But Ishmael was not the promised son, the son God had promised Abraham and Sarah. Abraham and Sarah got impatient and decided to help God. God had promised they would have a son, but they still hadn't had a child and they were both past the time for having children. So they came up with a plan. Sarah offered Abraham her maid, Hagar, to marry. This was not God's idea, this was Sarah's big idea.
"God helps them that help themselves" is NOT a scripture in the Bible. People say it all the time and many probably think it is biblical. But it really isn't! God is perfectly capable of getting things done without our help and when we try to push Him out of the way and do it ourselves we tend to make a big mess. Abraham and Sarah were tired of waiting and thought every day that went by was a day further from having a child as they were aging. Sarah had gone through menopause and normally couldn't get pregnant, much less carry and deliver a healthy child. So Sarah came up with a scheme. Essentially saying, "God, You aren't coming through. Evidently You don't know what You are doing and don't have the power to make your promise come true. So move over, I'm taking over and I'll do it right. I'm smarter and more capable than You so just get out of the way and I'll take over and get this thing done". It sounds really silly put like that doesn't it? But don't we do this all the time? We also get impatient and think we know it all and we manipulate and scheme, making monsters from our machinations.
When we manipulate and try to force something to happen so we can have what we want, when we want it, then we tend to make our own monstrosities.
Remember Frankenstein? Victor Frankenstein was a young scientist who created a grotesque monster in a science experiment. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelly wrote this novel when she was just 20 years old and published it in 1818. Victor Frankenstein became obsessed with his ambition to create life without the help of God. When his mother died of scarlet fever; Victor buried himself in his experiments to deal with the grief. At the university, he excelled at chemistry and sciences. He spent extended periods of time in tombs observing bodies decay. His ruthless pursuit of knowledge about creating life became utterly consuming. He decides to try and create a man. He begins constructing the creature's body one anatomical feature at a time from raw materials supplied by "the dissecting room and the slaughter-house". He is using dead tissue to try to create a man. Dr. Frankenstein believes he can embue this creature with life which is something divine and only God can do. But Frankenstein becomes his own god by creating the monster and giving it life only to find he's made a terrible mistake that causes endless tragedy. Dr. Frankenstein realizes too late that man should not play God. We are ill fitted for that role. Victor cannot even stand to look at his creation and the creature is so rejected and feared that he becomes the monster he looks like and begins killing people, innocent people, who had nothing to do with his creation. Dr. Frankenstein then sees it as his responsibility to kill the monster he created. So the beginning of the story is Victor Frankenstein taking on the God-role of creating life and the ending of the story is Victor Frankenstein taking on the God-role of ending life.
Let's look back at Adam and Eve for a moment.
Genesis 3:1-7 1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” 4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
When we read the story of Adam and Eve, we see that satan tempted them to "be like God". He made it even seem like they were being godly by disobeying and eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He appealed to their weak spot - wanting to be God.
Lest we be too hard on Adam and Eve (or Dr. Victor Frankenstein), let's look at examples of how we apply this in our own lives. In Abraham and Sarah's example, they tried to be God by creating a son in their own way. God had promised them a son and if God wasn't going to do it, then they would take matters into their own hands and CREATE a son. At first, Abraham had thought he would give sonship (maybe like adoption) to his Number One Servant, Eliezer.
Genesis 15:1-5 1 Later the LORD spoke to Abram in a vision, “Abram, don't be afraid! I will protect you and reward you greatly.” 2 But Abram answered, “LORD All-Powerful, you have given me everything I could ask for, except children. And when I die, Eliezer of Damascus will get all I own. 3 You have not given me any children, and this servant of mine will inherit everything.” 4 The LORD replied, “No, he won't! You will have a son of your own, and everything you have will be his.” 5 Then the LORD took Abram outside and said, “Look at the sky and see if you can count the stars. That's how many descendants you will have.”
