The Only Son

From the Scriptures, we know almost nothing of Ishmael. Unlike Abraham, or Sarah, or Hagar–the people who  were all involved in his story – Ishmael doesn’t say a single word in the Bible. As readers, we don’t see or hear him; we just know he is there. But his presence is tangible. Moreover, his presence seems extremely important, even crucial to our story, because it is precisely after Ishmael is seen or heard that the major turning points of this story take place. Sarah saw Ishmael metzahek–whether “laughing” or “playing” or “scoffing”–and both he and his mother were expelled from the family. Then, God heard Ishmael’s voice, and his life and his mother’s life were both spared. All of that happened around the same time, when he was 16-17 years old: The Scriptures don’t tell us anything about those first years of his life that he spent in his father’s camp. However, we can try to fill in this gap: There are numerous details that we can safely assume in this story, even if they are not mentioned in the Bible.

First of all, Ishmael was born to elderly parents: Abraham was 86 years old, and Sarah, who acted as his mother at first, was 76. This obvious fact would have had inevitable consequences. Despite all the love and care that the long-awaited son probably received from his family, and despite all the wisdom and knowledge of God that his father began sharing with him when he was still a little child, almost a baby, he had absolutely nobody in his family to play with. I imagine that his father taught him many important practical skills: how to look for a lost sheep; how to recognize a bush that would heal a sick animal; how to shoot a bow and arrow. After all, even when he was over 90, Abraham was still good at almost everything he did, and the little boy’s eyes would have shone with pride and admiration when he watched his father shoot an arrow or sooth a hurting sheep. And yet, along with all that, little Ishmael was sorely missing a companion to play with.

Naturally, there would have been many other families gathered around Abraham, so Ishmael probably would have had some children to befriend, but still, within his immediate family, he didn’t have anybody to play with. As the only child in his elderly family, I imagine that long before he realized that Hagar was his real mother, he would have been especially attached to her for the simple reason that of all the people surrounding him, she was the closest in age to him. She might have been the only person in his immediate family who would actually play with him from time to time, and he would have treasured those rare moments. She probably did too, though it’s possible she never let him see it. For the same reason, I believe he was absolutely thrilled when he learned that he was going to have a brother. Yes, he somehow understood (though very vaguely) that it would mean a change in his status, but he was absolutely excited about the very prospect of finally having somebody young in his family! He knew how much his father loved him and felt absolutely safe in his relationship with his father, so the thought of a new sibling being a threat to that relationship would never have crossed his mind. He and his father had always done things together, ever since he was a little boy. Then, the ultimate evidence of this closeness and togetherness had been the circumcision: This strange, new and painful rite that they had both undergone on the very same day, in obedience to God’s command. It hurt a lot, but Ishmael found great comfort in the thought that he was struggling with the same pain his father was experiencing. They perfectly understood one another’s suffering; they could relate one to another’s pain; they became closer than they had ever been before, so why should he worry about their relationship? Who in the world could steal or damage it? When his new brother was born, Ishmael would be a perfect big brother: caring for him, playing with him, introducing him to the same things his father had introduced him to, mercifully and generously sharing his father with him. Perhaps, not wanting his little brother to feel robbed of his father’s love because of him, sometimes Ishmael would even tell his father: “Go spend time with your other son.” He would share Abraham magnanimously because he was so confident and so safe in his father’s love.

Of course, we have no way of knowing what Ishmael was feeling, but once again, there are things we can assume safely enough. We know for sure that for the first thirteen years of his life–from the moment he was conceived through to chapter 17, when God announced to Abraham that His covenant would be established with the son of Sarah–Abraham, as well everyone else, was absolutely confident that Ishmael would be the Son of the Covenant. Sarah thought so; for her, this detail had been a source of constant torment and pain. Hagar thought so; she had been infinitely proud to be a part of God’s plan. And of course, it would have been the first thing that Ishmael knew about himself: that one day, all the promises of God would rest on him. So how did this all turn out when Isaac was born and Ishmael became a big brother?


