A lot of movies and TV shows have been made about outcasts. To many, outcasts are peculiar and hold the same morbid fascination as freak shows or perhaps car accidents and disasters. You know they are there, but they just don’t affect your life.
The Bible is full of stories about outcasts. Some rose to great heights, even becoming kings. Esther saved an entire nation. David is the most revered king in Israel’s history. Joseph ruled Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. Others are mentioned briefly. Like the blind men healed by Jesus or the lepers healed, and we are not told what happened to them.
But there is one outcast story in the Old Testament that touches me deeply. This story parallels the stories of many people pushed aside and forgotten except for crime or poverty statistics.
The story of Ishmael is the story of the ultimate outcast and begins with Abraham. In Genesis 15, God makes a covenant with Abraham who was distraught that he had no children as heirs. God tells him to look at the sky and reveals that the number of the stars will be the number of his descendants. In verse 6, it says Abraham trusted God with this promise. So far, the story is that Abraham is getting old, and he and his wife Sarai have no children. A troubling thing for him and a shameful thing for her. Yet he trusted God.
The very next chapter, Sarai is still upset that she has no children, so she tells Abraham to have sex with her Egyptian servant, Hagar. That way Hagar’s child would be as if Sarai had her own. He could have said no. But he did as Sarai wanted. There is such a history between Israel and Egypt, I don’t think it was an accident that her servant was from Egypt. Hagar gives birth to Abraham’s firstborn, Ishmael.
Ultimately, this drives a wedge between the two women and after Isaac is born, Sarai tells Abraham to send them away. In Genesis 21, Abraham reluctantly does so. While in the desert, her water and food ran out. Hagar could take no more, and she placed Ishmael down by some shrubs and sat some distance away to not witness her son’s death from dehydration and starvation. Could this be the end of these outcasts? Born not from a marriage, unwanted by their family, all hope was lost, Hagar was waiting for death for them both.
Then an amazing thing happened! God spoke to Hagar. Pick up the boy! I will make out of him a great nation! Then God provided a well for them and they lived. Not only that, Ishmael grew up to become a great archer and married an Egyptian wife. Genesis 21, verse 20 says it all: “God remained with the boy”.
What a story and one day I am going to research the significance of Ishmael’s Egyptian roots in relation to Israel, but for now, let that story sink in for a moment.
Does this story apply to you?
Hagar and Ishmael could have grown bitter and become enemies of Abraham. Perhaps they could have even plotted to kill Isaac. After all, Ishmael was born first and it was his birthright that was given to Isaac. Yet when God took this outcast mother and child, they embraced his love and care. They trusted in him and grew in him.
How we respond when we are outcast is largely determined by our relationship with God. Many become hurt and bitter and harden their hearts into unforgiveness and hatred. Yet God loves those who are outcast just as he loves those who do the outing
And we are all outcasts in one way or another. Before I was saved, I was an outcast from heaven. Many people have family issues that make it difficult to have strong loving relations with their parents or siblings. Like Ismael, we are outcasts from our own families. Some of us have had our innocence stolen through other’s sins. There are many, many things that can set us apart from one another.
One thing is certain and is true of all outcasts who embrace the care of the Lord. God remains with us.
Andy Becker is a retired counselor and author of The Travelers, a fictionalized account of spiritual warfare (available on Amazon) as is, Stupid Thyroid, a book he co-wrote with his wife, Stella. Andy and his wife, Stella, lead Lighthouse Ministry in North Central Regina, one of Canada’s poorest and roughest areas. He is a retired counselor, speaker, and writer. Andy Becker is working on his second book about spiritual warfare. His first book, The Travelers, is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.