All Eyes on Israel
Chapter 1 - What is Your Name?
Page 2 - Abraham and Sarah
(Go Back to Page 1 -
The Meaning of Israel)
The history of Abraham and Sarah, begins in Genesis 12, when God called Abram (his name before God changed it) to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldees which is equivalent to the ancient country of Babylon or modern Iraq and to go to the land of Canaan. He was called out of Babylon and given great promises concerning where he was going, his prosperity and his descendents.
Abraham and Sarah (originally, Abram and Sarai) were looking to have children as all good couples did in those days but they found that they could not - it seemed that Sarai was barren. Just think of it - Abraham and Sarah must have pleaded fervently with God to give them a child, even more fervently than most couples. They didn't just want a child like any other couple but they were looking for an heir to fulfill a promise from God. They would have understood that the promised child was to be their child, the child of both Abram and Sarai. But time passed and they were growing old and desperate.
Finally, at Sarai's insistence, a son was conceived and born via her handmaid Hagar, Abram being the father. They were told by God to name the baby Ishmael.
"... Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction." (Gen 16:11)
This is the first time in scripture that we are told of God choosing a name for a child. If God picks the name it's not just because it's a nice name - there has got to be some considerable significance to it. "Call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction." This was directed to Hagar who was afflicted or persecuted by her mistress Sarai.
"But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face." (Gen 16:6)
"Dealt hardly" means to afflict. Hagar was afflicted by Sarai. Actually, she fled almost all the way back to Egypt before the promise was given to her and she was directed to return to Abram and Sarai.
"... Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands. ... I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. ... Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction." (Gen 16:9-11)
Hagar returned and gave birth to the child.
"And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son's name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael." (Gen 16:15)
So Abraham and Sarah named their son, following the direction of the Lord to Hagar. The name Ishmael had special meaning for Hagar as well as for Abram and Sarai. Hagar had become a wife (v3) to Abram; it was his child and God kept His promise to Abram to multiply his descendents. This part of the promise was not restricted to the promised child who came later. Ishmael's descendents have multiplied greatly and now constitute what we know to be the Arab nations. To Hagar, "God shall hear" meant God would keep his promise to Abram regarding her son. It is interesting to look more closely at what Hagar was told:
Hagar was told to "Submit thyself." We see that Ishmael, her son was the father of the Arabs. The religion of most Arabs is Muslim which actually means "submitter." There is an interesting connection here. Arabs, Muslims, even down to modern times, look to Ishmael as an ancestor but they certainly don't want to serve or submit to Jacob or Israel.
So, the name Ishmael had significance for Hagar. It also had significance for Abraham and Sarah. They were afflicted with barrenness on the part of Sarai.
"Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children ... And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing ..." (Gen 16:1-2)
Abram was quite capable of having children. If we go ahead to Genesis 25 which is after the death of Sarai, we see him taking a new wife and fathering several children.
Ishmael means "God hath heard." It is not "God hath heard ... and given a son" but "God shall hear - He will hear and He will give a son ... in the future." There is a difference. "God hath heard" would imply that the birth of Ishmael was the answer to their prayers but he was not as we can see:
"And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him." (Gen 17:19)
So Abraham and Sarah had to wait still longer for the promised son.