Ishmael: A Lesson For The Weak In Faith (Gen. 16:1-16)

By Not Known

What does it mean to have faith in someone? All relationships are built on faith. When we marry someone, we have faith in that someone.  Although we do not know what the future brings, we have faith in our spouse that he or she will be good to us.  At times, however, instead of trusting our spouse, we do otherwise. Doubts, anxiety, suspicion and prejudice come in, leaving little room for faith. Therefore, to have faith in someone is not an easy thing to do.  It has its ebb and flow.  What does it mean to have faith in someone then?
Mark 9:14-29 tells us of a faith someone has in Jesus – this someone is a father who pleads with Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son.  The father pleads, ‘But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!’ Jesus replies, ‘If You can! All things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately, the boy’s father cries out, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief (NASB).’  That is the dynamics of faith: In belief, there is unbelief, and in unbelief, there is belief.  To profess our belief in Jesus is easy but to live it out is quite another thing, especially when we are in sufferings and trials.
Even Abraham, our hero of Faith, experiences the dynamics of faith (Gen.16:1-16).  
In this story, the covenant God made with Abraham is threatened because of Sarah’s barrenness (v1a).  Genesis 11:30 tells us that Sarah is barren, and now (at least 10 years have passed) she is still without a child.  In view of God’s promise of a great nation for Abraham, the couple is struggling to believe God’s Word (Gen. 15:1-6).  And then, enters an Egyptian woman named Hagar.  She is Sarah’s maid servant (v1b).  Her presence hatches in Sarah’s mind an idea to hasten or help God fulfil His promise of an offspring to Abraham (vv2- 6).
Abraham and Sarah’s scheme of an offspring via a surrogate mother shows their lack of faith in God.  Conflicts arise between Sarah and Hagar.  Hagar despises Sarah, and Sarah blames Abraham.  As a result, Sarah ill-treats Hagar, which causes Hagar to run away.  Abraham substitutes the way of faith (which involves patient waiting) with human manipulation, which results in him being caught up in a series of causes and effects that brought trouble to him for years to come.
In spite of what Sarah has done, God’s plan is not and cannot be thwarted (vv7 – 14).  It is not from Hagar that the promised son comes, but rather, it is from Sarah (cf. Gal. 4:21-31).
Our God is a loving God. He hears Hagar’s cries of misery.  He tells her to name her son, Ishmael, which means ‘The Lord has heard your misery’.  God sees and hears her distress and affliction.  Since God knows Sarah is barren, she should have cried out to God instead of taking matters into her own hands.  As a result, she learns her lesson the hard way – being despised by her husband’s slave-wife.
In the epilogue, God instructs Hagar to name her son, Ishmael (v1).  Abraham must have been rebuked when Hagar says to him that God has told her to name their son, Ishmael, which means ‘God hears’.  Clearly, God means this primarily for Hagar, but it is also meant for Abraham and Sarah.  Ishmael’s name reminds Abraham that God hears those who are afflicted, though Abraham will have to wait patiently for the promised son in the midst of his affliction, that is, Sarah’s barrenness.
The lesson is clear for Abraham, Sarah and us; we are to believe in God and His Word, and to wait for God to fulfil His promise, enduring patiently till the promise is fulfilled.  Human efforts will not help.  The good news for God’s people, however, is that the living God hears.




Herna Kong