Abraham-Sarah in the Challenge of Ishmael
We learn several lessons from Abraham-Sarah interactions in the separation of Ishmael from Isaac: Quick and permanent resolution of a potentially dividing husband-wife disagreement to remain united as one before God; conflict resolution strategy based on understanding and addressing the underlying concerns in a conflict; and opportunity selection based on remaining connected to God to receive guidance regarding opportunities that one may de-emphasize in order to focus on proper development of other opportunities.
We discuss Abraham-Sarah interactions regarding Ishmael to learn about resolving a potentially dividing husband-wife disagreement quickly and permanently. Also, the interactions help us understand that certain things or opportunities that are important to us may at times need to be de-emphasized or abandoned in order to make room for proper development of other opportunities.
Sarah gave birth to Isaac, a son with husband Abraham in their old age, fulfilling God’s promise: “… Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him” [Genesis 17:19]. Therefore, Isaac was the child of promise: God’s promise to Abraham-Sarah will be fulfilled through Isaac’s offspring. However, Abraham with Sarah’s approval had fathered a child Ishmael with Sarah’s maid-servant Hagar. He loved Ishmael, felt a responsibility for him, and maybe wondered about Ishmael’s rightful inheritance as his son.
During a feast to celebrate Isaac’s weaning, Sarah noticed Ishmael display apparent hostility toward Isaac: “And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing” [Genesis 21:9]. She recognized the behavior as a sign of potential future threat to Isaac growing up in the presence of Ishmael. Therefore, she demanded Ishmael and his mother be expelled from the household to protect Isaac: “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac” [Genesis 21:10].
Her demand troubled Abraham greatly: “And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham’s sight because of his son” [Genesis 21:11]. He likely was sympathetic to Sarah’s demand but felt an internal conflict with throwing out his son because of a sense of responsibility and concern for his well being. God intervened: He directed Abraham to accept his wife’s demand and resolved his internal conflict by explaining that he will bless each of the two children separately [Genesis 21:12–13]: “But God said to him, ‘Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.’”
We learn several lessons through these events. First, we learn an important conflict resolution strategy through God’s resolution of Abraham’s internal conflict. Second, we discuss the urgency of his intervention and the resolution he provided to underscore the need for quick and permanent resolution of any potentially dividing husband-wife disagreement. Third, the separation of Ishmael from Isaac provides a lesson on opportunity selection—recognizing available opportunities that may need to be de-emphasized or abandoned in order to make room for proper development of other opportunities.
Resolving Abraham’s Internal Conflict
Sarah’s demand that Abraham expel Ishmael and his mother became an internal conflict for Abraham. He was troubled with the prospect of throwing his son out of the house because of his responsibility to care for his well being. Furthermore, he was troubled with any prospect of refusing Sarah’s demand. As we discuss in a previous study under Supremacy of Marital Union, Abraham-Sarah considered their union more important than any other need and would not let anything come between them. Therefore, Abraham saw eye to eye with Sarah and understood why sending Ishmael away would be desirable. However, he was troubled because of his responsibility to care for Ishmael’s well being. How could he satisfy his responsibilities to the boy while respecting his relationship with his wife?
Abraham already knew God’s promise regarding Ishmael that was revealed to him along with the covenant [Genesis 17:20]: “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.” However, he believed he still had a role in Ishmael’s life and was troubled that sending him away would interfere with his ability to fulfill the role. God led him to a resolution of the conflict based on understanding that Ishmael will do well by himself [Genesis 21:12–13]: “But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed.’”
MEDIATION PRINCIPLE God resolved Abraham’s internal conflict by addressing his underlying concern. Similar to Daniel resolving conflict with King Nebuchadnezzar’s royal diet (see Conflict Resolution Example from Daniel) by addressing the underlying concern. In Daniel’s example, he understood King Nebuchadnezzar didn’t really care about what the trainees ate but expected them to look healthy and robust and present a demeanor fit for the king’s service corps. Therefore, Daniel resolved the conflict by obtaining approval for an alternative diet that would fulfill the king’s expectation without violating God’s covenant. The conflict resolution strategy that Daniel applied is the same as God highlighted in resolving Abraham’s internal conflict with expelling Ishmael. The two examples illustrate a mediation strategy based on looking beyond the immediate points of dispute to understand the underlying concerns of the disputants. The dispute often can be resolved by addressing the underlying concerns.
