“I will bless those who bless you , and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” -Gen 12:3
After the episode at Sodom and Gomorrah, I moved my family westward into the area south of Bethlehem. In your day that area is called “the Negev” which means the south. There was a Philistine city-state there called Gerar, whose King was Abimelech.
Since the LORD had preserved both Sarah’s and my youthful appearances, she was still very attractive even though almost 90 years old. So much so that as we traveled into strange places we agreed she would refer to herself as my sister. (This was not totally untrue since my father was also hers, even though we had different mothers.) I was afraid that if people knew Sarah was my wife, someone would kill me to get her. As her brother I would be safe and if someone took her I could at least stay alive to try and get her back. Remember the same thing had happened to us in Egypt some years earlier, and our plan had worked.
Sure enough King Abimelech took a liking to Sarah and whisked her into his household.
But Abimelech, though a Philistine, was a God-fearing man and when the LORD appeared to him in a dream, was both scared and mad. The LORD told him that because Sarah was a married woman, he and his family were all as good as dead for taking her.
Explaining to the LORD he had been mislead, and was innocent of wrong-doing, Abimelech agreed to return Sarah. But boy was he mad when he found me! “Why did you do this?” he demanded.
I told him that having such a beautiful wife was both a blessing and a curse, and I lived in constant fear that someone would try to kill me and steal her away. That’s why we concocted that story about being brother and sister. But I hadn’t really lied; she was my half-sister after all.
Accepting my explanation, He gave both Sarah and me gifts, and I asked the LORD to forgive him and heal his household of the disease the LORD had inflicted upon them.
This was the second time the LORD had supernaturally prevented a powerful king from stealing Sarah’s virtue. Having made her so beautiful and kept her looking so young, I guess He knew I would need His help keeping other men away. He had promised us a very special child and was not going to let anyone defile her in the meantime. He would personally watch over her for all the days of her life.
And true to His word, a short time later He finally allowed Sarah to become pregnant. Within a year of the LORD’s visit to us by the oaks of Mamre, we had a son. Following His instructions we named him Isaac.
Sarah was beside herself with joy, having had her womanhood vindicated. In those days a woman could know no greater blessing that to give her husband a male child. Having waited and worried for all those years she had delivered a son, and it was her crowning achievement. For His part, the LORD had waited to fulfill His promise until we would both be absolutely certain that our son was truly a gift from Him.
But for Hagar and Ishmael it was a different story and as the boys grew, even though there were 14 years between them, you could see the rivalry. Finally Sarah demanded that I send Hagar and Ishmael away, and the LORD agreed. “Isaac is the son I promised you,” He said. “I will watch over Ishmael, but you must do what Sarah has said.”
So early next morning, though it broke my heart to do it, I sent Hagar and Ishmael southward into the Negev and I never saw them again. Like He said He would, the LORD watched over them and Ishmael grew into manhood. Hagar went to her own people in Egypt to get him a wife.
In all Ishmael lived to be 137 years old and had 12 sons whose descendants became the Arab people of today, inhabiting the vast area south of Israel and east of Egypt. Mohammed, who began the religion you call Islam, was a direct descendant of Ishmael’s first son Kedar.
And just as the LORD had told Hagar, Ishmael’s descendants have lived in hostility toward all their neighbors even into your time. The animosity between Ishmael’s descendants and those of his half brother Isaac would be a cause for bloodshed in almost every generation from my time to yours. And in addition to the wars, countless thousands of hours of diplomacy have been invested in a futile effort to achieve peace between the offspring of my two sons. In your time the very survival of the world seems to hang in the balance, and in truth only the re-appearance of the Son of God will bring this elusive peace and save the world from total destruction. If I had only known what misery would spring forth from my lack of faith in the promise of God.
But our God is the master at helping us learn the lessons from our past. About midway between my time and yours, the Apostle Paul described Ishmael’s separation from Isaac as being analogous to the incompatibility of the Law and Grace, the Old Covenant and the New. Just as the son of the slave woman and the son of the free woman could not share my inheritance together, the children of the Law and the children of Grace cannot share the rewards of God’s Kingdom.
For as Ishmael was born into the bondage of slavery, all mankind is born into the bondage of sin, and the Law is helpless to redeem us. But Isaac was the supernaturally born son of the free woman, a manifestation of God’s Grace. By this same Grace we are supernaturally born, freed from our bondage of sin to become heirs to the Kingdom. More next time.