Summary: God’s promises are fulfilled even when we think he has somehow rejected us.
God’s promises are fulfilled even when we think he has somehow rejected us.
Way back in chapter 16, Abraham, with the help of Sarah decided to hurry up the process of God fulfilling his promise. After all his promise had been delivered several years ago and nothing was going on. Surely God has given us a brain right so that we can think clearly and act in accordance with our own wisdom, right? So Sarah gave her maid Hagar to Abraham and thus Ishmael was born. Instantly however it was clear that this was not God’s original plan for Abraham. God hadn’t promised Ishmael, he had promised Isaac, who was still yet to come.
Eventually Isaac was born and Ishmael persecuted the poor little boy and when Sarah objected, God eventually instructed Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away; Which Abraham did. For a time it seemed perhaps as though God’s love would only pass on through the chosen Isaac and would completely pass them by. God had however, promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. And throughout scripture it becomes clear that God’s grace is of course not limited by blood line any more than by fortune or circumstance.
Way back in Chapter 17 Abraham had pleaded with God that God would establish his promise through Ishmael; and there God did two things. First he denied Abraham’s request. Second, however, he promised that he would bless Ishmael even as his plans went elsewhere.
"And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. “But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.” " (Genesis 17:18-21, NASB95)1
Therefore while this passage certainly reveals to us a very brief overview of Ishmael’s family line, so much more does it reveal to us the faithfulness of God. God does not let a single promise fall to the ground. For there, God had said,
“I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.” (Genesis 17:20, NASB95)2 and here in these few verses we read of the literal real-time fulfillment of the promise.
Don’t lose sight of the significance of the specific faithfulness displayed by God here. For not only the promise to bless, but also in the prophecy of what sort of Man Ishmael would become do we see God’s faithfulness. Look at the summary statement in Genesis 25:18, “He settled in defiance of all his relatives.” This very thing had been prophesied in Genesis 16:12, “he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” (NIV).
On a translation note, there are a few different ways of rendering that phrase, and they range between stating that he settled east of his brothers to the idea that he had trouble with him. Given the context it makes the most sense to understand it as settling in hostility or defiance since the idea of the text is literally “to throw one’s self, [or] to settle down, [it carries with it a] subordinate idea of keeping by force the place you have taken...(Keil, Carl Friedrich, and Franz Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament., Vol. 1, Page 12-170. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002.)