The other… became increasingly intolerant, ultimately nursing a growing hatred that led him, along with his wife, to open fire on a San Bernardino holiday party [December 2nd], in what law enforcement officials have termed a terrorist attack.
Syed Raheel Farook and his younger brother Syed Rizwan Farook grew up in the same house, attended the same high school two years apart and, as teenagers, often socialized in the same groups. But as they grew older their paths diverged.
Rizwan is now dead, gunned down by police in Southern California after joining with his wife in killing 14 people and injuring 21. Raheel is alive and left to wonder what went wrong.
We know now that Rizwan became a terrorist in part because of the influence of his very strong-willed Pakistani wife. She came from a family of wealthy Pakistani landowners and studied to be a pharmacist in college.
The story of Rizwan and his wife, Malik, has carried me back to the book of Genesis and the account of another very strong-willed mother named Hagar (See Genesis 16-21). Although separated by 4,000 years, their stories have common threads.
Hagar was an Egyptian woman, possibly acquired by Abraham as his wife’s personal servant while he and Sarah lived there (see Genesis 12). If that is the fact, Abraham and Sarah brought her with them when they moved back home to the environs of Hebron.
THINK ABOUT IT: Acquiring Hagar could be one of the dire consequences of Abraham’s sidetrack when he moved to Egypt. People walking with God today find it easy to get sidetracked too!
Hagar lived in the tents of Abraham, the father of the faithful, and had many opportunities to be exposed to Abraham’s trust in God. She surely heard Abraham tell and retell the story how God had made a special covenant with him. Hagar also knew well the promise that God would birth many nations out of Abraham. She even listened repeatedly to the Messianic promise Abraham often shared that through his seed, all nations worldwide would be blessed.
When Sarah could not have children, she opted for an ancient form of surrogate motherhood and gave her servant to Abraham to conceive an heir. It was a relationship full of conflict from the start. Hagar was never willing to complete the custom and give her son to Sarah as Sarah’s child. Instead, she nurtured the hope to one day supplant Sarah and take her place in Abraham’s heart and family. Her son would be Abraham’s heir, and to her, that meant she would one day be Abraham’s wife. Hagar also wanted to achieve it without giving her loyalty to Abraham’s God. Hagar’s lineage would have never brought the Messiah into the world, and Christians worldwide would not be celebrating Christmas in a few more days. But God never chose Ishmael as the heir to the covenant. As for Abraham, he took Ishmael into his heart as his heir, but never intended to welcome Ishmael’s mother into his arms as his wife.
These family dynamics were packed full of potential for rivalry and dispute. An explosion was begging to happen. The conflict that ensued meant Abraham’s family was very dysfunctional. The struggle continued for a long time, perhaps 15 years. This means Hagar had all that time as Ishmael’s primary teacher. Little wonder Ishmael never bonded to the covenant either.
In the modern era, Rizwan, we are told, was greatly influenced by Malik, his wife. Her last acts were gut-wrenching. She was so committed to terrorism that she deserted her six-month-old infant. She also swore allegiance to ISIS and Abu Bakr, ISIS’ leader. Then, she and Malik picked up their AK-47’s and started murdering innocent people. Malik fired first in the bloody massacre.
THINK ABOUT IT: Children need a dad and a mom who are each committed to rearing them in the faith. Divided parenting routinely yields painful results.
“Walk before me and be perfect,” God said to Abraham in the midst of all this dysfunction (Genesis 17:1). The very statement meant Abraham was not living in the perfect will of God even though he believed God’s promises to him. The Lord went on to tell Abraham that Sarah would conceive a son and he would be the heir to the covenant. Abraham understood instinctively what that meant. The thoughts of his heart transparently came to the surface when he cried out to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” (Genesis 17:18).
Any normal parent can feel Abraham’s passion in that prayer. Ishmael was his firstborn son and he loved him. That affection made the price of walking perfectly with God sky high.
THINK ABOUT IT: God gave Abraham a resounding “NO.” Doublemindedness destabilizes families today too, and nations as well.
Abraham accepted he would have to surrender Ishmael as his heir in order to live in the perfect will of God. But he also believed both boys could grow up under the same tent. It was an ancient strategy of coexistence. Abraham wanted to hold on to his plan and God’s plan (keep Ishmael and his mother in the family and at the same time Sarah’s baby would be the heir).
The birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah is the most miraculous birth story in the Old Testament. Sarah was ninety years old and Abraham was one-hundred. Both were well past the age for conceiving a child. But God had spoken, and baby Isaac was born.
Abraham loved both children and kept his family together for the next three years or so, until Isaac was weaned. Abraham’s strategy seemed to be working, albeit with much tension.
The scheme finally unraveled at Isaac’s weaning party, when Sarah saw Ishmael mocking her toddler. Her response to Abraham was immediate, and the whole plan crumbled in the next twelve hours:
"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."
