Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sending Ishmael Away

I just preached this evening on, at least to me, a very difficult passage, Genesis 21:8-21. This is the narrative about Abraham's and Sarah's sending Hagar and Ishmael away after the birth of Isaac. I don't pretend to know all there is to know about any given Scripture, and preaching is a very humbling experience for me. This passage pushed me to really understand it; reconciling the incongruence of the necessity of sending Ishmael away and how hard this must have been for Abraham with the necessity of safeguarding the promises of God and Sarah's callousness toward the boy overwhelmed me with emotion and anxiety.

I spent a great deal of time struggling through this passage trying to get it "right" and preached it in fear of "overspiritualizing." I simply could not produce an outline to my satisfaction. Eventually I gave way and preached it the same way Paul applied it in Galatians 4, teaching that there are terrible spiritual consequences for the believer who doesn't "send Ishmael away." I almost felt like I was somewhat unfaithful to the entire text of Genesis 21:8-21, not really dealing with the entire passage and focusing on verses nine and ten.

However, I concluded with a challenge; Amy Carmichael who was a missionary to India, is quoted as saying, "Oh, that Ishmael might die within me!" We all have our "Ishmaels" that trouble us from day to day, and just as Abraham and Sarah tried to procure God's promises through the flesh, so we try to accomplish the will of God devoid of the Spirit of God. That Ishmael might die within me is a worthy endeavor.


Bernard Shuford said...

Did you make the connection that Hagar was an Egyptian, and of course, "Egypt" has come to represent the life of sin prior to becoming a Christian? I know the timing is a bit backward, but my point is that Ishmael was a result of Abraham's failure to believe God and thus falling for "sin". In one respect, Ishmael appears innocent due to being conceived by two people with no involvement of his own, but he was a connection to a time (and a continual cancer, of sorts) when Abraham failed to believe. In spite of that, he was Abraham's genuine son.

Our "sin" becomes personal to us. It really is a part of us. Abraham could never change the fact that Ishmael was his son. We cannot change the fact that we have a sin nature. Yet, we daily struggle to send Ishmael away. I doubt that Abraham could forget Ishmael. We cling to our sin because it is a part of us.

The child of the promise, the redemption through Christ, is indeed a better way. Yet, we cling to it because seeing it die is seeing a part of us die.

In one respect, we don't mind sending it away, but we don't want to see it die, do we?

Get any blank stares? :) Sounds like it were a good 'un.

Tony said...

You know, I did not make that connection, and making that connection, the passage makes a whole lot more sense now, at least from a spiritual perspective. I still ache for Abraham, because it was his son, regardless of how he was conceived.

That is one passage that almost HAS to be preached and taught from a spiritual perspective, because form an earthly one, it sure doesn't make a lot of sense. In Gal 4 though, Paul does use it as spiritual application and says nothing about the legitimacy/illegitimacy of sending Ishmael away, just as their earthly son.

Maybe next Sunday night I'll go back and "repreach" that message. :)