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Abram's Prayer For Ishmael

INTRODUCTION: My starting point for this study was to examine the prayer of Abraham in behalf of his son Ishmael, to consider the related aspects of his desires, and of God's will. This became a very detailed exploration into this son of Terah, and God's plan to set apart for himself a people who would glorify God before all nations. In some respects, we cannot compare ourselves with Abraham because of his unique role in God's dealing with mankind, but in other respects we can see how even the most set-apart saints are made of the same "stuff" as are we all.

As I often find with scripture, it is necessary to go to other passages in order to get a more clear understanding of background and sequence. The prayer I wanted to examine is in chapter 17, but I needed to start at chapter 11 to get the full picture. The closing verses of genesis chapter 11 suggest that Abram may have actually been half-brother to Nahor and Haran, since all three were born when Terah was 70 years old. The childless state of Sarai is documented before the family leaves Ur, and she may have been a half-sister as Abraham later claims, through another wife or concubine, since no detail is given for Terah's wives. Terah took part of his family from Ur, heading for Canaan, but entered into Haran, and remained there until his death, as described in the portion of chapter 11 below.

NOTE: Bible text is taken from the Bible in Basic English (BBE).

A - Genesis 11:26-32

"26 And Terah was seventy years old when he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. 27 These are the generations of Terah: Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. 28 And death came to Haran when he was with his father Terah in the land of his birth, Ur of the Chaldees. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives for themselves: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife was Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 And Sarai had no child. 31 And Terah took Abram, his son, and Lot, the son of Haran, and Sarai, his daughter-in-law, the wife of his son Abram and they went out from Ur of the Chaldees, to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran, and were there for some time. 32 And all the years of Terah's life were two hundred and five: and Terah came to his end in Haran."

COMMENTS: Scripture in Genesis chapter 12 tells us that Abram left the land of Haran at age 75, when Terah would have been about 145. His father therefore, probably lived well beyond the birth of Isaac, perhaps about 35 more years, but there is no further detail of Terah in the scripture narrative. There is no direct indication that Terah was a follower of God, although he is part of the line of Christ through Shem, through Noah after the flood.

In the time of Adam and Abel, sacrifices were made for worship of the Lord, and Noah built an altar and sacrificed after he left the ark when the waters receded. Abram is described in his practice of building altars of worship from the time he left Haran. God called Abram from Haran as the text in chapter 12 indicates.

B - Genesis 12:1-4

"1 Now the Lord said to Abram, Go out from your country and from your family and from your father's house, into the land to which I will be your guide: 2 And I will make of you a great nation, blessing you and making your name great; and you will be a blessing: 3 To them who are good to you will I give blessing, and on him who does you wrong will I put my curse: and you will become a name of blessing to all the families of the earth. 4 So Abram went as the Lord had said to him, and Lot went with him: Abram was seventy-five years old when he went away from Haran."

COMMENTS: But later it is revealed in Genesis 15:7 "And he said to him, I am the Lord, who took you from Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land for your heritage." So God actually brought about the departure from Ur to Haran, and then Abram responded to God to go from Haran to Canaan. God has had a similar impact on my life, in that he was calling me before I was directly aware of his involvement in my life.

We are not told how much discussion Abram and Sarai had about God's promises, and we know little of Sarai's faith, but Sarai did show some knowledge of God's sovereignty when she said in chapter 16 that God had prevented her from having children. But she sought her own solution through Hagar, and then matters turn sour, and Hagar fled to the wilderness where she encountered God.

C - Genesis 16:1-2,7-11,15

"1 Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had given him no children; and she had a servant, a woman of Egypt whose name was Hagar. 2 And Sarai said to Abram, See, the Lord has not let me have children; go in to my servant, for I may get a family through her. And Abram did as Sarai said. ... 7 And an angel of the Lord came to her by a fountain of water in the waste land, by the fountain on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, Hagar, Sarai's servant, where have you come from and where are you going? And she said, I am running away from Sarai, my master's wife. 9 And the angel said to her, Go back, and put yourself under her authority. 10 And the angel of the Lord said, Your seed will be greatly increased so that it may not be numbered. 11 And the angel of the Lord said, See, you are with child and will give birth to a son, to whom you will give the name Ishmael, because the ears of the Lord were open to your sorrow. ... 15 And Hagar gave birth to a child, the son of Abram, to whom Abram gave the name of Ishmael."

COMMENTS: God had heard the prayer of Hagar, and gave the unborn child the name Ishmael "god hears", which reminds us of the Lord's attentive ear of grace. Abram was given promises by God that he believed, but the development of those promises was spread over many years. Abraham seemed to reach a point where he thought God had started to unfold the blessing through a son named Ishmael, when there was still a more intricate plan yet to be orchestrated by the Lord. The importance of personal names is emphasized as the Lord announces the plan for the "father of a people" to become a "father of many nations", and the "princess" to become the "noblewoman, mother of kings". God has now declared the expectant couple of Abraham and Sarah, but this is all still quite amazing to Abraham, and he offers his simple prayer for Ishmael in verse 18 of chapter 17.

D - Genesis 17:17-23

"17 Then Abraham went down on his face, and laughing, said in his heart, May a man a hundred years old have a child? Will Sarah, at ninety years old, give birth? 18 And Abraham said to God, If only Ishmael's life might be your care! 19 And God said, Not so; but Sarah, your wife, will have a son, and you will give him the name Isaac, and I will make my agreement with him for ever and with his seed after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have given ear to your prayer: truly I have given him my blessing and I will make him fertile and give him great increase; he will be the father of twelve chiefs, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But my agreement will be with Isaac, to whom Sarah will give birth a year from this time. 22 And having said these words, God went up from Abraham. 23 And Abraham took Ishmael, his son, and all whose birth had taken place in his house, and all his servants whom he had made his for a price, every male of his house, and on that very day he gave them circumcision in the flesh of their private parts as God had said to him."

COMMENTS: So the Lord once again "hears" a prayer for Ishmael, but the bigger plan is for a special son who shall be named "laughter". This name can be a reminder of the reaction of both Abraham and Sarah, but it also can denote the joy embodied in the special son who was yet to come for the salvation of all men. Abraham demonstrates his obedience to the word of God as he carries out the circumcision as directed.

--- Reflections in prayer ---

Lord I thank you for speaking to me through your written word, and through the witness of the Holy Spirit in my life. Help me to cling with tenacity to those promises, which I believe, even though I often do not understand how you will bring them to completion. I thank you Lord that I have been chosen by you, and drawn to Christ by the Father; and this is my security since it is your work alone. In those times when the years continue to unfold, and I do not see the fruit of spiritual blessing in my children, give me your comfort and keep my faith steadfast and immovable. Thank you that all things do work together for good, for those who are the called according to your purpose. Guide me in carrying out the daily actions in my life, which are a result of the "mind renewal" process of a constant and affectionate study of your word. Amen.

Published 27 May 2004, first issued 28 August 1999