Hagar and Ishmael

In the Nov. 15 issue of The Standard Bearer we wrote on “Ishmael Blessed”; now we recommend that this be read with your open Bible at hand for ready reference. With all that has been written on the general subject, some of which goes back many years in TSB, we agree. But we do differ with the assertion that the allegory of Gal. 4. refers to Ishmael personally, while the historical account of Gen. 17 (esp. Gen. 17:20) refers to him only representatively. For the allegory presents Ishmael allegorically, and the history of Gen. 17 speaks of him historically. In the Galatian passage Ishmael is figuratively drawn to illustrate from his unregeneracy a certain aspect of spiritual truth applied to the carnal worshipers in the dispensation of the covenant. In the O.T. passage Ishmael appears not merely prophetically, but personally. The personal reference is evident in the context of Gen. 17. (Review the aforesaid Nov. article.) This is plain from Abraham’s ejaculatory prayer, “O that Ishmael might live, before Thee!” How this petition is to be understood as it was in the soul of Abraham is that Ishmael personally might live. The words must be understood in the full force of the term “live,” which means life in its largest sense of eternal life; and in the light of “before Thee,” which means “before Thy face,” coram Deo, in the beatific presence of God. Abraham desired nothing less than that for his son Ishmael. (See Hos. 6:2 for the ‘sense of this latter expression.) The Lord answered that prayer, “As for Ishmael I have blessed him,” and not “as for thy (carnal) seed.” He is as much individually and personally in view as is Sarah in v. 16, where it is twice declared “I will bless her.” The very name Ishmael(“God-shall-hear”) indicates answered prayer—first, the answer of his mother’s prayer (Gen. 16:11), and then the answer of his father’s prayer, “As for Ishmael (God shall hear), I have heard thee”; and finally God heard the lad Ishmael himself (Gen. 21:17). 

The “fear not” in this verse is a word from which Hagar might take comfort. Why? “For God hath heard the voice of the lad.” This is in keeping with the current use of the expression, for if he were reprobated she would have nothing of comfort and everything to fear, for God does not hear the reprobate; their prayer is an abomination to Him (Prov. 15:8, 29Prov. 28:9). Nor would Abraham’s answer have brought him any comfort. But how did he understand, “Behold, I have blessed him”? Not as having exclusive reference to some in the nation [descendants) of Ishmael, but in keeping with what he asked and hoped for from God for his son, viz., the blessing of eternal life. Was Abraham in error in entertaining such an expectation? Not in view of the answer, “I have blessed him,” which is as personal as “I will make him fruitful, and will multiply him, . . . twelve princes shall he beget” (the context is as personal as possible). This blessing is principally the same as that given to Isaac (Gen. 25:11Gen. 26:3, 12, 24), and to Samson (Jud. 13:24), the blessing according to election, for the word is not, “I till bless his seed (Nebaioth and Kedar), but “I have blessed him,” the past tense, referring to eternal election. Such is Scripture usage: “hathblessed us” (Eph. 1:3, 4). And the content of that blessing? According to the context, I “will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly.” 

This pronouncement is used in Genesis as the content of a blessing which falls upon the elect. Words to this effect were spoken to Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:28), concerning the animals (Gen. 8:1), to Noah and his sons (Gen. 9:1, 7), to Hagar (Gen. 16:10), to Abraham (Gen. 17:6), to Jacob (Gen. 28:3, 4), of God’s people in Egypt (Gen. 47:27), and of Israel in the land (Lev. 26:9). The expression is used in Scripture in connection with a blessing, or as the content of a blessing. For this reason the words do not apply to the reprobate; for never are they blessed! 

This same consistency obtains in the appearances of the Angel of the Lord. He appeared to Hagar, Abraham, Sarah (cf. Gen. 18:1-10 with Gen. 21:1), Jacob, Moses, the elect under Joshua (Judges 2:1), Gideon, Manoah and his wife, David, Gad, Elijah, and Joshua the high priest. In the few exceptions that He appears to the reprobate, He does so to oppose them, as, e.g., Balaam (Num. 22:23), and condemned Israel (I Chr. 21:16). But there is no such opposition in His dealings with Hagar, but only such as is in harmony with the majority of His appearances. Why did this Angel of the Lord appear first under this name to an Egyptian bondwoman? Why should Elijah perform his first miracle for the benefit of a widow of Sidon? Why should Christ incarnate first appear to humble shepherds, and not to the world’s great? Why should Christ risen first appear to Mary Magdalene, rather than to Mary His mother, or to John His closest disciple? Because God is sovereign, and often reveals His sovereignty in coming first to the lowliest and poorest. But also that Hagar may be able to say, “Thou God seest me!” as indicative of the fact that shesaw God! The language of that Angel to her (Gen. 16:8) is not like that directed to Cain, but similar to that directed to Adam (Gen. 3:9, 11, 13). This is further brought out in Gen. 16:10, which we have already shown is language not used with respect to the reprobate. The passage (v. 11) continues in this vein predicting the birth and name of Hagar’s son. (The fulfillment of this reveals that she was saved in child-bearing, I Tim. 2:15, not merely by providence, but by promise.) There are five other real parallels of this in Scripture where God foretells the birth and name of a son: cf. Isaac (Gen. 17:19), Solomon (I Chron. 22:9), Josiah (I Kings 13:1), John (Luke 1:13), Jesus (Matt. 1:21). From these I will venture to say that (1) never does the Lord foretell to parent(s) the birth and name to be given a reprobate; and, (2) that the name Ishmael therefore does not refer to a personification of his descendants. The name Jacobdoes, indeed, often stand as a general designation for the people, whereas Isaac is only rarely so employed (Amos 7:9, 16), and Abraham never occurs as a mere tribal name.

That which we wrote before of Hagar’s affliction we reaffirm. The full meaning of the name Ishmael, then, really is, “God hath heard thy affliction.” With your concordance trace the word “affliction” in the O.T. Read also II Sam. 22:26-28 in this connection. Her words, “Thou God seest me” reveal her knowledge of God, seeing Him as the omniscient God of providence and mercy. For God saw her in her sin, in her contempt of her mistress (Gen. 16:4), saw her in her flight from Sarah, saw her by the well, in the wilderness, saw all things! That she saw Him as the living God is evident in her naming the well “the well of Him that liveth and seeth me.” Was this mere intellectual insight, as, perhaps, with Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4:34, 37)? Not to one who heard the words from heaven, “fear not!” (Gen. 21:17). And that word was spoken in view of the fact that God had heard the voice of the lad (Gen. 21:17, twice), and that divine hearing (answer) is given as the reason why she ought not to fear: “God was with the lad!” (Gen. 21:20). For the Scripture use of the expression God (or the Lord) being with a person, compare Gen. 39:2, 3, 21;Jud. 6:12I Sam. 3:19I Sam. 18:14. True, in one instance it is used of a reprobate (I Sam. 10:7); but the context reveals in all the other places that He is so with the person as that there is nothing to fear. “God was with the lad” (v. 20) in the same sense in which He said of Abraham, “God is with thee” (v. 22). 

See all the consistency evinced so far! The whole character of Genesis reveals a wonderful mark of unity throughout! Its language bears a consistent similarity, and its usus loquendi is simple and singular. No one has ever been able to make it twofold. 

—R.C.H.