The Big Brother

First of all, I think everyone can agree that this was a very complicated situation, to begin with. It would have been a tough thing indeed to be the only son in the family for thirteen years, dearly loved and treasured as the Son of the Covenant, and then to realize that you aren’t the special son; that this destiny belonged to someone else and that someone was gradually taking your place. Eventually, you would inevitably start to feel “second-class”: less promising, less important, less loved. Ultimately, you would even be exiled. Perhaps some might be able to bear this humbly and quietly (I actually believe that Hagar did, though she suffered tremendously for her son’s sake), but definitely not Ishmael, whom the angel had prophesied would be “a wild man,” and who was apparently a very hot-tempered guy.

Yet at the same time, I believe that Ishmael really loved his brother. Though he was a teenager and no longer a child when Isaac was born, as we said, he would have been absolutely happy to finally have somebody young in his elderly family. He would have spent hours with Isaac, and it’s very likely that he was not only loved, but absolutely adored by his little brother. As I wrote already, I sincerely believe that this was the main reason why the boys had to be separated.

I just returned from a friend’s house where watching her one-year-old and four-year-old sons playing together reminded me of my own sons at the same age: They always played together throughout their childhood. It was after their birth that I realized a very simple truth: The three-year difference, the most popular age gap between siblings in Israel, is a very wise approach indeed. With such a gap, an older sibling does not remember what life was like without a younger brother or sister. As long as he remembers that the younger sibling has always been around, this leaves absolutely no place for jealousy or bitterness. It is quite another situation when an older sibling is old enough to remember what life was like before the birth of a younger sibling. In this case, it can be a catastrophe when the older child’s whole world collapses and all of a sudden, he or she ceases to be the center around which the whole family revolves. Sometimes this trauma can stay with him or her for their whole life, even when it has nothing to do with the actual relationship between the siblings themselves. Therefore, consciously or unconsciously, many parents try to bring children into this world three years apart. The Lord, however, seems to have waited for 13 (almost 14) years of Ishmael’s life before Isaac was born. Why?

Certainly, things don’t always turn out as parents plan. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, it’s just not possible to have a three-year age gap between siblings. If an elder son or daughter is big enough to remember life before the birth of a sibling, jealousy is almost inevitable. In that case, much depends on the parents’ wisdom: They have to take time to make their elder child feel as important, loved, and treasured as ever. But if we look at what little we find in the Bible about Isaac and Ishmael, we find every possible error that parents can make, including and culminating in the act that any modern family therapist would call a crime, not just a mistake: the banishment of a 15-year-old teenager from his home! Once again, if it happened today, the family would have been sent to therapy. The Lord, however, doesn’t just allow it, He affirms it, even insists on it. Why?

Ishmael was 13 or 14 years old when his brother was born. Undoubtedly, from that time until the moment he was expelled, he must have had very mixed feelings in his heart. We already said that he would have loved his cute little brother; however, along with this love, envy and jealousy must have been welling up in his heart as the years passed. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if chapters 21 and 22 of the book of Genesis had been switched. What would have happened had Ishmael still been at home on that morning when Abraham saddled his donkey, cut the wood, took Isaac, and went to Mount Moriah? If Ishmael could have seen just a glimpse of his chosen brother’s future; if he could have known somehow how much suffering Isaac’s destiny would hold; if he could have realized even vaguely that the chosen one’s path leads to an altar, his jealousy would probably have been less acute, his resentment less painful. Ishmael, however, saw nothing of this. The years he spent in Abraham’s house after the birth of Isaac were spent in envy: He would have been jealous of their father’s love, jealous of the status of Isaac’s mother, and jealous of God’s promises to Isaac and his chosen status. Again, if only he knew how much pain and suffering the chosen one must face, perhaps he would even have been glad that in the end, he wasn’t the Son of the Covenant. However, all that Ishmael saw was that Isaac’s life was smooth and easy, and this was his perspective when he left his father’s house.  This is how he remembered Isaac; this is the impression he took with him, along with bitterness and resentment. Genesis 21 comes before Genesis 22; Ishmael doesn’t see his brother being led to Mount Moriah. Instead, he is cast out of the house while everything in his brother’s life is still comfortable and easy. Why?

