When God promised Abraham that he would have a son, Abraham did what Abraham does best:
Then he waited some more.
Finally, after ten years had passed, Abraham (and Sarah) decided that God needed some help. He married Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid, and produced what he thought was a legitimate heir in Ishmael.
Except Ishmael wasn’t the son of promise. He was a child of Abraham, to be fair, but he wasn’t the one that would produce the “many nations” God had promised. He also wasn’t the lineage that would eventually produce Jesus.
But still, Ishmael was…there. What do you do with him?
Abraham’s Care for Ishmael
Abraham is known for his faith, but one aspect of him that we almost never talk about when discussing the character is his compassion.
Although not apparent in Genesis 17, when he eventually sends Hagar and Ishmael away in Genesis 20, he’s extremely distressed about the situation. He doesn’t want to abandon them — so much so, in fact, that God has to comfort Abraham about that decision.
This same compassion is in view when he pleads with God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Most people wouldn’t have thought twice about God’s decision to send judgment their way, but Abraham begs God to not punish them.
It only makes sense then, that when God tells him that Ishmael is not the child of promise, Abraham expresses his desire for Ishmael to fill that role instead (Genesis 17:18).
God’s Care for Ishmael
Even though Ishmael should have never been in the picture to begin with, it’s a testament to who God is that He tells Abraham that He will bless him as well.
The promise is eerily similar to what will eventually happen to Isaac: Ishmael will be the father of a great nation and will have “twelve rulers” come from him. Even though he doesn’t get the primary promise, he still has honor and glory in his future as well.
One characteristic of God that is so compelling is his ability to take situations that are less than ideal and turn them into His glory. As Joseph told his brothers in Egypt: “You meant [his slavery] for evil, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).
If God cares that much about Ishmael, how much does he care about you?