(102) Inscription 07_The Ishmael Incident

Notes & Transcripts

Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds

Part 7: The Ishmael Incident

Abraham’s Faith & Failure

Genesis 16

January 17, 2010



·         Spurgeon notes

·         101, leftovers

·         Gen. 12, 15, 16, 21, 22

Scripture reading: Genesis 12:1-7



Everything that written in the past is to teach us, bring us encouragement and hope. Help us learn, both what to do and what not to do, from your servant Abraham. 

Father Abraham

How many of you grew up in Sunday School? Do you remember the world’s most annoying song, “Father Abraham”? It’s like “100 Bottle of Beer” except we had complete it.

Abraham was the father of the Israelites, one of the two most import figures (along with Moses) is Jewish history. What I love about the Bible is that it doesn’t try to airbrush him, Genesis is very much “warts and all.”

·         Abraham becomes a figure we can relate to and learn from.

Man of faith

As we heard, Abraham was a man of faith. God told him to move and he did. He wasn’t a particularly righteous man (as we will see), for no obvious reason, God selects Abraham and promises to make him into a great nation.

·         Abraham’s greatest act was simply BELIEVING God and it was “credited to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

To be honest, he really didn’t know much about God, and he may not have even been a monotheist, but he trusted Yahweh.

God’s promise to Abraham takes the form of a covenant. We don’t have time to properly cover covenants this morning, but covenants are a key theme in the Bible.

A covenant is a binding relationship between two parties, and the Bible is full of covenants between God and his people: Noah, Abraham, Moses and Israel, and finally with us.

A dangerous detour

Up until this point, Abraham has been the man of faith we honor him as. But then there is a famine in Canaan, and Abraham takes his family to Egypt to wait it out.

NIV Genesis 12:11-16 ¶ As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” 14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that she was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.

Does this sound like “Indecent Proposal” to anyone? I’ll give you a million dollars for a night with your wife. So Abraham throws Sarah under the train to save his skin. Real godly.

·         While it’s never addressed, I wonder how this affected their relationship – it may explain some future events.

But this is worse than risking his wife’s dishonor, and begin calloused towards her wellbeing. Abraham was gambling with God’s covenant – what would happen if Sarah got pregnant around this time? It would have thrown the baby’s parentage into question.

That’s why both stories are very clear that Sarah was not touched by any other man.

·         Fortunately for Sarah, God cared more for her wellbeing and honor than her husband.

I’d like to think that he learned his lesson but Abraham pulls the same little stunt in chapter 20 (and his son Isaac would do the same thing).

Doubting God

Q   What is the real problem here? What is the basic sin?

He didn’t believe that God could take care of him. God hadn’t told Abraham to go to Egypt, so even being there betrays a lack of trust in God’s ability to care for him.

Last week, we looked at the Fall, when Satan tempted Adam and Eve to doubt God’s goodness. This similar – Abraham is doubting God’s ability

·         This theme is run through the rest of Abraham’s story, like a thread of shame.

The Ishmael incident

Now we come to Abraham’s greatest failure. King David had the Bathsheba affair, Peter denied knowing Jesus, and Abraham had the Ishmael incident.

NIV Genesis 16:1 ¶ Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children.

Notice she blames God. It has now been 10 years since God had promise to make a great nation out of Abraham. He is now 85 years old and Sarah is 75. So Sarah decides to take matter into her own hands.

Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.

Way to take one for the team Abraham! How surprising is it that he agrees? He gets to have sex with the hot, young housekeeper!

Culturally this was acceptable – you can’t have kids so you have your servant stand in proxy for you. It’s like being a surrogate mother, but without the turkey-baster.

But just because it was culturally acceptable did not make it right. There are two huge problems here:

1. It violated their marriage covenant.

Polygamy is not expressly condemned in the Bible, but it violates God’s intent “they shall be one flesh.” Open marriages may be become more acceptable, but that doesn’t make it any less destructive to the intimacy of the marriage.

One wonders how this must have affected their marriage. I also wonder if her offer was a result of Abraham’s disregard of her honor in Egypt.

2. It missed God’s plan.

Sarah’s barrenness was not an obstacle to God’s promise, it was an opportunity to see God’s divine working. This is a theme in Bible (Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth).

·         As Paul indicates, Hagar’s child will be a son of the flesh, but Sarah’s a son of God’s promise.

4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.

·         Hagar is not guiltless either, she wants to supplant Sarah.

 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.” 6 “Your servant is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.”

