BELIEVERS BULLETIN Believers Chapel * 6420 Churchill Way * Dallas, Texas 75230 Lesson 30 Ishmael, the Product of Doing God's Will in the Power of the Flesh Introduction
The experiences of the "Father of the Faithful," as Abram is sometimes called, are similar to the experiences of th e children. There are mountaintops, when the life of faith is fresh, bracing, and exhilarating, and heaven is so near that it almost may be touched. But then come the valleys, when the air is heavy and confining, and the mountaintops seem so far away. It is then that the life of faith is difficult and demanding, often asking of us more than we feel we can possibly provide.
Abram’s life, while not like a roller coaster, was a life of mountain
peaks and deep valleys. He had his ups and downs, as we say. In the preceding chapters, chapters thirteen through fifteen, he has spent his time in the highlands, in the upland meadows, providing his followers with edifying examples of the life that pleases God. But now he stumbles again, slipping down the hillside to the lower levels of
The origin of his misstep is Sarai's reasoned suggestion that, since ten years has elapsed from the time of the promise of the seed and the two aging Hebrews are drawing near the time when they will be unable to have children by natural generation, Abram take his wife's maid for a wife and produce the divinely promised seed through her. While
some have regarded Sarai's suggestion as an example of selflessness, and while there may, indeed, be something of that in her suggestion, nevertheless it was wrong, a violation of the divinely intended monogamous relation between the sexes. Summing up, we may say that Abram, first of all, capitulated to the dominant female pressure that Sarai put upon him. He "listened to the voice of Sarai" (cf. Gen. 16:2), although the action was a violation of God's Word. Then, second, he shirked his responsibility for his actions, telling Sarai, after she had complained over the results of her act, "Behold, your maid is
in your power; do to her what is good in your sight" (cf. v. 6). And, finally, in essence he depended upon human reason and human effort in spiritual things, a fundamental error lying at the heart of legalism. It is not surprising, then, that the Apostle Paul should fasten attention upon this incident in his great treatise on salvation by faith, and not by
the works of the Law, the Epistle to the Galatians. It is he who de-scribes Ishmael as one "who was born according to the flesh" (cf. 4:29, 23), and as one who "shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman" (cf. v. 30). Works, or human effort, is of no value towards salvation or sanctification, for salvation is of the Lord,—totally.
What emerges from the account illustrates the fact that God will fulfill His Word in His own way, in a way that glorifies Him. All human
works—efforts and schemes—are rejected. The birth of the promised seed. Isaac, must be seen to be a divine miracle, traceable solely and only to God's will and power (cf. Rom. 9:7 -9; Gal. 4:21 -31). The immutable Lord sovereignly works out His will, and it is not only vain and foolish, but sinful, to "help God out." "God helps those who help
themselves" may be the philosophy of the world's human reason, but heaven rejects that confident line out of hand.
We turn now to the account and observe its condemnation of human ingenuity in divine matters.
THE CONCEPTION OF ISHMAEL The occasion: Sarai's counsel (Gen. 16:1 -3)
There is something pathetic in the opening words of the chapter, "Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children," in the light of the importance of children in their society, and particularly in the light of the great promise, "and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (cf. 12:3). Ten years the patriarch had been in the land with
the promises in his hands, but nothing had happened. The long delay was, no doubt, intended by God to strengthen the patience of Abram and Sarai and to demonstrate the sovereign omnipotence of Yahweh, for the time was fast drawing nigh when it would be humanly impossible for the aging pair to have children.
Feeling the shame of barrenness, Sarai was the first to weaken and
make the distasteful decision, "Please go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children through her" (lit., be built up from her). There are things to bear in mind about her suggestion that legitimately soften the guilt of it. In the first place, the practice of giving a maid to a husband as a concubine was widely sanctioned in the ancient Near East (cf.
