Commentary by Walter Albritton

September 23, 2007


Because God is Love He Cares for All People Everywhere


Genesis 21:9-21


Key Verse: [God said to Abraham,] “As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him [Ishmael] also, because he is your offspring.” – Genesis 21:13

A few years ago Archbishop William Temple truly nailed it with these words: “If Jesus died for any person anywhere, then he died for all people everywhere.”

Salvation is for everyone! This is the truth of the Gospel. God loves and cares for all people everywhere.

That is why John Wesley could declare: “The world is my parish!”

That is why Charles Wesley underscored this truth in so many of his hymns, as in this one: “Come, sinners, to the gospel feast; let every soul be Jesus’ guest. Ye need not one be left behind, for God hath bid all humankind.”

Our study of Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael helps us to see this truth clearly – and to rejoice that God’s love is universal. Paul affirms this great truth in First Timothy 2:3 – “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Now any thinking person will admit that, given the mess the world is in, it is highly unlikely that “all people everywhere” will ever embrace Jesus as Savior. Yet that is God’s desire and God’s plan. And it is not God’s fault that there is so much religious conflict and division in the world.

Genesis does not whitewash the story of Abraham. He and Sarah were not perfect people. While we may admire them for trusting God, and leaving the affluence of Ur for places unknown, they were sinners just like we are. Abraham was guilty of lying and shamefully pretended Sarah was his sister. He and Sarah got tired of waiting on God and decided to “help God” keep his promise to give Abraham a son.

Though it was Sarah’s idea for her husband to father a child by her maid, Hagar, Abraham consented to the plan. He could have said no. So they took matters into their own hands. Abraham slept with Hagar and she became pregnant.

Then Sarah regretted her decision. She despised Hagar until she could no longer stand the sight of her. Her loathing grew to hatred. Soon with Abraham’s permission she began treating Hagar so cruelly that Hagar ran away. In the desert she was confronted by an angel who advised her to go back to serve Sarah but assured her that her son Ishmael would give her descendants too numerous to count. So Ishmael was born when Abraham was 86 years old.

Years later God kept his promise to Sarah. She conceived and bore Abraham a son named Isaac when Abraham was 100 years old. Sarah was happy. God had brought laughter to her family. Isaac’s name means “laughter” or “God laughs.”

But Sarah’s happiness did not last. Hatred for Hagar returned. On the day Isaac was weaned, when he was about three, Sarah saw Ishmael “mocking.” She was so angry that she insisted that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness to die. She wanted to be rid of them both.

Reluctantly Abraham sent them away the next morning knowing that, with so little food and water, they would soon be dead.

What happens next is one of the greatest scenes in the Bible. With the water and food gone, Hagar puts her son under a bush to die. She goes nearby not wanting to see her son die and begins to weep.

The next words in this story are worthy of being underlined in your heart! Genesis says, “God heard the boy crying.”  Think about that! Our God hears a child crying. Our God heard the woman crying. Our God cares about the plight of his children. In this we see the amazing love of God. Our God is more than a great Architect of the Universe; he is a Person who hears and cares when his children are hurting.

God’s love is manifested through the message the angel spoke to Hagar. He said, “Take this boy back in your arms and care for him for I will make him into a great nation.”

There is more. Verse 19 is a truly magnificent statement: “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.”  Keep those words in your heart. One day they will bless you. Perhaps they already have. We are blind. We cannot see. Then God in his mercy opens our eyes so that we can see the resources he has provided – “a well of water.” He makes the blind to see that he is always near, ready to help his children.

Many times in my journey I have been overwhelmed by adversity. God seemed far away. Then suddenly he came. He opened my eyes and I too “saw a well of water.” I saw his provision. I saw his love meeting my need. I saw his deliverance. And of course I saw the great well of water that he has provided for all of us in his Son Jesus, the Water of Life!

Sadly the stories of Ishmael and Isaac have no happy ending. Indeed the sin that led to the birth of Ishmael was the beginning of unbelievable misery for the human race. Today millions of Muslims think of themselves as children of Abraham through his son Ishmael. Millions of Jews and Christians trace their heritage as Abraham’s children through Isaac. The great difference is that Muslims revere Mohammed rather than Jesus. And the Jews for the most part are still waiting for the Messiah to appear.

While there is great hatred in the world today between the descendents of Ishmael and Isaac, there is reason for hope. God’s plan has not changed. He still wants all men to be saved. He still wants all people everywhere to drink from the fountain of Jesus, the fountain that “never shall run dry.”

Can followers of Islam and followers of Jesus find ways to love one another and come together as children of Abraham? Can Christians trust God enough to believe that he will in time keep all his promises? Can we keep alive the dream of people everywhere united in love at the feet of Jesus?

Perhaps a scene in the 25th chapter of Genesis will help us to keep hope alive and remain faithful to the God who loves all his children. In verse nine we are told that Isaac and Ishmael were together when they buried their father Abraham beside his wife Sarah. If those two men could put aside the hostility that existed between them, perhaps the followers of Mohammed and Jesus can find a way to peace.

There is hope. Not because of who we are but because of who God is. God cares. God loves. The songwriter has it right – no tongue or pen can ever tell how great the love of our God is – for all people everywhere! It is reason enough to rejoice!

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