These questions haunted me for a long time. For a long time, I’ve been asking: Why? For a long time, I kept wondering why it seemed that the Lord, Who knew everything and could do everything, had created this story in such a way that Ishmael’s pain, envy, and bitterness would persist not only for the rest of his life, but throughout the lives of the countless generations of his descendants as well. Then, all of a sudden, I realized–or to be more precise, the Lord showed me– that He didn’t create this story at all; people did. God has a perfect plan for everyone, and though our human actions and mistakes can interfere with this plan and seriously complicate things, His plan will prevail anyway: The counsel of the Lord stands forever.[1] From the very beginning, it was God’s plan to give a son to Abraham and Sarah in their extremely old age (100 and 90) and to make Isaac’s birth completely supernatural and miraculous. On the other hand, the story of Ishmael was a completely man-made story; nobody asked God’s will or even God’s opinion on this matter. The manner and timing of how Ishmael was conceived and born had nothing whatsoever to do with God. So, we should not be surprised to learn that Ishmael’s birth neither changed, nor influenced His original plan.

Yes, it definitely interfered with His plan. It made the whole situation extremely complicated, and that is why God eventually had to separate the boys. That is why He did support the seemingly very unjust and exaggerated demand by Isaac’s mother. Not because He supported Sarah in her unjust attitude toward Ishmael, but because He knew the boys needed to be separated, and the earlier, the better. He didn’t plan this terrible rupture from the outset–just as He didn’t plan for Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree or for the people of Israel to make the golden calf and for Moses to break the tablets. And yet, all of this happened. In the same way, Ishmael and Hagar were expelled, and the family was broken.

However, even through deeds and decisions that have nothing to do with Him, God can carry out His plan, and it is this plan that we are trying to comprehend here. In the story of Joseph, the brothers threw Joseph down a well and then sold him into Egyptian slavery. Obviously, there was nothing godly about those deeds, yet still, we know that, as Joseph put it later, “it was not you who sent me here, but God.”[2] We all know that God had this plan from the beginning: that Israel would go into Egypt and the glorious exodus would follow (as early as Genesis 15, He is already telling Abraham about these future events.[3]) Likewise in this story, although we see many human weaknesses and mistakes, the bottom line is that God’s plan was implemented through–and reflected in–the story of Abraham and his two sons. It is the mission of this book to figure out what this plan is. Very soon, we will be moving up to the next levels of insight, and we will seek to understand more of God’s mystery and of God’s plan as revealed in the story of Isaac and Ishmael.


The Parting

I can only imagine how extremely unfair this whole situation seemed to Ishmael and Hagar: The boy was kicked out of the family and the house against all rules and laws! The laws of the Torah do not permit parents, or even legal authorities, to expel a son or daughter from the home for any reason. According to the Torah, nobody can divest an offspring of his legal status in the household to which he belongs.[4] It was very different among other peoples in the ancient Near East: “expelling one’s offspring from the parents’ home, i.e., divesting a child of his legal status in his father’s house, was a legitimate legal procedure in cases of offenses committed against the parents.”[5] In this sense, the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael, as traumatic and bitter as it was already, also bore an additional spiritual and national charge: It was as if they were cast out from the society of God’s people, as if overnight they became outcasts to which none of this society’s laws applied.