But God told Abraham that it would not be a son through adoption. "You will have a son of your own." So, they waited and still nothing and then Sarah comes up with the brilliant idea of Abraham having a blood son but through Hagar. Then she and Abraham would raise the son. Genesis 16.
So they "made" it happen and Ishmael was born. But Ishmael was not the promised son. He was Abraham's son, his first born, blood son. But he was not the promised son. They had forced the issue and made a son in their own way without waiting on God's way. They forgot that God is in the miracle making business. Where there is no way, God can make a way and we don't have to help Him do it.
So, the result of Abraham and Sarah's scheme was a little Ishmael. And from day one, little Ishmael was a problem. First Hagar thought she should be Number One Wife instead of Sarah because she had been able to give Abraham a son. So the contention between Sarah and Hagar grew so bad that Hagar ran away.
Genesis 16:6-12 6 Abram said, “All right! She's your slave—do whatever you want with her.” Then Sarai began treating Hagar so harshly that she finally ran away. 7 Hagar stopped to rest at a spring in the desert on the road to Shur. While she was there, the angel of the LORD came to her 8and asked, “Hagar, where have you come from, and where are you going?” She answered, “I'm running away from Sarai, my owner.” 9 The angel said, “Go back to Sarai and be her slave. 10-11 I will give you a son, who will be called Ishmael, because I have heard your cry for help. And someday I will give you so many descendants that no one will be able to count them all. 12 But your son will live far from his relatives; he will be like a wild donkey, fighting everyone, and everyone fighting him.”
Who are the descendants of Ishmael?
Genesis 17:17-21 17 Abraham bowed with his face to the ground and thought, “I am almost 100 years old. How can I become a father? And Sarah is 90. How can she have a child?” So he started laughing. 18 Then he asked God, “Why not let Ishmael inherit what you have promised me?” 19 But God answered: "No! You and Sarah will have a son. His name will be Isaac, and I will make an everlasting promise to him and his descendants. 20 However, I have heard what you asked me to do for Ishmael, and so I will also bless him with many descendants. He will be the father of twelve princes, and I will make his family a great nation. 21 But your son Isaac will be born about this time next year, and the promise I am making to you and your family will be for him and his descendants forever".
Genesis 25: 12 This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Ishmael, whom Sarah’s slave, Hagar the Egyptian, bore to Abraham. 13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. 16 These were the sons of Ishmael, and these are the names of the twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps. 17 Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people. 18 His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt, as you go toward Ashur. And they lived in hostility toward all the tribes related to them.
Assyrian and Babylonian royal inscriptions and North Arabian inscriptions from 9th to 6th century BC, mention the king of Qedar as king of the Arabs and king of the Ishmaelites. By the time of Muhammad, all Arabs were descendants of Ishmael according to historians Hisham Ibn Al-Kalbi and al-Sharqi who believed that all Arabs were descendents of Ishmael. The descendants of Isaac are the bloodline Jews (those who are biologically descended from Isaac) and the descendants of Ishmael are the other Arab groups and tribes. There has been contention between the Jews and Arabs ever since. God said Ishmael and his descendants would be of a quarrelsome temper, warlike disposition, continually engaged in fighting, animosity, hostility, conflict and anger. And so they have!
Genesis 21:9-21 9-10 One day, Sarah noticed Hagar's son Ishmael playing, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that Egyptian slave woman and her son! I don't want him to inherit anything. It should all go to my son.” 11 Abraham was worried about Ishmael. 12 But God said, “Abraham, don't worry about your slave woman and the boy. Just do what Sarah tells you. Isaac will inherit your family name, 13 but the son of the slave woman is also your son, and I will make his descendants into a great nation.” 14 Early the next morning Abraham gave Hagar an animal skin full of water and some bread. Then he put the boy on her shoulder and sent them away. They wandered around in the desert near Beersheba, 15 and after they had run out of water, Hagar put her son under a bush. 16Then she sat down a long way off, because she could not bear to watch him die. And she cried bitterly. 17 When God heard the boy crying, the angel of God called out to Hagar from heaven and said, “Hagar, why are you worried? Don't be afraid. I have heard your son crying. 18 Help him up and hold his hand, because I will make him the father of a great nation.” 19 Then God let her see a well. So she went to the well and filled the skin with water, then gave some to her son. 20-21 God blessed Ishmael, and as the boy grew older, he became an expert at hunting with his bow and arrows. He lived in the Paran Desert, and his mother chose an Egyptian woman for him to marry.
