Ishmael was a child of favor, then, like many of us, his life took an unexpected turn.
When Sarah, the wife of Abraham, found herself barren, she encouraged her husband to sleep with her maid servant, Hagar, to produce an heir. This was a pagan custom of the tribes around them, but it was not God's way.
Abraham was 86 years old when Ishmael was born of that union. Ishmael means "God hears," because God heard Hagar's prayers. But 13 years later, Sarah did give birth, through a miracle of God, to Isaac. Suddenly, through no fault of his own, Ishmael was no longer the heir. During the time Sarah had been barren, Hagar flaunted her child. When Isaac was weaned, Ishmael mocked his half-brother. Angered, Sarah told Abraham to cast the two out.
God, however, did not abandon Hagar and her child. They were stranded in the desert of Beersheba, dying from thirst. An angel of the Lord came to Hagar, showed her a well, and they were saved.
Hagar later found an Egyptian wife for Ishmael and he fathered 12 sons, just as Isaac's son Jacob would. Two generations later, God used the descendants of Ishmael to save the Jewish nation. Isaac's grandsons sold their brother Joseph into slavery to Ishmaelite traders. They took Joseph to Egypt and sold him again. Joseph eventually rose to become second in command of the entire country and saved his father and brothers during a great famine.
Ishmael grew to become a skilled hunter and archer.
He fathered the nomadic Arab nations.
Ishmael lived to 137 years old.
Ishmael did his part to help fulfill God's promise to prosper him. He realized the importance of family and had 12 sons. Their warrior tribes eventually inhabited most of the countries in the Middle East.
Our circumstances in life can change quickly, and sometimes for the worse. That is when we should draw near to God and seek his wisdom and strength. We may be tempted to become bitter when bad things happen, but that never helps. Only by following direction from God can we get through those valley experiences.
Mamre, near Hebron, in Canaan.
Referenced in the Bible:
Father - Abraham
Mother - Hagar, servant of Sarah
Half-brother - Isaac
Sons - Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah.
Daughters - Mahalath, Basemath.
And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. (NIV)
Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people. (NIV)