It is a day of rejoicing in the camp. Isaac is no longer a babe. He is weaned. But in the middle of the celebration heartache lurks.
Isaac is the child Sarah longed for all her life. I imagine she kept him at her breast as long as possible. I would say he was AT LEAST 18 month old by the time she weaned him but was probably closer to five, if she felt like I imagine she did. This is a huge milestone in a child’s life during bible times. A celebration was in order.
During the celebration, Sarah noticed something that made her blood boil. She saw Ishmael “laugh.” We discussed this laughter when we met last time. It was not a joyous laugh but one of scorn; or so Sarah believed. Sarah didn’t need any encouragement for hating Ishmael and Hagar. She had made a mess of things by sending Hagar to Abraham in the first place. She had been seething with hatred since then; for approximately 17 to 20 years. Ishmael was 14 when Isaac was born. A minimum of two years for weaning and nine months for gestation and you have hatred rooted DEEP within Sarah’s heart.
Before Ishmael was born Sarah was allowed to treat Hagar so horribly that she fled from the camp. But afterwards, Abraham kept his son nearby. He loved him wholeheartedly. He didn’t treat him as a slave’s child. He treated him as his beloved son. Hagar was protected by Abraham’s relationship with their son. She was no longer his wife but was also a little higher than the rest of the slaves in the camp.
Sarah knew that Abraham loved Ishmael and treated him as his son, as a father should. But her jealousy would not let this relationship continue. She wanted even the memory of Ishmael and Hagar excised from the camp. She wanted them GONE; IMMEDIATELY! Now she had “grounds” on which to do so. Ishmael laughed. We are not told that he laughed, made sport of, Isaac or the ceremony or what exactly triggered his laughter. The specific focus was not important to Sarah; only the source.
Notice that when Sarah approaches Abraham she doesn’t even name Hagar and Ishmael. She calls them “the slave woman” and “her son.” She doesn’t acknowledge their right to be in the camp or even in the family. She doesn’t acknowledge Abraham’s relationship with his son. But she does acknowledge Ishmael’s right as an heir. THIS she will not stand for. Only HER son will be the heir.
For at least 16 years, Abraham has loved his son. He waited for Ishmael’s weaning and then kept him at his side every day. He built a deep father/son relationship. What Sarah was demanding was offensive to Abraham! But how could he keep peace in the camp with things as they stood?
Prior to this day, Isaac and Ishmael could be kept separated. Ishmael went about the camp in the company of Abraham and Isaac was in the care of his mother. That all changed at the feast. Now, the two sons would be in direct competition for Abraham’s attention.
I can imagine Abraham’s heartache as he turned to God with Sarah’s demands. God gave Abraham permission to do as Sarah instructed. This is the first time we see that Sarah’s “instructions” were checked out with God. Before, he did whatever she told him to do. Was this a sign of growth for him?
When Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away, he provided for them on their journey. He didn’t give them a donkey loaded with provisions but enough to get them through a short journey. Was he expecting them to move to a nearby settlement? Did he believe they would be able to easily find more provisions as they traveled? Is that why he sent them with ONE skin of water? Or was Sarah behind what they received? Did she want them to perish in the wilderness? Did she figure this was the way she would forever be rid of them both?
Surprise! God didn’t abandon Hagar and Ishmael. He watched over them. The last time Hagar found herself in a similar situation she was given a prophecy by God. He told her He would make a nation out of her son. Apparently she wasn’t thinking about this promise during this current ordeal. If she had have been remembering God’s promise she wouldn’t have left Ishmael just beyond sight so she wouldn’t have to watch him die. She would have called out to God again instead of curling up and accepting her fate.
Ishmael was calling out instead. Did he cry out for his father? “Father! What have you forsaken me? I thought you loved me. What did I do to displease you? Please forgive me!” Did he rail against Sarah? “Why couldn’t you love me? I have done nothing to you. Is it my fault I was conceived? Am I not the result of your own designs? Why wasn’t I good enough for you to love? I repent of my behavior to your cherished son. I would learn to treat him as a brother, if you would have given me the chance.” Did he plead for his mother to not abandon him in his time of death? “Mother! Please don’t leave me here to die. I’m sorry for the burden I have been on your life. I did not choose this strife between you and your mistress. I would do anything I could to repair the damage done. Please come back and say you forgive me! I will obey you though to the end.” Did he curl up in despair over all he had lost, including his own life? “I have been nothing but a source of quarreling since before I was born. I asked for none of this. I believed that at least my father loved me but now he has abandoned me to death. My mother has fled from me too. What a disappointment I have been to all of them. Even the God my father worships cannot save me from Sarah’s vengeance. I am weary and worn out trying to please them all. Maybe death is better.” Or did he call out to the God his father worshiped? “God of my father, look on me with mercy! I have followed all my father’s commands in obedience to You. I even submitted to Your command for circumcision. My father spoke of Your love and faithfulness. Please show me this side of Yourself. Rescue me! All others have fled from me and failed me. Please don’t fail me too!”
I’m thinking ALL of the above probably passed through Ishmael’s mind and heart. But his story didn’t end there under the bushes, protected from the sun. Hagar’s story didn’t end despairing for her son either. God was faithful to His own words to her many years ago.
God had promised her that He would multiply her offspring. That didn’t necessarily mean through Ishmael but the other part of His promise did. “He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen” (Genesis 16:12). No matter how we look at this promise, we see that Ishmael will be “a man.” Under the bushes is “a child” or “a boy.” He also hasn’t fulfilled the promise of being against his kinsmen. There is still a story to be told through Ishmael. God isn’t finished with him yet.
Did you notice that God tells Hagar that He is responding to “the voice of the boy” and not her weeping? He asked Hagar what was troubling her but He is moved to action because of Ishmael’s voice. Is this because Ishmael was speaking to God and Hagar was sobbing in sorrow for herself? She wasn’t calling on God. She was selfishly thinking of herself. She didn’t want to have to see her son’s face when he died. And she was expecting him to die. A loving mother would have held her child in her arms no matter how much it hurt to watch his suffering. And I’m not doubting that she loved him, just that she was thinking of herself first.
God answered both their pleas. He didn’t just give her a prophecy and tell her everything would work out ok. He provided for their immediate need. He opened her eyes to what was already there. I wonder why she didn’t see it in the first place. Did God have it hidden until she was ready for her answer? Or was she so weak and weary that she didn’t look around her to see His provision waiting for her? Was she so focused on her problem that she didn’t notice the solution staring her in the face?
OH what a lesson to be learned here! Where is my focus? Is it on my problems or on the One who provides the answers? Where is yours? Are we looking to the Maker of the rainbows or the flood waters rising? Yes. The “flood” is real but He is GREATER than ANY trouble we can ever face. Sometimes His greatness is seen by Him providing a “lifeboat” in the midst of the storm and other times it is seen by Him giving us peace as the waters wash us away. Either way, He is in the answer. He IS the answer.
Father God, forgive me for taking my eyes off You and looking around at my problems. They are NOTHING compared to You! You have proven Yourself so faithful all my life. I KNOW I can trust You with anything.
Thank You that my problems are very small right now. You have intervened on my behalf a LOT lately and I am SO grateful! Thank You for this resting time. It’s not totally problem free but Your solutions have renewed my hope again. Remind me of this lesson again when I start to lose my focus. Remind me where my REAL solution lies. And help me to enjoy every moment of our peaceful time together!
Thank You that I can ALWAYS take You at Your word. Thank You for showing that same faithfulness to Hagar and Ishmael. Thank You for sharing that faithful answer for them with me, so that I can learn from their story too.