Gen. 30:3). 1 The union was recognized as a secondary one, and the offspring could be claimed and adopted by the first wife. "No stigma attached to the position of the maid," Leupold writes, "she was a wife, though not, indeed, of the same social standing as the first wife."2 In the second place, it was an act of selflessness on Sarai's part, it seemed, and this may have touched Abram and blinded him to the
moral consequences of what he was doing. Finally, it was not absolutely clear that the seed was to come through Sarai. Abram had been told that Eliezer was not to be the heir, but otherwise all that he had been told was that the heir would "come forth from your own body" (cf. 15:4). And, of course, the problem of advancing age added
force to the reasoning behind the suggestion of Sarai. Abram, too, had been willing to share her with Pharaoh, so why should she be unwilling to share him with Hagar.
All of these things, however, do not justify the action. The fact that the culture of the time permitted such an action does not make it right. It was wrong, for it clashed with the biblical teaching of monogamous marriage (cf. Gen. 2:18-25), and it involved the use of human devices and scheming to aid God in the fulfillment of His promises.
Hagar's name is Hebrew, not Egyptian, coming from a word meaning flight. So perhaps she was given this name after joining Abram and Sarai in their flight from Egypt. At any rate, she was one of the problems gained by Abram's unfortunate foray into Egypt. It and she have now come back to plague them.
In verse two Sarai a scribes her failure to bear children to Yahweh, and
that, of course, was true ultimately. Is it not interesting that even in our sinful actions we clothe ourselves in religious language, the language of the sovereignty of God?
The fateful line, "And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai," recalls Genesis 3:17 and God's tracing of Adam's disobedience to the hearkening to the voice of Eve. In a text noted for its obscurity
Malachi may suggest that Abram was motivated by his seeking of a godly seed (cf. Mal. 2:15). Nevertheless, whether impressed by Sarai's selflessness or his own longing for a seed, it was wrong for him to do what he did. He had not yet learned the truth expressed by the writer of Hebrews, "For you have need of endurance, so that when you have
done the will of God, you may receive what was promised (cf. 10:36; cf. 6:12).
The formal marriage, for it was no mere concubinage, is described in verse three, but Hagar still was only the second wife, not the first.
The act: sexual relations (Gen. 16:4a-b) Using a delicate euphemism, Moses writes, "And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived." The plan seems to be working handsomely, but The consequences (Gen. 16:4c-6) "How at this point the evils of polygamy begin to rear their ugly head." Leupold points out, "It is always bound to be the fruitful mother of envy, jealousy, and strife. The baser elements in man are unleashed by it."3 So far as the Bible is concerned, there seems to be no happy polygamous marriage relationship.
The primary characters in the drama now appear to great disadvantage. This appears first with reference to Hagar. When Hagar perceives that she has conceived, she despises Sarai, perhaps because she thought that this indicated that God had not blessed her with
fruitfulness because she was not inwardly as righteous as she appeared to be outwardly. "Sarai must be a hypocrite," may have been her reasoning. The superiority that Hagar felt led to a disdain of Sarai that must have been obvious to all. Her sin was that of a false pride (cf. 1 Sam. 1:2 -18).
Second, the scheme has its sad results with reference to Sarai. Her judgment impaired by bitter feelings, thinking that her position and authority may be questioned, she irrationally blames Abram for "the wrong done me." Thus, she was guilty of attributing false blame to Abram.
F inally, the series of events have their reference to Abram. In the hope of finding an easy solution to the difficulty he replies to his wife,
"Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight." It appears that he is simply suggesting tha t the natural solution to the problem, since Hagar is Sarai's maid, is for Sarai to inflict the proper discipline upon her. Sarai should stand up for her rights and do what is justifiable. After all, Hagar's attitude was wrong, and she did require correction. If this is all that is involved in the matter, then
Abram's actions cannot be condemned. On the other hand, it is the opinion of some that the patriarch did not exercise his responsibility as head of the house in the manner in which he should have, and the
result was mistreatment of Hagar. In that case Abram was guilty of a false rejection of responsibility.
