ISHMAEL’S MOCKING OF ISAAC
According to Genesis 21, it was not the birth of Isaac that stirred up trouble; it was his growth. When Isaac was born, Hagar and her son Ishmael were not bothered very much. But after Isaac had grown up, Ishmael began to mock him (v. 9). In the biblical sense, this means that Ishmael was persecuting Isaac. God even counted Ishmael’s persecution of Isaac as the beginning of the four-hundred-year persecution of His people (15:13; Acts 7:6). Ishmael’s mocking was a serious thing because Isaac was God’s ordained seed and Ishmael was the counterfeit. The counterfeit always hates the ordained. We, the ordained seed, are hated by the counterfeit. As Paul says in Galatians 4:29, “But as then he that was born according to flesh persecuted him that was born according to Spirit, so also it is now.” The growth of Isaac stirred up that persecution.
HAGAR AND ISHMAEL CAST OUT
Sarah, the one who represented grace, would not tolerate Ishmael’s mocking of Isaac and said, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac” (v. 10). When I read this verse as a youth, I did not agree with Sarah, thinking that she was jealous and unfair. It was she who proposed to Abraham that he have a son by Hagar and now she tells him to cast Hagar and Ishmael out. According to my youthful understanding, I would have cast Sarah out. But one day, as I was thinking in this way, God rebuked me. That day I was arguing in favor of Hagar and Ishmael and sympathizing with Abraham, for “the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son” (v. 11). Although I thought that Abraham should have answered Sarah, telling her that she was cruel, he said nothing to her. Rather, God came in and told Abraham, “Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called” (v. 12). The heavenly Judge made the final decision, telling him to do what Sarah requested. Only Isaac, not Ishmael, was to be counted as the seed. Although Abraham had failed God in chapter twenty, he was quick to obey Him in chapter twenty-one. Verse 14 says that Abraham rose up early in the morning and sent Hagar and Ishmael on their way.
We need to see the spiritual significance of the casting out of Hagar and Ishmael. Like all Christians, you have been trying to do good since the day you were saved. But God has dealt with you, and many times you have been disciplined and cut. If you are a married brother, God has undoubtedly used your wife as the knife to cut your natural life. Every wife is such a sharp knife in the divine hand. Many Christian husbands can only be thoroughly dealt with and disciplined by the cutting of the wife-knife. No husband can escape it. I am happy to see that in the local churches God has used the wife-knives to deal with the natural life of the brothers. In this way, we brothers learn the lesson of hating our natural life and all the good things we can produce out of ourselves.
Although we may hate our natural life and all that it produces, we do not hate it absolutely. Deep within, we still appreciate it and say, “This Ishmael whom I have produced is quite good. He was born of me.” Such a concept always delays Isaac’s birth. It was only after Abraham had undergone dealing after dealing and failure after failure that Isaac finally came forth.
Christ has been born in our Christian life, but we still keep our Ishmael, hesitating to give up our good behavior. Many of us still boast in our natural goodness, saying, “I am not as proud as some of the brothers and sisters are. I thank God that I was born humble.” The sisters might criticize others, saying, “I would never gossip the way Sister So-and-so does. I was not born that way.” Even some elders and so-called ministers of the Word cannot keep from boasting of their natural attributes. Perhaps they say to themselves, “Brother So-and-so is so quick to lose his temper. But I thank God that my natural birth is much better than his.” Although you may not utter this, it is nevertheless hidden deep within you.
When the Christ who has been born in our Christian life has begun to grow up, our natural goodness will mock Him. Then the grace within us will say, “Cast out the law! Cast out the bondwoman and what you have produced with her by your fleshly effort.” Will you do this? You may do it apparently, but secretly you still hold on to Hagar and Ishmael, to the law and to your natural attributes and goodness. Not many Christians today have the boldness to say as Sarah did, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son.” Not many would say, “Cast out the law, the effort of the flesh, and all the success of my effort.” Rather, we cling to our success and hold on to our natural goodness. But sooner or later God will force us to abandon the law, our self-effort, and all we have produced. The brothers and sisters will then begin to rise up and say, “From now on there will be no more Hagar and Ishmael. They must go.” Like Abraham, they will send them away with only bread and water (v. 14). Sooner or later we all must do this. We must rise up one morning, give the law a skin of water, and say, “Law, go your way, and take with you the one you helped me to produce. Don’t leave him with me, because I don’t want him anymore. I loved Ishmael in the past, but now I give him up.” The law and the result of the effort of the flesh must be fully abandoned.
(Abraham—Called by God, Chapter 20, by Witness Lee)