Roots of BitternessWorld Events

Roots of Bitterness: Ishmael’s Role Is Pivotal

In the previous post, we briefly explored the covenant God made with Abraham concerning the land inheritance and the promise to make his descendants greater than he could count.

It’s important to note that God’s promise was irrevocable and eternal.  He clearly stated the land was being deeded to Abraham’s offspring.  According to tradition, a man’s firstborn was given the birthright of inheritance, becoming the family patriarch (leader).

That is precisely why Abraham shares the responsibility for the roots of bitterness we witness today in the Middle East.

In a perfect world, Abraham would have waited on God to fulfill his promise.  Sarah would have given birth to Isaac, and the promise would have been fulfilled through him without any unintended consequences.  Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

Actions do have consequences.

According to tradition, Ishmael should have been the rightful heir to Abraham’s family fortune, becoming the next patriarch, but that’s not the way the story unfolds.

When Isaac was old enough to be weaned, Ishmael was essentially disowned, and God confirmed His intentions to fulfill His promise through Isaac.

“And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.’ And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba” (Genesis 21:8-14 ESV).

In this passage, God confirmed his oath to Abraham in two ways.  First, He confirmed the lineage of Abraham’s inheritance and blessing through Isaac, as originally intended by Sarah bearing Abraham a child.  He also upheld the promise that his offspring would be too great to number, simultaneously upholding the promise made to Hagar in Genesis 16:10.

After Ishmael was cast aside, God reaffirmed His promise to Hagar.

“And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation'” (Genesis 21:17-18 ESV).

Ishmael was somewhere between sixteen and seventeen years old when he was sent away.  Do you suppose he harbored any bitterness toward Abraham and Isaac?

Although God fulfilled his promise to “multiply” Abraham through both children, Isaac was the one God intended to bless from the beginning.

After Ishmael was sent away, he settled in the Wilderness of Paran, which extends along the Red Sea on the western border of Saudi Arabia.

Wilderness of Paran

At this point, it’s appropriate to revisit the prophecy concerning Ishmael:

“He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen” Genesis 16:12 (ESV).

Now consider the lineage of Ishmael and the founder of Islam.  Ishmael is considered the patriarch of Islam, with Mohammed being his direct descendant.  As illustrated in the map above, Mecca and Medina are both within the region considered the Wilderness of Paran.

Does the prophecy concerning Ishmael speak true of the Islamic heritage of turmoil, both internally and as the Muslim world relates to Israel?

Despite the obvious lingering resentment, that’s not the end of the story.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll explore the relationship of Esau and Jacob, and how Esau also fits within the tapestry of Middle Eastern turbulence.  Read more here



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