Genesis 16:11-12, “And the angel of the Lord said to her,
“Behold, you are pregnant
and shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael,[a]
because the Lord has listened to your affliction.
12 He shall be a wild donkey of a man,
his hand against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”
Despite her sinful pride, Yahweh did not abandon Hagar as she fled to Egypt but instead sent her the angel of the Lord (Gen. 16:7–8). Though we might have expected Him to chastise her, God does not do so. Instead He tells her to return to Sarai and at the same time promises to bless her with many offspring (vv. 9–10).
This promise receives further elaboration in today’s passage. The child growing in Hagar’s womb will be the first of her many descendants and is to be named Ishmael, which means “God hears” (v. 11). For the rest of her life Hagar will be able to look upon her son and remember how the Lord visited her in her time of need.
Yet this blessing is a mixed one, particularly where the covenant community is concerned. This Ishmael and his offspring will be a “wild donkey,” an animal who dwells in the desert (v. 12). The wild donkey metaphor is tellingly used elsewhere in Scripture of those who embrace stubborn autonomy and defy God’s covenant (Jer. 2:23–24; Hos. 8:8–9). This verse makes us aware that Ishmael will not be the son of promise but will antagonize those who serve the one, true God. He will be wild, continually at odds with all those around him, especially his kinsmen (the sons of Isaac) against whom he will dwell physically and militarily (Gen. 16:12). The sign to Hagar that Yahweh cares for His people will also remind her, as well as Abram and Sarai, of the consequences that come when man attempts to bring about the Lord’s will in ways not sanctioned by Him.
Therefore, it is no surprise to find an Ishmaelite later serving Absalom, the son and enemy of God’s chosen king David (2 Sam. 17:25). In like manner, we find that Islam, perhaps the greatest religious enemy of the church in our day, holds Ishmael in high esteem. The children of Abram continue to be at odds with the sons of Ishmael.
Hagar’s son is also traditionally held to be the father of the Arabs. Yet as we conclude today, it does not follow that the Lord’s word about Ishmael deprives all Arabs of hope. There are perhaps many of God’s elect people who live in Arab nations, and so we must continually endeavor to extend the Gospel to them.
Terrorism and Islamic jihad can make it hard for Western Christians to look upon the children of Ishmael with love. Yet as the Lord will redeem people from every tribe and tongue (Rev. 7:9–10), it is incumbent upon the church to pray for and reach out to the Arab world (see also Matt. 5:43–48). Take time today to pray for a predominantly Muslim country that the Gospel will prevail in its land, and consider giving time and money for missions to that nation.
The LORD Has Listened, Copyright (2022), Ligonier Ministries.