October 14, 2022
“So Abraham said to God, ‘If only Ishmael could live in your presence.’ But God said, ‘No. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac...”
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“So Abraham said to God, ‘If only Ishmael could live in your presence.’ But God said, ‘No. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant with his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you. I will certainly bless him; I will make him fruitful and will multiply him greatly. He will father 12 tribal leaders and I will make him into a great nation. But I will confirm my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.’” Genesis 17:18-22
In Jewish religious culture, lineage is traced through the mother. There are several reasons for this thinking. One is that the mother is the children’s chief nurturer. She does the primary function of instilling religious values until adolescence.
When a Jewish boy (from a religious family) comes of age, the occasion is recognized with a ceremony called “Bar (son) Mitzvah (commandment).” Thus, he becomes a “son of the commandment.” This ceremony happens at age 13.
**There is no Biblical command to perform the ceremony of Bar Mitzvah, but that is not to say that there is anything wrong with committing oneself to follow God’s Word!
For the Orthodox and Chassidic Jews, women are not allowed to participate in religious services. Thus, Bar Mitzvah also acts as a handoff from the maternal to the paternal guidance.
When God told Abraham that Ishmael would not live in His presence, it was less a curse and more a statement of the Lord’s knowledge of the future. Hagar’s Egyptian mindset and values were transferred to Ishmael. By the time Ishmael was circumcised, interestingly at age 13, his values were well established. It’s not that Ishmael could not live in God’s presence; he simply would not faithfully choose God, given his upbringing. It is also not that Ishmael could not have turned to the Lord, but God, in His wisdom, knew that he would not. And God ALWAYS chooses rightly.
Isaac and Ishmael shared the same father, but Isaac was nurtured by his mother, Sarah. Having experienced God’s fulfilled promises, Sarah raised a faithful son. Furthermore, faith was built upon faith throughout the generations, confirming God’s Word to Abraham.
Similarly, how “baby believers” are taught and brought up in the Lord is very important. Early discipleship experience is essential to the long-term maturity and faithfulness of the individual.