A Promise Fulfilled
As a Bible follower I am constantly reminded that it is not all about me, but rather all about God. If I am honest I must admit that I find myself at times wishing to bend God's will to mine. Not only do I want God to answer my prayers, I want Him to do it in my time. Nevertheless, the more I read the Bible, the more I am reminded that God is in control and that He knows best and that I must wait upon Him, trusting in Him and on His timing.
Knowing all that, I still have a difficult time waiting. To make matters worse, many times I have no way of doing anything about it. My options tend to be waiting for God or doing something regrettable that will only make matters worse.
Stealing an ambulance
I believe this is how Danny Lee Konieczny felt when he had to wait to be seen at the emergency room of a hospital in Lady Lake Florida.
“He was upset because he was just put in the hallway to wait and was not being seen at the hospital,”
- arresting deputy (article here)
Frustrated by the long emergency room wait, Danny decided to take action. The action he decided to take was to steal an ambulance and drive home. He parked the ambulance in his neighbor's driveway since apparently, he did not get along with his neighbors either. (full article here)
I have never stolen an ambulance but I have done foolish things trying to "help" God when I felt He was taking too long. Only to find out later that my actions just complicated things. In Genesis 21 we have great joy and celebration, followed by anguish and separation. We learn that God is faithful and merciful, but that our lack of faith and patience add unnecessary suffering to our lives.
A Visit from God
"The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised."
Genesis 21:1 English Standard Verison (bold mine)
God is presented as fulfilling His promises and keeping His word. God said He would visit Sarah and He did, God had made a promise and He fulfilled it.
I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted.
- Genesis 13:16 ESV
And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:3-6 ESV (bold mine)
And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”
- Genesis 17:15-21 ESV (bold mine)
The final time that God promises Abraham offspring through Sarah his wife is in Genesis 18. My blog post on Genesis 18 has been one of my most read posts.
The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”
Genesis 18:10-14 ESV (bold mine)
After years of waiting. After travels and lies and battles and heartaches and walking with God finally God's promise is fulfilled.
The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
- Genesis 21:1-7 ESV (bold mine)
I imagine it must have felt like God took a long time to fulfill His promise to Abraham and Sarah. However, when we read the first seven verses of Genesis 21 we see that everything happened according to God's word, according to God's timing, according to God's will.
When Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah it was clear to everyone that this was no ordinary event. This was a miracle! The birth of Isaac was a miracle from God, a clear sign that God has special plans for him. But waiting must be among the most difficult things for followers of God to do. To simply trust and wait upon the Lord is no easy task.
Hagar and Ishmael
What happens next in Genesis 21 is similar to what took place in the later portion of Genesis 16. Sarah doesn't appreciate Hagar and in this case (Genesis 21) her son Ishmael.
And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son.
- Genesis 21:8-11 ESV (bold mine)
A few things I would like to point out in the verses above:
- Only Isaac is mentioned by name, Ishmael is not.
- Sarah refers to Hagar as an Egyptian and as a slave woman, making her inferior.
- Sarah refers to Ishmael as the son of an outsider and a slave, downplaying the fact that Ishmael is Abraham's son.
Sarah is angry and things are not looking good for Hagar and her son. The interesting thing is that we are not clear on what exactly Ishmael did. Here you can see several translations of Genesis 21:9. It seems like the passage was made ambiguous on purpose. Was Ishmael mocking, laughing, playing? We are not sure. Whatever he did, Sarah did not like it. It is worth mentioning that all these words are similar or related to laughter which is related to the name Isaac, and closely related to the words spoken by Sarah herself in just a few verses earlier.
And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.”
- Genesis 21:6 ESV
There are subtleties in the Hebrew text that get lost in the translation but we notice that not all laughter was welcomed by Sarah.
