As God’s plan unfolds before our eyes, perhaps it’s a good time to get to know Ishmael better. He plays a significant part in not only the history of Israel, but the whole world – past, present, and future.
This column will examine Ishmael in a five week series.
Ishmael was the firstborn son of Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah), and his name means ‘God hears.’
Abram was 75 years old, and his wife Sarai 65 years old, when God instructed him and his family to leave the land of the East, where other gods were worshiped. They were to cross the Euphrates River and journey west to a new land He would show them.
Included in God’s promise to Abram was a declaration that he and his descendants (seed) would bless all the families of the earth. His descendants would also inherit specific land beginning from the river of Egypt all the way east to the Euphrates River. The Euphrates River would be the dividing line between the east and the west.
The promises (covenant) God made with Abram was everlasting and immutable.
Ten years after they were dwelling in the land of Canaan, Abram and Sarai were still childless. At that time Abram was 85 and Sarai was 75, well beyond childbearing years.
Both Abram and Sarai were concerned that they were still without an heir, so Sarai devised a plan for Abram to have a son. She offered her young maid Hagar to be a surrogate mother for Abram’s seed.
Abram consented to his wife’s suggestion.
Shortly after Hagar conceived, she despised Sarai which caused great dissension between the two. Sarai insisted that Abram banish Hagar from their dwelling place. Abram did as Sarai wished and sent pregnant Hagar on her way where she traveled towards Egypt, her home country.
While traveling through the wilderness the Angel of the Lord approached Hagar and told her to return to her mistress and be submissive to Sarai.
We will see that God’s plan for Hagar and her soon to be born son required more time at Sarai and Abram’s home.
At that time the Angel of the Lord told Hagar:
“Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael (God hears), because the LORD has heard your affliction. He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him…” Genesis 16:11-12
A key word in the above is ‘wild.’ It means ‘wild donkey.’ The same Hebrew word is used in a conversation God had with Job a millennium later.
“Who set the wild donkey free? Who loosed the bonds of the onager (a species of wild donkey), whose home I have made the wilderness, and the barren land (salt land) his dwelling? He scorns the tumult of the city; he does not heed the shouts of the driver.” Job 39:5-7
Therefore, Hagar’s son would be a wild man. He would show animosity against every man and animosity would be returned to him by every man. He would dwell in the desert and salt lands. He would be fiercely independent and could not be tamed by anyone.
In spite of Ishmael’s future character, he was to play a very significant role in future history.
The Angel of the LORD said of him through Hagar:
“I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.” Genesis 16:10
Then when Abram was 99 years old and Sarai was 89, God appeared to Abram again and changed his name to Abraham, meaning the father of many nations and Sarai’s name was changed to Sarah.
At that time God gave Abraham some startling news relative to Sarah.
“And I will bless her and also give you a son by her… and she shall be mother of nations…” Genesis 17:16
Abraham’s response was not surprising.
“Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old bear a child?’” Genesis 17:18
To be continued.
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