“So Abraham said to God, ‘If only Ishmael were acceptable to You!'” (Genesis 17:18, HCSB).
Ishmael was Abraham’s son by Hagar, his wife’s servant. Ishmael’s birth was planned by Sarah, Abraham’s wife, as a way to have children in order to fulfill God’s covenant with Abraham: “Now the word of the Lord come to him… ‘One who comes from your own body will be your heir… Look at the sky and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then He said to him, ‘Your offspring will be that numerous'” (Genesis 15:4-5, HCSB).
Since Sarah was old and had not borne Abraham a child, she offered her Egyptian servant to Abraham so that they could have a child by her.
Abraham consented to a marital arrangement taking Hagar as his second wife when he was 85 years old. Customs of the time dictated that any child conceived by Hagar would belong to Sarah and Abraham.
When Ishmael was thirteen years old, God reaffirmed His covenant with Abraham and decreed that male circumcision would be the sign or seal of this covenant. Then God informed Abraham that his wife Sarah would give birth to a son, who he was instructed to name Isaac. God told Abraham that He would establish his covenant through Isaac.
When Abraham inquired as to Ishmael’s role, God answered that Ishmael has been blessed and that He “will make him fruitful, and will multiply him greatly… and I will make him into a great nation” (vs. 20).
Abraham was ninety-nine and Sarah was ninety when God made this promise!
Naturally, Abraham was skeptical and he instead proposed to God that Ishmael, his son by Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian slave, be the acceptable heir of God’s promise.
When my youngest son was just a toddler, he was fascinated by sirens and emergency vehicles. Whenever we would see an ambulance, fire truck, or police car rushing to the scene of an accident with sirens blaring, he would ask, “Can we be them?”
Now I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by the question but assumed he wanted permission to pretend to be the people riding in the emergency vehicle. Not wanting to stifle the child’s imagination, I always answered in the affirmative!
“Yes, Son, we can be them!”
Abraham seemed to be asking God a similar question in this verse…
“Can it be Ishmael?”
Can we do this covenant on the pretense that the promises you have made to me are fulfilled through Ishmael?
Twenty-five years had passed since God told Abraham to go to the land of Canaan and almost fifteen years since God had promised him a biological heir. Abraham was now an elderly man who seemed to have God’s plans and purposes for his life behind him.
So, it would be much more convenient if it could be Ishmael.
And therein, lies the difference between our schemes and God’s plans.
Our schemes are always void of God’s supernatural intervention into our lives. Our schemes are usually a convenient pretense of God’s will.
Like Abraham, we want to make counter-proposals to God in which He accepts our will and what’s convenient for us as His will and we avoid the stress of obedience.
But God was undaunted by Abraham’s well-intended suggestion regarding Ishmael.
And God is not deterred from working His will through us when we obey as precipitously and precisely as did Abraham the light that God gives us regarding His plans for our lives: “He circumcised the flesh of their foreskin on that very day, just as God had said to him“ (vs. 23).