Summary: The story of Hagar and Ishmael provides a backdrop for a discussion of God’s faithfulness to His promises and to His people.
Text: Genesis 21:1-21
Date: Sunday, June 23, 2002
Author: Rev. Jonathan K. Twitchell
You and I live in a society in which it is common for people to look for loopholes. Lawyers look for loopholes in the legal system for the benefit of their clients. Insurance companies specialize in pages of fine print, hoping to be able to deny payment based on a loophole. Taxpayers study loopholes in the IRS law, hoping to avoid giving Uncle Sam any more money than they have to. Manufacturers rely on customers not following exact instructions so that they don’t have to honor a warrantee. I’m told that even animal breeders get into the game by creating stringent requirements for their pet owners, possibly avoiding a claim down the road when the owner discovers an orthopedic problem with the animal.
Behind all of these loopholes is a desire to not accept responsibility. We have a tendency to try to make others responsible, while avoiding any sort of responsibility on our part. The lawyer looks for a way for the client to not be responsible for their actions. Frugal insurance companies prefer to make the client responsible for their claim. Taxpayers wish to avoid responsibility for their tax payments. Manufacturers seek to pass the blame to a consumer who didn’t follow instructions, and animal breeders resist being responsible for corrective orthopedic surgery.
In a world replete with loopholes and opportunities to “pass the buck,” we have a hard time understanding our Scripture text today. Specifically, we have a hard time understanding God’s response to the dilemma faced by Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. Hear our Old Testament lesson from Genesis 21:
1 Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. 2 Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. 4 When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.
6 Sarah said, "God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me." 7 And she added, "Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age."
8 The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. 9 But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, "Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac."
11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 12 But God said to him, "Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring."
14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba.
15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, "I cannot watch the boy die." And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.
17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation."
19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.
If ever there was a loophole to be found, it is in this passage of scripture. As we have watched God’s great cosmic play unfold over the last few weeks, we have seen the actors continue to get the storyline wrong. As we read our text today, we realize that the Author of the play finally has a chance to get the actors back on track. The Author of the play has watched in dismay as the actors keep taking over the stage, hijacking the storyline, and even hiring their own actors to join them. God never invited Hagar and Ishmael to the stage—that was Abraham’s doing. And now, since Sarah has decided to kick Hagar and Ishmael off the stage, we expect the Author to breathe a sigh of relief, recognizing the obvious loophole provided Him by the unfaithful actors, content that the story can proceed as originally written. The Author doesn’t owe Hagar and Ishmael anything, as they were never contracted to act in the story.