Part 4 – Mar 18, 2012 Download

In the story of Hagar and Ishmael, God is revealed as El Roi, the God who sees and is seen.  When faced with life’s hardships we begin to wonder if God has forgotten us–if perhaps we’ve slipped off his radar.  But divine interventions cause us to realize that he has kept his eye on us the entire time.  Like parents watching from a bench while their toddler explores the excitement offered by a playground, God loves us too much to let is out of his sight.

Reflecting on this Old Testament narrative, the book of Galatians points to Sarah as a positive example and Hagar as a negative one.  However, the focus of Paul’s contrast has little to do with the conduct of either, rather it relates to the manner in which their two sons were conceived.  Ishmael was the result of human scheming while Isaac was a miracle, the fulfillment of a divine promise.  If anything, Sarai/Sarah is the scoundrel in this story.  Unwilling to trust God, she orchestrated the plan to use Hagar as a surrogate.  Jealous of the ensuing conception, she harassed and abused Hagar.  In order to eliminate the potential threat against Isaac years later, Sarah ordered Abraham to expel the slave girl and her son from their home.  The centuries old conflict between Jew and Arab is a family feud that began in the tent of Abraham, and the Jewish matriarch played a significant role in spawning the hostility.

From this story we learn that God chose Isaac, Abraham’s younger son, through which to work out his saving purposes.  Isaac’s offspring multiply greatly and eventually took possession of a land flowing with milk and honey.  In time, as generations passed, the messiah arrived–a descendant of the house of Isaac.  Christians have some familiarity with this part of story and understand that it forms the basis for Israel’s central position in redemptive history.  What is often overlooked and little understood is that God assured Abraham that both boys would be blessed; the descendants of both brothers will form great nations; and while the narrative suggests a volatile history for Ishmael’s offspring, there are also hints of rugged power and independence (mixed blessing?).  Through their connection to Abraham the descendants of Ishmael share in the blessing promised to Abraham.

Could a fresh reading of this story help shape a generous disposition and more charitable spirit among conservatives/evangelicals towards the Arab people?