The Case Of The Stolen Inheritance (Genesis 21)


If someone makes me a promise, any promise, no matter how big or small, I always take it with a grain of salt. I think I can be a bit cynical at times – but I just don’t trust that people will do what they say! If someone says that we should hang out soon, I assume that they’re just making small talk. If someone promises to help me with something, I tell myself that they’re being polite. It’s just the way my mind works. When someone actually does fulfill their promise, though? I mean, wow. I’m stunned and thrilled.

It can be difficult to trust humans, but it was the most trustworthy Person around who promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a kid and even gave a timeline, back in Genesis 18. Still, I can imagine Abraham and Sarah getting nervous as the months passed by, wondering if they would really find out that Sarah was pregnant soon. Sure enough, it happened and Sarah gave birth to Isaac right when God had said she would (verse 2).

Abraham circumcised his newborn son when he was eight days old, continuing to fulfill the covenant he had made with His God. Isaac grew well and was doted on by his parents (verse 8), as children generally are. But not everyone was in love with Isaac. Ishmael liked to spend his time teasing his half-brother. This got to Isaac’s mother, who eventually delivered the final blow in the long-standing battle between her and Hagar, Ishmael’s mother. She asked Abraham to send the two away.

Unlike the last time this happened, Abraham didn’t give in so easily. The thought of sending away his son weighed on him, so he brought his troubles to God. God told him what was probably the last thing he wanted to hear – Abraham must send his firstborn son and his son’s mother away. Despite his sadness, Abraham immediately obeyed.

Hagar and her son became wanderers. They had a brush with death – the water and food Abraham had given them (verse 14) ran out. Hagar immediately stopped moving and separated from her son, refusing to watch him die. But the God who saw Hagar years before when she was pregnant with Ishmael stepped in again, providing the poor mother with water for her and her boy. God did not leave that small family, watching over Hagar and Ishmael as the boy grew to marry and become an archer.

Meanwhile in the household now short two members, Abraham busies himself making a treaty with King Abimelek, with whom he stays. They promise to be kind to one another. Abraham earnestly keeps his promise, barely even blinking an eye when Abimelek’s men steal one of his wells. The king plays dumb (verse 26), but Abraham calmly digs another well, this time protecting it more formally (verses 27-30), and the two men live peacefully together for a long time.

The Treasures Within:

The Interloper

The last time there was a run-in between Sarah and Hagar, things got sort of chaotic. Hagar was mean, then Sarah was mean, so Hagar ran away, but then God told her to go back. The only reason Hagar and Ishmael were still with this family was because it was God’s will! Now, in a situation only slightly less complicated, Sarah is mad at Ishmael, so God flips the script and tells Abraham to send Hagar away. But why? Kids tease each other all the time. After Hagar came all the way back, why send her away now?

Well, simply put, Hagar and her son didn’t belong. Things were different before Isaac. Now that Abraham and Sarah had a natural son together, an heir, Ishmael’s place in the family had shifted. He was an interloper, a leech. Like Sarah intimated in verse 10, his presence threatened Isaac’s inheritance. Ishmael was the first born son of Abraham, but he was not the son God had promised Abraham, not even a little bit. He couldn’t have the same blessings as Isaac. Abraham’s home with his sprawling tents, numerous servants, and plenteous food was all to belong to Isaac. Ishmael couldn’t have any of it, else he’d be taking what rightfully belonged to the son of promise.

So God sent him and his mother away. He didn’t cast them out into the cold, though. God protected and prospered and blessed Ishmael. After all, he hadn’t done anything wrong. The real wrongdoer was Abraham, trying to get what God had promised him through his own methods. That super bright idea didn’t work out at all, ending up causing more pain than it was worth.

A Common Error

Paul discusses Hagar and Ishmael and Isaac and Sarah in detail in Galatians 4:21-31, drawing a direct comparison between this story and the story of salvation. God has promised us eternal life. He’s promised us the hope of heaven and life more abundantly. Just like Abraham in Genesis 18, humanity is trying to achieve this promise through its own methods. We make sure we go to church every week. Or we become active in social justice causes. Or we dress modestly, wearing only long dresses, shunning makeup and jewelry. As we check each achievement off of our list, we feel a surge of relief, maybe even pride. This, this will ensure that we go to heaven. Now we can be certain that we have eternal life.

But that was never how God intended for things to be. The promises that He has for us are promises, not prizes for high performance. They are gifts. He wants to give them to us. He wants to make a covenant with us, a loving agreement where our role is to accept and His role is to give. Some of humanity will enter that covenant. They will stop trying to fulfill the promises their own way. The inheritance will be theirs. But the rest of humanity, the ones who tried to work their way in, won’t be able to enjoy any of those blessings. Eternal life and salvation belong only to the children of promise.

So now the question is which one am I? Which one are you? Are we trying to work our way into heaven? Are we simply striving to do “our best” and hope that God will accept it so that we can skip over the covenant relationship part? Or will we accept God’s gifts? Will we commit ourselves to God and allow Him to work in our lives? Will we choose to be children of promise?

God’s Message To Us:

“Trust Me enough to do things My way.” We humans are funny. The Creator of everything we see, the King of kings, our Savior, comes to us and makes us a promise. He says He will save us and asks only for our hearts. But we sit there and are like “Hmm, okay, interesting proposition – I can do you one better. I will become good. I will do the good things that I can manage, and then we can save precious time and effort on that whole heart thing. Good deal, amirite?” It sounds insane. Who are we to bargain with God? But we do it constantly.

God’s way is better. It requires more of us. It requires sacrifice, surrender, and a life change. But His way is better. His way is so much better, that God used the entire Bible just to make it clear to us that this is the way to go. He wants us to make a choice. We can continue to forge our own twisted, decrepit paths or we can stop bargaining with God and take our first step into eternity.

What do you think? Why do you think God sent Hagar and Ishmael away? What message do you believe God was trying to get to you when He wrote this chapter of the Bible?


2 thoughts on “The Case Of The Stolen Inheritance (Genesis 21)

  1. I think that the reason why God sent Hagar and Ishmael away is to teach us that salvation is by faith in God. Hagar represents what we can do in our human strength. The number 6 represents what we can do in our own strength, we can be pretty good. But we can’t keep all of the commandments. Perfectly. That we cannot do. So we give God what we can do. The best we can do is completely unacceptable. Ishmael is the miracle child. The child of promise. He was born by faith. He represents what God can do in our lives. He represents the miracle God wants to do in our lives. Not the number 6, almost obedient, pretty good. But the number 7. Perfection. By faith in the power of God. Hagar was sent away to teach us the object lesson that God will not accept the best we can do. He only accepts what HE can do, in our lives. Which is to make us perfect. But we don’t believe He can do it. It happens by faith.


    1. I agree with you. That further explains why God deemed Ishmael unworthy of the inheritance – not only was Isaac the child that God promised to Abraham, Isaac represents God’s miracle of salvation. Ishmael represents our own “righteousness”, our own filthy rags. We will never measure up unless we accept the miracle of salvation.


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