Puzzling over Hagar and Ishmael

Any brilliant thoughts in this post aren’t mine but from Christopher Wright, in particular his sermon titled Abraham, father of the wrong family (length 35:56). Do have a listen to it!

A couple of weeks ago I was reading from the section of Genesis that contains the story of Hagar and her son Ishmael, and some of it left me somewhat perplexed. We’re introduced to Hagar in chapter 16 when Sarai suggests that Abram may do well to sleep with her. Hagar becomes pregnant and looks down on barren Sarai; Sarai retaliates and Hagar flees to the desert.

Then came the first of my furrowed-brow experiences. The first appearance of the angel of the Lord was to Hagar (Genesis 16:7-12). To an Egyptian slave. Not only that, but He gives her a promise on par with the one Yahweh had previously given Abram: of descendants too numerous to count. Wait, what???! Equally surprising is that Hagar obeyed the command to return to the ill-treatment under Sarai. She delivers her son and gives him the name the angel of Yahweh instructed her to.

The next time we run into Hagar is in chapter 21 when Sarah tells her husband to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham’s reluctant to do so but Yahweh tells Abraham it’s okay saying, “I will make the son of the maid-servant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” (Genesis 21:13). Okay, fair enough.

So Hagar and Ishmael are sent off, but they run out of water in the desert. Yahweh finds Hagar again and repeats His promise. And then He provides an entire well of water! Genesis 21:20 says that God was with Ishmael as he grew up. Later in chapter 25, we read that God kept his promise to make him a great nation by giving him 12 sons. In fact, as Wright points out in his sermon, Isaac and Ishmael are blessed in identical ways except one.

What’s the point?

So why should we care what happened to the progenitor of the Arabs four millennia ago anyway? Answer: This account teaches us something of God’s unchanging character.

  1. God shows compassion to Hagar and Ishmael, because He delights to show compassion to the disenfranchised (Deuteronomy 10:18)
  2. Hagar named the place of her first encounter with God “the well of the one who sees me” and was instructed to name her son “God hears”.  This picture of a  God who sees and hears is an anticipation of the next book in the Bible (Exodus 3:7).
  3. God is determined to keep His promise moving, in spite of human error. His promise was to bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham’s seed (Genesis 12:3). All nations, including Ishmael’s descendants. Including you and me!