Ishmael. Those things we do ourselves because we think we are smarter and know better than God.
Ishmael is a child of Genesis that comes into being because of Sarai’s arrogance and impatience.
I started thinking about him yesterday when reading day 1 of Mark Batterson’s “Draw the Circle” prayer challenge. Mark uses Moses as an example of getting ahead of God and as a warning – “don’t try to manufacture your own miracles. Don’t try to answer your own prayers. Don’t try to do God’s job for Him.” (Batterson 20)[i]
But I don’t think Moses is the best example. I think Sarai is. Abram’s wife knows the repeated promise of God to bless them abundantly, including descendants (“And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered.” (Genesis 13:16)). But the couple is still childless after eleven years, and Sarai is beyond her childbearing years. So how is God going to accomplish this?
This must be something Sarai asked herself daily. She must have repeated it to herself so many times that she started to doubt God would come through. After all, it had been 11 years. It didn’t matter that God had just repeated the promise to Abram (Genesis 15:5) and assured them that they would have a child, despite their age (Genesis 15:4). Sarai had somehow convinced herself that God didn’t really mean it and maybe she could make it happen.
So Sarai decided she was smarter than God and pushed Abram to have a baby with her maidservant Hagar (Genesis 16:1-4a). Yes, Abram went along with her crazy plan and took Hagar as another wife. Hagar did get pregnant, so Sarai got exactly what she wanted. But she didn’t get it the easy way she expected. For Hagar thinks she is the true and superior woman, as “her mistress became despised in her eyes” (Genesis 16:4-5), and she lords her pregnancy over Sarai. She must have treated Sarai rather obnoxiously, since “Sarai dealt harshly with her” (Genesis 16:6b) and Hagar flees. Hagar wandered alone and scared until God met her in the wilderness and sent her back to Sarai.
So after eleven years, there is finally a son in the camp. Ishmael. Son of Abram and Hagar. Not the promised son of Abram and Sarai, the heir to God’s promises and provision.
Sarai got the son she was promised, but it wasn’t in God’s timing or way. And she had to deal with both mother and child in her house until after the promised son Isaac was born. Who knows what their relationship looked like when Hagar returned, but the damage was done and feelings hurt. It doesn’t say that she did, but I am sure Sarai realized the seriousness of her quick decision and did some serious repenting with God. Because she had to face the consequences of her decision every day – in the face of a son who wasn’t biologically hers.
Because she assumed she could produce the promise as well as – if not better than – God. As a result, she and Abram were responsible to take care of Ishmael. The son whose existence was based solely on an irrational, hasty, and irresponsible decision of Sarai and Abram.
So what can we learn from Sarai? In those moments we are hasty, impulsive, irrational, and unthinking. In those moments we think we know better than God. Things blow up in our face. Things get difficult. We get exactly what we want without the grace of God to make it enjoyable. And we have the responsibility to take care of those things we brought to life.
So do you want the burden of being of your own god? Or do you want the blessing of walking in the grace of God’s plans? Do you want to make your own way and cut your own path? Or do you want to walk side-by-side with God, who will illuminate the right path for you? Do you want to foolishly think you know better and are smarter than God? Or do you want to surrender to His plans and His timing with patience, endurance, and fortitude?
It’s a simple difference. My pride verses God’s grace. My selfishness verses God’s goodness. My impatience verses His perfect timing. My imperfection verses God’s perfection.
So what do you want? To take care of your Ishmael or to enjoy the blessing of His Isaac? The choice is yours!
God, help me not to birth any Ishmael’s. Help me to not run ahead of you because I think You aren’t working on my behalf. Help me to curb any impatience and frustration because I can’t see the bigger picture. Correct me when I try to go my own way and rely on my own warped thinking. Redirect me when I start to go my own way. Thank You for loving me enough to want the best for me, even when I am too stubborn to realize it. God, I don’t want my plans to succeed and prosper, because there are no godly roots in them; therefore I will have to strive and struggle to make them work. I want to walk in Your plans, where there is peace and grace and success. Ishmael is my insistence on being right, which leads to pain, hurt, and failure. I want an Isaac, the fulfillment of Your promises that comes with Your grace and blessing. Help me Lord to wait on the perfect timing of Your Isaac instead of charging ahead to create my Ishmael. I want to be fruitful instead of frustrated, and I can only get there by trusting You to bring the best things for me in Your timing. Help me to pause and pray before plowing ahead with my plans. In Jesus’s all-powerful name. AMEN!
[i] Batterson, Mark. “Draw the Circle: The 40 Day Prayer Challenge.” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.
Marie Fremin, 1/1-2/16