“And it came to pass that Isaac and Ishmael, his sons, buried him in the cave of Makpelah — the one in the field of Ephron the son of Tsohar the Hittite which is in the direction of Mamre — the field which Abraham bought from the sons of the Hittites. There Abraham was buried along with Sarah, his wife.”
Abraham’s body is now placed in the same cave which he bought to hold his wife’s body — property that rightfully belongs to him. As we read in Genesis 23, Abraham goes to lengths to ensure that this property is rightfully purchased and belongs to him, not something given as a gift or a loan — not something that the Hittites would have any recourse to come and take back. But a piece of property that now belongs to Abraham and is meant as a covenantal foretaste of the reality that one day Abraham’s descendants will come back and take the whole land as their own. Compared to the whole, it is a small spot — yet it is a spot nonetheless and it is here that Abraham’s body will be buried alongside of his wife’s remains.
And notice that it is not all of the sons of Abraham that return to bury their father. Nor is it Isaac alone. But Isaac and Ishmael work together to this end. This may seem odd to us, but Isaac is the son of the covenant and Ishmael is a son that is covenantally blessed because of his lineage from Abraham (see Genesis 16:11-12; 21:18). From both men great nations will arise — nations that will perpetually be at war with one another even up until this very day. His other sons are sons nonetheless, but no covenantal promise is attached to them. They are simply a fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars of the sky.
And here ends the account of Abraham, the friend of God. What follows in this chapter is the transition of the covenant story to the life of Isaac, Abraham’s son. The baton has been passed from one generation of promise to the next. To cite God’s statement regarding Abraham earlier in his life — here is one who will “teach his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice…” (Genesis 18:19). May that statement be made of each of our households as we seek to pass the baton of faith from one generation to the next…
“And God was with the lad and he was mighty; he dwelt in the wilderness and became a great archer. He dwelt in the wilderness of Paran and his mother took for him a wife from the land of Egypt.”
And so, Hagar and Ishmael separate from the presence of Abraham and move to the wilderness of Paran. The region of Paran is traditionally located toward the western side of the Arabian Peninsula and it should be noted that Muslim tradition states that it is Mecca where Ishmael settled, again noting the connection between Abraham and Sarah’s sin of trying to rush God’s plan and the Arab nations today. In addition, he did not take a wife from “his own people” as would Isaac, but chose a wife out of Egypt…an idolater.
Notice the contrast between Ishmael and his father in terms of how they are remembered. Abraham is remembered as the Father of the Faithful (Romans 4:11-12) and the Friend of God (James 2:23); Ishmael is remembered as being a good archer, a hunter (not unlike the language that is given of Nimrod — Genesis 10:8-9). One being remembered for eternal things and the other for earthly things. The contrast should be profound.
How often we who know eternal truth find ourselves much more concerned with earthly matters than with heavenly ones. How often we would rather be remembered for our accomplishments on earth than for our faithfulness to God. How often we invest our time and money into things that will not last but for a few moments on the timeline of eternity. How often we behave more like the pagans in terms of what we value than we do like the men and women of God that have walked before us. Loved ones, may it be faithful Abraham who is our example and not Ishmael. May we invest our energies in building the Kingdom of God and not worry so much about building our own man-centered kingdoms. May we be remembered not as a “Great” man or woman, but as “Friend of God.”
“Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the waterskin and gave a drink to the lad.”
Sometimes people look at this passage and wonder at how Hagar could not have seen a well nearby. There are two elements we need to keep in mind when we begin to ask this question. The first is that God is sovereign and sometimes he deliberately blinds us to the reality around us to humble us and to teach us of his abundant grace. Essentially, God uses instances like this to get our attention focused on what is important. Sometimes we allow ourselves to get into a “funk” where we just cannot see past the dilemma that is before us; we get frustrated and we get tired and when this happens we just don’t think straight. The solution to our problem might be standing practically in our midst, but we just don’t look because we are selfishly focused on our problem. And here, in cases like these, God keeps our eyes shut. It is only when he can get our attention back upon himself, that he allows us to see the means by which he will lift the problem from our midst.
Hagar is in as great a time of distress as one could imagine. She has been kicked out of her home with her young son, has been given relatively little in the way of provision, and has wandered aimlessly into the wilderness with no plan and no way out. She collapses and just gives up, ready to die and hoping that she will not have to watch her son die as well. And here God comes to her. He reminds her of his promise and then opens her eyes. How little faith Hagar showed, but how often we too, who know the risen Christ, show a faith that is just as paltry.
The second thing that ought to be pointed out is that sometimes wells or springs are not as obvious as others. In the wilderness, wells are essential for maintaining your herds as they grazed and sometimes wars were fought over the “water-rights” to the wells…things haven’t changed much even today. Water is a precious commodity. We don’t want too much of it, but we need enough of it to survive. Sometimes, in the ancient world, wells were larger and more pronounced, but out in the wilderness, they were typically smaller and not always designed to stand out. The term that is used here is rEaV;b (be-er), which can refer to a small well or to a small underground water source. All that might have been there is a small spring trickling up to just below the surface, something that would not have been readily noticed lest it were pointed out. Either way, God’s hand of grace is directing Hagar to the spot where she get renew her strength with some water before they push on.
