Ishmael and Isaac


I recently read the story of Abraham’s sacrifice with a friend of mine.  I think he liked the story, but the main question that he asked was if it was possible to read the story and understand more about Ishmael and Isaac, Abraham’s sons.  He wondered this because his faith traces it’s lineage back to Ishmael and he had always heard that Abraham went to sacrifice Ishmael, not Isaac.  He also saw that Genesis recorded the story by saying that Isaac was Abraham’s only son, so he was confused by what that meant.

Yesterday, we read those stories together, reading about the birth of Ishmael, the blessing and covenant plans from God, and the birth of Isaac.  My friend was clearly trying to understand everything and its meaning, but as we talked through the story, he was clearly enjoying learning the foundations and having a better understanding.  We decided that the primary difference between Ishmael and Isaac, in terms of their standing before God, is the covenant that God made with Isaac.  So we decided that our next step is to understand what this meant and the implications of this covenant.

In preparation for our time together, I did some additional reading and came across a very interesting post at where they quote from a man named Joel Richardson.  You can read the entirety of the post, but here is my favorite part, which attempts to help provide intellectual, spiritual, and emotional context for the origins of Islam:

So we read these things and they’re interesting Bible stories but what I’m asking you to do is to put yourself in the position and recognize the fact that in history, in real time, this was a real boy… with real emotions, with a real life. This happened to a little kid named Ishmael. And so what we need to understand is you have this little boy and… he had a dad. He had a mother. He had a family. He had a life. He had an inheritance. And in one day he loses all of these things. He loses his dad. He loses his inheritance. He’s out in the desert. He’s on his own.

The post continues by saying that the effects of Ishmael being sent away by Abraham, by his father, have trickled down to others.  The eventual nature of the relationship that Ishmael had with his father Abraham was seemingly transferred to the way that he saw God.  And even with people I meet today from a Muslim background seem to consider God as far away and somewhat aloof, uncaring for the specifics of an individual’s life.  We can imagine that this is how Ishmael may have felt about Abraham, and it is possible that those emotions could then be transferred onto how he may have felt about God.

There are certainly many interesting implications and lessons to be learned here.  The article referenced above, of course, talks about this situation between Ishmael and Isaac as the root of the Middle Eastern conflict that we see today, so that is certainly one very large implication.

But if this analysis is true, there are also very real implications for us as fathers to consider as well.  As a father to my children, I can have a very real effect on how my kids view God.  Will they see God as an authoritarian?  As aloof and uncaring?  As someone who rejects them?  Or could I influence them to see God rightly, as a loving Father who loves his children, who judges rightly but also extends mercy.  What a big responsibility that fathers carry if this is true!

God, I pray that you will help me to learn the lesson from this story and not repeat the mistakes that have been made, mistakes that may have started some of the greatest conflicts in history.  God, help me to love my children and be a blessing to each of them, encouraging them to go on and bless many others.  God, despite our backgrounds and how our fathers may have succeeded or failed, I pray that both my children and friends will know you as a loving Father who wants what is best for his children.  God, please help us as we try to hear from you and follow you.

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