This Is My Son: Ishmael / Second Advent mid-week

Genesis 16:1-16

15And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.

Surely you have heard of “Tiger Moms” and of “Helicopter Parents.” Well, apparently, their time is over. There is a new type of parent pushing their way through the schoolyard and they’ll stop at nothing to ensure their child’s success. Yes, the new style of parenting is called “Snowplow” parenting. These parents are intent on removing any obstacles in the way of their child, in order that their child doesn’t have to face pain or difficulty on their way to success.

If their child struggles, “Snowplow” parents will take matters into their own hands and accomplish those challenges on their own, thinking that they’re helping their child without realizing the long-term consequences of their approach. I can understand this to some degree. For example, I have gotten impatient with the confirmands when I have helped with homework. It would be much easier to give them the answer rather than have them struggle to get to the solution on their own.

We all tend to want to take matters into our own hands when something isn’t going quite right or taking too long. That’s the situation in which we find Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 16.

Abraham had received the promise of God that he would be the father of many and that through his descendants God would bless the whole world. Abraham and Sarah both believed God’s promise.

But that promise had been made years ago. Abraham and Sarah weren’t young when God originally made it. They certainly weren’t getting any younger. Plus, Sarah was still barren. Maybe they needed to take things into their own hands and force the issue.

So, Sarah comes up with a plan. Maybe it was just Abraham that was needed for the promise to be fulfilled. She offers her servant, Hagar, to Abraham that he might obtain children from her. Abraham listens, and Hagar becomes pregnant. It worked!

Or so it seemed. This situation only caused issues in the household of Abraham. Hagar, who was blessed with child, began to look with contempt upon Sarah, who was unable to conceive. Hagar’s behavior got so bad that Sarah treats her badly in return, which caused Hagar to run away. But after that all gets cleared up and God convinces Hagar to return to Sarah, and Hagar gives birth to Ishmael (as we heard in the rest of chapter 16), God makes it clear to Abraham in Genesis 17 that, despite Abraham’s efforts, Ishmael isn’t the son that God promised.

“You will have a son by Sarah,” God tells Abraham, who is now one hundred years old, while Sarah is ninety. So, Abraham replies, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before you!” Abraham is trying to demonstrate to God that he has already taken care of having a son. “No,” God says, “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.”

Abraham and Sarah didn’t have to take matters into their own hands to have a son and kick start God’s plan of blessing. God was going to take care of fulfilling His promise in His own way and in His own time. When it comes to the blessings and promises of God, we also often think that we have to take matters into our own hands.

We imagine that we have to activate God’s promises by cleaning up our lives or showing Him how sincerely and earnestly we believe. We think we can manipulate God by our good works and force His hand to pour out blessings upon us. We become impatient with God as we wait for His promises to come to fruition, and so we try to take our relationship with God into our own hands and trust in ourselves to get the job done. In order to maintain our status as God’s children, we imagine that we’ve got to prove ourselves to Him over and over again.

We all tend to exchange the freedom of the Gospel for the slavery of the Law. Rather than living under the freedom of Jesus’ words “It is finished!” and trusting that it truly is, we live under the slavery of the Law, which says; do more! Try harder!

In the Book of Galatians, Paul repeatedly demonstrated the foolishness of this thinking. In Galatians 3, he writes, for all who rely on works of the law are under a curse. . . . Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for The righteous shall live by faith (Galatians 3:10a, 11).

In chapter 4, Paul supplements his argument with an illustration: the story of Hagar and Sarah. Now this story may be interpreted allegorically, Paul says. These women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. . . . She corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother (Galatians 4:24–26).

In other words, Hagar represents the Law given at Mount Sinai. All those who submit to the slavery of the Law are children of Hagar. They are Ishmaels. And what eventually happened to Hagar and Ishmael? What does the Scripture say? Paul asks. Cast out the slave woman and her son (Galatians 4:30). Ishmael wasn’t the son of the promise. He was the son produced by Abraham’s efforts, a work of the law. And he was rejected, as ultimately all will be who rely on the Law.

But God called Abraham and Sarah to trust in His promise and live by faith. God would take care of it. And though it seemed impossible, Sarah gave birth to a son, the son of the promise, Isaac.

Now you, brothers, Paul explains, like Isaac, are children of promise . . . we are not children of the slave but of the free woman (Galatians 4:28, 31). Those who live by faith, not by works, are also sons of the promise, sons of Abraham, and receivers of God’s blessings.

But it’s not faith in Isaac that brings the blessings of God’s salvation. It’s faith in the true Son of Abraham, the Son through whom the whole world is blessed, the Son whose work sets us free from slavery to the Law.

As our loving heavenly Father, God removed any obstacle between us and our salvation because He knew we could never do it on our own, no matter how hard we tried. He sent His only-begotten Son into this world and called Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

This Son would also be born through miraculous circumstances, not through an old, barren woman, but through a young virgin. This Son would also walk up a mountain to be a sacrifice, but unlike Isaac, God didn’t stop the hands that placed a crown of thorns on the head of Jesus, His own Son, and plunged nails into His hands and feet. Jesus completed the work of the Law, suffered the consequences for our sins and lack of faith, and won our freedom as He declared, It is finished!

Jesus is the true Son of Abraham whose eternal blessings are received only by faith. For in Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God, through faith, Paul writes to the Galatians and to you. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. . . . And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:26–27, 29).

♫ “Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you. . . .”

You and I are sons of the promise, sons of Abraham, children of God, through the true Son of Abraham and Sarah—Jesus, the Son of God.

♫ “So let’s all praise the Lord!” Amen.