Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 22:3-5

3 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.

4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.

5 And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

It is hard to fathom what those three days must have been like for Abraham, traveling to the place where he is meant to sacrifice his son! That is a very long time for his thoughts to dwell on what is about to transpire.

We do get some insight into Abraham’s frame of mind from the passage in Hebrews 11:17-19. Here we learn that Abraham expected God to just raise Isaac from the dead after he had made the sacrifice. This would allow for both Abraham to keep God’s commandment and God to keep His own covenant that Isaac would become a righteous nation. After all, Isaac’s birth had been a miracle, so why not his rebirth?

Of course that solution would still require Abraham to go through the ordeal of slaying his own son, and God was going to spare Abraham from that as well. But while Abraham may have been mistaken in exactly what God’s methods would be, he was correct in his belief that God would somehow intervene to keep His promises. And that faith was enough to see him through what he had to do. So it is for us. We don’t need to know exactly how God will prevail in our lives, only that He will. If we accept that He will preserve good for us somehow, then that is enough for us to do what we have been called to.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 22:1-2

1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

The most famous of Abraham’s stories is this, the sacrifice of his son, Isaac. This can be a difficult story to grapple with. Yes, God doesn’t actually have Abraham go through with it, but even the suggestion to kill one’s own child seems torturous. God even stresses “thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest,” as if to make this even harder on Abraham.

Killing is wrong, after all, especially killing one’s own flesh and blood. Destroying a child goes against every natural and paternal bond. When I hear this story it agitates me deeply, and I think the reason why is due to a key different between me and Abraham.

I just wouldn’t do it.

If I’m being totally frank and honest, I don’t love God more than my children. I don’t trust Him implicitly. I don’t assume that what He says will work itself out for good even if I don’t see how. My discomfort in this story is based around the incongruity of “I want to follow God, but I wouldn’t follow Him in this.” And that challenges and vexes me. He is a God that I am not ready to fully follow.

And honestly just acknowledging that helps me to surrender it. I’m not at that same level of trust and devotion, so I don’t get how to properly process this. I don’t have the answers, but I think for today I don’t need to. I’m still a work in progress. One day I hope to understand all, but I won’t get there by constantly agitating over things that are beyond me for now.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 21:32-34

32 Thus they made a covenant at Beer-sheba: then Abimelech rose up, and Phichol the chief captain of his host, and they returned into the land of the Philistines.

33 And Abraham planted a grove in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God.

34 And Abraham sojourned in the Philistines’ land many days.

Something we did not know until these verses is that Abimelech was king over the Philistine people. Obviously the Philistines will come to be one of the constant vexations to the people of Israel, but at this time their leader is friendly with the forefather of the entire Israelite nation.

I never realized before how the early records in Genesis take special care to detail the origin of nations that will become significant later on. For example we also learned how the Ammonites and Moabites came from the daughters of Lot, and they, too, will eventually be long-time enemies of the Israelites.

I had always assumed that when the Israelites were led out of Egypt the nations they warred against in Canaan were complete strangers to them. Evidently that viewpoint was incorrect, all these countries already had a history with each other.

Another interesting foreshadowing in these verses is that Abraham planted a grove to worship the Lord. Later on his descendants would keep the practice of worshipping in groves of trees, but they would be dedicated to pagan gods instead of the Lord. In today’s culture we have lost the connection between groves of trees and worship, but evidently it was a strong idea back in biblical times.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 21:27-31

27 And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech; and both of them made a covenant.

28 And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves.

29 And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What mean these seven ewe lambs which thou hast set by themselves?

30 And he said, For these seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me, that I have digged this well.

31 Wherefore he called that place Beer-sheba; because there they sware both of them.

Abraham brought to Abimelech’s attention that his own servants had taken one of Abraham’s wells by force. Abimelech had not been aware of the offense, but it had come from those that he was responsible for.

A well was an extremely valuable commodity at the time, and one could see how a disagreement about the ownership of it could cause a rift between two newly established friends. So Abraham immediately follows up his accusation with something designed to quell any negative feelings. He gives seven lambs to Abimelech as a testament that he really was the owner of the well. This is a very interesting gesture. Essentially Abraham is giving a small compensation to Abimelech for the inconvenience of having to give back to Abraham what was rightfully his!

This shows a great maturity in Abraham. It helps to prove his sincerity, because at the end of the day he would be out seven lambs whether Abimelech returned the well or not. It also shows that he is sensitive to the embarrassment Abimelech might feel in having his servants called out as thieves, and the offering of this gift makes clear that Abraham has no ill feelings towards Abimelech himself. It is a way of saying “I wanted you to know about this…but don’t worry, we’re still friends.”

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 21:25-26

25 And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of a well of water, which Abimelech’s servants had violently taken away.

26 And Abimelech said, I wot not who hath done this thing: neither didst thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it, but to day.

Previously we read how Abimelech asked Abraham to swear that he would always treat him in an honorable way and Abraham had readily agreed. And it is fascinating that Abraham did that, given that we learn in the very next verses that Abraham did not feel Abimelech had been honorable with him!