Shifting the focus to Abraham we notice that he is very distressed. (Genesis 21:11) For Abraham, this is his son! Ishmael is his name, he is not just the son of an Egyptian, he is not just the son of a slave woman, he is Abraham' son. As a father, I can imagine Abraham rejoicing over Ishmael's first steps. I can imagine Abraham holding Ishmael on his lap as baby Ishmael plays with his beard and calls him Abba. I can imagine Abraham teaching Ishmael all about God, and creation, and about life and honor and duty, and about being a man and God's plans for his life. I can imagine Abraham teaching Ishmael how to care for the animals how to ride. Maybe my imagination is not completely historically accurate, but I imagine Abraham as a loving father doing what loving father's do, and doing whatever was the equivalent in his time and culture. The equivalent of teaching his son to ride a bike or kick a soccer ball. The equivalent of playing catch or flying a kite. And now, now Sarah wants him to kick out his first son, who had been his only son for perhaps over a decade. Now Sarah wants him to send out his son, out to the desert? She could not possibly expect a mother and son to survive on their own in the wilderness.
How is Abraham supposed to process this? How can Sarah expect him to just let go of a son he loves and cast him out?
Abraham and Sarah's lack of patience led to the birth of Ishmael, and now because they failed to wait upon the words of God's promise, Abraham is going through terrible heartache.
How many times have we tried to "help" God only to find ourselves making things more difficult?
How many times in our impatience have we brought suffering upon ourselves?
But I understand, it is difficult to wait, it is difficult to not act when you long for something and when you believe it to be the will of God that you receive it.
But God said...
Abraham is so distraught over his situation that God decides to speak to Abraham.
But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.
- Genesis 21:12 ESV
(On a side note, I wonder if Sarah ever found out that God had told Abraham "Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you..." I'm just going to leave this here and move on without unpacking it.)
God finds it necessary to reaffirm His original plan to Abraham, Isaac is the son of the promise. But God is also aware of Abraham's love for his other son, Ishmael. So God makes another promise to Abraham.
And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.
- Genesis 21:13 ESV
Trusting in God's promise to provide for Ishmael Abraham find the strength and courage to do according to what Sarah said to him.
So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.
- Genesis 21:14 ESV
Genesis 21:14-20 has similarities with Genesis 22:3-18 I might touch on them more when I write a post on Genesis 22, but for now suffice it to say that Abraham felt heartbroken and this too was a trial for him where he had to trust in God to provide according to His character and will.
The provisions Abraham gave Hagar were not enough and she was about to die along with her son. Hagar had wondered in the wilderness and she was not able to survive nor to provide for her sons' survival. She sat her son under a shrub and moved away as to not witness the death of her own and only son. He was all the family she had now and he was dying. Imagine having to watch your child die in a desert. In this terrible situation full of sorrow, pain, and despair, God appears!
And God heard
And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.
- Genesis 21:17 ESV
God does not hate Hagar or Ishmael, rather God comes to them in their time of great need. God fulfills his promise to Abraham to care for and to prosper Ishmael (verse 13). God did not curse Ishmael or Hagar as some might be tempted to believe. It is also worth highlighting that "God has heard the voice of the lad" reminds the reader of Genesis 16:11 where God listened to Hagar's affliction. Ishmael can be translated as "God hears." It should come as no surprise that God heard the voice of Ishmael, even when his own mother had moved away as to not see him die, perhaps also not wanting to hear his cries.
God then opens Hagar's eyes and she sees a well of water and gives to her son to drink. God heard and God provided Much like He always does. God provided for Ishmael and Hager, even if they could be considered mistakes and rejects. God would later provide for the children of Israel, even when they were rebellious. God also provides for us, even when everyone else seems to reject us. We survive, we thrive, we receive our salvation not because of how great we are, but rather because of how great our God is.
Overall, I believe this story highlights God's faithfulness. Abraham had lied about his wife, twice(Genesis 12:10-20; Genesis 20. Abraham had a son with someone who was not his wife ( Genesis 16). Yet God does not abandon Abraham, or Sarah, or Hagar, or Ishmael. God continues to watch over them, to speak to them, to hear them and provide for them. We may stray and fall short, but God is always faithful. When we stray from God's will we complicate things and cause more suffering, but God does not abandon us because of our weaknesses. Abraham and later the children of Israel and ultimately Jesus and our salvation only exist because of who God is, and not because of anything we, by ourselves, can do.
Here is a link to the sermon about Ishmael and Muslims I mentioned on the audio (podcast).