No Throw–Away People
With God, everyone has value.
‘And as for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.’
– Genesis 17:20–21
But God told Abraham not to be troubled, for Ishmael would become the father of a great nation. And through Isaac, God would fulfill His promise to bless all nations.
– The HOPE, Chapter 5
Observe & Consider
In the previous lesson, we saw how Sarah attempted to fulfill God’s promise of a son by giving her maid, Hagar, to Abraham. And with Ishmael and Isaac becoming the fathers of Arabic and Jewish people respectively, we also noted the tragic consequences that have resulted from this act to this very day. While this story is often reduced to a simple moral lesson – don’t get ahead of God or the results will be devastating – to view this story in such a one-dimensional way is to treat Hagar and Ishmael as mere “throw-away” characters, people who were simply necessary to the plot in order that we might learn a moral lesson.
But as we also observed in the previous lesson, it is not that simple. The God of all grace is always up to something far greater than we can understand. According to the Biblical account (Genesis 16:4-8), not long after Hagar conceived Ishmael, Sarah began to despise her and treat her harshly. Hagar fled from Sarah’s presence into the wilderness, and there the “angel of the Lord” (which is thought to be a manifestation of God Himself) met her and spoke to her by name. Hagar is the first person in the Bible to encounter “the angel of the Lord,” and this is the first time in the story that Hagar is addressed by her name. Up to this point, there is no record of Abraham or Sarah referring or speaking to Hagar by name. Rather, they refer to her as “your maid” and “my maid.”1 To God, Hagar is a person with real value, made in His very image!
The angel of the Lord then tells Hagar to return to Sarah and submit to her authority. But He also makes a great promise to Hagar and her son. Ishmael’s descendants will become a great nation that cannot be counted.2 The angel does not tell her that it will be easy for her, but He does tell her God has given heed to her affliction. The God of the entire universe has acknowledged her personhood and identified with her situation. Hagar then calls God, “El Roi,” “The God Who Sees.”3 Hagar is the first person in the Bible to give God a name, and she honors God with her obedience.
Of course, as we read on, we discover that Sarah at 90 years of age gives birth to Isaac. And from Genesis 17:19, we see that Isaac is indeed the one through whom God will fulfill His glorious promise to bless all nations. Ultimately, we will discover that the promised Deliverer Himself will come through Isaac’s lineage and become the means of that blessing.
The miraculous birth of Isaac and the promise of blessing through him are the themes most often and appropriately associated with this story. However, we should not miss the subplot because for many of us it is incredibly relevant. With God, there are no throw–away characters! Even though Sarah ultimately demands that Hagar and Ishmael be driven out from her presence, we see that the Hagars of the world are allowed a future in God’s promise. And as God’s story unfolds, when the Deliverer came as God promised He would, He came to the oppressed and the afflicted...to those who seemed to be lost in a subplot...to the Hagars of this world.
Ask & Reflect
- What does it mean to you that God was concerned for Hagar? Whom do you identify with most in this story? Why?
- If this drama were to unfold in a community like yours, how do you think people would look upon Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac? Who would be viewed as a victim? Who would be seen as honorable?
Decide & Do
When we are confronted with situations as heated and polarized as the Arab–Israeli conflict,4 it is easy to stereotype people and to take sides. But resist that temptation. God sees every person as an individual. And as we have learned thus far in our study, we must all come to God on the same basis – by humble faith in His provision for sin.
The incredible complexity and deep-rooted hostility that defines the Arab–Israeli conflict may appear to be hopeless. But one day through the promised Deliverer, God will make all things right. According to His story, He will bring a lasting peace where man cannot achieve it. And when He does, He will be glorified and honored!
If you are in a situation where you feel like a “throw–away” character in someone else’s story, then meditate on this. Just like Hagar, you may be harshly treated by another individual, but no one can rob you of your own personal relationship with God. That is yours and yours alone!
For Further Study
- El Roi – God Who Sees. Precept–Austin Website. (http://www.preceptaustin.org/el_roi_-_god_who_sees.htm). Retrieved October 10, 2006. Studies on the names of God can be accessed on this site.
1Genesis 16: 2,5, 6
4For more information on the Israeli–Arab conflict, the following link may prove to be helpful: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab–Israeli_conflict. Retrieved October 10, 2006.