Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Strife between Isaac and Ishmael (Genesis 21:8-13)

Isaac ..."grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast." (Genesis 21:8 NIV)  This would have taken place when Isaac was about two or three years old.  However, during the celebration, "...Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, 'Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.'  The matter distressed Abraham greatly, because it concerned his son." (Genesis 21:9-11 NIV)

I can't imagine the depth of emotions involved in this situation, on all sides.  Sarah is no doubt concerned with Isaac's safety, and with his eventual inheritance rights.  She is also eager to solidify her own position as Abraham's wife, and to be rid of her competition, the servant Hagar, once and for all.  Abraham can understand this, yet he obviously loves Ishmael, and is deeply grieved that this situation has arisen.  Genesis 21:12 indicates that Abraham is also concerned about Hagar.  Although she is only Abraham's servant, she is the mother of his son Ishmael.  Hagar would no doubt have soon become aware of what was happening, and would be angry at Sarah and greatly concerned about the future and safety of herself and her teenage son.

Scripture is sometimes silent about issues which we might prefer to have elaborated, like polygamy.  However, often, the story itself is a powerful argument against such a practice.  The strife and confusion which arises in these types of situations speak loudly that 'one man, one wife', is the best way to go, and the way that God intended.  This case is no exception.

"But God said to him, 'Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant.  Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.  I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.' " (Genesis 21:12-13 NIV)  When I first read these words, they seemed contradictory.  If it was through Isaac that Abraham's offspring would be reckoned, why was Ishmael also going to become a nation due to the fact that, as God said,  'he is your offspring' (v. 13)?  The way that I understand this is that Isaac would be the one who would inherit all the promises of the covenant established between God and Abraham, and Isaac was the son through whose line of descendants the Messiah would one day come.  Ishmael, as a son of Abraham, would also be blessed and become a nation due to the fact that God keeps His promises.  God had promised to bless Abraham's descendants and make Abraham into a father of nations.

It is not a neat and tidy package, for sure.  Abraham was probably torn apart inside.  The results of Abraham's and Sarah's attempt to provide themselves with a son, instead of waiting for God to do so, had blossomed into this situation which involved real pain and loss to real people.  Still, it is reassuring to see that God is still in control, and that He will do what is right for all involved.

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