Read: Genesis 21:1-22
Consider: Abraham’s son, Ishmael, was born when Abraham was 86 years old (Genesis 16:16) and was the result of a union between himself and Hagar, his wife’s servant. This was Abraham’s way of ensuring his bloodline continued, as his wife, Sarah, was unable to conceive. But God had other ideas and fourteen years later, when Abraham was 100 years old, Sarah gave birth to Isaac. It was to be through Isaac that God would fulfil his promise to Abraham (21:12) and this would culminate in the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1).
The name Ishmael means ‘God hears’ or ‘God listens’ and God promised that he would make a great nation through Ishmael. However, what God said about Ishmael in Genesis 16:12 was not very flattering: He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility towards all his brothers. This quarrelsome nature must have been something he passed on to his descendants, as we read: Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people. His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt, as you go towards Ashur. And they lived in hostility towards all the tribes related to them (Genesis 25:17-18).
We see in the remainder of today’s passage that God was gracious to Hagar and Ishmael, providing them with water when they were close to death. Also in Genesis 21:20 we read: God was with the boy as he grew up. We know little of Ishmael’s life, but Hagar (and Ishmael) and Sarah (and Isaac) are mentioned by Paul in his letter to the Galatians. We are told in Galatians 4:24-27 that Hagar and Sarah are representative of two covenants made by God. Also in Galatians we read: For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise (Galatians 4:22-23). So Ishmael represents those enslaved by the Law and subservient to Satan, who face the penalty of God’s wrath when they die. Isaac, on the other hand, being the child of the promise, is representative of those who are freed from the penalty of sin when they put their trust in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
Today’s passage may be about Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael, but it is also about the two contrasting lives we can live. Life in the flesh represented by Hagar and Ismael, and life in the Spirit represented by Sarah and Isaac. Genesis is, therefore, pointing us into the future, when Jesus’ death on the cross would pay the price for sin and set mankind free from the penalty of the Law.
Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith (Galatians 3:7-9).
Pray: Father, thank you that the Old Testament points us forwards to the New Testament where the promise you made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is fulfilled. May we live in the freedom you have given us as children of the promise. Amen