Daily Distinctives, April 2, 2018 – Cry Out to the LORD

I’m back! After a crazy week and then Easter weekend, things have been pretty busy around my house. I was privileged to be able to serve at church this weekend as one of the stage cameramen. In my attempt to be inconspicuous I waited in between sets behind the giant LED wall that was on the stage. I sat down at one point and heard this crazy clicking sound. I knew in an instant what it was. It was my iPhone screen cracking with hundreds of little splinters! Doh! But other than that, we had a wonderful Resurrection Sunday and I am glad to be back into my devotionals. First world problems I know. But trust and believe that now I have gotten the trite and meaningless things out of the way I am ready to get into the meat of life, the WORD of God.  When I last left off, we discovered that Isaac had been born to Sarah and Abraham in their old age and at about the age of two or three, Isaac was weaned and Abraham through a celebration.

Now, I had this way wrong until today. For some reason, I always thought that it was Hagar that had mocked Isaac for the sake of her son and for this she and her son were cast out. I also had it my mind, for some strange reason, that Ishmael was still a baby. You would have thought that my study on the circumcision would have cleared that up for me. But as I read today, I had a “lightbulb/aha” moment. So, now I get the opportunity to clear it up for anyone else who may have been under the same misconception as I was. But isn’t that amazing really? You can go a lifetime thinking something is some way, and then you read it again, and the Holy Spirit gives you clarity and resolves issues in the way you have interpreted the Bible for so long. All in His timing I suppose. Not sure how that will change my theology, but I am sure the more I think about it, the more I will connect other dots related. It is all about growing in your understanding of Scripture as you grow closer to God. So, I am all for it. That said, let’s dig in a little deeper together.

[Gen 21:9 NKJV] And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing.

So, Sarah sees the son of Hagar, not Hagar herself, but the son of Hagar (Ishmael) who is a teenager now, and he is scoffing. We are not told explicitly what he was scoffing about, but in the context we know it was a celebration for Isaac.

Imagine if you were the first born child in that culture. You would likely feel jilted having your younger brother receive the honors that culturally went to the first-born child. Perhaps he was jealous. No doubt Abrahams people knew of the promise that God had made to Sarah and Abraham. It would have been common knowledge to the camp, but not only that, the remarkable, miraculous birth would have cleared up any doubts that God’s hand was upon Isaac.

Still, we see that Ishmael is scoffing. Now, I find it interesting that the word used here in the Hebrew language for scoffing is the same word that is used to describe the attitude that Sarah had when God announced that she would be with child in her old age. To this, I can draw a valuable application lesson for myself today. How easily do we hold others to a level of accountability that we don’t hold ourselves to? Perhaps before we came to know Christ as LORD and Savior, we did things a certain way and now we don’t do those things anymore, but we are quick to judge those who do. That is a form of hypocrisy you know. And so when we see others in sin we must seek to gently rebuke them with gentleness hoping to see them restored, keeping in mind that we are just as easily ensnared by sin as they are (Galatians 6:1).

[Gen 21:10 NKJV] Therefore she said to Abraham, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, [namely] with Isaac.”

I have seen this before in my own life. When something happens to one of my children and my wife finds out about it she goes all, “mamma bear” and I end up getting an earful. I get it. A mother’s instinct is to protect their children. I come from a mixed-marriage and my three older children are not mine biologically. Fortunately, I have known them most of their lives and so I have made them my own. Their biological father has had nothing to do with them and so I have been fortunate in that regard. Even though I treat all of my children fairly, to this day, if I call out one of my older kids for doing something wrong, my wife still kicks in “mamma bear mode,” and I find myself having to fight for my life to get out of the conversation…lol. And so I understand how Sarah must have felt.

Here is Ishmael, a son born to Abraham by a hasty mistake when Sarah suggested that Abraham take her as a surrogate. While Sarah was a step-mother, she did not have the same tie with Ishmael as Abraham did. In fact, she likely regretted the day she ever spoke a word to Abraham regarding Hagar her maidservant. To have this kid mocking a child that came from her own womb would have been the straw that broke the camels back.

Now, it is one thing that Sarah behaved so poorly towards Ishmael, but perhaps Ishmael should have known his place. I like what Matthew Henry, the layman’s expositor, says about this:

If Hagar and Ishmael had behaved well in Abraham’s family, they might have continued there; but they were justly punished. By abusing privileges, we forfeit them. Those who know not when they are well off, will be made to know the worth of mercies by the want of them.

Still, respect is a two-way street. It is not unbelievable to think that Sarah had ostracized Ishmael from the time that he was born. Ishamael was likely the proverbial “black sheep” of the family, not by any fault of his own. But perhaps he thought that he would inherit his wealthy father’s estate, or at least receive a lionshare of the inheritance and that this right was irrevocable. But as we will soon see this is not the case. God had another plan for Ishmael, but it would not be what he or his father expected.

[Gen 21:11 NKJV] And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham’s sight because of his son.

