By Sam E. Stone
Abraham is described in Scripture as an example of faith, and he certainly is (see Hebrews 11:8). But even “the father of the faithful” had his shortcomings. At one point in his life, he and Sarah seemed to doubt that God would fulfill his promise to give them a child. Sarah suggested they take things into their own hands. She urged Abraham to sleep with her handmaid, Hagar. He did and fathered a child—Ishmael. Their attempt to run ahead of God led to tragic results, the effects of which are still obvious in the world today. The present hostility between Jews and Arabs can be traced back to their mistake.
At the time of today’s lesson, Ishmael was about 16 years old. He mocked Isaac and made fun of him. Sarah distressed Abraham by asking him to send Ishmael and his mother away. Such emotional upheaval can easily occur in blended or polygamous families. God told Abraham to do what Sarah asked, and he reconfirmed his earlier promise (Genesis 21:12)—through Isaac all spiritual blessings will come (compare Romans 9:6-8; Hebrews 11:17-19).
Promises for Ishmael
Genesis 21:12-14, 17-21
Abraham took food and water and gave them to Hagar. She wandered south into the desert of Beersheba. This area marked the southern boundary of Canaan in ancient days. She and Ishmael had nowhere to go, and could only wander. Exhausted from walking in the heat, she helped place the young man under one of the bushes that offered some shade. She went off a short way thinking, “I cannot watch the boy die.” Her mother’s heart was breaking, not just at the turn of events in her life, but also watching her son face what seemed to be certain death.
God heard her crying, however. He called to Hagar from Heaven and told her not to be afraid. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation. Ishmael had been crying too, and Scripture records that it was specifically his crying that the Lord acknowledged. What God had promised to Abraham, he now promised to Hagar. Hagar had heard from the Lord directly before (Genesis 16:7-11).
Hagar then saw a well of water nearby, filled the skin with water, and gave Ishmael a drink. Here God provided Hagar a place of healing, refreshment, and hope. The Lord gives us far more than what we could have any reason to expect (see Ephesians 3:20, 21). While Ishmael grew up in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt, her native land. Later the book of Genesis names Ishmael’s 12 sons (Genesis 25:12-16) and tells how he and Isaac buried their father Abraham after his death (Genesis 25:9). Ishmael lived to be 137 years old.
Promises for Isaac
Genesis 26:2-5, 12, 13
James E. Smith writes, “A severe famine forced Isaac to move from his long-time home at Beer-lahai-roi . . . . His intended destination was Egypt, but the Lord warned him not to leave the area. This was the first recorded revelation to Isaac. The land promise, the seed promise and the blessing promise were reiterated.”
Abraham had gone to Egypt attempting to escape a famine more than 100 years before this. Isaac’s descendants would go there to escape a famine also, but that would not occur for more than 100 years in the future. In the New Testament Isaac is characterized as a man of faith (Hebrews 11:20). He sought to live as God desires.
Like his father, he received the promised covenant blessings of God. Those who descended from Isaac would receive territories of various people groups that inhabited the land of Canaan (see Genesis 15:19-21). It was through Isaac’s seed that all nations on earth will be blessed, the result of obedient faith.
Scripture records that Isaac’s crops reaped a hundredfold because the Lord blessed him. C. F. Keil explains that this was an unusual blessing, since the yield even in very fertile regions is not generally greater than from 25- to 50-fold. Isaac’s riches continued to increase and he became a very wealthy person. Even his pagan neighbors could recognize how much the Lord had blessed him (Genesis 26:29). Throughout the lives of both Ishmael and Isaac, God accomplished his purpose for his people!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.