Again, how often we allow the difficulty of our immediate situation to cloud our vision of what God has promised to us in our lives. How often we throw up our hands in defeat rather than engaging the situation for the glory of God. And how often God shows himself to be faithful even though we fail to trust in his never-failing faithfulness. Beloved, do not fall into the trap of Hagar. God is faithful and he is faithful all of the time. He will work things through in his own timing and for his own glory and it will be far better than we could have designed were we able to design life ourselves. Do not doubt, but press forward in the design that God has for your life trusting him to provide that which you need physically and spiritually—trusting in his ever-flowing grace.
“And the words were very evil in the eyes of Abraham on account of his son.”
In the context, Sarah has seen the ridicule that is coming from Hagar and Ishmael and asks Abraham to cast out both from his household. Ultimately, the promise is to be through Isaac, not Ishmael, and thus allowing Ishmael to stay would threaten the claim of Isaac. Such must not be. Yet, Ishmael is still Abraham’s son…
In our discussions of God’s promise to Isaac and all of the good things that God was doing in his covenantal line, we sometimes forget to remember that Ishmael was Abraham’s son too and that Abraham was a father just like any other father, and thus had feelings toward his son. Here is the point where this first child of his is about to be cast from his presence forever. He has lost Lot, his nephew (whom he had raised for much of his life) to sin after the destruction of Sodom and now he is losing Ishmael. No one must share in the covenantal promise that is directed rightly at Isaac.
God’s promise and blessing to Abraham is a wonderful promise, but we sometimes forget that with God’s promises often comes a sacrifice. For Abraham, in this case, the sacrifice was of his firstborn son being cast out because he threatened the claim of Isaac to the covenantal promise of God.
How often God demands sacrifices from us as well. Perhaps none are as great as this, perhaps they are. Yet God says to us, “trust my design, for it is good.” Often, like Abraham at this moment, the design of God does not look good to us, but sounds downright evil. Yet God says, “trust me.” The question we must ask is whether or not we will trust him and whether we will walk forward in obedience to his calling. My prayer, beloved, is that we learn trust even in the presence of those things that by every human standard, we perceive to be evil.
“And unto Ishmael, I have heard you, so behold, I will bless him and will cause him to bear fruit and I will make him exceedingly great. He will bear twelve princes and I will give to him a great nation.”
Because of God’s promise to Abraham, God blesses Abraham’s firstborn and allows him to build a nation. Like Jacob, from Ishmael we are told that 12 princes would come (see Genesis 25:13-16 for the list of Ishmael’s twelve sons). These sons would grow in stature and influence and founded many of the nations that surrounded ancient Israel and which are even today seeking to destroy the rest of those who descend from Abraham. These, of course, are ultimately the current Islamic nations.
So why did God permit the rise of Islam? Couldn’t God have just cut off the line of Hagar as he did with Keturah (Abraham’s wife after the death of Sarah)? Indeed, God could remove all of the obstacles between us and glory, yet God uses those obstacles to refine us and to mature us in our faith. Islam is also designed to be a reminder to us of the grace and mercy of God. Their religion is law, law, law and it is as contradictory to the Christian faith as light is to darkness. If man’s natural bent since the fall were not legalism, Islam would have no appeal.
As we look at the political landscape of the world around us, one may be quick to wonder if life indeed would be easier if the Muslims were not a threat. Not only has there been centuries of warfare between Christians and Muslims but that warfare has been coupled with terrorist activities. In additions, Muslims are immigrating all over Europe and America and some are suggesting that one day these once Christian nations will be under Sharia Law.
So, indeed, what is the solution to this great dilemma that Christians are facing today? The answer is the same, beloved, as it has always been: be bold in your witness of the Gospel. Part of the reason that Islam, Humanism, eastern Mysticism, and other false religions are making such headway into the thinking of lands who have once been dominated by Christianity is that Christianity no longer dominates in the public square. We have sadly turned inward and have decided to focus more on building buildings, running programs, and having a following than in making disciples of all nations. Can you imagine what America would be like if we were so bold with our testimony of the Gospel that everyone who came would end up converting to Christianity? If that were the case, we would be excited about more Muslims immigrating from the Middle East because that would mean that they would soon be becoming Christian. Even many pastors have become defeatists, acting as if they are serving the church in Sardis, strengthening what is about to die, rather than engaging and breaking down the gates of Hell. God has given us the armor and weapons of warfare to do so; will we not use them?
Beloved, we have been called by our great captain to engage the enemy, let us do so with vigor and with boldness and proclaim that we will not lay down our arms before the foe because the war has already been won by Jesus Christ upon the cross. Let Christianity once again be on the march because it is through Isaac and through Christ that the promise is given, not through the other children of Abraham.
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!
At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
Brothers lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.
Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.
Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng,
Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song.
Glory, laud and honor unto Christ the King,
This through countless ages men and angels sing.