better question: why did God tell Abraham to send them away?

At first glance, this appears to be a very cruel and heartless treatment of a single mother and her 13-year-old son. Let's remember that Hagar was just a simple servant who, in no way, asked or wanted to be in this situation. In fact, based on the series of events, she was at worst a victim of sexual assault and at best subjected to manipulation, neglect, and mistreatment by those who were supposed to be her providers and protectors.

Now, considering Abraham's abundant blessings, vast land, and resources, one might wonder if there could have been another solution to what any parent of boys would see as "boys being boys." Boys fight, they are rough, and they have to be taught kindness, especially to their younger brothers. My wife and I spent a lot of time when our second-born son was born teaching our firstborn that his new baby brother wasn't a punching bag or tackling dummy, especially when he first started to toddle around and wanted to play with his older brother. So, what is really going on here, and what are we supposed to glean from this story?

Firstly, it's crucial to note that Abraham loved Ishmael, evident in his actions. Similarly, God loved Ishmael, blessing him and caring for him and his mother miraculously in the desert during their exile. Even before Ishmael was born, he was known and loved by God (Gen. 16:9-16). However, God, in his providence, knew that Ishmael had to be separated from Isaac. Why?

Let's quickly outline a few reasons and themes we see in this story and the overarching biblical narrative:

  1. God wants to be our only plan, not just our plan A. Ishmael was not the child of promise; God had been clear about giving Abraham a son through Sarah. This was the lineage chosen by God to fulfill the plan made back in the garden to usher in a new seed (Jesus) to overcome the serpent. Abraham needed to trust in God to fulfill his promise through Isaac, and if Ishmael were still around, he would always be tempted to see him as plan B. (To delve further into this idea, consider how the story of Abraham being told to sacrifice Isaac would have differed had Ishmael still been around).

A question to ponder: “Is God just my plan A, or is he my whole plan?”. What things do we keep around as somewhat of a security blanket or a safety net that might actually be limiting and hurting the faith God wants us to walk in, trusting in Him?

  1. The principle of second. God likes to work through and choose the second. Adam was the firstborn who sinned, and Jesus is described as the second Adam who was perfect and saved mankind. The first temple was a model or a picture of the new temple (us). We are living on the first earth, but one day God will create a new and perfect earth for us to inhabit and live on. God accepts the sacrifice of the younger brother, Abel. Jacob, although the second-born, receives the blessing over Esau. Finally, the old covenant, traced all the way back to Abraham, is perfected and replaced by the New Covenant of Grace made possible by the blood of Jesus. Ishmael was the first, but God chose the second.

  2. God wants us to live in faith, not the flesh. Ishmael was a product of Sarah and Abraham doubting God’s word and trying to make what he promised them happen in their own timing and way. It was a work of the flesh, producing strife in the family, leading to damage, hurt, and objectifying Hagar for her womb. Thousands of years later, we are still seeing the effects of this sin as the descendants of Ishmael and the descendants of Isaac are currently at war. Isaac, born of faith, contrasts with the flesh-driven birth of Ishmael.

In the same way, we are called not just to walk in faith but to cast off the flesh. Much of the teaching and practices of Jesus — Generosity, Purity, Humility, Serving, Love, Kindness — all run in direct contradiction to the self-serving desires of the flesh. This story is a representation and picture of that principle.


Closing thoughts:

  • In Genesis 25, we see that Ishmael and Isaac come together to bury Abraham when their father dies. Obviously, the Lord cared for and fulfilled his promise to Ishmael and brought some form of reconciliation to the relationship between the half-brothers.
  • This story serves as a great reminder that the characters in God’s story are not perfect. God includes in scripture the moral failures and character flaws of many whom we might be tempted to “look up to,” showcasing that none is good except God. Apart from God and his plan, we all have the potential to do evil and shameful things. In turn, we are encouraged to see God’s great mercy and grace that, while the men and women God chooses to work through continue to mess up, He remains faithful and continues to work through them. Ultimately, it is about God glorifying His name through His mercy and grace, not His mercy and grace used to glorify any man.
  • We are all Hagar, we are all Ishmael, we are all Abraham, and we are all Sarah. I’ve attached below a beautiful devotional I saw the other day about Hagar. To summarize, Hagar's story is paralleled with Israel's story of slavery, exodus, and encountering God in the wilderness. The article reflects on the complexity of God's work through flawed individuals, such as Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. It emphasizes that there are no perfect characters in biblical stories and draws connections between Hagar's experiences and the challenges faced by humanity.

For further study:
faithward.org

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