And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”—Genesis 17:18
A simple request. An earnest request. A faithless request?
At 75 years old, Abraham, then simply Abram, received God’s promise that he would become the father of a great nation. Genesis 12:1-7 tells the story.
At 86 years old, Abram had a son through his wife Sarai’s maidservant, Hagar. Genesis 16:1-16 tells of their conniving, despising, and mistreating of one another.
At 99 years old Abram and Sarai are renamed Abraham and Sarah by God has He reiterates even through their new names that they will be the parents of a great nation. Genesis 17 recounts this divine conversation. In 17:16 God says of Sarah, “I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
Abraham laughs at God. Then he says, and I paraphrase 17:17 here, “I’m a geezer and she’s doggone old too. Sarah won’t be having babies, God.”
Then Abraham offers God his solution to the great nation promise, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”
Abraham was praying that Ishmael—through the foreign-born, stand-in mother Hagar—would be the child this great nation would come from. He’d lost hope that Sarah would ever bear a child. It was worth a shot, right? It seemed logical, don’t you think? Until you look deeper into what Abraham could have meant when he prayed, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”
- “God, let Ishmael be the child of promise and the Father of the nation you promised to bless all nations through. He’s a great kid!” Abraham is human. This is his firstborn, currently only born, son. We lean toward promoting our favorites to God.
- “God, I don’t need a son through Sarah. I’ve already got one through Hagar.” This second option is truly about control. We had a son our way without any supernatural blessing of elderly Sarah’s womb. We cap our requests to God to what we can control.
- “God, you’ve been great so far in blessing me and such, but I’m not sure you can pull this off with a barren, old lady like Sarah.” This third potential meaning of Abraham's prayer speaks to the frailties of faith. We tend to limit our trust in God to what we’ve already experienced.
- “God, it sounds like you want to give me something I can’t imagine. I really am content with what I already know. The bird in the hand, ya know, God.” This option speaks to what we are comfortable with. We seek to govern God’s will by our limited imaginations.
God had planned on giving Isaac to Abraham and Sarah as a son from their own union all along. Read Genesis 18:1-15 and 21:1-7.
Yet, how many times am I like Abraham with my own shortsighted Ishmael prayers?
God has an incredibly amazing no-rational-human-would-ever-believe-it, totally miraculous only-God-could-ever-do-it Isaac in answer for me and I’m saying, “Thanks, God, but I’ll stick with the Ishmael I’ve got. You see God I know Ishmael. He’s already here. I like him a lot too. He’s a good kid. Really, God, I love him. I don’t need to wait for your answer that I can’t imagine. It’s cool, God. I got it. Thanks, but no.”
Praying for Ishmael is not bad. Praying for Ishmael is not wrong. In Genesis 16:10-12, God had promised Hagar he would bless Ishmael. In Genesis 17:19-21 after affirming a son, Isaac, would be born through Sarah, God promised Abraham too that He would bless Ishmael.
Note the difference between Ishmael and Isaac.
- Ishmael is the result of flesh. Isaac is the result of faith.
- Ishmael is the work of humanity. Isaac is the work of God.
- Ishmael is our way. Isaac is God’s way.
- We don’t need God to get Ishmael. We don’t get Isaac without God.
I do not know what your Ishmael is. I do know your Ishmael is what you can create through your own power. I do know God can and will bless your Ishmael. Do not stop praying for your Ishmael.
Your Isaac, however, is something that only God can do. God is most pleased to bring glory to Himself by doing what He alone can do. God delights in His Isaac answers
Pray for your Ishmael. Just do not give up your Isaac prayers of faith. Oh, what God will do.
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