“Now these are the records of the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maid, bore to Abraham; and these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael, and Kedar and Adbeel and Mibsam and Mishma and Dumah and Massa, Hadad and Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages, and by their camps; twelve princes according to their tribes.” Gen. 25:12-16
Because of Isaac being the promised child, and the significance that his birth and near-sacrifice represents to both Judaism and Christianity, Ishmael tends to be cast in a negative light. His mother Hagar was an Egyptian, a maidservant of Abraham’s and was not his original wife. Ishmael is viewed as the progenitor of the Arabs, and the Arabs are seen as being at odds with the Jews, who are recognized as God’s chosen people.
All of this means we don’t offer much credence to Ishmael, and we often are blinded to any virtuous or spiritual thing with regards to Hagar or Ishmael. Consider that:
- Ishmael, just as Isaac, was named by God before birth.
- After Hagar fled from Sarah, God told her to go back and submit, and she was obedient. In Genesis 16:10 Hagar received a promise from God, that her descendants would be too numerous to count. This echos the promise given to Sarah concerning her descendants.
- Ishmael, just as Isaac, had a brush with death. In Genesis 21, Sarah sent Hagar and Ishmael away, and upon running out of water, Hagar thought Ishmael would not survive.
- God visited Hagar a second time to reassure her. How many in scripture get one visitation, let alone two?
- God heard Ishmael’s cry as he lay dying, and promised to make a great nation of him, and He does – there are twelve princes of Ishmael before there are twelve tribes of Israel.
In short, many of the same promises of God were made to both Hagar and Ishmael as well as to Abraham, Sarah and Isaac. In part, God’s promise to Abraham to make him many nations was a promise God was willing to fulfill even if not only through Sarah.
It is important to view Hagar and Ishmael as significant people in the story of Abraham; to learn lessons from them as to God’s promises, God’s favor, and God seeing our plight and hearing our cries. We must not simply reduce their story to “That’s where the Arabs/Muslims come from” which unfortunately happens much today.