The good news is that Sarah’s plan worked. The bad news is it wasn’t such a great plan. So what does she do? Blames Abraham.

·         But she’s right – it’s his fault for going along.

Q   Does this story sound at all familiar?

In Eden, Eve offers Adam something he should have said no to, now Sarah gives Abraham someone he should have said no to. Abraham is passive when he should have been active. He was wrong when he slept with Hagar and when he refused to protect her.

·         Genesis is full of weak husbands.

At The Gathering, we believe that God has called the husband to be the head of the house. Not because we are always know what to do, but as an act of serving, doing what it right, and putting our family’s needs first.

·         Abraham should have said no, and stopped this train wreck.

Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.  7 ¶ The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered. 9 Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”

At first this seems cruel of God, but God knew this baby needed a father. Furthermore, when Hagar improved her attitude, I think Sarah would have improved hers.

 10 The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” 11 The angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. 12 He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”

Are the Arabs Ishmael’s descendants?

I grew up being told that this passage explains the animosity between Arabs and Jews.

The problem is that the Bible does not say that the Arabs are Ishmael’s descendants. It talks about the Arabs and about the Ishmaelite, but never equates them with each other.

·         Given that Ishmael had twelve sons and God promised to make him into a great nation, I am sure some Arabs have his blood.

Q   Where did we get this from?

Mainly from the Qur’an. Six hundred years after Christ, Mohammad was the one who made the strong Ishmael-Arab connection in order to legitimize his new religion.

 13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered. 15 ¶ So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

Even in the midst of the sin and the consequences, we God’s mercy on this young woman. This story reminds me of another woman by another well (John 4:1-42).

·         And Abraham has a son that he loves, even though he cannot be the son of the covenant.

Continuing consequences

Thirteen years later, Sarah has Isaac, who is the son of the covenant. But even as they celebrate God’s miraculous blessing, they are still dealing with the consequences of Abraham’s sin:

Genesis 21:8-12  [Isaac] grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast.  9 But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking,  10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”  11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.  12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”

Even though Sarah is totally wrong her attitude and callousness, she is right – Ishmael cannot stay there because he would supplant Isaac as Abraham’s heir.

It’s easy to look at the is and think it is unfair – what did Ishmael do to deserve to be kicked out (and nearly die in the desert)? Nothing. It is all Abraham’s fault.

·         Something that sucks about sin is how it hurts the innocent.

Our failed shortcuts

The bottom line does not change – God’s promise is still fulfilled. What changes was how much pain they had to experience.

·         This is a shortcut to God’s plan. But short cuts can get you in a lot of trouble.

Q   How do we know when we are taking a shortcut?

Whenever you try to fulfill God’s through sinful ways. od’s plan done his way is great, but not any other combination.

If it causes us to violate God’s rules, if it brings dishonor to him, if it pulls us out of fellowship, it is a shortcut, no matter how noble the objective.

·         In God’s kingdom the ends never justify the means.

Q   What are the shortcuts that we take?

I am not talking about when we want a bad thing, but when we want a good thing, I thing that God would want to give us:

1. We want to provide for our family, so we work at the expense of our family, marriage, or fellowship. We cut corners or don’t give back to God.

2. We don’t want to be alone, so we pursue relationship that we shouldn’t.

3. We want to be happy, so we immerse ourselves in fun things, but not finding our joy in God.

4. We want justice served, so we grow bitter and vengeful.

At root of all these things doubting God, doubting that he is good or that he is able or that he is what we really want.

Abraham’s final test

When we see how consistently Abraham failed to trust God, and all the pain caused by his lack of faith, I think we can make sense of one of the most very troubling stories of Genesis:

Genesis 22:1-2  Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied.  2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

Q   Is God being as cruel as it seems?

If you don’t know the story, Abraham obeys, until God stops him at the last moment:

Genesis 22:10-13  10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.  11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied.  12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

·         The test: Will Abraham trust God?

Here’s the man who didn’t trust God to protect him and twice was willing to pawn his wife off. He also doubted that God would provide a son, so took things into his own hands. But now:

Hebrews 11:17-19  By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son,  18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”  19 Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.

This test was not for God’s benefit, he knew what would happen. It is for Abraham – it is his chance to redeem himself in his own eyes. And he passed the test.

·         This is like Jesus restoring Peter after his denial.

Far from being cruel, God is being merciful, and showing that we cannot mess up anything so bad he can’t redeem it.

Q & A

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