Tag Archives: Sarah

God’s People, part 8: Ishmael

Read Genesis 21:8-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And God was with the boy as he grew up in the wilderness.” (Genesis‬ ‭21:20a‬ ‭NLT)‬‬‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 8, Ishamel. There is nothing worse than seeing a child needlessly suffer. At the time of this writing, news is breaking about a terrorist suicide bombing following an Ariana Grande concert outside of the arena in Manchester, UK. At this point, at least 22 people are dead and dozens maimed and I just find myself heartbroken for those people. Ariana Grande, of course, is a pop star who is very popular with tweens and teens. Many of those children were at the concert alone, with their parents coming back to pick them up, which is a common practice in today’s time.

What kind of monster would do that to a child? Why would someone attack those who have barely even begun to live their lives? Why would one want to charm innocent children? These questions and more run through desparate minds as they try to make sense of what is ultimately senseless evil running amok in our world.

Yet, when we read the story of Ishmael, we barely even bat an eye. After all, he survived, right? Sure, he had his birthright stripped from him and he got thrown out to the wilderness by his father, but no harm no fould, right? It is amazing to me how we can glaze over and ignore the horrors in the Bible simply because it was done in the name of God and the presumption of God’s will.

Yet, if we pay close attention to the details of the story, Ishmael was not yet weaned from breastfeeding when he and his mother were banished from his home due to Sarah’s jealousy which was ultimately due to Abraham’s infdelity. This means that Ishmael was a mere 2-3 years old at best when he and his mother were sent out into the scorching, arid wilderness to fend for themselves. 2-3 years old! This was nothing short of a death sentence. This was nothing short of EVIL!

Yet, despite the way the author wrote it in the Bible, the reality is that God would not let that evil win. Despite the cold, heartless, cruel actions of Abraham and Sarah, God was with Ishmael and his mother. God would not let the injustice of his people go unanswered and uncountered. Instead, God provided for them. God gave them a well to drink from and, eventually, delivered them to safety. The Scriptures state that “God was with Ishmael as he grew up in the wilderness. He became a skillful archer and settled in the wilderness of Paran. His mother arranged for him to marry a woman from Egypt” (Genesis 21:20-21).

The first thing that needs to be stressed is this: God’s people don’t always get it right. In fact, God’s people sometimes get it very wrong! What’s more, even God’s people are not immune from committing attrocious acts of evil. Just because we think we are a part of the “in crowd” deos not mean that we are truly “in line” with God. God’s people often make the mistake of believing that God belongs to us. My friends, the TRUTH is that we belong to God, not the other way around; however, we only belong to God when we are aligned with God’s will, not just because we presume to know God’s will.

Secondly, it is important to make note of consistent pattern. God blesses people. People become complacent in their blessedness. Complacency leads to the belief that God belongs to us, and that belief leads people to do unjust things because they have effectively replaced God with themselves. These unjust, and often evil, things lead people to suffer in oppression. God hears the cries of the injust and aligns with them, and begins to counter the evil through prophets and others who work voice God’s outrage and judgment upon the oppressors, as well as work to alleviate the suffering of the oppressed. God blesses the oppressed and liberates them, showing the world that THEY ARE GOD’s PEOPLE.

This pattern hopefully leads to shame and repentance among God’s wayward people, but sadly that is not always the case. Ishmael’s tale is the tale of the oppressed, and it is a cautionary tale for all of us. We’ve all played the part of the oppressed, and we’ve all played the part of the oppressor. We’ve all been given God’s blessing, and we’ve all turned God’s blessing into a curse for others. God is calling all of us to recognize this fact, to break the chains of this pattern, and return to being God’s righteous people once again.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

We should aspire to God’s righteousness not self-righteousness.

PRAYER

Lord, love me, bless me, correct me, forgive me, and use me as a blessing for others.

God’s People, part 7: Hagar

Read Genesis 12:10-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.” (Galatians‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭NLT)‬‬‬‬‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 7, Hagar. What can be said about poor Hagar, a woman who most people haven’t really heard of or, if they have, they don’t know much more about her than the fact that she was Ishmael’s mom. All of the attention in the Abrahamic narrative is spent on Sarah, Isaac and, of course, Abraham. Yet, aside from all of the blessings we see bestowed upon Abraham and his family, there is a dark and tragic drama that exists in Hagar’s story.

The story of Hagar, at least where we come to know her, starts out with no drama whatsoever; rather, it is one that is filled with heartache and burden. She was a slave girl who was charged with serving Sarah. According to the Jewish midrash Genesis Rabbah, it was when Sarah was in Pharoah’s harem (thanks to her cowardly husband), that the Pharaoh gave her his daughter as a slave, saying, “It is better for my a slave in the house of such a woman than mistress in another house.” The Pharoah probably did this after falling under God’s wrath made him realize that Sarah was not single, but married to the guy who claimed to be her brother (aka Abraham).

So, Hagar might have started off with a life of leizure, but her fate was to become the slave girl of a woman who would, eventually, use her and abuse her. How you ask? Sarah had been promised a child by God, but she was barren and she was old. How could she possibly have a child at her age, and especially since she was barren? So she “convinced” her husband (I put convinced in quotation marks because, though I am staying true to the narrative, who knows how this really went down), to have sex with Hagar in order to have her child through the slave girl as the surrogate mother. So, that is what Abraham did.

