Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Perplexing Tale of Ishmael

*Disclaimer: The following thoughts are all just that - - thoughts. No in-depth study or commentary cross-checking has been done. This entry will more likely lead to more questions than answers, but hopefully also to more praise.

Background is assumed here – read Genesis 16 for more. (Cliff’s notes: Sarai tries to move God’s promise of a son forward through their servant, Hagar. The resulting son is Ishmael. ) Chapter 21 is where my musings have centered. This is where God’s chosen son for Abraham and Sarah enters the picture – Isaac.

At Isaac’s weaning, Abraham threw a party. At the party, Sarah saw Ishmael laugh (this particular laughter might be in mockery, says the ESV notes). In anger, she has Abraham banish Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness. Ishmael is around 15 years old and is banished from his father’s house only left with his mother and a skin of water between them – in the desert. At this point of the story, it grabs my attention that Ishmael has not been named once. “Son of Hagar.” “Son of this slave woman.” “The boy.” “The child.” Never “Ishmael,” as opposed to Isaac, who is distinctly called by name throughout the passage.

Why is he not named?

I honestly don’t know, but it seems to be an intentional omission in the text.

My wonderings have led me to praise. It seems to me that when we become sons and daughters of God’s promises in Christ (or recipients of His electing love), our identities are cemented. We are God’s…intimately…by name. Ishmael was not the son of the promise. But before we get bent out of shape about ‘fairness’ of God’s love, look at the next interesting nuance in the passage.

Not only is Ishmael banished by his father (for laughing!!) but when the water runs out and life is fading, his mother abandons him. We know she is deeply saddened to watch her son die, but think of the self-absorption to walk away from a dying son—banished, now abandoned. Then look at the narration’s wonderful twist in the text:

Hagar: “'Let me not look on the death of the child.' And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy.” (emphasis added)

The narration clearly calls out her voice, but says God heard the boy’s voice. God’s common grace draws Him near to the brokenhearted in mercy—even though he was not the son of the glorious promise. His mercy extends to the ends of the earth!

For me, personally, I am speechlessly thankful, and not thankful enough, all at the same time, that I am “named” by God. It is with absolute humility that I say this, because it is Jesus’ doing. I am named as a son only because He was named with my curse. I will never be ultimately banished and abandoned to the wilderness because He was abandoned and banished in my place. And just as God ultimately provided an oasis of water in the desert for Ishmael, God has also provided a Living Fountain of water for me in the person of Jesus Christ.

No comments:

Post a Comment