“Blessings Regardless” / Genesis 21:8-21

If you are unfamiliar with our reading this morning, I hope you are at least familiar with the characters. We are in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Let’s begin with Abraham and his wife Sarah. In Genesis 12, God appears to a man named Abram (whom God later named Abraham) and tells him to take his family and all his property and travel to a land that God would show him. God tells Abraham, who has no children at the time, that he will be blessed with more descendants than the stars in the sky. Abraham is 75 at the time.

To us Christians, this is called the Covenant or the Promise. Later, three visitors come to Abraham and his wife Sarah, and they announce she will have a child, even in her old age.

Now, it’s one thing to receive a promise from God, no matter how unbelievable – it’s quite another to wait around for that promise to be fulfilled. What’s that old saying? God, grant me patience, but please hurry!

Like many of us, Sarah gets tired of waiting for God to make good on his promise, so she takes matters into her own hands.

Let me read from Genesis 16: [Sarah]said to Abraham, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abraham agreed to what Sarah said. So after Abraham had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarah his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. [Abraham]slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

Just a comment – this sort of thing was not uncommon in those days. Certainly, women were not important, and female slaves even less so. They were chattel, or common property to be bought, sold, or abused.

Let’s continue… When [Hagar]knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress [Sarah].  Then Sarah said to Abraham, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.” “Your slave is in your hands,” Abraham said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarah mistreated Hagar…

Abraham’s wife tells him to sleep with her servant girl, she gets pregnant, and the wife is mad at him for causing trouble! The slave Hagar, now pregnant thanks to Sarah’s schemes, leaves.

I continue to be amazed at the consistency of the human condition, but that’s another sermon.

Hagar leaves, but God encounters her in the desert. God tells her to return to Sarah and Abraham. He also tells her not to worry, the child she is carrying will become a great nation. God tells Hagar to name the child Ishmael

Hagar returns, and gives birth to a son, and he is named Ishmael. Abraham is 86 years old when Ishmael is born. So we have Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and the boy Ishmael, all living together.

Fourteen years pass, and, just as God had promised, Sarah finally gets pregnant. Abraham is 100 years old, and Sarah is 90.

Genesis 21, verses 1-7: Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.”And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

Three years pass, and it is time for Isaac to be weaned – verses 8-14: The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. 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 woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

It seems, even after more than 15 years, Sarah has not put the Abraham / Hagar / Ishmael issue behind her. We don’t really know what Ishmael was doing with the toddler Isaac. But whatever it was, Sarah did not like it, and she tells Abraham to get rid of her slave and son. Sarah still holds a grudge, even though she was the cause of the situation, but there’s another sermon…

Verse 11: The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. Again, Abraham cares only for his son – even though she is the mother of his first son, Hagar is unimportant to him.

Verses 12-14: But God said to [Abraham], “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” 14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

Just a reminder Abraham is the father of the three monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Hagar bore Abraham his first son, Ishmael, and Ishmael thus became the founder of what are called the Ishmaelites and Arab peoples, from whom came Mohammed, the founder of Islam.

Sarah, Abraham, Hagar – how many of us would be proud if our own ancestors behaved this way? On the other hand, if God can work his plan with the likes of these folks, imagine what he can do with you and me…

So now we have the Hagar and her son Ishmael, cast out into the desert by Abraham and his angry wife. But even though she has been abandoned by Abraham and Sarah, she has not been abandoned by God.

Let’s finish the passage, verses 15-21: When the water in the skin was gone, [Hagar]put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob. 17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. 20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

So – what do you suppose God wants me to tell you this morning? As might be expected, there are a multitude of lessons from this account.

First, let’s consider Abraham’s behavior towards Hagar, and the behaviors of other men like him. Their behaviors WERE NOT and ARE NOT God’s plans for permanent behavior. Just because things like this happen in Scripture does not make them OK in 2014. We need to be very careful when we invoke Scripture to excuse bad behavior – always test scripture with scripture.

Second – I mentioned this before – Hagar obviously needs to be seen as a victim here. In the culture and practice of the day, she had no choice but to submit to Sarah’s and Abraham’s wishes. On the other hand, all three are guilty

Here is a quote I found: “Sarah ran ahead of God in giving a Gentile idolater from a pagan country to Abraham to bear the promised seed. Poor Hagar – she became the helpless victim of Sarah’s scheming! The whole affair was a sin before God – a sin all three were guilty of.”

