Wednesday, February 29, 2012
To focus more on my own destiny than anyone elses
One person in the Bible who has always intrigued me is Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar, Sarah's slave girl. Sometimes I think I could write a 'faction' book about him. Although scripture doesn't delve into his thought processes, I find it easy to imagine how this boy might have ticked. Lavish attention was being poured on a new baby, reminding him that he himself was merely the son of a servant. He would have caught the whispers, Isaac is the baby God intended all along and Ishmael was just a big mistake. Whatever were they thinking? Finally Sarah, his father's beloved wife, swept through and commanded, "He can't have any share in the inheritance with my son! Send them packing!" I find it easy to understand why Ishmael might have felt inclined to poke a few jibes at Isaac.
Of course it had to be this way. We must know we are accepted by God through favour and grace (which Isaac represents) and not through effort and human works (which Ishmael represents). This is the crux of the Christian message. To leave Ishmael growing up around the place along with Isaac would have made things messily complicated; even seriously undermining the Bible's message. (I wonder how he would've felt to know that he was destined to be singled out as a mistake not only in his own lifetime but for eternity!)
I think the key is to remember that Ishmael was not ignored by God. The plan in question just wasn't meant for him. He was not the son of Abraham who was destined to be the ancestor of the Israelites and ultimately Jesus; that was Isaac. I think there is an ideal plan for each of us and when we start peering over to see what's happening in the lives of others; that's when we can start letting those horribly frustrated, bitter, jealous feelings twist our insides. You see, it's none of our business.
In the life of Moses (Numbers 16 and 17), a gang of indignant rebels accused him and Aaron of over-stepping themselves by appointing Aaron High Priest of the people. I can imagine them murmuring, He gives the plummy jobs to his brother. Well, we won't take that lying down! I love the vivid proof God gave that they were out of line. He decreed that a representative from each of Israel's 12 tribes were to place a wooden staff before the altar and promised that He would cause the rod of the chosen man to bud. Aaron put his rod forward as the representative from the tribe of Levi. Not only did Aaron's staff pop out buds and blossoms but even a few almonds! Aaron's staff had been a dead twig, just like the 11 others, but the point is that God had chosen him as the man for that job; and that was it. No complaining or accusations of favouritism from the others made any difference.
Back to Ishmael's plight; God cared for him and had a perfect plan. I appreciate it that the Angel of God appeared twice to his mother, Hagar, but never once to Sarah (that was ever recorded). What a gracious bit of evidence that He cares for the downtrodden and those the world may call inferior. As Ishmael grew up, Hagar always had those promises that God would bless her son and make him the father of a great nation.
I'm sure it was for Ishmael's own good to be sent away from Abraham's household. Without Isaac always dogging his footsteps and reminding him of all that was not to be his, he could get his mind focused on the plan God did have for him, which was considerable. In spite of thinking of himself as second fiddle, I love the short verse Genesis 21:20 in The Message. It says, "God was on the boy's side as he grew up." I like to think the fact that Ishmael was able to be blessed and prospered this way is a sign to us that he escaped from the pattern of bitterness that could have entrenched him. And I like the lesson he teaches us, which is to move into our own plans, not hung-up on anyone else's, and be content.