Leupold comments on Abram's advice and the consequences of it in this way, "Sarai may not have proceeded with due tact and consideration. In suggesting such a course Abram may too have failed
to counsel due caution. Every actor in this domestic drama may have given evidence of shortcomings in one way or another. Hagar, on her part, being somewhat self-willed and independent, refused to accept correction and 'fled from her.'"4 Sarai's affliction may have been a little harsh, but the text does not go into much detail about it. Hagar,
evidently hoping to return to Egypt, got as far as the wilderness on the way to Shur, which was located near the border of Egypt (cf. 20:1; 25:13).
HAGAR'S ENCOUNTER WITH THE ANGEL OF THE LORD The command to return (Gen. 16:7 -9) The following incident indicates that, while Sarai and Abram may have
been relieved to be rid of Hagar, the Lord was still interested in her, and also in the child. In fact, He will turn the whole incident into blessing for her and her seed, although not in the same sense in which He was interested in Abram and his seed.
The Angel of the Lord found Hagar by the fountain in the wilderness, by the fountain on the road to Shur. It was a most remarkable honor
given to the Egyptian maid, disposing some to believe that she must have been a woman of godly disposition. After finding her, the Angel of the Lord commanded her to return to Sarai and to submit to her authority.
The incident raises the natural question, "Who was the Angel of Jehovah?" In this instance the answer is relatively easy. In the verses
that begin with verse seven Moses refers to the individual speaking with Hagar as "the angel of the Lord" (cf. vv. 7, 9, 10, 11). In verse thirteen, however, he writes, "Then she called the name of THE LORD
who spoke to her, 'Thou art a God who sees'; for she said, 'Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?'" In other words, the Angel of the Lord is really the Lord Himself.
The Old Testament, however, makes it plain that no one shall ever see the Lord and live. This is the import of such passages as Exodus 20:
19, 33:20, and Isaiah 6:5. There are many other passages that say this. In other words, it is impossible for man to look upon the unveiled essence of God and live. As Paul puts it. He "alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see" (cf. 1 Tim. 6:16). Thus, no man has ever seen God in
that sense (cf. John 1:18). There is a sense in which it is possible to see God, for the Second Person of the Trinity, our Lord Jesus Christ, is God, and men and women have seen Him (cf. John 1:14, 18; 1 John 1:1 -4, etc.). It seems clear and necessary, then, that we recognize in the figure of the Angel of Jehovah the pre -incarnate Lord Jesus Christ.
Christian theologians from ancient times have been convinced of this identity, for it satisfies all the biblical texts and makes a harmonious picture from them.
But, why did the pre -incarnate Lord Jesus Christ appear to the ancient believers from time to time? Evidently to prepare the believers in Old Covenant times for the incarnation of the Son of God. By these
appearances God's ancient people should have become accustomed to the idea that there was a person in the Godhead, whose delight it was to appear among the sons of men in the performance of the will of God. That in itself was an anticipation of the time when He would come, submit Himself to th e Father, and carry out the mediatorial work He had voluntarily assumed in the counsels of eternity. In spite of the
preparation when He did come, men were offended at Him, and to this day they refuse to believe that God was manifested in the flesh.5
The Angel' s comfort of Hagar (Gen. 16:10-12) The comfort that the Angel offers Hagar is threefold. In the first place,
Hagar is promised, "I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they shall be too many to count" (cf. v. 10). From this we learn that from Abraham there are to descend two vast nations, or families of men, the Jews and the Ishmaelites, or Arabs. It is important, however, to notice that the blessing upon Ishmael's seed is simply numerical; there are no spiritual blessings promised, such as those made to the patriarch's seed.
Second, Hagar is promised a son, and he is given the name Ishmael, or God hears , to remind her that God gave ear to her distress and came to her relief. Ishmael, incidentally, is the first unborn child to be named
Then, in the third place, it is said that Ishmael shall be "a wild donkey of a man," an expression which may not only be intended to reflect the wild and lawless elements in her own nature, but also to be a warning to her to give serious attention to the training of her son, so that his wild nature may be, at least to some extent, curbed and controlled.