Third – even though they were all guilty, did God give up or alter his plan? Did he change things?

Did he choose someone else? Was the Promise withheld, denied, even delayed?

Again, the thinking, planning, and actions of Sarah and Abraham, recipients of the Promise of God, were despicable. But amazingly enough, God was faithful to these two conspirators. I don’t need to ask if any of us would be as faithful…

Let’s consider Hagar and Ishmael. Even thru the best efforts of Sarah and Abraham, Ishmael was not part of the Covenant, the Promise of God. Even though Abraham was the father, Hagar and her son, are outside the Promise.

Abraham threw this poor woman, the mother of his first son, out into the desert to die. And let us not deceive ourselves, I suspect that many of us would behave just as badly.

Even today, many are guilty of continuing such behavior. “Non-Christians? We are such holy folks we don’t want anything to do with these non-believers…”

Well, in view of our own attitudes, let’s look at how God behaved towards these two “outsiders.” God’s divine care and mercy for these two is shown in two ways:

First, “the angel of God,” who speaks to Hagar from heaven, informs her that God has heard the child’s cry, and that she should get up and take the child’s hand, for “I will make him a great nation.”

Second, Hagar’s eyes are opened so that she sees a well of water nearby from which she and her child may drink. Ishmael grows up under divine protection and dwells in the desert between Egypt and Canaan. His mother selects his wife from Egypt, her own native land.

Religious tradition wants us to abandon these two outsiders, but God has other plans. There is no stigma or punishment for this “other” son. Yes, Isaac is the son of the Promise, but the text is equally clear that God also has his eye on Ishmael. The “other son” is not to be dismissed from the family.

Obviously, the promise to Ishmael is less than the promise to Isaac, but it is still a considerable promise, nevertheless. God is attentive to the outsider; God will remember all his children, like a mother remembers all her children.

Let’s spend a moment on the two women, Sarah and Hagar: Sarah did not trust God. Even though she was a child of faith, she did not know that God could raise up children from stones! The entire affair was evidence of lack of faith in God’s infinite power.

How many have ever taken things into our own hands to help God fulfill a promise? How many, in a fit of rage, worry, despair, or simple impatience, have intervened in the activity of God? How many, out of frustration, have gone off on our own?

Like Sarah, we call ourselves children of faith, but we lack trust in God and his promises; we lack faith in his power; the root of our actions, no matter how benevolent, is unbelief in the providence of God.

Now let’s consider Hagar:

QUOTE: “The life and experience of Hagar teach, among other truths:

  • The temptations that often come with a new position
  • The foolishness of hasty action in times of trial and difficulty
  • The care exercised over the lonely by an all-seeing God
  • The Divine purpose in the life of everyone, however obscure and friendless
  • How God works out his gracious purposes by seemingly harsh methods
  • And the strength, comfort and encouragement that ever accompany the hardest

Hagar and Ishmael are on the side of necessity, coercion, and fate;

Sarah and Isaac are on the side of gift, freedom, and destiny;

Isaac is a gift from God

Ishmael is child begotten by skillful determination and planning;

As the oldest son, Ishmael is the child of “entitlement” in possessing all natural rights; living in a world of determination and planning easily crushes the spirit and consigns one to the world of compulsion, control, and alienation.

My brothers and sisters, God’s purposes are bigger than our circumstances. It may not make sense at the time, but God knows what He is doing. We can trust him, we MUST trust him.

Ishmael was Abraham and Sarah’s idea of how to fulfill God’s promise, but when it comes to the crunch, you have to make a decision.

Like Abraham, the question we must answer is, “Will I respond to my circumstances in such a way that I live by the power of His Spirit or will I rely on my own works, no matter how well-intentioned they might be?”

We will never gain God’s approval until we put away HUMAN EFFORT and trust in him.

We cannot live in harmony with God by attempting to live by our own human effort
One final comment – I promise.

We are all plagued with the legacy of sin.

No matter how hard we try, we WILL mess up.

No matter how hard we TRY to listen to and follow God’s will, we will fall short.

Sometimes, we end up OUTSIDE the plan of God.

We WILL find ourselves like Hagar and Ishmael, crying out in the desert, abandoned.

But my brothers and sisters, God hears us and will bless us, regardless.