Ishmael Blessed

Whenever Ishmael is considered in Scripture, he is usually, by the Reformed, regarded as a reprobate. He is so viewed in Rev. Woudenberg’s recent, “The Casting Out of Ishmael.” Inasmuch as we do not hold with those who believe God’s grace can be general and common, we humbly submit these thoughts pertaining to Hagar and her son. 

As Protestant Reformed we do most firmly believe that God’s goodness is always particular, that therefore He never blesses the reprobate, and that this being true, we cannot make the false distinction that some blessings are temporal, rather than eternal or spiritual. For God neither blesses nor loves the reprobate, no, not in time, nor in eternity. No “common grace” is ever shown to them. He gives them many good gifts; never blessings! 

Since this is all true, then Ishmael must be, not reprobate, but elect! 

For we read that God gave Abraham in his old age promise concerning his wife in the words, “I will blessHER,” referring to the gift of a son. Abraham responded to this not in the strongest faith, having his heart set (understandably) on Ishmael, crying, “O that Ishmael might live before Thee!” Immediately this touching plea was answered: “As for Ishmael, I have heard thee. Behold, I have blessed HIM” (Gen. 17:16-20). Abraham correctly understood the word “bless” in both instances to be used in the same sense of gracious favor. It will not do to interpret the word to mean favor in the case of Sarah, but not in that of Ishmael. It will not do to render the text, “As for Ishmael, I have heard thee,—i.e., heard thy prayer, ‘O that Ishmael might live,’—and behold, I have cursed him!” 

That one thought out of all Scripture (“I have blessed him.”) is sufficient. A similar case we have in the rich young ruler. In a conversation with the Lord he revealed himself as proud, self-righteous, avaricious and Christ-rejecting. Yet we read that “Jesus . . . loved him” (Mark 10:21). We may therefore expect to see both Ishmael and this rich young ruler in heaven. For God blessed the one and loved the other. 

That Ishmael in Gal. 4 is spoken of as being born after the flesh makes no difference. Paul is employing allegory (Gal. 4:24), which is an extended metaphor (an implied comparison), and compares Hagar and Ishmael not in their proper persons, but as illustrative of spiritual truth. He considers Ishmael in his unregeneracy, and Hagar in her capacity as a female slave. Then, Ishmael may have been as mocking, as wild and spiritually senseless a character as possible. The rich young ruler was equally as wretched by nature. But neither of these men were left in their sins. Whom the Lord loveth, and blesseth, He doth not leave to perish. The same allegorical reference is apparent in Rom. 9, although Ishmael is not even mentioned in this passage, nor is his eternal state here, or anywhere, negatively determined. We do not read, “Ishmael have I hated.” Scripture, as already indicated, says the opposite: “Ishmael . . . I have blessed . . .” (Gen. 17:20). 

Hagar, also, was elect. For when the Angel of the Lord (the Lord Himself) met her, He spoke kindly to her, promising her more than the mere providential gift of many descendants, but went on to prescribe the name for the son promised (Gen. 16:ll). Where in all Scripture does God thus prescribe the name of a reprobate? Invariably such instances apply only to the elect. Furthermore, the reason set down for giving and so naming this child was in answer to Hagar’s prayer (Ishmael means “God heareth.”), “because the Lord hath heard thy affliction.” Affliction is the portion of the elect, whereas reprobates are punished. Besides, this is the same language God used of Israel in Egyptian bondage: “I have surely seen the affliction of My people” (Ex. 3:7Ex. 2:23, 24). In short, the Angel of God bade her to “fear not” (Gen. 21:17). The Lord never directs this language to a reprobate, not in any of the many “fear not? of the Bible. For reprobates have everything to fear, and it would be better for them to die on the spot in infancy or childhood than to increase their condemnation by living in sin any longer. “Fear not” is expressive of electing love. Wherefore Hagar is cast out bodily by Sarah, “in a figure” (Heb. 11:19) according to Scripture, but not eternally by God (cf. Rom. 11:2 with Ps. 43:2, 89:38). God blessed Ishmael, but He never blesses a reprobate. Then he is elect, though the covenant did not descend in his line (Gen. 17:21). Japheth is also elect, though the covenant did not continue in his line. 

—R.C.H.