Everyone who is familiar with the Bible knows that God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Most don’t realize that before this Abraham had been commanded to sacrifice his other son, Ishmael.
Ishmael’s birth was the result of Abraham’s impatience. God had commanded him to go to the land of Canaan and promised that there he would make a great nation of him.
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
Ten years passed.
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.”
And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived.
And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.
Abraham probably thought that God’s promise to make him a great nation would be fulfilled through Ishmael but God had a different plan.
And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”
And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”
God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”
Abraham not only had to give up his hopes for Ishmael’s future but the time would come when God would command him to send Ishmael away.
Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.”
And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
When God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac he said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.” Critics of the Bible claim that calling Isaac Abraham’s only son is a mistake but in fact Isaac was Abraham’s only son because Ishmael was no longer his heir.
God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Ishmael by sending him away; he commanded him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. The second would be harder to carry out. But God stopped him from offering Isaac; he did nothing to restore Ishmael. Abraham lost Ishmael permanently; of the two sacrifices this was probably the one that caused him the most sorrow.