Hagar and Ishmael
June 23rd, 1957 @ 8:15 AM
HAGAR AND ISHMAEL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-23-57 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. This is the pastor bringing the early Sunday morning message entitled Hagar and Ishmael. It is a message from the Bible concerning the Arab and the Jew. And because the story is centered around Ishmael, it concerns mostly the Arab—Arabia and the Arab world. There could hardly be anything more interesting to us now than a study of the Arabian, of the Muslim.
The story, as it is told here in the Book of Genesis [Genesis 16:1-16], is used by Paul in the fourth chapter of Galatians [Galatians 4:21-31], which Scripture reading we just read together. It is used by Paul as an allegory. Paul is illustrating, in the fourth chapter of the Book of Galatians, that the man who seeks to be saved by the works of the law is a man in bondage. He is not free. He is a slave. Nor is he ever manumitted, nor is he ever free.
And he illustrates that by Hagar and Ishmael. They are bond people. Hagar is a slave, and her son is the son of a slave. But, says the glorious apostle, the son of Isaac is a child of promise, not of works, not of the flesh, but of faith. God promised it and the Lord wrought it, and we, he says, are the children of faith, of promise, of Isaac. We are like Isaac, the children of promise and of faith [Galatians 4:22-31]. Now, that is about all that most people will ever notice about Hagar and Ishmael. Because of that famous allegory in the fourth chapter of Galatians, we are conversant with that much, but rarely go beyond it.
Now, there is far, far more to the story of Hagar and Ishmael than just that illustration taken out of their lives by the apostle Paul. So this morning, we are going to look at the Book, at the Word of God, and at the fountain, the birthplace of the great tribe and tribes and clans of people whom we know as the Arabs. Now, it begins in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis. And if you will follow through with your Bible, you can follow the message perfectly.
In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, the Scriptures start off with the fact that Sarah, Abraham’s wife, had no child. She was not a mother. She was barren. She was sterile [Genesis 16:1]. And the years passed and she grew to be old and older, and no child had been born into their home [Genesis 15:2]. Now, it says that in her age—in her older days, when no child was born into the home, though God had promised one [Genesis 15:4], that she went to her husband and did a thing that we have found by archaeological study was a common thing in Ur of Chaldees, in ancient Chaldea, where Sarah and where Abraham grew up. It was a common thing and was regulated by law, when no child was born into a home, for the wife to give to her husband her slave, her maid, and to rear children by the slave girl [Genesis 16:1-3].
Now, what we have here is a reversion of Sarah and Abraham back to the old days, the old ways, to the old customs in which they had grown up as children and as young men and women. Sarah says to Abraham—she is old, she is not a mother, God has promised them a son [Genesis 15:4], but no son has been born, no child at all has been given [Genesis 16:1]—so Sarah says to Abraham, “Take this Egyptian slave”—doubtless secured, either bought down there or given by Pharaoh to the couple while they were in Egypt—“take this Egyptian slave and let me raise children by her, [Genesis 16:2]” which is a monstrous thing to us today, but was a common and accepted thing in Ur of Chaldea.
Now, you would have expected that Abraham would have replied, “No, Sarah, we are still trusting in God. The Lord said, one of our flesh, of our own body, shall be heir of the promise and child of the covenant” [Genesis 15:4]. You would have thought that, but you look at that second verse: “And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai” [Genesis 16:2]. Had that suggestion been made by anybody else, Abram would have entirely repudiated it, but he hearkened to the voice of his wife.
It was inconceivable to Sarah that God could fulfill that promise of a child by any other than carnal and fleshly and natural means. It was beyond her imagination. God had said it [Genesis 17:15-19], but she could not conceive of that miracle coming to pass, without just using fleshly, carnal means, such as is the way of all of the human family. For God to do something different and miraculous and above and beyond was inconceivable to Sarai, and mostly to us. While we look at her, we are looking at ourselves. How many, many, many times do we turn aside from dependence and trust upon God, that God will keep His Word? How many times do we turn aside from waiting upon the Lord; “God will bring it to pass.” And instead, we substitute our poor carnal, weak, feeble, fleshly hands and means. That is all Sarai was doing. “Turning aside from God and the miraculous, omnipotent power of God [Genesis 17:15-19], she says to her husband, “If we have this child of promise, we must arrange it ourselves.” So, she does it. And I say, I do not think Abram would have listened to anybody in this earth, but he listened to his wife and hearkened to Sarai, and the child is born. The slave girl, Hagar, becomes the mother of a son [Genesis 16:1-4].