From Abraham’s perspective, this must have been one of the worst days of his life. Though he and his wife Sarah had not shared the same ties with Ishmael, Abraham was his natural father. This would be no easy thing for Abraham to do. In fact, I get the feeling that Abraham revolted at the very thought of getting rid of his firstborn son. Now, I have to tell you, I understand how that feels too. As I mentioned earlier, I kind of adopted my three oldest children. But one Father’s day nine years ago, my first natural born son was birthed and I immediately understood the pride that a father has for his firstborn son. It did not subtract my love for my older sons and daughters, but it did have a profound effect on my life and how I viewed my relationships with each of my children. From that day forward I had to make myself conscientious about how I treated and disciplined all of my children. It would have been easy for me to be more lenient towards my natural born children than my adopted children, but I understood that God does not show partiality, and neither should I. The fact is that I am adopted into the family of God myself and as an adopted child I understand the plight of the fatherless. Before Christ, I was destined to a hopeless eternity, but God is a good Father and delivered me from my orphaned state.

[Gen 21:12 NKJV] But God said to Abraham, “Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called.

There have been times in my own life where I was adamant about not doing something a certain way. Sometimes the thing I was asked to do just seemed counter-intuitive, other times it just did not feel right, and sometimes I refused just because of the way it was insisted. But given time, the LORD has always directed my path in matters that where my stubbornness got in the way. This is what happened to Abraham. He did not want to send his son or his bondwoman away. He thought it was unjust, unfair, unrealistic and probably a dozen other “un’s” he grumbled under his breath at his wife’s request (speaking from experience here too).

But God commanded Abraham not to let this be displeasing, but rather, to heed the voice of his wife, for in Isaac his legacy would go forth. God cuts to the quick of the matter. It would appear that perhaps Abraham had an ulterior motive for keeping Ishmael around. No doubt, he loved Ishmael, still, it could happen that Isaac might meet an untimely demise (especially considering the hostile environment that the Patriarchs lived in). As one commentator said, “God did not need Abrahams back up son, or back up plan” to fulfill His will.

Another thing that I concluded from this verse is that sometimes God will use the voice of our wives to speak wisdom to us. Sometimes it is intentional on their part, other times quite by mistake, but regardless of the motive, our wives can and should be our trusted allies and advisors.

[Gen 21:13 NKJV] “Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he [is] your seed.”

I tend to think that Abraham was concerned for their well being, and so God comforts him with the knowledge that Ishmael would be safe and would one day become a nation himself. And of course, we know that when God makes a promise He always keeps it. Ishmael would indeed become a mighty nation.

[Gen 21:14 NKJV] So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting [it] on her shoulder, he gave [it] and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba.

Now, I wondered about this part. Here you have a very wealthy man who was not short of supplies, and so why did he only give them bread and a skin of water between them when he could have sent them off with ample supply for a journey back to Egypt (where they undoubtedly intended to go under the circumstances) where Hagar originally hailed?

I like to think that Abraham did this in faith. He trusted that God would care for their needs but put God to the test by not giving them the necessary supplies it would take to cross the wilderness (a journey of about 400 miles on foot –over a months journey). Maybe he thought that God would relent and allow them to come back if he did not give them enough supplies to reach their destination. To this, I can only guess as we are not told anything about his motive. I am guilty of projecting what I would do if I were in the shoes of certain Bible characters and so if anything these are just my musings.

[Gen 21:15 NKJV] And the water in the skin was used up, and she placed the boy under one of the shrubs.

Now, you could understand why I always thought that Ishmael was a baby here. How does a one put a teenager under a shrub unless the child is a baby? I just always thought that because it says she placed the boy under one of the shrubs that he must have been small. It never dawned on me that he could have been a teenager who became weak from lack of food and water and that his mom just dragged him up under a bush to keep him shaded and provide some small comfort.

We know that even if they rationed their water there is no way that they could have made it all the way to their destination on one skin of water shared between them. Some commentators suggest that they got off the trail and wandered in the wilderness. If they had not been lost perhaps they would have had stops along the way at one of the wells that Abraham had dug on his journey from his homeland. This is plausible.

[Gen 21:16 NKJV] Then she went and sat down across from [him] at a distance of about a bowshot; for she said to herself, “Let me not see the death of the boy.” So she sat opposite [him], and lifted her voice and wept.

And so with her child literally dying of thirst and likely heat-stroke in front of her, she could not bear to watch him die, and so she went off a ways from him and wept. Now, I want to point out that she lifted her voice and wept, because she had said to herself that she did not want to see her son die. We do not see her crying out to the LORD here. I know I am guilty at times of not crying out to the LORD when I should. The first thing I do is try to reason through my “circumstances” and rely on myself for a solution. It is when I come to the end of myself that I cry out to the LORD. Now, that does not always happen. Trials have taught me that the first thing I ought to do is make my requests known to God. But sometimes, I lose sight of what is right and to myself I bring the fight, like Hagar whose son was dying of thirst failed to go to Jesus first (just got all lyrical up in here). But the point is plain to see. Hagar did not cry out to God but moaned to herself.

