A common Biblical refrain for Abraham is that he is the “father of many nations” (Genesis 17:4)
The Jews, despite claiming Abraham as their father, conveniently forgot about the “many nations” part in the New Testament era. They thought they were God’s chosen ones (John 8:39), which gave them license to exclude everyone else.
Paul conveniently reminded them of this error. “Abraham’s descendants,” he argued, could come from anywhere (Galatians 3:7).
Which makes Ishmael such an intriguing figure. Eventually, he would be a great nation (Genesis 17:20), but for now, he was just one of Abraham’s sons.
And even though he wasn’t the son of promise, that didn’t stop Abraham from loving him to his very core.
Sarah and Hagar
The beginning of Genesis 21 is one of sheer joy. Sarah has just given birth at an advanced age to the child that both her and Abraham have been waiting for for a loooong time.
Then, things get dark.
Regardless, Sarah eventually delivers an ultimatum: Hagar must leave.
This crushes Abraham, who obviously loves his son. The Text says that he was “greatly distressed” — so much so that God had to reassure Abraham directly that Ishmael would be ok.
Ishmael and Me
According to the Qu’ran, Ishmael is a prophet and apostle. Muslims believe he is the rightful heir of Abraham’s promise — not Isaac — and he deserves to be treated as such.
I am not a Muslim, nor do I believe Ishmael is the child of promise. I 100% believe the Bible when It says that Isaac is Abraham’s heir.
That being said, I can’t avoid the statement that Abraham would be the father of many nations, not just Judaism.
As I mentioned in the beginning, the Jews thought they were the only ones that should be saved (a thought that makes up much of the book of Romans). They resented the idea that Gentiles should be a part of God’s salvation through the Messiah.
And yet, a true understanding of Abraham’s fatherhood includes Ishmael as much as Isaac. Two great nations came forth from Abraham, not just one, and both of those nations have the same opportunity to be saved by obedient faith as the other.
That means that all gentiles (including Ishmael’s ancestors) along with Jews can be saved under the Law of Christ. It doesn’t matter what your lineage is.
The story of Ishmael is interesting because it points out that the Jews never really had a true stranglehold on salvation anyways. For a period of time, they were God’s chosen people, but once Jesus died, that door swung open for everyone.
Just because I’m not a Jew doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love me, any more than Ishmael’s “lack of promise” meant that Abraham didn’t love him either.