The Scriptures don’t describe the scene, but still, I can almost see it: It’s a bright, sunny morning. A beautiful toddler stretches out his arms to his beloved brother. His eyes are locked on Ishmael as he tries to understand what’s wrong and why his brother doesn’t return his smile for the first time ever. Meanwhile, the big brother, a dark and gloomy teenager, is preparing to leave. He checks his little bag on his back and throws quick and threatening looks in the direction of the baby and his mother. Once again, if Genesis 21 and Genesis 22 had been switched, if Ishmael had only known that the path his brother was chosen for–the path he was so envious of–was the path to an altar, then things probably would have been much more peaceful. However, years separate this sunny morning from the morning of Genesis 22. Isaac is still a very small child, and his life is as cloudless as the sky above them today. Dark, bitter, and envious of this peaceful life, Ishmael stands next to his brother, holding back his rage, and prepares to leave forever.

And yet, as terrible as it seemed to Hagar and Ishmael at that moment (and as terrible as it looks to us even now), we can still see the invisible dotted line that proves more than anything else that this scene was still a part of God’s plan. “The inner-workings of God’s heart differ greatly from the circumstances our earthly eyes can see, as well as from the conclusions we are able to draw based on them alone”[6]–I wrote years ago about God’s love for Israel. The love He has for His people often remains invisible, yet He wants us to be able to see it through eyes of faith. Again and again in the Scriptures, we see the secret of God’s love hidden within His plan. Through the Bible’s stories, the Lord teaches us to see His love hidden within our own circumstances. If you only read the first part of the stories of Lazarus from the Gospel of John, or of Joseph and Benjamin from the book of Genesis–if all you see is Lazarus dying or Benjamin being accused of theft–you are bound to wonder what is going on. Where is the love that we know that Yeshua had for Lazarus and that Joseph had for his brother? We need to read through the whole story to be able to see this love and to understand God’s heart and God’s ways.

I believe that the same holds true here: We cannot understand the heart of God based on the visible circumstances of this one scene. For a moment, it does feel like something extremely unfair and unjust. But remember: the Bible speaks to us of a just God, and the very next scene in the wilderness proves it.


God Heard the Voice of the Lad!

I can imagine that when they were leaving, Ishmael said to his mother (undoubtedly, by this time, he knew perfectly well that Hagar was his mother):  “Where is your God?” All his life, the boy had thought of God as the God of his father, but now, he ultimately felt betrayed both by his father and by his father’s God. He had always known that his father was a friend of God, and if his father was expelling him now, then how could he avoid feeling that he was also being rejected by God Himself? So, he would have turned to his mother’s experience that he has also heard a lot about. Does he question his mother: “Where is your El Roi? Where is the One Who sees you? Where is He? Why does He not see us now that we desperately need Him? Why does He not intervene?”

Undoubtedly, Hagar would have been tormented by the same questions and feelings. She must have been utterly disappointed when God first took away all the promises from her son and then failed to defend them when they were cast out. But the invisible dotted line already connected her El Roi encounter with what would happen in the visible realm in just a few hours, when that beautiful sunny morning became a mercilessly hot day under a scorching sun.

Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba. And the water in the skin was used up, and she placed the boy under one of the shrubs. Then she went and sat down across from him at a distance of about a bowshot; for she said to herself, “Let me not see the death of the boy.” So she sat opposite him, and lifted her voice and wept.[7]

She lifted up her voice and called upon the Lord and cried: She still thought she was responsible for her child’s life (as any mother would); she still sought to protect and save him. Or perhaps she didn’t call upon the Lord, steeped as she was in her own self-pity, bitterness, even depression. After all, she left Ishmael to die, so it seems she had lost all hope in God at this point. Perhaps this is the reason that the Lord heard Ishmael’s voice, and not hers. All we know is that ultimately, it was Ishmael’s voice and Ishmael’s prayer that saved and protected them both. 

