It strikes me when I read Genesis 21:8-21 that Abraham really loved his son Ishmael. Sarah told him to “Get rid of that slave woman and her son…” and it says that Abraham was “greatly distressed.” After God comforts Abraham and confirms that his offspring would be reckoned through Isaac, Abraham gets up early in the morning in order to help Hagar and Ishmael leave. Abraham doesn’t “get rid” of them, but instead he takes some food and a skin of water for Hagar who Sarah does not mention by name. But when Abraham begins to act, Hagar’s name appears. Abraham could have commanded a servant to leave food and water for Hagar and Ishmael. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t leave some food for them with a note. Instead, he sets the food and the skin of water on Hagar’s shoulders. This is a very loving thing to do…as if Abraham wants to spend just a little more time with his son, before he sends them off.
We don’t put a lot of emphasis on Abraham and Ishmael’s relationship. We focus more on the child of the covenant promise, Isaac. But clearly Abraham loved Ishmael.
How are we doing today at loving Ishmael? Do we care about all of Abraham’s descendants? Many of them, called Muslims today, are living among us. They may not be inheritors of the covenant of grace, yet, but they are still Abraham’s children whom God said he would make into a great nation.
It is only by loving Ishmael as Abraham did that we can introduce Muslims to the Promise that God made to Abraham – that his descendants would be a blessing to all nations through his Seed, Jesus Christ. Only through Jesus Christ can they become children of the Promise, inheritors not of bondage to the law but inheritors of freedom by the grace of God (Galatians 4:26).
Today there is a lot of fear, and “Sarah-like” animosity towards Muslims. Some of that is understandable given past and current events. But to follow Abraham’s lead is to love Ishmael and his spiritual descendants wherever we find them. We love them into the kingdom of God, so that they also can experience the mercy of God and the blessings of their father Abraham. Then, once they have heard the good news of the gospel, they can join us followers of Jesus who are children of the Promise.
We need missionaries today, both at home in North America, and those willing to go overseas to unreached Muslim people groups. For some, God is calling us to make great sacrifices and re-locate overseas, either as full time missionaries or as tent-makers. For most of the rest of us, God is calling us to reach out to a neighbor right next door. To love Ishmael is to be called to action: to make a firm commitment to love Muslims and seek them out. That is God’s call on our church today.
What will our response be?
Will we love Ishmael?