The Divine Destiny Of Discord
One of the most extraordinary events in the Old Testament occurs when Sarah banishes Hagar from Abraham’s tents and sends her into the desert to fend for herself. Despite having giving birth to Abraham’s son, Ishmael, Sarah banishes Hagar and Ishmael to the desert.
This event occurred after Abraham and his son Ishmael had bonded, as father and son. For 13 years they had lived as a family. Nevertheless, with the birth of Isaac, everything changed- so much so that that Hagar and her son Ishmael, Isaac’s brother are not only uprooted from the lives they had known but banished to what is almost certain death in the desert.
Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael all acquiesce to Sarah’s demands.
This is more than a bit troubling. For all intents and purposes, Hagar was Abraham’s wife, not simply an anonymous concubine. She bore him a son when Sarah could not. How could Abraham yield to Sarah’s demands?
How is it that Abraham gave into Sarah’s demands after only a mild protest? How is it that Abraham allowed the mother of his firstborn to be subject to much abuse and suffering? God had promised Abraham that his offspring would found great nations. How could Abraham turn a blind eye to the fact that banishing Hagar and Ishmael into the desert was in fact a death sentence? Was this what God expected from His servant?
The question is not so academic. Years later, God tells Abraham to offer yet another son up on an Altar. The old man says, “Sure, no problem.” History repeats itself. Isaac, like Ishmael, puts up no fight and offers up no resistance. Abraham is now ready to banish to death of his son Isaac, the one with whom God struck a covenant. At the critical moment and in the same way God provided a miracle for Hagar and Ishmael by providing water and sustenance in the desert, He provides a ram to take the place of Isaac on the Altar.
One man, Abraham, offered both his sons to death without a protest. This is more remarkable when you consider that Abraham was not a hardened warrior who routinely enjoyed the spoils of war and took slaves and concubines or engaged in the rape of the vanquished. He was a shepherd. More remarkably, this man Abraham raised two sons with a trust in God as fierce and unshakable as his own. Each son willingly accepts his father’s commands, knowing full well the meaning of those commands.
Of course, no one can see with an eye that is Divine. We see events in a linear fashion, framed by a time line that is uniquely our own and that encompasses only what we are capable of seeing and comprehending. God sees it all, the past, present and future. He sees and understands how the effects of the butterfly that flaps it’s wings in South America and displaces that tiny bit of air, might impact us here. That kind of overview is one of the things that is in God’s purview.
The biblical tale of Noah and the ark is easy to comprehend. The story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael is not as clear. There is more of a troubling and nagging mystery than an easily digestible lesson in ethics. That story reminds us of the butterfly flapping it’s wings in South America. No matter how hard we try, we don’t always get the Big Picture, no matter how much we want to.
Fortunately, we are only obligated to deal with the small slice of time that is given us as best we can. We can leave the Big Picture to God.
Yesterday, Fausta wrote Not Remote Control, a post in which she examines and self examines issues of control and domination- not unlike the issues we have been discussing.
She questions the apparent need for control and the need for domination. What is referred to, only obliquely, is the wasted energy and human potential that are the results of the efforts expended to control another. What Fausta does not refer to is the human cost- the hurt, disappointment and resentment that are the inevitable by products of the control and domination that is imposed. That cannot be emphasized enough. Fausta’s post is important because it is a testament to the human spirit. No matter how overwhelming or relentless, control and domination will always be resisted. That truth is known to everyone who has been enslaved, in one form or another.
Fausta’s post is important because it celebrates the resilience of human spirit at a time when that spirit is most often deflated, hurt and underfoot. That is no small matter because in the end, there are no free rides for those who trample the spirits of others.
In what is more than a bit of irony, Abraham was banished to travel the deserts because of famine. He ends up in the court of an Egyptian Pharaoh- in the very land of Hagar’s birth and home to his son Ishmael’s new life. There is a bitter and unasked question that must run through the minds of Abraham and Sarah. Later on, the children of Jacob sell Joseph to a caravan of Ishmaelites and Ishmael’s daughter marries Jacob’s brother, Esau.
Sarah believed she was exerting control and her domination by banishing Hagar and Ishmael into oblivion. Clearly, that did not happen and in fact, the Bible is full of reminders that was not the case. Notwithstanding Sarah’s convictions, no matter how well intentioned, her husband’s offspring were destined to realize each others reality.
It is nice to think the Bible offers up only clear and understandable tales of morality, but of course that isn’t the case. What is moral isn’t always clear. Passionate moral arguments can be made for and against the death penalty, for example and arguments for or against the morality of the United Nations, a less than stellar institution, can be made.
Moral arguments are made by those who have never experienced war and terror and racism and hate and have no clue to what it means to be controlled or dominated - and moral arguments are made by victims of war and terror and racism and hate and those who know too well what it means to be controlled or dominated.
When Abraham dies, both of his sons, Isaac and Ishmael reunite to bury the father they and their descendants revere. Each love the father that loved them- and yet each lead very different lives.
Perhaps one lesson that can be learned here is that Abraham never attempted to assert control or dominion over that which he knew was in God’s purview. Each of his sons were promised great legacies and Abraham trusted enough in God to not interfere, despite what must have been clearly a great conflict within himself. Not to assert control or domination but to trust in God- really trust in Him- takes a kind of maturity, not so easily learned.
The Big Picture isn’t so easily recognizable, but what we comprehend is that control and domination serves to degrade and not elevate. Those who attempt to assert control over others simply for the sake of control and domination will find that destiny will in the end, not favor them. Those who attempt in the name of God, to assert control over others, have not yet learned that God alone has Dominion over his creations. Discord will always yield a Divine Destiny, one that should teach humility.
That is a lesson that some of Abraham’s descendants would do well to learn.
Portions of this post have been previously published.