Well, that thing led to sorrow. Look at it. First, when Hagar saw that she was going to be a mother, she did not even seek to conceal her contempt for her mistress. This slave had now been elevated up to the same plane of the wife of Abraham. And there in the fourth verse: “And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes” [Genesis 16:4].
Well, how did Sarai react to that? Just as you would expect. She flamed in her soul against that maid and finally went to Abram and said, “This woman, this slave girl, this servant, I am despised in her eyes: the Lord judge between me and thee” [Genesis 16:5]. She took it to her husband, and it created an awful thing in the household of Abram. And the only thing Abram could do in order to find peace in the house was this: “He said to Sarai”—sixth verse—“Thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee” [Genesis 16:6]. It’s in your hands.
Do you know what Sarai did? She dealt so fiercely and so harshly with Hagar that Hagar fled away from her presence [Genesis 16:6]. Now, in the seventh verse: where she was fleeing to was back to her native land. When she fled from the face of Sarah, her mistress, she went the way back down into Egypt, and was found by the Angel of the Lord [Genesis 16:7]. The ninth verse, the tenth verse, the twelfth verse, the thirteenth verse [Genesis 16:9, 10, 12, 13]—she was found by the Angel of the Lord by a fountain on the way, on a camel trail, down into Egypt [Genesis 16:7].
And had it not been for the intervention of the Angel of the covenant, this boy would have been born in Egypt. But the Angel stopped her, and sent her back into the household of Abram and Sarai, and said, “You go back and I will provide for you, and I will take care of you” [Genesis 6:9]. So she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her—the Angel of the covenant; she called His name—“Thou God Seest Me” [Genesis 16:13]. She meant by that, the gods she had known in Egypt were sightless gods, gazing with eyes of stone or of bronze or of brass over the waste of the sands of Egypt. But this God from heaven, the Angel of the Lord, was a God that could see.
So Hagar returned. Now the fifteenth and the sixteenth verses: “And when Abram was fourscore and six years old”—when he was 86 years old—Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram. And they called his name Ishmael [Genesis 16:15-16]. That is the Hebrew for “God heareth.”
Now, turn to the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Genesis. The boy Ishmael is growing up. And when the boy was about thirteen years old—when he was about thirteen years old, God kept the promise to Sarai, according to the set time of the Lord, the Bible says [Genesis 21:1-2]. God has a time for all of these things! There was a time when God had made, in His providence, a set time for Isaac to be born [Genesis 17:15-19]. That was what the matter was with Sarah. She could not wait upon God [Genesis 16:1-4], but God had a set time, like God had a set time for Jesus to be born [Matthew 1:20-2:1; Galatians 4:4], a set time for Jesus to die [Matthew 27:32-50; Romans 5:6], a set time for Pentecost [Acts 2:1-47], a set time when the Lord shall come in glory and in power [Revelation 19:11-21]. There is a set time of the Lord. It is in God’s calendar, and it shall surely come to pass.
There was a set time when the Lord visited Sarah, and that was when they were old and as good as dead [Genesis 21:1-2]. For this thing that God is to bring to pass is something that comes of promise, comes of omnipotent power, and not by fleshly means [Matthew 19:26]. Abraham is a hundred years old, and Sarah is ninety years old [Genesis 17:16-17, 21:5]. And according to the set time of God, the power of God, the promise of God, they that are as dead, give birth to a child whom they name “laughter”—Isaac, “laughter” [Genesis 21:1-3].
Now look at the eighth verse of the twenty-first chapter of Genesis: “And the child grew, and was weaned”—much different from our custom today; the child was about three years old when it was weaned—“and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned” [Genesis 21:8]. It was a matter of great rejoicing in the household, when the boy was weaned. Now, what did that boy Ishmael do? He is about sixteen years old. Heretofore, Ishmael had been the pride of his father’s heart. Abraham loved him greatly, doted upon him, covered him, filled him, drowned him, surrounded him with affection. All of the household looked to Ishmael as the young heir. He was the child of Abraham and the only son of the great patriarch.
When this little boy Isaac is born into the home, Ishmael’s soul is filled with bitterness. “And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which was born unto Abraham, mocking” [Genesis 21:9]. Nobody can translate that Hebrew word, translated here “mocking.” Nobody knows what it means. Paul translates it “persecuting.” Whatever the translation of the word, Ishmael does not seek to hide the bitterness in his soul. And he openly, flagrantly jeers and looks with contempt and persecutes that little fellow Isaac.
