This chapter records the birth of Isaac and the rejection of Ishmael. At first I was reluctant to use both narratives, one so full of joy and the other so full of pain. I don't particularly like the hardness of Sarah's heart as she receives God's grace and mercy for herself, but will not impart it to Hagar and Ishmael. It was not until my eyes were opened to a greater theme in these two stories that I gained some excitement and a message to share.
Through this whole narrative of Abram becoming Abraham and the journey he takes walking with God through success and failure, ups and downs, disappointment and delay, one common theme emerges. In fact it beats so loudly in my ears that I don't know how I missed it! The theme is this: God is faithful.
God's faithfulness was at work in his patience as Abram strayed away, as he sold away the vessel through which his promise would come (twice), as he tried to make things happen in his own way and his own timing. God remained faithful and steadfast. God restored him to fellowship every time he fell. God repeated his promise over and over and over until Abram finally believed.
At the beginning of the chapter, we read about Sarah giving birth to Isaac, bringing joyful laughter to her heart and the hearts of those who knew her. Everything was as it should be, until the party when they celebrated Isaac being weaned. That was the moment when Sarah decided she didn't like Ishmael's face. She told Abraham to throw them out. And he did.
I don't know if Sarah was bothered by this reminder of her past attempts to get God's promise her way, or if she was really paranoid that Abraham would love him more than Isaac or at least enough to split the inheritance. Whatever her reasons, she was hardened in her heart against these people who were in all ways her family.
Hagar is the mother of what was to be Sarah's surrogate son. Now that she has her own biological child, Sarah despises Hagar and Ishmael. Her request to get rid of them has Abraham in a panic. This is his son, the son he asked God to bless. Abraham pleaded with God to make Ishmael the child of the promise! Now he was considering sending him away.
It is really sad and then God comes in and tells Abraham that God would care for Ishmael. He restates his promise that although he would not be the covenant child, Ishmael would be blessed. Hagar and Ishmael find themselves in the desert having run out of water, and Hagar meets again with the God who sees her. God brings them to water, cares for them at that moment, and then scripture shocks our socks right off! It says in verse 20, "God was with the boy as he grew up."
We miss that line in our Sunday school lessons with the flannel graph figures. God did not just give them water when they were thirsty, he stayed with Ishmael as he grew up. God fulfilled his promise to give him sons--12 of them. God fulfilled his promise that those sons would be princes, most fathered entire tribes of Bedouins, and caravan traders, and shipping entrepreneurs, and oasis guardians, and great warriors who opposed the Assyrians and Babylonians. God kept his promise to bless Ishmael beyond what we can imagine. Ishmael's descendants built Petra, the great carved city. They still seek to serve God, an entire tribe became Christians early on. There is even evidence that the Magi were Arab descendants of Ishmael, not Persians as typically portrayed.
The story has a happy ending because of God's faithfulness. When Abraham dies in chapter 25 of Genesis, the scripture writer tells us that he was buried by his sons Ishmael and Isaac. God's faithfulness overcame all the obstacles Ishmael faced to bring blessing beyond measure.
God can do the same for us. Are you rejected? God is faithful. Are you abandoned? God is faithful. Are your dreams and plans unfulfilled? God is faithful. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He has written his name on our hearts. His faithfulness does not change with our circumstances. He remains faithful to his promises and loving toward all he has made regardless of what we experience. We can trust and depend on his faithfulness in the face of any trial, any persecution, any trouble, any failure on our part. God is faithful.