More Lies, More Wealth, More Mercy

Does it seem right to you in this reading (Genesis 20-21) that when Abraham lies a second time about Sarah being his sister rather than his wife – this time to his wealthy neighbor King Abimelech – that the same result ensues: Abraham is forgiven and made wealthier still?

It doesn’t to me. But then, I am not a part of that pre-Mosaic law culture, either. To our point of view, Abimelech is the one who has been the victim, courted a gorgeous though elderly woman whom – he has been told – is his good neighbor’s sister, then told directly by God: “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”

And even though Abraham explains his actions to his royal friend, he never apologizes.

It is Abimelech who pays Abraham and Sarah for the indignity they have suffered, and given land to live wherever they like. And Abraham prays to God to heal Abimelech and his household, who have evidently suffered illness and the indignity of barrenness the whole span of the misadventure.

Then again, we don’t know how forcibly Abimelech may have acted when he “sent for Sarah and took her.”

But we also don’t know the customs of that time and place. It might have been considered a genteel custom to pay a dowry, rather than just taking – and perhaps Abimelech did not offer one to Abraham.

On the other hand, Abraham seemed to have been as much in fear of Abimelech and his forces (20:8-13) as he had been of Pharaoh and his armies (12:10-13). It may have been the custom of that era for the powerful to simply take what they wanted, much as it is in these more civilized times today.

So, rather than judging Abraham by the standards of us current-day ordinary people, maybe we just ought to move on to Isaac’s birth.

I like the phrasing, “Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised.” Simple. To the point. And it’s always true, no matter to whom He says or promises.

Sarah discovers that she is, in fact, pregnant … and bears the son that she and Abraham have yearned for all those years. Twenty-five years since the specific promise. Probably many, many more before that.

I don’t know if all women want to sing like the women do in the Bible when they bear children. Maybe it was just those few that scripture tells us about. Sarah is certainly overjoyed:

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” ~ 21:6-7

It’s not a very long song. Perhaps it wasn’t a song at all. It just feels like one; a very happy little song.

They joyful couple, of course, give the boy the name God has specified: Isaac (“He Laughs”).

On this note of cheer, Abimelech and Abraham mend fences. Or, at least, they settle a dispute over a water well seized by Abimelech’s servants. Here, Abraham provides a gift of seven ewe lambs to Abimelech, which puzzles him. But he accepts, and the dispute is resolved.

I get the picture that personal pride has a big stake in the transactions of this era: whoever can show the biggest heart by providing the greater tribute, wins. And Abraham seems determined to win. Maybe I’m off-base about that, but it feels like an ongoing pattern.

The remainder of this reading is not really good news. Blended families are a challenge in any age, and Abraham’s clan suffers from bigamy.

A movie moment: Groucho Marx, assessing two beautiful women, proclaims: “I’d like to marry you, and then you, and then you all over again.” One objects: “Why, that’d be bigamy.” He shrugs: “Of course it’d be bigamy. It’d be big of you, and you – it’d be big of all of us.”

When a feast is thrown in honor of the day Isaac is weaned, his half-brother Ishmael makes fun of him. At about fourteen, he’s still not big enough to be that “big.”

You can imagine the ammunition he has – Isaac’s name:

“Eating solid food now, huh, you little gigglebox? I hope you choke when you chortle. When it comes time for the inheritance, we’ll see who has the last laugh!”

Never mind that the tyke probably couldn’t understand the words. His mother could. And she was livid: “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

And, doubtless broken-hearted but reassured by God, Abraham does so.

Once again, God shows mercy to exiled Hagar and her son. As they languish from thirst in the desert – separated because she cannot bear to watch him die – “God Hears.” It is Ishmael’s name, “God Hears,” and God hears the boy crying. My guess is that the selfish little tweenager was not only crying from dehydration in the shade of the bushes, but also out of penitence … sorrow for what his words had wrought: suffering for himself, his mother; separation from his father.

An angel tells Hagar: “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.”

She looks up; sees a well, fills their wineskin with water and refreshes her pathetic child.

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. ~ 21:20-21

And, no doubt, he grew up to be a wild donkey of a man, whose hand was against everyone and against whom everyone thrust their fists, living in hostility toward all his brothers – just as God had foretold (16:11-12).

In fact, most Arab nations – many of which to this day violently oppose Hebrews descended from Abraham’s chosen heir Isaac – trace their ancestry to the son named Ishmael.


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