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Posts Tagged ‘Ishmael’

Photo by Erich Lessing

Used by permission
© Erich Lessing

I keep trying to understand the movements of these ancient peoples. I guess I’d have to go back to school in Old Testament studies to really comprehend the places and names and how they correlate to today’s maps.  And yet, even with my limited knowledge, I enjoy making the small discoveries, like the meaning the place Isaac lived after Abraham’s death and its relationship to Hagar [Genesis 16:7].

Genesis 25:8-9a; 10b-11
Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre . . . There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac, who then lived near Beer Lahai Roi [Well of the Living One Seeing Me].

I’m assuming the name of this well was carried down by word of mouth because of Hagar. She saw God through the Angel who told her to return to Sarai, her mistress, and to believe in the future of her son, Ishmael.

Now, after all that Isaac had been through, both he and his half-brother, Ishmael, bury their father near the great trees of Mamre, and Isaac moves his household to this undoubtedly plush area near the river and the primary trade route between Egypt and the north. Isaac, too, wanted to be seen by God. I want to be seen by God too. Don’t we all?

Don’t we all want the intimacy of being seen, being known, being embraced by a loving God? This is, after all, the promise of Christ all along: despite it all, God sees you and accepts you . . . accepts me. Just so.

Come to the well and drink. Be seen. And, of course, once that “door” is open, I can see too. (Like the old refrain when having one’s picture taken in a crowd: if you can see the camera, the camera can see you.)

God is not looking through dense shrubs or hiding behind the clouds. God is within through the Holy Spirit. That is Well of the Living One Seeing Me. Right here.

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Art by Jonas Gerard

God blessed Ishmael because he was the son of Abraham. And although it may not seem like a blessing at first blush, those many tribes that descended from Ishmael only to become enemies to the progeny of Isaac: but there was still fruitfulness. And God is honored in fruitfulness.

Genesis 17:18, 20; 21:11-12a,  And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” . . .  “And as for Ishmael, I [God] have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. . . . But God said to him [Abraham], “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. . . .  I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

But the blessing of Ishmael is not simply about childbearing and big families, it is about enlarging the place of one’s tent (e.g. one’s influence).

Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities.  [Isaiah 54:2-3]

Children are the hope of the future, whether we have them in our immediate family or we serve them through school, church, neighborhood, or work. It is the children who carry the message of our lives into their own. If our lives are loving and giving and caring, then they will respond to the model we provide them. But the opposite is true as well.

They say, if you want to know where a person’s priorities are, look at the list of things in which they invest their money. I say, the same is true for the way money, time, knowledge, and energy are invested in children. They cannot love if they have not been loved. They cannot give grace if they never received it. They will not show compassion if they have not seen compassionate behaviors around them. What we pass to children of all ages is only limited by our own misplaced preferences and choices.

I wish I could say that my children are bearing the fruit of the blessings of God. In some ways, they are: instead of an orphanage, they live in a family and a country of great opportunity. Instead of a proscribed future dealt to them through poor diet, alcoholism, and abandonment, they do know they are loved unconditionally. But in my enthusiasm for having children, I spoiled them too. I wanted them to have some of the things I missed and I created a distorted view of value, of appreciation for the little things, of comfort. Like most Americans, they reflect a world where “need” means another car, not another meal.

So now, I am sorry dear children, what I failed to pass along, you will have to discover on your own. Life will teach you and in that life, God will teach  you. For the blessings of God are still there, the promise of good things still available, but the road may be a little longer.

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Despite the fact the Ishmael means “God hears” or “God listens,” the name has become symbolic for being cast out or cast aside. And, isn’t it fascinating that Abraham, the father/patriarch of nations, was also the father of the Arab nations as well as Israelites? If you think the Adam and Eve story caused havoc in Human, what about this one?

Genesis 16:11-12
The angel of the Lord also said to her [Hagar]: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone  and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility towardall his brothers.”

So here are the traits of a donkey [originally wild ass]: hard working (have been used for work over 5000 years); used as pack animals and able to carry large weight for long distances; associated with the idea of people living at or below subsistence levels [the animal of the poor]; they can live anywhere from 10 years to 50 years, depending on their lifestyle and owners; adaptable; solitary; a male donkey’s [jack] bray can be heard over long distances — as much as 3 kilometers; hear well; fight defensively and persistently; they can interbreed which accounts for mules [bred with a horse]; and above all, stubbornness.

The stubbornness of a donkey is based on self-preservation. If a donkey believes circumstances are dangerous, it will resist. Otherwise, donkeys are also known for being friendly, intelligent, playful, and willing to learn.

So, is this such a terrible comparison, to be called a donkey of a man? It wouldn’t have to be except that the dominance of stubbornness seems to prevail over all of the other things. And stubbornness in anyone is a recipe for disaster. In a way, both Abram and Sarai were also stubborn. For Abram, it was called faithfulness, his conviction that God would follow through on His promises.

For Sarai, her stubbornness came into play by taking circumstances into her own hands. She may have believed God as well, but she appears to have been a practical woman. She waited ten years for her “miracle” child and decided that was long enough. Abram did not exactly try to dissuade her either. Abram, like Adam, passed over any responsibility to his spouse. Even when things went awry and Hagar, elevated from mere handmaid to surrogate, began testing the waters of her authority; Abram cast the solution back on Sarai.

I have always aligned myself with Sarai. I have her tendencies. I have her stubbornness. Once I believe I have the the answer or the solution and the track has been laid, I walk it with a vengeance.

I remember standing at the end of the aisle (at 18) waiting to walk toward my first marriage. In that moment, I knew I was making a terrible mistake. But of course, the path had been laid, and so I walked it. We lasted five years, but in the end, I was too immature to handle it and unfortunately, another dream became my obsession and I pursued that one (to move to New York and acting school) with the same singleness of purpose.

Most of the time, I believe we [Human] err because of our sense of time.

Even today, my husband (of 30 years by the way), bemoaned a familiar truth: “everything I start to do always takes longer than I think it will, whether it’s editing a video or fixing a faucet.” So true. It is “time” itself that we try to manipulate. But “time” will not bend to our will. “Time” is God’s domain and His alone to metamorphose.

Here’s the short of it. I accept my stubbornness and realize there are occasions when that is useful (when it’s called persistence) and instances when it gets in the way. Now I want to know and practice the difference,  to remember that I cannot control the outcomes of every situation: to trust God’s time.

Mary Karr, in her memoir Lit, tells of a fellow AA goofball she asked about “God’s will.” How to know when to act. And his answer is so apropos, we wait and stay the course until God tells us to do something else.

Most of us bemoan not knowing or hearing God’s voice because we act before the time. Simple.

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