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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Barcus

Injustice and Hope- Genesis 21:8-20

Maybe you are like me. When I get a new book the first thing I do is examine the table of contents, it’s the key to everything inside. I want to know where this ride is going to take me. The second thing I do is read the last page. I want to know how it ends. The Bible is set up in a similar way. Genesis is the key to understanding the contents of the entire book. It introduces the first being,God the creator, the first relationship between God and man, the first sin, the first death, the first rapture (Enoch). Many more firsts, which are patterns and keys for all that will follow. Genesis lays the foundation of our understanding of the universe and eternity.

“Then said I, Lo, I come in the volume of the book, it is written of me, to do thy will O, God (Hebrews 10:7). This prophetic statement found in Psalm 40 and quoted in Hebrews 10 is spoken about Jesus. The volume of the book, in other words the entire body of scripture and not just the New Testament, brings Jesus into view. It’s His book and His story. So, this week's lesson seems to be about another set of struggling brothers, but is ultimately to instruct us to recognize the promise of God revealed through his son Jesus.

In last week’s lesson we studied the first murder. Two brothers brought an offering to God who was pleased with Abel’s offering but not with Cain’s. As we study, we must be deliberate to correct our own flawed thinking and strive to see things the way God wants us to see them. Cain did what was right in his own eyes, but it took the blood of Abel’s sacrifice to please God. We cannot lean on our own understanding and get things right. God offers us wisdom if we will humble ourselves and ask. It has always been the desire of God to bring us into a close relationship with Him.

Today we examine half brothers. They have the same father but different mothers. The two mothers are also an important picture to study. God made a promise to Abraham to give him a son, out of whom would come descendants more than the stars in the heavens. After his one hundreths birthday, his wife Sarah began to doubt that he had heard correctly. She leaned on her own understanding, and found a way to help God out with this difficult task. Her actions, much like Cain's, led to hard consequences that have caused hurt and have lasted for a very long time.


Abraham - Father of the people, exalted father

Sarah - noblewoman or princess

Issac - one who laughs, given this name because Sarah laughed when Abraham was told they would have a son, though she tried to deny that she laughed

Hagar- forsaken, flight

Ishmael - God listens, God will hear

Beersheba - well of seven or well of oaths

Paran - beauty, glory, ornament. Mountains near Mecca


The promise to Abraham doesn’t seem possible when both Abraham and Sarah are old and past the age of bearing children. However, the word of God spoken to Sarah was “Is anything too hard for God?” When God speaks, we would be wise to listen.

16 Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. 2 And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. 3 And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. 4 And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. (Genesis 16:1-4)

Have you ever considered that Sarah’s plan was well meaning and even sacrificial. I’m sure it would have hurt her to know that Hagar would be with her husband. I’m even sure that to her it may have seemed like, or she reasoned it to be, obedience to God. It wasn’t. God is able to accomplish what he has promised to do. Now honestly, any normal person thinking her idea through, should be able to see that this isn’t a good plan! This is another case of not being able to see what God knows. To start this lesson, consider:

  • Did Abraham put up any argument - at all? Why didn’t he remind her of the words God spoke to them about this child? Is this similar or different from Adam and Eve?

  • How much grief do we cause ourselves by denying the power of God and trying to fix things for him? Do we believe God or not?

  • What does it mean to trust the Lord with all your heart?

  • Is it appropriate to place our idea of “how long should this take” on what God says?

Our lesson starts after both women have had their sons. Isaac is the child of Sarah and Ishmael is the son of Hagar. There are many debates about the age of the boys at this time. All we know for certain is that Issac was very young. Ishmael should be about 13-14 years older than Isaac. As expected, Sarah regrets her decision.

8 And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. Notice that Ishmael is acting exactly like any young boy/man would. He has an established relationship with his father but he is not the result of the promise. His birth is according to the flesh and from a bond woman. He is not going to like nor desire to share Abraham. The Bible doesn’t say exactly what he did to mock Isaac but it was enough for Sarah to ask that Abraham banish both he and his mother. Sarah is a free woman and her son was born from God’s promise. Though she laughed and doubted, the child was born, exactly as God said. Things now look a little different. Sarah anticipates, correctly, that this is only the beginning of trouble for Isaac.

Let’s first look at the relationship of the bondwoman to Abraham. She was his by law. Sarah was his wife and free. Then look at the fruit of the relationships. Ishmael will always be in conflict, a wild man. But Issac will inherit the blessing of God. What is this the first picture of? The law, although perfect, could never save. Christ fulfilling the law saved not only those who looked forward to His coming in faith, but all those that came to Him through salvation after his resurrection. Jesus is the only begotten Son of the father-the child of promise. Paul spent some time explaining this, 21 Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.27 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. (Galatians 4:21-30)

Abraham grieved over Ishmael. 11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son.12 And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed. When Abraham sought for God to change his mind and accept Ishmael, God’s opinion on the matter never changed. God tells Abraham to send Ishmael and his mother away. God also promises that he will take care of Ishmael.

14 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.15 And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs.16 And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow shot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lifted up her voice, and wept. Ishmael will be the literal father of Islam. The conflict between these two brothers in a very real sense, still brews today in violent acts and lengthy wars. He was exactly as God said in his word he would be, a wild man.

Consider that this story is also a story of two mothers. If we think about the passage in the light of the passage from Hebrews above, Hagar is a picture of what it will be like when Israel enters captivity many years later as a consequence of turning to their own way instead of following God. Hagar is a long way from home. She is tired. She is thirsty, but God himself promises to be her protector.

17 And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.19 And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.20 And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.21 And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.

God heard the voice of Ishmael. Ishmael not only survives, he joins Isaac at the death of Abraham to bury him in Machpelah. He has 12 sons that become princes with their own towns and eventually their own nations. Ishmael lives to be 137 years old. His children today are part of many Arab nations. Most importantly the word of God given to Hagar was, of course, proven true. 11 And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Behold, thou art with child and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the Lord hath heard thy affliction.12 And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.13 And she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me? (Genesis 16:11-13)


So what do we learn from Isaac and Ishmael?

  • Human beings struggle to accept the word of God. We forget that we cannot be as God (Adam/Eve). God’s ways and plans are far above ours.

  • God doesn’t need us to come up with a way to “make things happen” He desires for us to walk in the truth and do what he has asked us to do. Sometimes, he is asking us to trust that he is the God who really sees.

  • When we do not wait on God, we create trouble for ourselves and difficult consequences affecting those we love.

  • Human nature does not change. We rarely, truly, learn from the mistakes of others unless we purposely determine to change through Christ.

  • This story is a picture of the law vs grace. It shows us that God seeks to have a true relationship with his people, and that can only be accomplished by the son of promise, His Son, Jesus Christ.

Thank you for studying with us!

God Bless!



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