Right off the bat, before we go anywhere with this, I have to say… Genesis 21 is, for me, one of those “things that make you go hmm.” Then again, I’m not God. As strange as this whole chapter is, the image of God’s mercy toward one blows my mind. As many times as I’ve read Genesis 21, verses 17 and 18 never stood out to me the way they did this time. God loves everybody. A whole, whole lot more than we can grasp. And He’s merciful. A whole, whole lot more than we can grasp.
Genesis 21:17-18(GW)–God heard the boy crying, and the Messenger of God called to Hagar from heaven. “What’s the matter, Hagar?” he asked her. “Don’t be afraid! God has heard the boy crying from the bushes. Come on, help the boy up! Take him by the hand, because I’m going to make him into a great nation.”
Let’s face it. Abraham screwed up. Royally. As in big time. As in, “What in the world were you thinking?” And yet he is still considered faithful. Okay, right there, I’m already floored by God.
But here we have Hagar and Ishamel, sent out into the desert to die. Ishmael. The result of a man-directed attempt to fulfill God’s promise. The result of a certain lack of faith move on his father’s part. But let’s not forget… He was the innocent one here. He didn’t ask to be born, didn’t ask to be a rival of the favorite son. He was a victim of circumstance here… until he chose to mock his brother. Now that wasn’t nice. And you have to wonder, based on the reaction of Abraham and Sarah, if this was an ongoing heart problem with Ishmael or if Sarah just finally, jealously lost it. We don’t know enough to say.
But what gets me here is God’s actions. See, he could have let Ishmael die in chapter 21, right where he lay under a bush in the desert. That would have been the end of Ishmael’s story. To boil it down to very, very overly simplistic terms, some traditions believe Ishamel to be the patriarch of Islam. And had Ishmael died right there… Well, history would be very different.
But God didn’t let him die. Instead, He saved Ishamael and promised to make him a great nation too. In fact, Ishamel had twelve sons. Sound familiar?
I won’t bog down in the question of “why” God did that. Only God knows. But I feel certain God loved Ishmael. God saw that young man simply as who he was as he lay there on the ground. And despite knowing everything that would happen, God loved Ishamel, who was born into a definitely crazy dysfunctional situation if there ever was one.
God loved Ishmael. God loves every single person on this earth, whether they are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Buddhist, or whatever flavor of religion they are chasing today. His greatest desire is to be right there with them, for them to believe Him and love Him, no matter what. And He gives them every chance, just like He gave Ishmael. That’s why we are to love as well, and it breaks my heart when we hate “in the name of Jesus.” Because, mind you, I’ve seen it happen. And that’s just as much a sin as the sin of those we are so busy hating.
Is it a fine line to walk, that one between love and tolerance? Yes. We don’t tolerate sin. At all. But we love each other, no matter what. And that’s the line we have to find. That’s the way we walk like Jesus. Lord, help us find that line and walk it with purpose.
So, for you… what in the Bible makes you go… hmmmmm?