Now, Sarah—she must have been some woman! Sarah never had gotten over that bitterness in her own soul toward Hagar, when she drove her away, back yonder sixteen years before [Genesis 16:3-7]. That thing smoldered in her heart. And when Sarah saw this son of Hagar mocking and jeering and belittling her son Isaac, she went this time to Abraham and made a commandment. She didn’t just suggest it. She went to Abraham and said “Cast out”—verse 10—“Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, [even with] Isaac” [Genesis 21:10]. And Abraham cast her out.
It was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son. Abraham had greatly, greatly come to love that boy, Ishmael. Now look at the fourteenth verse. “And Abraham rose up early in the morning”—before the camp was awakened—“and he took Hagar, and he pressed into her hand some bread, and upon her shoulder he bound a bottle of water, . . .and he sent Hagar and Ishmael away” in the early morning, before the camp arose [Genesis 21:14].
And it seems that the two wandered aimlessly in the desert of Beersheba—I have driven through, like some of you have, I have driven through that desert, the wilderness of Beersheba. It is the same and exact kind of a country as you will find in far, far, far West Texas, flat, level, treeless, devoid of anything except, here and there on the horizon, you will see a little juniper tree—just wandering aimlessly in the wilderness of Beersheba. And the bread gave out and the water gave out [Genesis 21:15]. And when it seemed that they would die, Hagar took the child and laid it aside, laid the young fellow aside, and turned her back that she might not see him die and lifted up her voice, and wept [Genesis 21:16]. This was the end.
But the Lord God heard the voice of the child as he cried [Genesis 21:17], and the Lord came to Hagar and showed her a fountain of water. And there did they drink and live [Genesis 21:19]. And he dwelled in the wilderness beyond Beersheba, and Hagar took him a wife out of the land of Egypt [Genesis 21:20-21], and the boy grew up and became the father of a very wonderful household, as we shall see in a moment. Now in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Genesis, you have the conclusion of the life of Ishmael. In the ninth verse of the twenty-fifth chapter of Genesis, Abraham now is old and now has died—one hundred and seventy-five years old [Genesis 25:7-8]. Now, the ninth verse: “And his sons Isaac and Ishmael”—that is the next time you come across this boy, Ishmael. His sons, Isaac and Ishmael—Ishmael is there with his half brother, and they “buried Abraham in the cave of Machpelah” [Genesis 25:9-10].
Now the twelfth verse: then you have the generations of Ishmael: “Now, these are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s handmaid, bare unto Abraham” [Genesis 25:12]. Then you have these twelve princes; their names by their towns and by their castles; twelve princes, according to their nations. “And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he died” [Genesis 25:17]. And they dwelt from Havilah unto Shur—all of that great desert reach from Mesopotamia clear down toward Egypt [Genesis 25:18].
Now, what of these descendants of Ishmael? We are so engrossed with the descendants of Isaac. That’s the story of the Bible. That’s the unfolding of the child of promise and the covenant made through him [Genesis 17:21], but rarely ever—in fact never as far as I am concerned; never have I heard anyone speak of the children of Ishmael. What became of him? What did God do with him? So when I began to read and to study, I have been overwhelmed by the thing that I have found! Now this is what I do not believe.
In the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia article on “Ishmael,” which is our most famous and acceptable, fundamental Bible reference work, in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, it says, and he bases his conclusion on this prophecy made in the twelfth verse of the sixteenth chapter of Genesis: “And he, Ishmael, will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him” [Genesis 16:12].
Now on the basis of that prophecy, the article concerning Ishmael ends with this; that the Ishmaelites today are the “Bedouins.” The Bedouins are a wild nomadic section of the Arabic race and tribe, dwelling in black tents. Here they will dwell for a while. You will see them there at night when you go to bed. When you get up the next morning, there is not a sign of them in this world. Like the tents of the Arabs, silently folded and taken away. Those are the Bedouins, fierce, nomadic Arab people.
And there are some who are persuaded that the children of Ishmael are these Bedouins. Well, when I heard that—and heard that repeated, I wondered. So, looking at the Scriptures, you will find a thing like this. There is an altogether different conception given of the children of Ishmael than just this wild, nomadic tribe of the Bedouins. For example, in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, and the tenth verse, “the Angel of the Lord said unto her”—Hagar, “I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude” [Genesis 16:10]. God says to Hagar that, out of Ishmael, “I will multiply thy seed exceedingly.”
