Summary: The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob turns out the be the God of Ishmael too!! ...
We continue our sojourn with Abraham today – Abraham, the ‘father of faith’.
We’ve been working our way through the story of Abraham for some time now – stories about Abraham & Sarah, Abraham & his family, Abraham & his descendents, Abraham and the promises God made to him - Abraham the ‘father of faith’.
We started the story when this aging Bedouin figure had the word of God come to him and, at the age of 72, climbed up onto his camel and headed out into the unknown.
If you have a very good memory, you may remember that Abraham rode from his homeland in Ur up to Haran in the North, then down into Canaan in the South West – to a land that was one day to be named after his grandson, ‘Israel’. And Abraham pitched his tent in that land and he claimed that land by faith, as the rightful homeland of his descendants, even though he was 75 years old and had no descendents.
If you know the story, you will remember that a strange event then took place. Three mysterious men came to visit Abraham and Sarah and shared a prophecy - that these two would have a child of their own within a year.
Abraham at this stage was 99 years old, we are told, and Sarah was well past ‘the way of women’. So she laughed when she heard the prophecy - a laugh of cynical disbelief. But her cynical laugh became a laugh of surprised joy when the baby was born as predicted, and so she called him ’Isaac’ - meaning ‘she laughed’ (though God knows how she could have been laughing after giving birth in her old age).
It was a great miracle nonetheless. It would be a great miracle if it happened today. Today we have girls as young as 12 in Sydney getting pregnant and giving birth, but not women as old as 70 or 80. That sort of thing only happens in church!
But just when you thought that the story of Abraham was looking like a religious version of The Waltons, we find that things start to turn nasty. Sarah decides to do away with Abraham’s other son Ishmael, along with Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, and Abraham goes along with the plan and more or less condemns the two to death.
It is a grizzly scene. Sarah tells Abraham to get rid of them because she does not want this son of a slave woman to be his heir. Abraham is upset with Sarah because she’s talking about his son. He doesn’t appear to be too worried about Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, who had been his lover. At any rate, he complies and sends them both away.
And you’d think that he’d give them a camel and enough money and supplies to set themselves up somewhere else. He could have done that.
Abraham was a wealthy man. He could have given them enough food and provisions to last them for the rest of their lives. He doesn’t do that. Instead he gives them a loaf of bread and a bottle of water - one bottle of water between the two of them - and sends them off into the desert.
Hagar and Ishmael are not given enough to survive. They are given enough to get far enough away from the camp so that Abraham won’t have to see or hear them die. Well, that’s how it must have been perceived by Hagar and Ishmael at any rate. From the perspective of the author of the book of Genesis it’s not quite that simple.
You see Hagar and Ishmael aren’t simply innocent victims of Sarah’s irrational rage. Hagar used to work for Sarah before she became the mother of Abraham’s heir. This meant that if Abraham died, that Ishmael would be in charge of everything, which would mean that Sarah, if she survived Abraham, would find herself subject to Ishmael and to Hagar. And it’s clear from the story that Hagar has already worked this out, and has started acting a bit too big for her boots.
And Ishmael is not just a happy smiling toddler at this stage. He’s a stroppy young teenager, about 14 years old. And the story suggests that he’s already starting to throw his weight around with young Isaac, as teenagers are apt to do. Isaac gets his revenge of course, more so than he probably expected (or even desired).
And Abraham carries out the grizzly task under protest. He prays about it and gets assurance from God that God will take care of Ishmael (if not Hagar).
Even so, Abraham appears to be almost too faithful in the way in which he leaves it all to God – making no realistic earthly provision for his son or his son’s mother whatsoever. Certainly Ishmael would remember the day when his dad kissed him on the head and said ‘best of luck’, and sent him off into the desert with his bottle of water and with no other means of survival.