Isaac and Ishmael: A Portrait of the Middle-East Today 6/14/98

Genesis 16:1-16, 17:15-21, and 21:1-21

JESUS CHRIST’s birth was the fulfillment of numerous prophecies. One was that He would be a descendant of Isaac. That was a most unlikely reality. By man’s standard an impossibility.

Who was this man Isaac? On the pages of the Bible he stands out on history’s horizon like a mole hill between two mountains. On one side was the summit of his father Abraham. On the other the peak of his son Jacob. Compared to them his life seems insignificant. Yet, as with all things great and small God had a plan for him.

Of him God said to Abraham, “Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac: I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him” (Genesis 17: 19).

Let the story tell itself, and then let’s draw from it some vital conclusions. READ: GENESIS 16:1-16; 17:15-21; 21:1-21.

God’s plan became man’s parody when Sarah decided to devise a plan to do what she did not trust God to do. The Code of Hammurabi stated:

If she has given a maid to her husband and she has born children and afterwards that maid has made herself equal with her mistress, because she has born children her mistress shall not sell her for money, she shall reduce her to bondage and count her among the female slaves.

Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was a strong willed woman who wanted to exercise her rights when her plan failed.

Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian maid, “despised Sarah” and “mocked Isaac.” Obviously she was also a strong willed woman with a bad attitude.

God promised Abraham he would have a son by Sarah through whom He would bless all mankind.

Consenting to Sarah’s wishes Abraham at the age of 86 had a son by Hagar. Later God’s promise of a son through Sarah became a reality. These two half- brothers were Isaac, his son by Sarah, and Ishmael, his son by Hagar. Isaac was the son of promise.

A. God promised to bless the child of Sarah and make her descendants a blessing. The lineage of the Jewish race began with Abraham and was perpetuated through Isaac and his son Jacob.

Matthew and Luke in tracing the genealogy of Jesus, from a human perspective, note this fulfillment.

Most Americans are aware of this promise and marvel at God’s blessings on the Jews (Gen. 17:19). This is appropriate. However, most of us seem to think the Arabs are God’s outcasts. Not so. God also promised to bless the child of Hagar, Ishmael and his descendants (Gen. 17:20). God said of Ishmael “I will make him a great nation” (Gen. 21: 18). It was through the line of Ishmael that the Arab nations developed. These descendants have also been blessed. Note who constitutes the oil cartel in the middle-east. It is the Arab nations.

Ishmael was born before Isaac. He was conceived of Hagar an Egyptian slave girl whom Sarah gave to Abraham for the purpose of conception. When he was born, Abraham prayed that he would be the child of God’s promised blessings (17:18). The expression “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” is a plea for him to be the heir apparent.

Evidently these two siblings contested each other on a regular basis. The scripture says that Ishmael was seen “scoffing” at Isaac. The verb tense used means he was always scoffing. Galatians 4: 29 reveals this scoffing involved “persecution.”

The descendants of these two are still antagonists. The perpetual conflict within the West Bank and Gaza as well as the constantly contested borders of Israel is an outgrowth. The Arab-Israeli conflict began in Hagar’s bedroom.

God never condoned polygamy; nor did He ever bless it even in the lives of some of His servants who violated His command regarding one wife.

Abraham and Sarah both had sacramental names given them by God. Abraham originally was called Abram meaning “honored father.” God renamed him Abraham which means “father of many nations.” God gave him this name when he was old and had no children. Sarah’s name had been changed from Sarai. Her old name meant “princess,” indicating that in her home land of Ur she was a member of royalty. Her new name meant “to rule.” She was to be the royal line by which God’s promise would be fulfilled to Abraham.

Strange as it may seem the first Jew was a Gentile. Abraham who came from beyond the Euphrates was the first person called a Hebrew (Gen. 14: 13). The word Hebrew means “the immigrant.” Sarah was the first female Hebrew, the fountainhead of the Jewish race.

God’s plan was for Sarah to conceive and bear a son.

Sarah amended God’s plan for Abraham to have a son by her young Egyptian maid, Hagar.

Things always go wrong when we decide God can’t keep His word and we have to do for Him what we don’t have faith to believe He can do.

When Hagar conceived, she chided the childless Sarah. Sarah became very jealous of Hagar. The mistress and the maid couldn’t coexist it appeared. Sarah dealt “harshly” with Hagar (16:6) so Hagar fled. In doing so she was violating the law which forbid a bondwoman to leave the service of her mistress.

God sent a angel messenger to Hagar on “the way to Shur.” Knowing Sarah had wronged her the angel nevertheless told her to return to Sarah. Two wrongs don’t make a right. She obeyed and returned. This is a beautiful illustration of submissiveness.