And God heard the voice of the lad. Then the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her, “What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad and hold him with your hand, for I will make him a great nation.”[8]

In her first epiphany, in Genesis 16, God promised Hagar that he would hear the boy–and sixteen years later, He does indeed hear his voice. Thus, this second Encounter was, first of all, Ishmael’s Encounter. And though the Scriptures don’t tell us exactly what God said to him, they leave no doubt as to the fact that this communication between God and Ishmael happened: God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.[9]

Where he is: This implies all the bitterness, anger, and hurt that was in his heart. Undoubtedly, the boy wasn’t in a very good place at that moment; he was dying of thirst not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. But God heard the voice of the lad where he is, even with all the questions and complaints of his troubled heart. Not only did He give him water and quench his physical thirst, but first of all, He quenched the thirst of his heart. He cooled down his inflamed emotions and shielded Ishmael from the merciless heat tormenting not only his body, but his soul as well.

If the Lord heard Ishmael that means Ishmael called upon the Lord. He prayed and asked Him to save them. Now we come to my favorite question: How could Ishmael have called upon God? After all, this was the same God whom he believed was behind all his sufferings. By this time, so many things in the boy’s life would have seemed extremely unjust and unfair, and God would have seemed to be the One responsible for this injustice. How can it be that Ishmael still called upon the Lord?

The very first time I asked this question was while writing my first book about Job. I was stunned to realize that even though Job knew that God was the One who was shaking Him – He has fenced up my way, so that I cannot pass; And He has set darkness in my paths,”[10]as the book progresses, he understands more and more that nobody else can help him but God Himself. He turns away from his comforter friends and their powerless words and turns to the Lord: My eyes pour out tears to God.”[11]

Here, we are touching something that is almost impossible to express in words, and yet, it’s almost impossible not to touch upon it in every testimony. It doesn’t matter how deep your wounds are or how huge the hole in your heart is, this hole can be filled and these wounds can be healed only by God Himself, by His love and His presence. Ishmael was a result–a byproduct in a sense–of Sarah’s, Abraham’s, and Hagar’s passions and mistakes. And yet, it was God Himself who created him, and the boy was definitely not a byproduct to Him. God knew both the bleeding wounds and the dark secrets of the boy’s heart. Ishmael might have been angry at his father, and his brother, and his step mother–at almost everybody around him–but God still saw him “where he was.” He saw him in the desert–in that terrible place of heat, bitterness, resentment, and thirst–and He not only saved him physically, but also calmed his stormy thoughts and feelings and filled his heart with His incredible peace. Perhaps for the first time ever.


Beer Lahai Roi

Before we finish this portrait, I would like to touch on an episode that not many preachers or scholars pay attention to. You probably remember that in Genesis 22, after the sacrifice on Mount Moriah was over, Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt in Beersheba.[12] Not a word is said of Isaac here; after the sacrifice on Mount Moriah, he mysteriously disappears. Where did he go?

We don’t see Isaac again until the very end of chapter 24, where his meeting with Rebekah is described. The Scripture says that he came up from the south (from the desert), from the place called Beer Lahai Roi: Now Isaac came from the way of Beer Lahai Roi, for he dwelt in the South.[13] As we know, Beer Lahai Roi is a place that is connected to Hagar; this is the name she gave to the place of her first epiphany in Genesis 16. Why was Isaac there?

The Torah says nothing else about it. It seems to be one of those numerous gaps in the Scriptures that begs to be filled by our imagination. However, I think that in this case, it is more than just our imagination that makes visible those dotted lines. If you know God as the God of healing, then you would know that the family and the hearts that were broken in Genesis 21 were certain to be healed at some point. In His time, He makes sure this healing happens. Just as in the story of Joseph and his brothers: What was broken and torn at the beginning of the story was fixed and healed in the end. The relationships between the brothers, the broken hearts, the devastated father–all of this was healed and restored by the end of the story.