And when you look at the story of Arabia, you will find that out of Arabia have come great streams of men. To the north, to the south, to the east, to the west have they poured out of those desert sands. You wouldn’t believe it. You wouldn’t conceive of it; that vast waste, waste, waste, thousands of miles of sand and sand. Yet, God said to Hagar that, out of thy son, out of this seed, Ishmael, will I greatly multiply this stream of men [Genesis 16:10]. And that is exactly what has happened. Out of Arabia, out of Sheba, out of Yemen, out of Shur, out of that vast sandy peninsula, there has poured forth these wonderful, marvelous, vigorous race that has conquered North Africa, conquered southern Spain, conquered the Levant—and has brought under their sway, by religion if not by the sword, almost this entire world from the shores, the western shores of Africa, clear around to the Philippine Islands. It is almost unbelievable that out of the sands of the desert could pour such streams of men. But that is what God said: “And I will multiply thy seed exceedingly” [Genesis 16:10]—these Arabs, these children of Ishmael.
All right, now look again. In the seventeenth chapter, when Abraham says, “O that Ishmael might live before Thee!” [Genesis 17:18]. Now, look at the twentieth verse. God says: “And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation” [Genesis 17:20]. That doesn’t sound like Bedouins. That sounds like the same type of a thing that the Lord God is doing when He promises through Isaac, that many kings and many people and many nations will be born out of Isaac [Genesis 17:4, 21]: “And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: . . . twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation” [Genesis 17:20].
Then, of course—you need not turn to it, because I want you to stay here. I am not through back here. In the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Genesis, you have the generations of Ishmael [Genesis 25:12-18]. And some of these princes—these twelve princes, these twelve patriarchs—some of these twelve patriarchs, their names are discoverable today in the clans and in the families and in the tribes of the Arab people. You have the generations of Ishmael in the first chapter of 1 Chronicles [1 Chronicles 1:28-31], as well as here in the twenty-fifth chapter of Genesis [Genesis 25:12-18].
Now, I find that thing corroborated in the Moslem world; that is, that Ishmael is the great patriarch of the whole Arabian people. In the Moslem religion, there are three great religious celebrations. The first is Ramadan: the feast, the fast of Ramadan, the killing of the goat. For a month they fast every year from sunup to sundown—the fast in Ramadan. The second great celebration of the Moslem religion is the birthday of Mohammed. That is like we celebrate Christmas. They celebrate the birthday of Mohammed. The third great religious celebration of the Muslim world is the feast of Ishmael. They trace their lineage and their parentage back to Ishmael [Genesis 16:15-16]. And to the Moslem, the first son of Abraham is the child through whom the covenant of God is made and is mediated to the world today.
In the story and the tradition of the Moslem, it was not Isaac that Abraham offered on top of Mt. Moriah, but it was his eldest son, Ishmael [Genesis 22]. The Quraysh tribe from Mecca that gave Mohammed to the world, the greatest son of Hagar, traced their ancestry back to Ishmael and look upon themselves as being the true descendants of Abraham.
Hagar is never mentioned in the Koran, but Ishmael is mentioned several times. One time, Ishmael and Abraham are commanded to purify the temple at Mecca. And in Moslem tradition, it was Abraham and his son Ishmael that built that holy house at Mecca. And in the Kaaba, the holy house at Mecca, there is buried Hagar—or they say they are buried—there is buried—there are buried Hagar and her son Ishmael. So, I say that, in the tradition of the Muslim, the whole Arab world looks back to Ishmael as being their patriarch, their father, their child of the covenant, from faithful Abraham.
Now, according to the Word of God, I want us to see what is the future of the Ishmaelites, the future of the Arabs, the future of the Moslem, this Mohammedan world, who sticks out his tongue at Isaac, who jeers at the Jews, who is the impeccable and sworn and bitter enemy of these children of Israel. What does God say shall be the end of them and what shall God do for them? Now, this is the thing that overwhelmed me as I studied these Scriptures and as I learned what God had promised and what God someday is going to do with the whole Arab world, with the children of Ishmael. Now let’s look at it hastily in the Bible. We have just a few moments. “God said to Abraham, Let it not be grievous to thee” [Genesis 21:12-13], for I am going to do a marvelous thing by Ishmael.
