Bible stories : 06 Abraham and Isaac, part 1.

Part 1 : The Conception

When I was a kid, I changed my name from “Joseph Ivan Long” to “Joseph Ivan Arnold Lee Dutch Carl Long.” The movie Predator may have been an influence on me. I wasn’t allowed to change it legally, as my parents were still the governing authority in life at age 12. 

A name change signifies a shift in identity; an evolution or a transformation. I was changing my name - or rather adding to it - to signify the new course I hoped to take in life: an M16-wielding special ops soldier who hacked through jungles and hunted down aliens with a Bowie knife.

God did kind of the same thing to Abram. Abram’s name was changed to Abraham and Sarai’s name was changed to Sarah. Henceforth they shall be referred to as such. Henceforth means “from here on out.” Abraham means “dad of a bunch of kids.” Sarah means “princess.”

Here’s where things get super interesting: Abraham had already fathered a son by another wife, Sarah’s handmaid Hagar. And here’s the other thing: Sarah is the one who had urged him to marry her. She figured that since she wasn’t going to have kids, she’d do the next best thing: have Abe marry an inferior wife - because second wives were considered inferior according to custom. The children of that second wife would be considered as children of the first wife, the important one. Sarah. So things should work out fine. Hagar gets pregnant, goes through the whole ordeal, has a boy Ishmael, and Sarah gets to take over after that, except for maybe all the diaper changing and getting up in the middle of the night?

But then this happens: God tells Abe that Sarah is going to give birth the next spring, even though she’s super old. 

Sarah laughed. God got irritated at this response, and told her so, reminding her that everything was possible. 

Spring rolls around, and with it, a baby boy. God’s right, again. It’s a precious little angel - technically a human - called Isaac, which means “laughter.” Sarah’s happy, and must have done some laughing. 

Happy happy. Everyone’s happy, and there’s two step-brothers who grow up laughing and playing and loving one another until…

...until they get older and Ishmael realizes he’s not going to be the heir.

As a side note: the Romans later called this process primogeniture, which basically means that the first born son inherits everything. Title, land, money, possessions, everything important. This custom was the driving force. Technically, we don’t see the first full-on Biblical example of primogeniture until a little later in Genesis, with Abraham’s grandsons Jacob and Esau. 

But back to the present. Ishmael, Hagar’s son, realizes that he’s not going to get anything. He’s getting bypassed in favor of his younger brother Isaac because Isaac is the son of Dad’s first wife. The important one. Marriage is complicated.

Ishmael makes fun of his little brother and God doesn’t like that. Old Testament God has less patience than New Testament God. Also, Sarah sees her stepson taunting her son and makes a tiny little demand.

Send them into the desert.
She orders.

Uh, but they’re family!
Abraham says.

I don’t want them here.
Sarah insists. 

So Abraham reluctantly acquiesces. He sends Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert. 

Yes. Into the desert. This isn’t like dropping someone off on a city block where they can find a hotel and look for new place to live while they’re drinking root beer floats in an air-conditioned cafe.

The desert. He sends them on their own into the desert. And this is a good guy, a God guy!

Apparently God has told Abraham that they’ll be okay. They almost aren’t, and almost die. But God does help them, they survive, and eventually, Ishmael goes on to become ancestor of the Arabs. Cool.

But just think on that for a minute. You exile your own flesh and blood. How? How do you do this?

This is a very challenging part of the Bible to understand, and sometimes just to get through. From a story standpoint, it’s exciting and dangerous and filled with all kinds of intrigue. But from a relational standpoint...how can these things happen? The heartbreak of being willing to sacrifice, abandon, and hurt those you love, all in service to and faith in the God you worship and follow.

And we haven’t even gotten to the tough part. Yeah, the part where Abe takes his son on a little walk up a mountain. Stay tuned. 

Additional notes

Technically Abraham means “father of a multitude.”

Ishmael goes on to become spiritual forefather and ancestor of Islam. So we have these two brothers who went onto onto become the bloodlines for two different major religions: Isaac and Judaism, Ishmael and Islam.