When Sarah was ninety years old she miraculously conceived and gave birth to a healthy baby boy. She named him Isaac which means laughter, because she thought it was funny that such an old lady could produce a newborn.
Sarah said, "God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me. Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet, I have born him a son in his old age."
When Isaac was eight days old he was circumcised to mark him forever as a man of the Covenant with God. He quickly grew out of infancy and was weaned. On the day Isaac was weaned Abraham made a great feast. Such festivities, such abundance Abraham's house had never seen. Even the livestock sensed the joy.
Ishmael liked his baby brother Isaac and played often with him. But whenever Sarah saw Ishmael playing with her miracle baby possessive feelings percolated up from her gut. Her disdain for prideful Hagar had been brewing for years and spilled over to this son of hers. Sarah fretted that her Isaac would have to share his inheritance with this child of a slave woman, especially because he was Abraham's firstborn. It causes one to wonder if Sarah's dilemma is the reason that to this day, Judaism is inherited from the mother rather than the father.
One night as Sarah lay sleeplessly fretting about Hagar and Ishmael, she decided that the only solution was to evict them both, something she should have done long ago. Sarah wondered whether Abraham would be willing to send his precious Ishmael away because she knew how much the father doted on his son. But that was exactly why this was necessary. Letting go of Ishmael would be a test of Abraham's allegiance. Yet, Sarah knew that even more than His love for her or Ishmael or Isaac, Abraham loved God. So she prayed to Abraham's God for help.
The next morning, after a fitful night, Sarah awoke determined to change the dynamic of her home. She bathed and washed her hair to make herself look as attractive and sweet-smelling as any hundred and three year old woman possibly could. Then Sarah set out to find Abraham.
Before long, she spotted him in the lower field inspecting the goats. He looked up and saw Sarah alone walking toward him. Abraham sensed by the rhythm of her trot that she was on a mission. He wondered what was on her mind, but knew he didn't have to wait long to find out.
"Greetings, beloved." said Sarah smiling in the sunshine.
"Was she wearing color on her lips and cheeks?" thought Abraham sensing that Sarah's purpose was grave. Abraham gave her a hug and a peck and replied, "What brings you here looking so lovely my dear? Could you have not waited until lunch-time to speak with me?"
Sarah went straight to the point sensing that Abraham was as ready as he ever would be to hear her demand. "I have come to tell you to cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of a slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac." There, she said it.
Abraham looked shocked and distressed. "How could Sarah make such a demand?" he thought. "Had she gone mad? His precious Ishmael! Never!" Then he said aloud, "How about simply sending Hagar away, and let my son stay? Perhaps we should have sold her years ago, when the child was first born."
Sarah stood firm, "I mean this Abraham. Isaac will have no peer. I admit, and how I have regretted it, that I was wrong to hand you my maid. I just couldn't believe that God meant me to be the mother when I was growing so old. Yet, he waited ten more years, when I was even much older to bless us with Isaac. Indeed this is a miracle child from your God, not Ishmael. Ishmael is the child of sin and doubt. All the more reason to erase him from our lives as a sign of repentance."
"Sarah, my dear, you have given me enough to think about." And then Abraham walked away deeper into the field with his head hung very low. Sarah did not see the tears spilling out of her husband's blue eyes. She did not feel the anguish in his heart. Instead, she turned around satisfied that she had set in motion events that would lead to her relief from rancor and malice.
Abraham walked deep into his fields. With every step he wished that he could part himself from her demand to expel his beloved son Ishmael. Memories of the joys this son brought him flooded Abraham's mind as tears continued to streamed from his eyes. His son, Ishmael, this brave young man who was the first to be circumcised in the covenant would be dead to him forevermore! How could Sarah demand this of him? She whose idea it was to give him this son, is now taking him away. Abraham pleaded to his God for counsel.
God replied. He said to Abraham, “Do not be concerned about the boy and your slave. Whatever Sarah says to you, listen to her, because your offspring will be traced through Isaac. But I will also make a nation of the slave’s son because he is your offspring.”
This message from the Lord consoled Abraham. He knew that by sending Ishmael away, he was not only obeying Sarah, but that this painful decision was God's will and that made all the difference. Knowing that his beloved Ishmael would also become a great man reminded Abraham of the death of his father Terah. A man must leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. This was God's will that each generation travels away from the former to make its own way in the world, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, but always it must grow away from its deep roots into the sunshine of its own world.
Fortified with these thoughts, Abraham rose early the next morning, took bread and a waterskin, and put them on Hagar’s shoulders. Ishmael watched curiously. Abraham said, "Hagar, it is time for you to take the boy and leave us. You know that God will be with you and the boy. But depart from us. May this bread and water satisfy you for as long as you need it to."
Hagar was astounded at the demand. A slave all her life she was unable, whether by habit or something else, to say anything except, "Yes, my lord." But her mind was filled with anger and fear.
Ishmael looked on shocked that this was happening. He always knew that Sarah despised him and his mother, and all his life he seemed to anticipate this moment. Especially when the baby Isaac was born and they had no more need for the son of a slave girl. It was as if Ishmael always knew in his heart this day would come. When it did, he felt relief mixed with sadness to leave his loving father. Yet, he was glad to never have to feel Sarah's malice again.
Father and son gave hugged a hug they knew was to last a lifetime. Their hearts beating beside each in a holy rhythm. Ishmael released himself first parting forever with a firm manly handshake and then abruptly turned and walked away to join his mother on the path that led them into the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
The mother and son walked in silence for days. Thoughts whirling in their minds, of fear, of anger, of retribution.
When the water in the skin was gone, Ishmael became weak with dehydration. They walked for two more days looking for water and finding none. On the third day, Hagar sat the weak boy under one of the bushes, and he moaned deliriously.
Then she took herself a bowshot away, and said, “I can’t bear to watch the boy die!” So as she sat nearby, she wept loudly. God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What’s wrong, Hagar? Don’t be afraid, for God has heard the voice of the boy from the place where he is. Get up, help the boy up, and support him, for I will make him a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water and quickly filled the waterskin and gave the boy a drink.
When Ishmael revived, the mother and son continued their exodus, until they reached the Wilderness of Paran where the two settled.
Ishmael grew strong and tall. He went through life with his father's strong hands and crooked smile, and Abraham's fierce sense of loyalty. Only Ishmael's loyalty was to his mother, Hagar, who had suffered so much because of him. Ishmael became an archer who shot wild game to feed the village. Hagar selected a wife for her son from the land of Egypt, a lovely woman who gave Ishmael many sons, but none of them were circumcised on their eighth day. Hagar would not permit it.
In all this Abraham didn't know that his willingness to let go of Ishmael was practice for an even greater sacrifice that would be asked of him by his God.