Abraham loved his firstborn son, Ishmael. But he was not the Son of Promise. He was created using the arm of the flesh (human schemes) whereas, Isaac's miraculous conception and birth was made by the Arm of the Spirit. Isaac was God's provision, given miraculously, in God's time and in God's way. Ishmael brought division, conflict, pain, misery, depression, hardship on all those around him. He brought out the worst in people. We even see Sarah and Abraham in their worst light because of the issue of Ishmael.
Today, the Arab nations think that they are descendants of Abraham's first born son, Ishmael, and therefore are the inheritors of the promises of God. But the Jews say they are the descendants of the promised son and therefore they are the inheritors of the promises of God. The Jews and Arabs have fought over the Promised Land, the land of Canaan, ever since. The Arabs say that Ishmael was blessed by God and promised descendants and land, they would become a great nation. But the Jews point out that Isaac was the son of promise and was blessed with innumerable descendants and the land. God also promised all the earth would be blessed through Isaac. Let's look at these promises:
Genesis 12:1-3,6-7 1 The LORD said to Abram: "Leave your country, your family, and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will bless you and make your descendants into a great nation. You will become famous and be a blessing to others. 3 I will bless those who bless you, but I will put a curse on anyone who puts a curse on you. Everyone on earth will be blessed because of you"... When they came to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram went as far as the sacred tree of Moreh in a place called Shechem. The Canaanites were still living in the land at that time, 7 but the LORD appeared to Abram and promised, “I will give this land to your family forever.” Abram then built an altar there for the LORD.
Genesis 13:14-17 14 the LORD said to Abram: "Look around to the north, south, east, and west. 15 I will give you and your family all the land you can see. It will be theirs forever! 16 I will give you more descendants than there are specks of dust on the earth, and someday it will be easier to count those specks of dust than to count your descendants. 17 Now walk back and forth across the land, because I am going to give it to you".
Genesis 15:4-6 4 The LORD replied, “No, [Eliezer, the servant] won't! You will have a son of your own, and everything you have will be his.” 5 Then the LORD took Abram outside and said, “Look at the sky and see if you can count the stars. That's how many descendants you will have.” 6 Abram believed the LORD, so the LORD was pleased with him and accepted him.
Genesis 15:8-20 8 Abram asked, “LORD God, how can I know the land will be mine?” 9 Then the LORD told him, “Bring me a three-year-old cow, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a dove, and a young pigeon.”
10 Abram obeyed the LORD. Then he cut the animals in half and laid the two halves of each animal opposite each other on the ground. But he did not cut the doves and pigeons in half. 11 And when birds came down to eat the animals, Abram chased them away. 12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and everything became dark and frightening. 13-15 Then the LORD said:
"Abram, you will live to an old age and die in peace. But I solemnly promise that your descendants will live as foreigners in a land that doesn't belong to them. They will be forced into slavery and abused for 400 years. But I will terribly punish the nation that enslaves them, and they will leave with many possessions. 16 Four generations later, your descendants will return here and take this land, because only then will the people who live here be so sinful that they deserve to be punished. 17 Sometime after sunset, when it was very dark, a smoking cooking pot and a flaming fire passed between the two halves of each animal. 18 At that time the LORD made an agreement with Abram and told him: "I will give your descendants the land east of the Shihor River on the border of Egypt as far as the Euphrates River. 19They will possess the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaites, 21the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites".