At the well where Hagar encountered the angel she used a beautiful name for God which means “You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees” (Gen. 16:13). The well where this encounter with God occurred she called “Beth-lahai-roi,” meaning “The well of Him who lives and sees me.”

When Hagar submissively returned she and Sarah grew to be even more jealous of one another and eventually this flared into anger. Finally Sarah pulled rank and demanded that Hagar and her son Ishmael be banished. Notice that this caused discord between Abraham and Sarah. Discord consequents when we disobey God. Having two spouses causes conflict.

Reluctantly Abraham complied and sent them into the desert with limited provisions. Poet and artist alike have sought to capture Hagar’s anguish in the desert when their supplies ran out. One of the finest masterpieces in the Dresden Gallery is a painting called “Hagar in the Wilderness.” The child is depicted lying on his back, dying of thirst, while his beautiful impoverished mother lifts her eyes to heaven and prays, “Let me not see the death on the child.” God answered her prayer and opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. God spared them both in keeping with His promise.

Ishmael grew to be a desert-dwelling archer. Our last glimpse of Hagar was her act of securing an Egyptian wife for Ishmael. She found for him a wife from her own land of idols and worldliness. Untaught faith in Jehovah by Abraham and influenced by a pagan wife, a different lifestyle and code of beliefs emerged. This is an illustration of the fact the extension of the faith is only one generation away. If one fails to pass it on to another, it is lost.

When Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90 she conceived and gave birth to Isaac, the child of promise. Sarah is the only one in the Bible whose exact age is given.

God kept His promise to them because Abraham believed (Rom. 4: 19 – 22).

As Isaac grew into manhood he went to dwell at Beth-lahai-roi, the place Hagar had lived. She impacted his life dynamically. She was his nurse and doubtless held him spellbound with stories of the Nile, pyramids, Pharaohs, and crocodiles. Had it not been for the strong and longer lasting influence of Abraham, Isaac might well have followed Hagar instead of the faith of Abraham and Sarah.

The child of Hagar is described as “scoffing” at Isaac, the child of Sarah. He had to learn this from his mother. Hagar had “despised” Sarah from the moment of her conception of Abraham’s son (16: 5). For Ishmael to have ridiculed Isaac would have been to mock all the promises of God inherent in him. This scoffing continues. From the lineage of Isaac came Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. From the lineage of Ishmael came Mohammed and the Moslem faith.

All of this happened because Sarah decided to do things her way rather than waiting on God. Does this same trait ever get you in trouble? The experience of Sarah is a caution against hasty action in times of trials and difficulties. It appeals for trust.

Sarah could not have anticipated that her single, disobedient decision would originate a rivalry which has resulted in the bitterest hatred through the ages which not even an ocean of blood can quench. We should always weigh the consequences of our decisions. They are often made in a moment with a lifetime of consequence. Sarah’s decision has endless consequence.

Likewise, a decision to receive or reject Christ as Savior has eternal consequence.

In Galatians 4: 22 – 31 there is an allegory using Sarah and Hagar to distinguish the difference in law, that is works, and grace. In verse 24 the account is described as “symbolical.” The word means an allegory which is an illustration.

HAGAR represents the Old Covenant of the law, a system of works.

She was a bondwoman. Her son, Ishmael, was “born after the flesh.” Ishmael was born the natural way; according to nature.

Hagar and Ishmael represent what is known as the “flesh principle,” rejecting God’s promise, rejecting the way of faith and trying to fulfill the will of God on your own terms. Persons operating on the flesh principle are trying to merit, earn, or deserve, by their works, what God gives freely.

Hagar represented “Jerusalem which now is,” meaning in bondage to the law.

SARAH represents the New Covenant fulfilled in Christ.

She was a free woman. Her son, Isaac, was “born through the promise.” Isaac was born the supernatural way; despite nature.

Sarah represents “the Jerusalem that is above” — “our mother.” This represents true faith originated salvation with heaven as its source. This depicts salvation by grace.

This account is included in the Scripture to let us know we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by works of the law. It has always been so. We are saved by grace not genes. The true line of descent was Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

This is the line of faith. Abraham had two sons. One, Isaac, had faith. The other, Ishmael, didn’t.

Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Jacob had faith in Jehovah God and Esau did not.

It is the faith line that represents faithfulness. It still is.

Galatians now list three consequences of being a child of promise, that is, a saved person:
1) Persecution from non-believers, legalist (Vs. 29). As Ishmael persecuted Isaac, so the non- believing world persecutes believers.

2) Inheritance of a priceless, spiritual nature results (Vs. 30). Isaac was the sole heir. No one outside the covenant of grace, a non-believer will inherit what Christ has in store for all who believe.

3) Obligation is inherent in the inheritance (Vs. 31). The rest of the book of Galatians illustrates this.

If you are willing to live free, you can expect all three of these. The eternal nature of the inheritance makes it all worth while.