Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not been able to bear children for him. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” And Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal. So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian servant and gave her to Abram as a wife. (This happened ten years after Abram had settled in the land of Canaan.) So Abram had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant. But when Hagar knew she was pregnant, she began to treat her mistress, Sarai, with contempt. Then Sarai said to Abram, “This is all your fault! I put my servant into your arms, but now that she’s pregnant she treats me with contempt. The Lord will show who’s wrong—you or me!” Abram replied, “Look, she is your servant, so deal with her as you see fit.” Then Sarai treated Hagar so harshly that she finally ran away. The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she replied. The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.” Then he added, “I will give you more descendants than you can count.” And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress. This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.” Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered. So Hagar gave Abram a son, and Abram named him Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born…When Isaac grew up and was about to be weaned, Abraham prepared a huge feast to celebrate the occasion. But Sarah saw Ishmael—the son of Abraham and her Egyptian servant Hagar—making fun of her son, Isaac. So she turned to Abraham and demanded, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son. He is not going to share the inheritance with my son, Isaac. I won’t have it!” This upset Abraham very much because Ishmael was his son. But God told Abraham, “Do not be upset over the boy and your servant. Do whatever Sarah tells you, for Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted. But I will also make a nation of the descendants of Hagar’s son because he is your son, too.” So Abraham got up early the next morning, prepared food and a container of water, and strapped them on Hagar’s shoulders. Then he sent her away with their son, and she wandered aimlessly in the wilderness of Beersheba.
Dear God, there is so much to discuss with Abraham as a father that I thought I would split it into two parts. I’ll look at Ishmael first, and then Isaac.
What a tragedy that this even took place. I have to say that Abraham really didn’t seem to have much regard for women. He gave Sarai/Sarah away to other men twice out of fear for his life (Pharaoh and Abimelech). He took the slave girl as his wife and conscripted her into being the fulfillment of your promise to him. And now he gives into Sarah’s command to send Hagar and Ishmael off into the wilderness with just some water and food. No servants to go help her get established. No camels or livestock. Not real settlement for his wife except marching orders.
So how did all of this make Ishmael feel as a son? Here are some questions:
- What did it teach him about how he should treat women? I suppose he saw his mother’s love for him. He had to have appreciated who she was. In fact, I would imagine that it was men and Abraham that he had trouble trusting. But much like I think Solomon learned a lack of respect for women from his father, I suspect that what Abraham modeled here wasn’t very helpful to the women who would encounter Ishmael.
- How did Ishmael respond to his dad? I think it is important to note that Islam tells all of this a little differently. For example, they apparently tell the story of Abraham being tested and willing to sacrifice Isaac with Ishmael in the Isaac role. I don’t know where the truth in that story is, but either way, all of this would have to leave a child with trust issues.
- Did Ishmael ever get any fatherly love/nurturing from Abraham? None is really recorded. The prophecy over Ishmael is that he will have conflict with others all of his life, but that’s pretty much how he was raised. His mother and Sarah were in conflict. Abraham seemed unable to control the enmity between them. He was probably treated differently by others. When he and him mom were sent away and he almost died, I’m sure it made him bitter. And then the years of struggling in the wilderness while Isaac grew up in what at the time would have been considered luxury. Yeah, I can see where this would have left him bitter and very tough.
I think the big take aways from this thread of Abraham’s story are that we should wait on your timing, and, if we get out ahead of you and make a mistake, we should humbly do our best to pay the price and natural consequences of our actions and not try to mitigate their impact on our personal lives by making them someone else’s problem. Ishmael and Hagar got caught in a pretty bad web. I am sorry for them. I’m also sorry for any times when I’ve given my own children any reason to not trust me. I’m sorry for anything I might have done that shifted the burden of my mistakes/sin from me to anyone else, including them. Please help me to always wait on your timing and to take responsibility for the sins I commit.
In Jesus’s name I pray,