I believe that the same healing also happened here, although we don’t read about it in the Scriptures. Let us try to trace this imaginary dotted line. First, though nothing is said explicitly about Hagar’s and Ishmael’s whereabouts in the desert after they were banished from Abraham’s house and saved by God in Genesis 21, wouldn’t it be logical to suppose that they went to the very same oasis where Hagar had been so blessed to have her first encounter in Genesis 16? I believe that even after sixteen years, the sweetness of His presence, the tenderness of His love, and  the fragrant, sweet warmth that she had experienced then were still absolutely real for her. It would have been only natural for her to lead her son to the place where she had been made so happy many years before. It’s quite possible that they settled there and stayed there for years.

What was Isaac doing there? If our conjecture is right and little Isaac did love his older brother, then Ishmael’s expulsion would have been a terrible trauma for Isaac as well. His heart had been broken, and though for years he might not even have remembered it (after all, he was  only two or three years old when it happened), it all came back when he lay on the Akedah altar at Mount Moriah, facing death and waiting for Abraham’s knife to come down. When he saw that terrible anguish on his father’s face, he realized he had seen the same expression already. Then, it all came flooding back: his father’s eyes, full of the same horror and anguish he could see in them now; his brother’s face, distorted beyond recognition by bitterness and anger; the dull void in his life and the never-ending pain in his heart after Ishmael had left. All of a sudden, he remembered that terrible rupture in the family that had brought so much pain; all of a sudden, he realized that those wounds had never been healed. Is it any wonder, then, that the first place he wanted to go after his life had been spared was Beer Lahai Roi? He would have wanted to see his brother because he had realized: He had loved him all those years and he wanted to see his brother because he was longing to heal those wounds and to make his broken family whole again. He probably stayed there with his brother for a while: We understand from the text that he had been living at Beer Lahai Roi before his meeting with Rebekah.

I am trying to imagine Ishmael living in Beer Lahai Roi with his family and waiting, all these years, for Isaac to come. With all my heart, I believe that Ishmael knew that at some point Isaac would come; he had been waiting for him to come. But how did he know this? And what exactly happened between the brothers when Isaac came to Beer Lahai Roi?

Let us go back to Ishmael’s epiphany in Genesis 21. Even though, as always, we have no way of knowing what God was saying to Ishmael in Genesis 21, there is no doubt that God filled Ishmael’s heart with His peace at that time. One can’t have an encounter with God and not have His peace after that encounter. Only after such an encounter do all your questions dissolve: In that day, you will ask Me nothing.[14] Only after such an encounter can you reconcile yourself completely to your circumstances. And, I believe, it took such an encounter for Ishmael to become reconciled to his circumstances and to his destiny.

I believe that God spoke to Ishmael about his family. He must have said something about his father–the person Ishmael was so angry with at that moment. I am sure He said something about his brother, as well. He probably told Ishmael the things that I wished the teenager had known when he was leaving his home: that Isaac’s destiny would be very painful and would bring him and his descendants much suffering. He might have told him about Akedat Itzhak, about Isaac’s sacrificial path to Mount Moriah–the path where the son becomes the “lamb”. It’s possible that during this encounter, Ishmael realized for the first time that he had been sent away to be spared Isaac’s difficult destiny, that in fact, he should be happy that it wasn’t his calling after all. God had actually preserved him for another destiny, another calling. He had saved him from Isaac’s sacrificial path.

Years later, when both brothers bury their father, the Scripture names them in reverse order: And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite.[15]

Pay close attention: The order is reversed. The names follow God’s order and God’s plan. An important spiritual truth is reflected in this passage: After his Encounter and his revelation, Ishmael became completely reconciled to where he was and who he was. Of course, the scripture as written by Moses reflects God’s order of things, not necessary Ishmael’s acceptance of them – and yet, I believe that after that Encounter and that revelation, Ishmael knew that one day Isaac would be coming to Beer Lahai Roi and would need his brother’s support and comfort. Personally, I do believe that Isaac came to Beer Lahai Roi after the Akedah; that Ishmael was there for him, that the brothers were reconciled, and the old wounds were healed.

