No one has an idyllic home life. Even the first families of Bible story fame didn’t have idyllic home lives. In fact, the first families had some of the most messiest home lives, recorded in all their ugly glory for us in the sacred texts of Scripture! The National Enquirer has nothing on scandals and gossip. Inquiring minds need only open their Bibles for all the intrigue for real life that they could possibly want.
There is a lot we can learn from these First Families and I thought we’d tackle some of these thorny stories. These stories are reality for many. Maybe there are underpinnings that resonate with you. Regardless, life is messy. We mess up or we’re subjected to someone else messing up. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we thought they would or we find ourselves on a major life-detour. Stuff happens. Thankfully, God happens too.
Let’s start our First Family series with Abraham, his wife Sarah, her infant son, Isaac, Sarah’s maid, Hagar and her son, Ishmael. And, of course, Abraham is the father of both boys. This is the first, but not the last, brothers-by-different-mothers recorded in Scripture.
The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.
God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt. ~ Genesis 21:8-21
It’s a messy story, isn’t it? Envy, jealousy, rivalry, probably some bullying, and exile. That’s just what we see in this part of the story. What we don’t see, from what happened to get to this point in the story, is how Abraham’s character and behavior significantly contributed to the division, danger, loss and pain we encounter here. Messiness in someone’s life can often be pinpointed to messiness somewhere along that life’s timeline.
Sibling rivalry is not new in Genesis. Cain and Abel is probably the most famous sibling rivalry story. Abel ends up dead and Cain exiled as a result of trying to garner The Most Faithful award from God. This time, two half-brother’s are vying for their father’s attention. Their mothers don’t make it any easier, Sarah being the most upset that her son has a potential inheritance rival. Of course, Sarah complicated matters in the first place when she didn’t believe God was going to provide her with a son, but I’m pretty sure she’s not remembering all that at this point. Abraham’s decision, like God’s after Abel’s death, is to banish Hagar and Ishmael.
The questions this raises and the decisions Abraham makes are enormous. How can he banish his son and the child’s mother just because his wife is worried about the inheritance? What about Sarah? Does her insecurity truly warrant what she demands? Is God endorsing what Sarah wants? Is Abraham hearing correctly? Did God really say such things?
The story clearly indicates God did say these things, and more. God tells Abraham it’s okay to throw Hagar and Ishmael out of the household because God will take care of them and make a nation of Ishmael. God repeats that promise to Hagar after she is thrown out of the family and after she pleads that God not make her watch the death of her child, which is to say, only after she has undergone a horribly traumatic experience.
It’s a messy story about a messy home life, isn’t? It’s also a reminder of the fully human nature of life and the fully divine provision in, through, and despite the realities of our particular circumstances. That’s doesn’t justify anything . It’s simply reality. It’s a constraint we all live with and it constrains us all.
The good news is that is does not constrain God or what God can do with the imperfect vessels of each of us. With God, and because of God, we can face the adversities we encounter – whether of our own making or due to circumstances outside our control. It certainly isn’t idyllic, but neither is it bleak. It is reality and God does make provisions – for even the messiest of home life.