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Ishmael | Mark P. Spinks


“And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!”* (Genesis 17:18)

How often has this cry been wrung from the heart of a true servant of the Lord who has labored to serve Him!

There would have been no Ishmael if God had been consulted. This little boy was the offspring of human thinking, the attempt of Sarah and Abraham to somehow help God to fulfill the promise that He had made to them. And the end result was inevitable: a divided love, a diversion from the path that God had marked out for these two to follow. Their efforts brought confusion and sorrow; it released complications that they had not been able to foresee. And it came about as a direct result of a failure to trust God as they should (Genesis 17:17).

It is always thus. Our Ishmaels exist because we listen to some voice other than that of the Holy Spirit. Our motives may be pure, and the cause laudable, but we are badly out of our depth when we lean on human wisdom and understanding to attempt the work of God.

Picture in your mind this man of God, earnestly communing with God, and the agony of his heart as he earnestly pleads with God, “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” That is, “O Lord, bless me in the way that I have chosen to walk for Thee!”

It seemed so reasonable to plead thus. Here was the little boy, the product of the sacrificial consecration of Sarah. He has been growing, year by year, before the loving eyes of his father. Here, also, was the innocence of the mother of this little one, caught up in the plans and hopes of the husband and wife. The fingerprints of the human are all over the matter, and the fingerprints of the Divine are conspicuous by their absence; but the affections of the father are fully engaged with his son, his only son, and therefore this pitiful cry, “O that Ishmael might live before thee!”

And there is the presence of the Almighty. Tenderly and kindly, but, oh, so firmly, He denies the request; He rejects the son of the bondwoman, and He steadfastly holds the attention of His servant to the covenant of promise, the walk of faith and obedience. “But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.”* (Genesis 17:21)

This is what it is like to walk with God. (Not God walking with us, but we must walk with Him.) He is always right. He is always to be obeyed, regardless of human reasoning, feelings, inclinations. He knows what He is doing. His part is to guide, to command, to make possible; ours is to trust and obey.

He would have us abandon our projects and willingly consecrate wholly to His. He strives for an eye-single in us, a perfect love that gladly pours out all the heart, the mind, the strength (Matthew 6:22; Mark 12:30). We enter into rest and cease from our own works (Hebrews 4:10). “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”* (Philippians 2:13) “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.”* (Galatians 4:6)

Oh, how blessed it is to lay down our Ishmaels! The joy, the glory of perfect surrender! The circumcision of the heart. Abraham accepted the perfect will of God for him. The pain of the operation was as naught beside the glory received, the joy of obedience. With great rejoicing and blessing, we read in Genesis 17:23-27 of the eagerness with which Abraham and his household underwent this painful operation. You will note that Abraham’s Ishmael was consecrated, also. Later, it was necessary that Ishmael be put away that the son of promise might flourish.

Oh, do not fear to fully follow the Lord! To sacrifice everything to perfectly perform His precious will. He will strip our soul of divided loyalties, yea, “every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.”* (Matthew 15:13) He “[gathers] out of his kingdom all things that offend”* (Matthew 13:41); He insists that we break every yoke but His own. “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”* (2 Corinthians 10:5)