It sounds good; it sounds logical and it is coming from someone you value and trust. In fact, other people do it; and it is an implicit tradition that really is not prohibited by the Word of God. Weighed in the scales of common sense, practical wisdom and coming from someone you believe shares the same core values as you; it really is advice that makes sense. Would you not do it? Would you not follow the advice? -Except this; there is a catch-this advice you have been given is contrary to what God has specifically said or promised you.
It is an Ishmael, (Gen 16), an idea that seems good and logical but except for the specifically revealed will of God that the child of promise was to come from Sarah. (Gen 12) I am sure a lot of us have an idea of how the story goes; but I wonder if we ever take the pause to realize how this same process many times goes on in our lives today; in our decisions for the careers we choose, the spouses we marry, the decision to wait for marriage for sex, the resting in God to trust that indeed He will come good on His promise to provide and to give us peace and to do so much more for us in our lives.
How often is it that a parent-one who loves you dearly and intensely, or a brother, or sister, friend or mentor has said something to you that is not in agreement with what God has said to you from His Word or by revelation concerning how you are to live life? And how often has this advice seemed good and logical-like the practical way forward because it most often is a good idea, it makes sense—because that is the nature of an Ishmael. It is not a silly idea because it is a temptation that is coming to an upright man, who is pursuing the will of God for Him—a man who the Word calls a friend of God; after He has seen amazing acts of God on His behalf Genesis 15, and after the Lord has specifically reassured Him that the child would be His and not his servant Eliezer. Indeed, the only thing wrong with Ishmael is that it is not the way God says it should be done for you in your life. Indeed I am sure, we may be familiar with this kind of dilemma-and like Abraham, we have ended up doing what seems right, practical but that is basically an attempt to create a shortcut to a fulfilled promise.
The thing though as the story goes, has two important lessons I want to highlight about the problem or challenge of an Ishmael. The first is this: the very existence of an Ishmael can stand in mockery of the promise of God. We see this in chapter 16 where Hagar stands in contempt of Sarah, and condescends on her. Is this not also the case-for instance, that when one gets wealth of ill means, he can only look at the promise of God and think only the naïve can believe that to be true; or that when fornication has become the accepted standard of any relationship, one begins to look with scorn at waiting and think-but why should I? We are after all in love, and committed aren’t we? And the second is this-it can stand as a living, breathing question that stands taunting you if the promise really is true, and lead you to a place of doubt that the promise can be fulfilled in the manner that God has promised us. I believe we are more familiar with the description of Abraham as the Father of faith, than we are with His initial reaction when the Lord told him that Sarah would bear a child. (Gen 17: 17-18) Abraham actually laughed, and asked the Lord if Ishmael would live…he had essentially given up hope that the promise would indeed come by Sarah.
The story ends well; but my blog today is simply to share this lesson: that whatever we create or pursue in our lives as an Ishmael (good ideas, from people who care about us-but that are not in line with what He has said about what we should do or pursue) will fight against our ability to believe that God will indeed fulfil the promises He has made to us in the manner He has promised to do so. And after this the exhortation that the Lord is not a man that He should lie; nor a son of man that He should repent. What He has promised for us, for our lives, He will do and in the way He has promised. And we have only but a simple responsibility…