The onager, or wild ass, is a beautiful and swift animal which, when grown, cannot be caught (cf. Job 39:5-8), and it aptly portra ys the love of freedom of the hardy Bedouin, "who despises the life of cities, and roves about, spear in hand, in the desert on his camel (delul), or subsequently on his horse."6 In addition, he shall be known for his
aggression and the defiant spirit with which he faces his fellow man.7
We have here all the elements of that which we see in the past history of the relationship between the Arabs, the Israelis, and others in that part of the world.
The consequences of the divine encounter (Gen. 16:13-14) Such atremendously rare experience calls for a response, and Hagar expresses it. The difficulty is that her words are capable of several
different meanings. For example, she cries out, "Thou art a God who sees." The words, however, may mean two things: (1) that He is a God who sees, that is, cares for her; (2) that He is a God of sight, that
is, contrary to the dead gods of Egypt, a visible God (cf. 1 Sam. 16:12). 8 Both ideas are, of course, true.
Then, the last words of verse thirteen are also capable of different renderings. The point of her words may be that she marvels that she is still alive after seeing Him. Speiser renders the words in this way,
"Did I not go on seeing here after he had seen me?"9 Keil puts it this way, "Have I also seen here after seeing?"10 On the other hand, Leupold renders the final words as meaning, "Have I indeed here been permitted to look after Him who sees me?"11 That is, she has been allowed to converse with God, but only as He departed did she look
after Him, for she knew that to look upon His countenance was beyond the power of a sinful mortal. Even Moses could not do that (cf. Exod. 33:20, 23). Delitzsch writes, "Jahveh appeared to her in His angel. While he was speaking to her he saw her, but it was not granted her to look him in the face; however, as he was disappearing, she could look
after him, whose gracious Providence had not overlooked her in her misery."12
God is a visible God, and He sees, or cares for, Hagar. Further, she is able to go on seeing after seeing His back. There is a visible and self -manifesting God, and He does care for her.
Thus, the well came to be called the well of the Living One who seeth me (of. v. 14).
THE RESULTS OF THE UNION OF ABRAM AND HAGAR The birth of a son (Gen. 16:15a) The naming of the son (Gen. 16:15b) Abram is obedient to the divine command and confers upon his son the name Ishmael, formally acknowledging him as his son. In fact, he was regarded as the seed until thirteen years later, when the counsel of God was more clearly unfolded to him. The age of Abram (Gen. 16:16) It has been eleven years since the promise, and still he has no heir. Conclusion
We close on the note of the peril of doing God's will in the power of the flesh. The product of the union of Hagar and Abra m, the sad at-tempt to help out God in the accomplishment of His promises, is Ishmael, the father of an entire company of people who plague Israel down through the centuries. The crop of nettles that rose in Abram's own family is but an anticipation in miniature fashion of the great and
bitter battles of the years to come. He is a God who sees, and who is visible in the person of Christ. If He is able to be entrusted with our spirit's salvation. He is well able to be entrusted with the fulfillment of the promises given to us through the saving cross of Christ. Let us avoid expediency, let us avoid leaning upon the arm of the flesh, and let us lean upon the mighty arm of our great God for all our needs.
1C. F. Davis, p. 188, who gives example s of this practice.
5Von Rad sees that there is no clear distinction between the angel of the Lord and Yahweh himself. He writes, "The angel of the Lord is therefore a form in which Yahweh appears (eine Erscheinungs; form Jahwes) . He is a God himself in human form" (p. 193) . He adds, "The figure of the angel of the Lord has conspicuous Christological qualities. In ch. 48.16 he is designated as the one who has redeemed from all evil. He is a type, a 'shadow' of Jesus Christ" (p. 194).
7The expression translated in the NASB by, "And he will live to the east of all his brothers," is perhaps better rendered, "And he will live in defiance of all his brothers , " for the Hebrew ' al peney , while it may mean to the east of (lit., upon the face of , ) probably means against the face of, or in defiance of. Cf. Leupold, I, 504-5; Speiser, p. 118.
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