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Covenant Father 12: Mercy for the Mocker - Genesis 21:8-21

Abraham and Sarah throw little Isaac a great feast at his weaning, when he stops being Sarah’s baby and starts to be Abraham’s son. Isaac is probably 2-3 years old, and he can now walk and talk and eat on his own. The boy named Laughter is bringing laughter and happiness to everyone at the feast, and everyone who hears is laughing with Sarah.

But we hear a different kind of laughter as Ishmael becomes a twisted parody of Isaac – he laughs all right, but not out of joy or happiness. Ishmael’s laughter is laced with scorn and contempt, and he tears Abraham’s home apart by becoming a mocker. By mocking, he joins Hagar’s side in the strife that began back in chapter 16.

In vv. 9-10 we see that Ishmael’s mockery isn’t just the sarcasm of a snotty teenager. It reveals a deeper animosity that Sarah rightly recognizes as a threat to Isaac’s inheritance, not just of Abraham’s wealth, but also of God’s covenant blessings. And so she demands that Abraham take drastic action: “Cast out the slave woman and her son.”

In v.11, Abraham is very displeased, because he loves his son Ishmael. Sarah is asking Abraham to disown his firstborn son, and Abraham is distraught. In v.12 God reassures Abraham, confirms Sarah’s suspicions, and reiterates Isaac’s role in fulfilling the covenant promise. But here is mercy for the mocker: God also promises to bless Ishmael for Abraham’s sake (v.13). Ishmael leaves Abraham’s household, but he does not leave God’s care.

So look at what happens: once Abraham’s blessings run out and only then, when Hagar has given up and is weeping, Ishmael cries out to God. The angel of the Lord hears them (but especially Ishmael) and brings them salvation, certainly physically, and for Ishmael, probably spiritually as well. Abraham has previously prayed for Ishmael (17:18), God hears him (17:20), then God hears Ishmael, saves him, and is with him. That is how we can see God’s mercy in casting out the mocker: because he was cast out, he learned to cry out to God, and God saved him.

And as we move into some applications, here’s a wrong application: many people today mock the Church, leave the Church, or even reject Christ as the only way to God, and they think that they can have a right relationship with God apart from Christ and His Church. After all, Ishmael did! In thinking this, however, they are sadly and completely wrong.

But why are they wrong? Aren’t they just like Ishmael, finding another way to be blessed? Look at Ishmael’s family legacy: it doesn’t take long before the blessing runs out, before Abraham is forgotten and Egypt moves in. It’s like taking a coal out of the fire, or taking the milk out of the fridge. The blessing only lasts for so long once you leave the source of the blessing behind! There is a time limit on how long you can survive apart from the covenant people and the covenant child. People who claim to love God or Jesus but don’t have any connection to the Church might be okay for a little while, but not for long.

Next, here’s an application for life in the Church: what happens with Ishmael is an example of the mercy of church discipline. We think discipline is unloving, but God says exactly the opposite: a parent who doesn’t discipline hates his child. When someone within God’s house starts to mock and persecute Christ or God’s children, if they don’t repent immediately, they need to be cast out in order to protect and purify God’s people, but also so that God’s discipline can bring them to repentance, so that they can be saved.

Finally, a Godward application: Behold the mercy of God! Ishmael is not the child of promise; he’s actually persecuting and mocking the child of promise. And yet God sees him, hears him, gives him the water of life, and is with him to bless him and make him a great nation!

Think also of Paul in 1 Timothy 1, where he calls himself a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man. “I was a mocker”, he says, “but I received mercy.” So here’s the application for you: marvel at God’s astonishing mercy in Christ. Sing praises to the God who shows such mercy to Ishmael, to Paul, and to you, and finally, show this same mercy to others, including those who persecute you for Jesus’ sake. Offer to show them a well of water in their spiritual desert, and give them a drink of Living Water in the name of Abraham’s son Jesus.

Posted on Wednesday, July 12, 2017 by CJ Bowen