Once again, we have no way of knowing whether this really happened. The Scriptures don’t tell us about it; perhaps because it didn’t happen; perhaps because the healing of one particular family then, has not yet happened for all the extended family. We still see no peace between Isaac’s and Ishmael’s descendants today, and we all are painfully aware of that.

However, if it did happen, try to imagine: What would have been the first thing that Isaac would have said to his brother? Don’t you think he would say: “Listen, brother, I am so sorry. I am really sorry for what happened and for all the suffering you had to go through.” And even though the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael was not Isaac’s fault–we know as well as Ishmael did that Isaac was just a toddler at the time it happened and had absolutely no part in it–don’t you think that this would have been the right thing for him to say? I sincerely believe that those would have been Isaac’s first words upon meeting Ishmael after all these years. And these words would have opened the door to the reconciliation of the brothers.

Perhaps the time has come for us, Isaac’s descendants, to say the same words to Ishmael’s descendants: “We are sorry, dear brothers and sisters! We are really sorry for what happened then, with Hagar and Ishmael, and for all the suffering you’ve had to go through since then.”     Years ago, very simple words from a sister in our congregation really pierced my heart. She said: “The Holy Spirit does not start to act until you ask for forgiveness.” True, Ishmael’s banishment was not our fault; true, it was God’s plan from the very beginning. But so was the story of Joseph, who was cruelly and mercilessly sold into Egypt by his brothers. Don’t you think that the brothers should have asked forgiveness for what they did to him, even though it was God’s plan? There is a verse in the Psalms that I have applied to my people so many times: persecuting someone you had already stricken…, adding to the pain of those you wounded.[16]

In my eyes, my people have always been the wounded and stricken ones. However, maybe we are not only the wounded ones, maybe we are also adding to the pain of those He wounded?     All these centuries, we’ve kept repeating the story of Genesis 21; we’ve kept banishing Ishmael’s descendants from our family, and then, we’ve been constantly surprised to receive bitterness and hatred back. The time has come to change things, and I do believe that it is our apology – our saying “sliha!” We are sorry! – that might begin this process of change.

Naturally, the situation won’t change overnight; naturally, healing and reconciliation are a long process. But this process will never happen unless we start it. “As heirs to so troubling a history of relationships among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, from biblical and Qur’anic beginnings to contemporary events,”[17] we can only hope and pray for that new Encounter with the Lord, both for Isaac and for Ishmael, that will lead to a new Beer Lahai Roi experience – to the reconciliation of the brothers; to the healing of wounds; and to the broken being made whole. But if we are hoping and waiting for this new Encounter to occur, we need to invite the Lord in and let Him act. And to do that, we need to take the first step, just as that sister said. We have to ask for forgiveness. If we are really serious about that, if we are ready to go out of our way in order to find Ishmael, like Isaac did after Mount Moriah, if we are sincere in our apology, then the day might come when we truly experience this Beer Lahai Roi reunion. “In that day, you will ask me nothing,”[18] says the Lord. And it is that day that we are all eagerly awaiting.


  • [1] Psalms 33:11
  • [2] Genesis 45:8
  • [3] Genesis 15:13,14
  • [4] Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel; Dr. Joseph Fleischman , Dept. of Bible, Parashat Vayera 5760/1999
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Julia Blum, If You Be the Son of God, Come Down from the Cross, New Wine Press, 2006, p.19
  • [7] Genesis 21:14-16
  • [8] Genesis 21:17,18
  • [9] Genesis 21:17
  • [10] Job 19:8
  • [11] Job 16:20
  • [12] Genesis 22:19
  • [13] Genesis 24 :62
  • [14] John 16:23
  • [15] Genesis 25:9
  • [16] Psalms 69:27 (CJB- Complete Jewish Bible)
  • [17] Hagar, Sarah and their children: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Perspectives, Westminster John Knox Press, 2006; Phyllis Trible, Introduction
  • [18] John 16:23