In the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, when this thing came even of the birth of Isaac [Genesis 17:15-17], Abraham cried before God. Look at that eighteenth verse: “O God, that Ishmael might live before Thee!” [Genesis 17:18]. Abraham loved Ishmael, greatly, greatly devoted to him. And Abraham prayed that Ishmael might be the child of the covenant, might be the child through whom the great salvation of Christ should come to the world: “O that Ishmael might live before Thee!” Apparently, Abraham came to the place where he did not even seek for, or long for, or desire a child from Sarah: “O that Ishmael might live before Thee!” [Genesis 17:18]. Now you look at how God answered that prayer of Abraham. The twentieth verse, “And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation” [Genesis 17:20].
Then according to the promise and the covenant of God, look what Abraham did! Here in the twenty-third verse: “And Abraham took Ishmael his son, . . . and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin, in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him” [Genesis 17:23]—the twenty-fifth verse: “And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son” [Genesis 17:25-26]. The Bible emphasizes that.
What does that mean? Listen to me. That means that Ishmael is a child of the covenant of Abraham, no less so than Isaac, the child of promise. Both of them are included in the covenant of circumcision. Both of them are to share in all of the rights and the privileges of that holy covenant. Now may I say a thing out of history? One of the most remarkable facts in the development of history is this. There is not a mention, not a reference, to the rite of circumcision in the Koran. It is not even referred to. And every Muslim expositor is at a loss to explain why. And yet the one universal custom in the whole Arabic world is circumcision. Even an ignorant, unlearned, untaught Bedouin, who does not even know the story of Abraham, and does not even know the story of Ishmael—even an untaught, wild Bedouin, without exception, all of them are circumcised. And they circumcise according to the way Ishmael was and the way Abraham was [Genesis 17:23-26]. They do not circumcise on the eighth day, as the Jewish people [Genesis 17:12], but they circumcise later in life. That is the one universal characteristic of the entire Muslim, Mohammedan, Islamic, Arabic world, and there is no exception to it! That rite was a thing that God gave to Abraham, a covenant between him and God, and Ishmael is in it! And the Arab world is in it! [Genesis 17:20].
God—I am saying this, God has a program for the Jew. God has a program for the Arabic world. In the same Abrahamic covenant that you will find—the one of circumcision—that you will find Isaac, in that same Abrahamic covenant, you will also find Ishmael and the Arabic world! [Genesis 17:1-14]. Well, I have to conclude. Oh, that we had time to enter into this. Nine- tenths of what I prepared I have to leave out this morning.
All right, what is the end of it? This is the end of it. In the sixtieth chapter of Isaiah—the gem of all great missionary passages is the sixtieth chapter of Isaiah; there is no more glorious passage in the whole Bible than this glorious sixtieth chapter of Isaiah, which sees the great missionary purposes of God in the world. Look at it:
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee.
And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.
Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come far, thy daughters. . . .
Then shalt thou see, and flowing,
on and on, the glorious, glorious prophecy of the uplifting of the Lord, and the flowing of the nations and of the people to the great God and our Savior; the coming, reigning Lord Christ Jesus. In that group, look! In that multitude, look! While the Bible points to the glorious conversion of the Jew, when a nation is born in a day [Isaiah 66:8], when “they shall look on Him whom they have pierced, when they shall lament over Him as one over a lost son and brother” [Zechariah 12:10]—look:
The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee, the rams of Nebaioth shall minster unto thee: they shall come up with acceptance on Mine altar, and I will glorify the house of My glory.
Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?
These are descriptions of the Arab people! And in that great and final consummation, God says that the camel drivers of Arabia and the sheep herders of Sheba and of Yemen, will come to the glory of the brightness of the shining, reigning presence of the Lord God our Savior! [Isaiah 60:6-8]. Why, the thing astounds me! I knew from the Book that there was a covenant promise with the seed of Isaac [Genesis 26:24], with the seed of Jacob [Genesis 28:14-15], that God has not done with the Jew. Someday, he will be converted and glory in Christ his Lord [Romans 11:25-29]. But I never knew until I read the Book this week, that that same covenant includes also the Moslem, the Arab, the Mohammedan. There shall come a time when he too shall come with his camels and with his dromedaries, with gifts of gold and incense, and they shall bring an acceptable altar in the glory of the coming of the Lord [Isaiah 60:6-8].
What a day! What an event! What a consummation, God’s purposes worked out in Isaac, in the Jew, and God’s purposes worked out in Ishmael, in the Arab—even in Mohammed, in the camel driver, and the sheepherder of the sands of Arabia.
We must sing our song. And while we sing it, somebody you, in that aisle, down here to the front; would you come and stand by me? Putting your faith and trust in this Lord who is the only God, or putting your life in the fellowship of the church, would you come and stand by me? While we sing this first stanza, let’s rise and sing.