[Gen 21:17 NKJV] And God heard the voice of the lad. Then the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her, “What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he [is].

But God is so gracious. Even when we fail to bring our needs to Him in prayer, He is still faithful to call out to us in the moments of our desparation to show us a better way. Had we bent our ear to Him to begin with, think of all the pain and sorrow we could have been spared.

And so God asks Hagar what is wrong, and then comforts here by telling her that He has heard the voice of Ishmael. This was something that hit me pretty hard when I read it. I think about how my own kids are. You would think that my older kids were not raised by a Christian man who made sure that church and the WORD of God was a priority by looking at how they live their lives now that they can make their own decisions as adults. I still trust that I did not fail to make it clear to them what was right and what was wrong. I can rest assured that there was no shortage of the Gospel message in our home. Still, I trust that in due season that they will return to the ways that my wife and I trained them. But this verse gave me confidence in that.

Here we see that God heard the voice of Ishmael. Apparently, something good rubbed off from Abraham onto the young man. He must have prayed to God for God to hear him. And God did hear his voice. My trust is that my older adult children will find the end of themselves too and cry out to the LORD. I know in my own life that is what happened to me. While my parents did not take us to church with any regularity my there was no shortage of the need for salvation in my home when I was growing up. I had to graduate from the school of hard knocks where I majored in hardheadedness to find my end and call upon the LORD. So I trust that what I have shared with my adult children will be used in the hands of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all of my children.

[Gen 21:18 NKJV] “Arise, lift up the lad and hold him with your hand, for I will make him a great nation.”

God commands Hagar to get up and help her son. This took an act of faith. Perhaps this finally sealed the deal for Hagar. I know I didn’t listen to the first person that shared the Gospel with me. I don’t remember, but I probably scoffed at the first 30 or 40 people that tried. Still, I have to believe that they planted seeds in my life that sprouted on that day that God watered my heart. Hagar had to trust God in order to act upon his command.

I am reminded of the New Testament account where Jesus is at the pool of Bethesda near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem where the infirmed waited for the angel to stir the healing waters. One man who was crippled for 38 years could not ever reach the water in time. When he was confronted by the LORD and asked if he wanted to be made well, the man responded that he had no way to get into the healing waters. He made no verbal profession of faith, but acted on faith when Jesus commanded him to rise, take up his bed and walk. In a similar fashion God commanded Hagar to rise, take up her son and walk (John :1-8).

[Gen 21:19 NKJV] Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink.

Her actions were rewarded as God opened her eyes and made her aware of a nearby well of water which she promptly went to give her son the life-giving water. Again, this takes me back to another account of a woman at a certain well where she met the One who is the water of life (John 4:13-14).

[Gen 21:20 NKJV] So God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.

We see here that God was with Ishmael as he grew and dwelt in the wilderness. God promised that He would make a nation from Ishmael and so we see that even though Ishmael was a wild man in a wilderness, God is good on His WORD. The fact that Ishmael became an archer is interesting too, but what significance it had escaped me at first, but then it became clear to me that in order to live in the wilderness and survive you need to know how to hunt and defend yourself. It would seem that becoming a bowman was more out of necessity than anything else. Still, my biggest takeaway from this is that while God may care for the outward man, the inward man can only come to know God in the way He wants us to by full surrender. Sadly, I don’t think that this son of Abraham would ever conceed to this kind of relationship with God, although he certainly owed God his life.

[Gen 21:21 NKJV] He dwelt in the Wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

Carnal people turn to carnal living even when they see and know that God is good. It would have been an awesome story to find that once God saved Hagar and Ishmael, that they worshipped Him and followed after Him. I would have loved to have discovered that they found some other believers and joined up with them but that is not the case. Now, we don’t know that they went to Egypt to find a wife for Ishmael, but that his mother took a wife for him who came from the land of Egypt. Whether they went there or not is not given to us. We do know that Hagar was an Egyptian and probably wanted a wife with whom she would have been familiar. She probably never really took to the Hebrew ways and so returned to her own heritage. This is what amazes me about believers from cultures that are adamantly opposed to Christianity. It should serve as a witness to all that God is real. To be forsaken and ostracized by your family and friends, along with your entire community attests to the fact that Jesus saves. For who in their right mind would trade sorrow and shame for a fairy tale?

Prayer: LORD be with my brothers and sisters in Christ who are persecuted for their belief in You. I don’t know her name but You do, and I want to lift up the young woman from Boko Haram that I saw on the news who has been captured and who will not renounce her faith in You. I pray that You would cause her to be delivered and that her faith would be a testimony to those who persecute her. That through her faithfulness many would come to know You as LORD and Savior. I pray that even in the midst of her imprisonment that Your hand would protect her. I pray for her comfort and care during this time of separation from her family. I pray for her safety. I pray that You would not give rest to her captors until they have released her. I pray that Your hand would be against her oppressors and that Your angels would gaurd over her night and day. I ask finally LORD that You would bless those who speak on her behalf, that their voices would be heard and that those leaders would seek Your justice above their own. I ask these things in accordance to Your will and in the name of Jesus. –Amen

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