Genesis 21:10 – 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.”
As Isaac, the son God promised to Abraham and Sarah, grew older, tensions again escalated between Sarah and Hagar, who had given birth to Abraham’s first son, Ishmael. In this, we see the pains of polygamy, which is a theme throughout Scripture. God told us in Genesis 1-2 that marriage was for only for one man and one woman alone by divine design. When Isaac was about three years of age, Ishmael, who was in his teens, curiously mocked and laughed at Isaac. This theme of brotherly conflict is throughout Genesis and includes Cain and Abel as well as Ham, Shem and Japheth and, later as we’ll see, Jacob and Esau, along with Joseph and his brothers.
The mockery of her young son infuriated Sarah, though it was in fact the same kind of laughter she had previously directed at God (Genesis 18:15). Everyone in the storyline of Genesis loves the boy Ishmael (the Lord, the angel, Hagar, Abraham) except Sarah, who despised him. Nonetheless, God permitted Sarah to send Hagar and Ishmael away, and promised Abraham that, though Ishmael was not part of the covenant line that would bring forth Jesus Christ, he would be cared for and protected. In this way, God may not have been so much discarding Ishmael and Hagar as removing them from an increasingly tense and unpleasant family situation with Sarah.
Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert with only some food and a few gallons of water, which is probably all they could carry. While his actions appear to be thoughtless and cruel (which they may have been), it is also possible that Abraham simply believed God’s promise to take care of the boy and bless him as He already had blessed Abraham and those associated with him, such as Lot. The Scriptures simply do not say whether Abraham acted in trust or terror.
Out of water, and wandering in the desert with her son, Hagar sat in despair anticipating that she and her son would die of thirst as the boy wept. In a repeat of events prior in Genesis 16, “the angel of the Lord” (who is probably the pre-incarnate Jesus in what is called a Christophony appearance) spoke to her. From Heaven, He promised to care for her and her son, make them into a great nation, and then provided a well for them to drink from.
God remained true to his promise regarding Ishmael and the boy grew up in the desert as a skilled archer. His marriage to an Egyptian woman is a likely indicator that he did not worship God but lived by his own courage and strength, much like his Arab descendants to this day who do not worship Jesus Christ but look to Ishmael as their father.
Curiously, this region in Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Muhammed, who is a descendant of Ishmael and father of all Arabs. It is near the Muslim holy site of Mecca where the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ visited Ishmael and Hagar. The site of this well is also a Muslim holy site called the Zamzam Well.
Having now calmed the tensions in the storyline of Abraham’s families with their conflicts resolved, the master storyteller Moses has reserved the climactic test of Abraham’s faith for the near sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22.
Look for other instances throughout Genesis or other places in Scripture where polygamy is practiced. Notice how badly it always ends up, recognizing that this is not God’s divine design for family.
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