Abimelech’s servants had violently taken away one of Abraham’s wells, but Abraham had still been willing to make this pledge to the man. Presumably Abraham’s commitment to treat his fellowman with dignity was not based on how well that fellowman was treating him in return. Abraham’s commitment came from within, and he would be honorable even to those that did evil to him.

Though as Abraham found out, Abimelech was not aware that his servants had taken the well in the first place. They had certainly not done so at his behest. It does not say in the biblical record, but one would assume that Abimelech quickly made restitution.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 21:22-24

22 And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest: 

23 Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son’s son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned.

24 And Abraham said, I will swear.

We like to assume that good conduct can be taken for granted. All people should already be decent human beings who don’t lie and cheat and steal from one another. We shouldn’t require a special pledge from someone that they won’t stab us in the back one day. Everything that Abimelech is asking Abraham to pledge are things that ought to go without saying.

We might even feel offended if someone felt it necessary to ask us for such a promise. We genuinely believe that we will always conduct ourselves towards others in an honorable way. And yet…we don’t. We stab each other in the back all the time. Even the people we are closest to: neighbors, family, even our own spouse, we betray their trust as soon as it is in our interest to do so. The willful harm we inflict on others is so ubiquitous that a common control question during a polygraph is “have you ever hurt someone that you care about?” The truthful answer is always “yes.”

To be frank, most of us are well-mannered and respectful only because it serves us well to be so. The fear of incurring anger, social shame, and criminal justice are what primarily deter us from inflicting harm. But once we have to choose between another or ourselves, our natural instinct is always to side with our own interest. Of course men and women can overcome this common selfish tendency, but only by deliberate effort.

So I believe this question from Abimelech was actually very sincere. It is a testament to the quality of their relationship that Abimelech felt he could cut past the façade and the formality and hold this question with Abraham in earnestness. Honestly and truly, will you deal honorably with me and my family, even when it isn’t to your own advantage? And Abraham sincerely replies, “yes.”

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 21:17-21

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.

Sometimes we are able to begin our story while still in the context of someone else’s. Samuel was called by the Lord while still a youth in Eli’s household. David’s sunrise began before Saul had fully set. Elisha walked under the guidance of Elijah before he walked alone.

But other times we have to get out on our own before our great story can begin. This was Joseph being torn from his father’s side and sold into Egypt before becoming the prince God intended him to be. This was Daniel not being put to the test until he was captured by the Babylonians and brought into their foreign courts.

So, too, it was the case for Hagar and her son Ishmael. In Abraham’s home they were but side-characters to his all-encompassing story. His story was so big that all of his descendants for countless generations were going to live under the shadow of it. But that wasn’t to be Ishmael’s destiny. Ishmael was to sire a great nation of his own, and that meant he had to get out from Abraham’s umbrella, out into the wild where God could lay a foundation for a different story.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 21:14-16

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 Beer-sheba.

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 bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.

What a dramatic turn of events for Hagar and her son. Presumably she began as a servant in Egypt, then was recruited to Abraham’s entourage, was elected by her mistress to conceive a child for Abraham, and finally gave birth to a son. This would have greatly opened up her life opportunities, for when her son received his inheritance she would finally be raised from a bondwoman to a freewoman.

However it was an option in this ancient culture to exchange the future inheritance of a servant son for their immediate freedom. This was the option that Abraham exercised, freeing Hagar and her son to be their own masters immediately.

But their freedom couldn’t bring them refuge from the hardships of the world, and very quickly they were out of resources and on the brink of death. From the promise of a great inheritance to alone in the wilderness, this is an incredibly humbling situation. And it is here, at their absolute low, that God shows up for Hagar and her child.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 21:12-13

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.

Abraham was at an impasse, but in the midst of his conundrum God assured him it was alright to let Ishmael go. God assured Abraham that Ishmael would be under His protection and that He would raise the lad into a mighty nation of his own.

And this is a rehearsal for Abraham’s future sacrifice of Isaac. Here, with Ishmael, God is asking Abraham to turn his son over to God’s care, to surrender him with the trust that God will provide. Later Abraham will take that level of trust and surrender to a whole other level.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 21:8-11

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.

11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son.

We learn a new detail in verse 9, that Hagar was an Egyptian. Presumably she was recruited during their visit to Egypt at the time of the famine. There is an interesting foreshadowing in this moment that Ishmael, a son of Egypt, afflicts Isaac, a son of Abraham. This same pattern will play out on a much larger scale when the entire nation of Israel is made slaves to the Egyptians, awaiting deliverance at the hand of Moses.

Now comes a difficult situation for Abraham. His two sons are divided against each other, and Sarah is filled with indignation for the offense to her son. Naturally Abraham cleaves to both of his sons, they are each his own blood. But Sarah is only tied to Isaac and her concern is strictly for him.

Now we do not know exactly what she saw in Ishmael’s mockery. “Mockery” is a very wide term. It might mean anything from harmless teasing to hateful tormenting. It is possible that Sarah something that made her fear a terrible violence when she and Abraham, Isaac’s already-old parents, went to the grave and were no longer around to protect him.