One of Caleb and Jake’s greatest concerns after they complete Jubilant Academy in June is whether they may keep living with us. After all, in Caleb and Jake’s experience, when young people finish high school, they typically go away. Their big brother did. Micah flew off to Australia for a gap year experience. And now, a couple of years later, Micah is attending university.
Jake has wondered aloud whether John and I will send him away when Jubilant Academy ends.
Although the context is very different, and John and I have no plans to have Jake and Caleb live anywhere but with us at this point, there was a situation in Genesis when a father sent his teenage son away. Not for a gap year. Not to university. But rather, to the desert!
And believe it or not, this story encourages me!
Long, long, long ago, Ishmael, the first-born son of Abraham, abused his position of privilege. Although fathered by Abraham, Ishmael had been born to Hagar, a slave-girl and servant to Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Ishmael was Abraham and Sarah’s faithless solution to their childlessness and ultimate need for an heir. The Lord had promised an heir to this elderly couple. Yet, their fears, worries and impatience compounded with each passing year. In their own wisdom, according to their own power, and by their own strength, they acted like so many of us when we lose faith in the promises of God. They went their own way. They sought to produce a child by their own self-centered means. A child was born, and they had a solution to their heir dilemma.
And yet, the God of Abraham had an altogether different plan. Years passed. When Sarah conceived and gave birth to little Isaac, Ishmael’s place and position was jeopardized as Abraham’s son. Ishmael grew insolent, prideful, and abusive. He treated his half-brother with disdain and mocked the little boy. Ishmael’s behavior prompted Sarah to demand that Ishmael and his mother, Hagar, be cast away. If Hagar and Ishmael had any dreams for their future in Abraham’s household, their hopes and aspirations were about to be desecrated and laid waste.
Into the midst of this conflict, the Lord spoke to Abraham through a vision. The Lord directed Abraham to send his first-born son away – with the promise and pledge that the Lord would keep a watchful, protective eye upon the teenage boy:
Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.
God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So, she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.
New International Version, Genesis 21: 14-21
As I shared, this story with all of its dysfunction and pain is very encouraging to me.
Now, maybe if Ishmael, and Hagar, too, for that matter, had shown more respect and honor to Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac, they would have been allowed to remain. Yet, because of Ishmael’s and Hagar’s behavior and maybe because of Sarah’s fears and insecurities, too, and we cannot deny the will and providence of God, Hagar and Ishmael found themselves lost, seemingly alone, bereft, and despairing in the desert of Beersheba with no water, no food, no shelter, and no way forward.
Fatigued, exhausted, and without hope, Hagar positioned her weak and dehydrated, teenage son under a bush. She wailed. She sobbed. In fact, her eyes became so swollen and so sore from her bitter tears, she lost her sight. And, she lost her faith. After all, Hagar had received God’s promise of care for Ishmael before Ishmael’s birth. Yet, her desert depravity blinded her to God’s protective provision for her son.
This is common to us all, isn’t it?
Our present woes cause us to lose sight of God’s promised assurance and hope.
Yet, God would not forget his promise to Hagar. Ishmael would live a free, nomadic life and be blessed with many descendants.
Amazingly, it was Ishmael’s groans and cries of lament that were heard and answered by the Lord – not Hagar’s.
Perhaps Ishmael recognized the sin of his dishonoring behavior and asked for forgiveness and mercy with his wails of distress. We cannot know, as no specific words were recorded.
Yet, God answered the boy.
This sixteen or seventeen-year-old son was heard.
The Lord would provide for Ishmael’s and Hagar’s present need of water, but would also lead them to a future of provision, place, and purpose.
This is such an encouragement to me – maybe, you, too.
Like Ishmael, Caleb and Jake are praying for, sometimes moaning, and crying for a direction after Jubilant Academy.
Like Ishmael, they do not see beyond their present reality.
Like Ishmael, they seek provision, place, and purpose.
For Ishmael, the Lord was with him. He remained in the desert and became an archer. And his mother remained near, helping, and encouraging him.
We seek the same promise of God’s care and protection for our sons.
We live in the desert, too! Isn’t that something?
We ask for the Lord’s provision.
And as our sons continue to grow, explore, and develop different skills, we pray for their place and purpose. John and I will remain near.
Thank you for this affirming word, Lord.
You hear the cries of our children.
You acknowledge their worries, fears, and doubts.
You answer them.
You provide for their present and future needs.
We trust you for the way forward.