Genesis 17:1-8, 17-19 When Abram was 99 years old, the LORD appeared to him again and said, “I am God All-Powerful. If you obey me and always do right, 2 I will keep my solemn promise to you and give you more descendants than can be counted.” 3 Abram bowed with his face to the ground, and God said: 4-5 "I promise that you will be the father of many nations. So now I'm changing your name from Abram to Abraham. 6 I will give you a lot of descendants, and they will become great nations. Some of them will even be kings. 7 I will always keep the promise I have made to you and your descendants, because I am your God and their God. 8 I will give you and them the land in which you are now a foreigner. I will give the whole land of Canaan to your family forever, and I will be their God"... 17 Abraham bowed with his face to the ground and thought, “I am almost 100 years old. How can I become a father? And Sarah is 90. How can she have a child?” So he started laughing. 18 Then he asked God, “Why not let Ishmael inherit what you have promised me?” 19 But God answered: "No! You and Sarah will have a son. His name will be Isaac, and I will make an everlasting promise to him and his descendants".
So Ishmael was blessed and given land and descendants but Isaac, as the son of promise and God's provision, was Abraham's descendant and inheritor of the promises of God. Isaac would be the one from whom God's people came and he was the one in whom the land of Canaan was promised to.
God didn't forget Ishmael. God took care of Ishmael, made sure he didn't die in the wilderness. He gave him land and descendants. But Ishmael was NOT the promised son. Isaac was the promised son. If we look at the Middle East, we see that the Arabs have been given plenty of land, rich with oil. But they will fight over Israel!?! They insist that the tiny country of Israel is their's too.
Now, to go back to our original thought here, we see when we try to make things happen, scheme, manipulate and play God, we get a whole heap of mess (or monsters). Can you ever think of a time when you wanted something so bad that you MADE it happen? Maybe it was someone you fell in love with. You wanted to marry that person and make them your soul mate and you tried to MAKE it happen. This is what gets people into trouble on soap operas all the time. They lie, scheme, manipulate to get that "perfect" someone to "love" them. But they only get burned. You may end up married to the person from hell!
Or maybe you wanted that big house in the fine neighborhood and you had to have it. So you work around all the financing, do all the right things to make it happen. But once you move in, you find out your neighbor is a real character who makes your life miserable. Or the house had termite damage and it's costing you a mint to fix it. Or maybe you find you can't afford the mortgage after all and you fall into bankruptcy. There are all kinds of hell created from our machinations, scheming and playing at God.
Can you think of examples of people playing God and the ruin it's brought on them? Maybe someone who was childless, like Sarah, and they began scheming on how to have a baby but then, once they've accomplished their desire, it backfired on them. There are plenty of horror stories of adoptions gone bad; in vitro taking all the savings you had and still no child; surrogates who want to keep the baby after all; etc.
Or those who are naturally beautiful, but they age and so they get into a cycle of cosmetic surgery. They've expended all their money to keep looking good only to find that they look ghoulishly unnatural.
What about sports figures that take steroids or hormone therapies in order to bulk up and "be the best" so they can get the multimillion dollar contracts only to find their bodies and brains fall to pieces due to the steroids and body abuse they heap upon themselves? It's one thing to work out, take vitamins, live right to be healthy, but it's another thing to go overboard because you want to be in the NFL. And you become willing to do anything to reach that goal and willing to take any shortcut. But how many have reached that goal only to find out it's cost them too much? Their bodies are destroyed, their brains are mush from CTE, the pressure is so bad they become hooked on drugs, the fame so hellish they can't have normal relationships with anyone and the money goes just as fast as it came.
So often we think we know better than God and can do a better job so we leave Him in the dust and take on the job and try to make things happen. All we've done is create monsters that we have to live with. If we would just accept that God knows best and knows what is best for us and let Him be God, then our lives might be much easier. If we would trust God loves us and wants what is best for us and let Him be the one in charge and in control, we would avoid so many of life's miseries. What He hands us is sweetest and more life giving than what we would snatch for ourselves.