Last week, I was teaching in Sunday School to my girls. I think of the 2nd and 3rd graders as my girls because there are 5 or 6 girls, and usually only one boy. Also, the one boy usually sits silently in the back of the class and doesn’t participate. I would love to be able to get our boy participating, but he’s too outnumbered right now
I was teaching out of the story in Genesis 16 about what happened after God promised Abraham and Sarah children but before the prophecy was fulfilled. As I was beginning to teach, I had several ideas that were new, at least to me, come to me. (So of course, I stopped an wondered why on earth these ideas never occur to me while I’m studying. It seems like God doesn’t give me my best insights until I’m actually sharing the lessons.)
Genesis 16 opens with a loss of faith on the part of Abraham and Sarah. They’ve been praying for a child and God has been promising a child for years. Yet, with each passing year, they have to acknowledge that this is a promise that is unfulfilled, and might never be a reality for them. So, they try to make things work on their own. They decide that God isn’t going to give them a biological child and that they must fulfill God’s promise another way. Because God had promised that the child would come from Abraham’s seed, adoption was not an option. Instead, Sarah offers Abraham the maidservant that she got from Egypt, Hagar. Abraham would impregnate Hagar, and the child would be legally considered Abraham and Sarah’s child.
(As an aside, I find it interesting as an adult studying the Bible that Hagar comes from Egypt. I find that Egypt in the Bible is always a symbol of either sin or the course of this world and its’ fleshly desires.)
As soon as Hagar is pregnant, she begins to hate and resent her mistress. I’m pretty sure that some of it might have been the superiority that she felt over being able to give Abraham a child when Sarah couldn’t. Maybe she wished that she was the wife. I don’t know. Because of the feelings and the contention between the two of them, Hagar runs away while pregnant and has an encounter with the Lord. He tells her to go back to her mistress and to have her son. She does and she names him Ishmael.
Thirteen long years later, Sarah becomes pregnant and bears a son of promise–a son named Isaac. Around the time that Isaac is two, a then 15 year old Ishmael, teases and torments Isaac so mercilessly that Sarah asks Abraham to cast Hagar and Ishmael out of their household.
I stopped the lesson at that point and asked my girls. Do you think Isaac is a peacemaker or a peacebreaker? What about Hagar? What about Sarah? We even drew a chart on the dry erase board to show who is hurting who here.
Then, I turned the question back on them….So, which ones of you are being peacemakers and which ones of you are peacebreakers with your siblings? Ouch. And yet, we had the liveliest discussion that we have had in the five months that I’ve been teaching in that Sunday school class. Everyone is guilty of hurting those that they love. Everyone (myself included) had chosen to be a peacebreaker instead of a peacemaker to those that they loved more than any other people in the world.
And, when I shared with them the end result, how God had told Abraham to allow his wife to cast out Ishmael and Hagar? Then, I hear stories of families separating and divorces. Parents that have argued and how dangerous it is to be around two parents arguing. Later, I cried. I felt so bad that 8 and 9-year-old children should have real world experience at what it means to choose pain over peace.
I reminded myself, as I hugged my children closer, no picking–no yelling–no destruction of self-esteem, that I’m sorry goes along way when we mess up, and that even when we choose to cause those we love pain, as long as we still have our lives, we still have a chance to make it up to them.
The anger that had its root in Sarah and Hagar’s hatred of each other would play out over generations between the descendants of the boys. They would never be anything but enemies. Not only that. Their children and descendants would hate each other. Ishmael, even though God took care of him, would be cut out of God’ promise. After all, in the end, he wasn’t a part of God’s plan, just a symbol of Abraham and Sarah’s failure of faith. He was unwanted by his father’s wife later, and ultimately, his children would not have a part in the blessings that God gave those who he had chosen.
When the road seems long, and the relationship seems hard, there’s nothing to do but to give it to God. I’m thinking of one relationship in particular that I have in my life. It’s been a present difficulty for me for over a decade, yet, because of it, I have the strength and love to pursue other relationships and the patience to allow things to develop as God wills. I thank God for the strength that he gives me to pursue my life with the goal of being a peacemaker, and I thank God for my daughter Rose, who often shows me (even at 5 years old) the path to making peace.
I did not realize I was going to write such a mega-long post tonight! I doubt anyone’s left reading, but if you are, I have to blame this post on the results of free-writing about scripture in a quiet house after everyone’s gone to bed. That’s certainly a rarity in my life!!