Quick and Permanent Resolution
of Husband-Wife Conflict
Abraham’s conflict regarding Sarah’s demand was resolved the same day and he implemented the resolution on the following morning [Genesis 21:14]: “So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba.” Also, the resolution was permanent. They were sent away to build there life elsewhere. Ishmael was permanently separated from Isaac on that day. The resolution occurred because Abraham obeyed God’s directive to resolve the matter. The directive was given that day or during the night and implemented the next morning.
The urgency and permanency of the directive underscore God’s expectation regarding any potentially dividing husband-wife disagreement. Recall, based on our study series on Abraham-Sarah, that God considers and relates to husband and wife as one. For example, as we discuss under Husband-Wife Blessing Revealed to One, a husband and wife need to be functionally a union and interact with God as one in order to receive fulfillment of his promise. They could lose the promise if they are divided such that one person seeks individual ownership of any part. Thus, any dividing husband-wife disagreement could interfere with the union’s interaction with God: therefore, needs to be resolved quickly and permanently. God saw a potential disagreement capable of disrupting the Abraham-Sarah union and intervened immediately to resolve the disagreement.
The separation of Ishmael from Isaac allowed each to develop outside of the other’s influence. Ishmael was fourteen years old while Isaac was maybe two or younger at the time of the separation. If they remained together, they would have been a strong influence on each other’s development. Ishmael especially, because he was much older, would have influenced Isaac to an extent that potentially could have altered the history of Isaac’s descendants. However, our lesson from the separation really is not about Isaac or Ishmael and their descendants. Instead, the lesson focuses on selective development of opportunities available to us.
A person facing several opportunities simultaneously may need to de-emphasize or abandon some in order to make room for proper development of others. For example, a person may encounter an opportunity for personal business while employed in another person’s business. Development of each of the opportunities would require considerable time and material resources and call for a choice on how to focus his/her resources. Trying to invest in both simultaneously at necessary levels could result in unmanageable conflict. Even if the person is capable of doing both at the same time, there may still be potential interference. For example, an employer that is paying a person for full-time work may become suspicious if the same person has another visible business. How does he/she find time to do all these while still working for me full-time? To deal with such and other potential conflicts, the person may need to de-emphasize or abandon one opportunity in order to develop the other properly. Maybe by going part-time in the employment to free up time for the personal business.
God recognizes we need to make such choice. Furthermore, the choice is complicated enough that he has provided examples in the bible, such as Abraham-Sarah interactions in the separation of Ishmael from Isaac. The example shows he communicates with the people involved to provide information and guidance. First, he provided information through Sarah that Ishmael had to be removed from the household in order to protect Isaac. Second, he intervened through Abraham: instructed him to accept Sarah’s demand and explained to him that he need not worry about Ishmael. Because the Abraham-Sarah union was connected to God, Sarah received information to recognize they needed to make a choice, Abraham received instruction on how to proceed, and they made and implemented the choice immediately.
Therefore, a person that remains connected to God will receive information and guidance to recognize when and how to de-emphasize or abandon an opportunity in order to focus on another. For a husband-wife union, the information or guidance may come through the wife or husband as God chooses.
Summary of What We Learned
We learn several lessons based on Abraham-Sarah interactions in the separation of Ishmael from Isaac.
First, we learn a conflict resolution strategy based on understanding and addressing the underlying concerns in a conflict. God resolved Abraham’s internal conflict by addressing the underlying concern of providing for the long-term well being of Ishmael.
Second, we learn about quick and permanent resolution of any potentially dividing husband-wife disagreement so that the husband-wife union will be able to interact with God as one. The potential disagreement regarding separation of Ishmael from the household was resolved within twenty-four hours of being recognized.
Third, we learn about opportunity selection based on the separation of Ishmael from Isaac. A person that remains connected to God will receive information and guidance regarding opportunities that need to be de-emphasized or abandoned in order to make room for proper development of other opportunities.