Hagar, at this moment, felt blessed, because she had gone from slave girl to mother of the heir of her wealthy owner’s husband. The only problem, though she was biologically the mother, that child belonged to Sarah as Hagar was technically only the surrogate mother (meaning she agreed to give up her rights over the child). What’s more, God did finally fulfill the promise made to Abraham and Sarah by making Sarah pregnant with Isaac.

This seemed great to Hagar, because now Ishmael was no longer the attention of Sarah’s eye, as Sarah had her very own child. On top of that, Ishmael was the first born and, according to patriarchal society, the oldest was entitled to the birthright and was heir to the father. Hagar grew a bit too confident in Ishmael’s place in Abraham’s family and, as a result, drew the bitter and heated jealousy of Sarah. From that moment on Sarah treated Hagar harshly, which we can only imagine means that she insulted her, threatened her and probably beat her as well. Sarah also successfully convinced her husband to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. He agreed and kicked the two of them out of his camp, sending them out to the wildnerness to fend for themselves.

Yet, despite the multiple sins of Abraham and Sarah that were acted out against Hagar and her son, God did not leave them abandoned to the fate their owners consigned them to. Instead, God protected them and gave them food and shelter from the scorching sun. What’s more, God blessed Ishmael and, though he would not become the heir to Abraham’s camp, he did become the father of many nations. In fact, Muslims traces their roots back to Abraham via Ishmael.

Here’s what we can pull from this tragic story. No matter the tragedies in our lives. No matter what sins we commit and no matter what sins are committed against us, God never abandons God’s people. We are God’s people and God will always lead us from where we are to where God is calling us to be. There are no human designs that can overwrite God’s design for us. Have faith and trust that, no matter the circumstances, God’s grace abounds.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“When we look at Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael, we see that God’s grace can survive our three-ring-circuses of compromise, rationalization and weak faith.” – Carl Prude, Jr.

PRAYER

Lord, no matter my circumstance, my sins, or my struggles, your grace abounds. Amen.

God’s People, part 5: Sarah

Read Genesis 21:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?” (Genesis 18:12 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

SarahAndIsaacPart 5, Sarah. I don’t think that we in modern Western Civilization have a good or healthy understanding of the character of Sarah. When we think of her story we only think of one thing, her pregnancy with Isaac in old age. That is not entirely our fault because the Bible presents that moment as the crowning moment in Sarah’s life and, no doubt, it was. What’s more, we are so far removed from that ancient world, that the context is almost nearly lost to us.

If we think of anything else, regarding Sarah, we think of how she had an incredibly hard time believing that what God said would happen would come true. We almost hold that against her contemptuously, as if it isn’t completely insane to believe a woman of 70+ years was going to bear a child! “Oh, but God said it would happen,” one might contend, “and she should have believed God because God is all-powerful and can make anything happen.” Well, that’s easy for one to say, but I would reply back, “Whose god? And why don’t you start believing that God can make your grandmother pregnant, if that is so easy to believe?”

We forget Sarah’s story, and we also forget that there’s more to her life, to her worth, than her ability, or lack thereof, to get pregnant. Yet, Sarah came from a world where pregnancy was the crowning achievement for a woman. In fact, it was understood at the time to be the main reason a woman existed, to bear the man’s male child so that the family could have an heir and the patriarchy could continue. It was a man’s world, through and through.

But back to the question of “whose god?”. We forget that Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) were not Jewish and they did not always worship Yahweh (I AM that I AM). They came from a foreign land (Ur) and worshipped many gods. So, it is all well and good that Abram had this inkling to follow a new-found god, but why would that make Sarah believe that this god could make the impossible happen?

Don’t get me wrong, Sarah was far from a perfect person. She certainly doubted that God would make her, barren and at an advanced age, pregnant. She even laughed when an angel told her husband that she would conceive a child. She “convinced” her husband to sleep with her servant girl, Hagar, in order that Hagar might serve as a surrogate mother to Sarah’s “child.” She harshly abused Hagar and Ishmael out of jealousy when her own son, Isaac, was finally born. She was so jealous that she eventually had Hagar and Ishmael banished out into the wilderness where she had hoped they would die.

Be that as it may, she also was a woman who had a tough life and endured abuse at the hands of her sometimes-cowardly husband. She was barren and no doubt believed by her family to be under the curse of the gods because she could not give her husband what every good wife was supposed to produce: a male heir. She had to leave everything behind, her family and friends and homeland, to chase some crazy dream of a promised land and descendants that match the number of stars. She had a husband who, fearing for his life, sexually trafficked her to the courts of kings. Sarah’s life was not one that any of us would hope to have. It was hard, it was uncertain, and filled with much woe.

Yet, despite her flaws and hardships, God still favored this woman and richly blessed her. God did keep the promise to give her a child and God rose up out of that child innumerous descendants, including many kings of many nations. What’s more, out of Sarah came the descendant who would be the Light of the World. Sarah’s laughter of disbelief became her laughter of joy.  Do you laugh at what God’s called you to do? Do you see God’s call as impossible? Do you even know what God’s purpose for you is? Have no fear, even in disbelief and doubt, in turmoil and struggle, God’s faithfulness is never ending. Have faith and believe.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“What do you mean, ‘If I can’? Anything is possible if a person believes.” – Jesus of Nazareth in Mark 9:23

PRAYER
Lord, fulfill in me your purpose for my life and turn my laughter of doubt into laughter of joy. Amen.