11 “The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 12 But God said to him, ‘Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.’"
14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba (Genesis 21:10-14).
THINK ABOUT IT: To Abraham’s eternal credit, he would obey God, no matter how much it hurt! The division had become so malignant the only solution left was surgery to cut out the cancer. In Abraham’s family it meant very painful separation. From that day, the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac have not been able to live together in peace. Yes, the implications have reached down the corridors of history into the 21st century.
This ancient story is loaded with sadness and grief. It also includes the pathos that causes some to pity Hagar, thinking she got a raw deal. But did she?
God was indeed fair and extended great grace to Hagar. For example, the angel of the Lord, as an Old Testament manifestation of Messiah, appeared personally to her twice. As for Sarah, she never received such personal and direct revelation from her Messiah. Sarah was a loyal wife, totally committed to the covenant, who trusted her husband to give her revelation from Jehovah.
The first revelation to Hagar was in the wilderness of Shur, when she was running away from Sarah. Hagar recognized her visitor as El-Roi, meaning, "the God who sees me" (Genesis 16:13). But Hagar only partially accepted His counsel to her, namely, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her” (Genesis 16:9). She went back, but her heart did not change and she did not submit. How interesting that the meaning of the word, Islam, carries the idea of submission and obedience, the very things Hagar would not do.
If she had only embraced the covenant in her heart and believed the revelation of El-Roi! God really does “watch over His word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12, nas). Submission to the Word of the Lord would have enabled her to become a faithful servant in Sarah’s household. It would also have meant a life of comfort for her and her son in Abraham’s family. The Messiah lovingly gave His attention to Hagar, but she was not willing to treasure the rich promise of the God who watched over her, nor was she willing to serve Sarah.
When Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away that morning after the weaning party, it was like a death both to Abraham and to Hagar. Abraham lost his firstborn son, and Hagar and Ishmael lost their home.
When Hagar’s supply of water ran out, she placed the crying teenager under some bushes about a bowshot away, saying, “‘I cannot watch the boy die.’ As she sat there nearby, she began to sob” (Genesis 21:16). In this dire situation, the Messiah appeared to her a second time—on this occasion as the God who hears:
God heard [Elohim shama] the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “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.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up (Genesis 21:17–20).
Ishmael’s name means “God hears” (Genesis 16:11). In this poignant scene that drips sadness, the revelation of God was actually a play on words: God hears the child whose name means “God hears.”
The Messiah’s promises to Hagar were warm and reassuring, but she never gave implicit trust to the God who heard her (Elohim Shama), and was watching over her (El-Roi). Nor was she willing to teach her son the true meaning of his own name. Instead, she continued to demonstrate lack of faith. A few years later, for example, she showed her contempt by taking a bride for Ishmael from Egypt (Genesis 21:21). Hagar has become a type for all ages, therefore, of people who are determined to live a Messiah-rejecting life. They will do it no matter how often and how graciously God reveals Himself—even if He is standing in flesh and blood in front of them (John 18:14, 24; Acts 4:6–13; Matthew 13:13–15).
Hagar’s lineage would have guaranteed the Messiah would not be born. The result would have been no salvation, and no Christmas to celebrate the Lord’s birth.
THINK ABOUT IT: Abraham had to eject Hagar from his tent for his family’s survival. Doing so also preserved the Messianic line. Even today, many people have secret sins, bondages, and strongholds in their lives that will ultimately destroy their families and their eternal souls, if not expelled in a radical spiritual deliverance.
In a later generation, another foreigner, Ruth the Moabite, made what was by far the wiser choice. Ruth was an alien from the commonwealth of Israel, but she had a heart like Sarah, the mother of Israel. Ruth never received a personal revelation from Naomi’s God, yet she chose the God of her mother-in-law and reaped abundant blessings as the result (Ruth 1:16–18; 4:13–22; Ephesians 2:12–22).
Living with Alligators
Kevin Garvey has a thriving business in Broward County, Florida. He is the only trapper licensed by the county to remove nuisance alligators. In 2000, he received 616 alligator complaints and removed 97 reptiles. As of the end of July 2001, he had already received over 1,500 complaints and caught 130 alligators.
The top spot in his county? Weston, a meticulously groomed, planned city. Seems the homeowners there, who spent up to $700,000 for their homes, did not expect nor appreciate giant reptiles in their idyllic new community.
"That's probably gator heaven out there," says Jim Huffstodt, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Huffstodt also noted Weston and other planned communities are often built right on top of the marshlands that were previously inhabited by the offensive reptiles. Just sighting an alligator in an area like Weston—filled with families with small children—is grounds for removal and destruction.
Such a story begs the question: How could anyone who moves into prime alligator habitat be surprised to see alligators there?
THINK ABOUT IT: In the same way, why do so many people settle for doubleminded lifestyles that invite trouble? They want to hold onto God and the world, and then act surprised when they fall into sinful conduct and things unravel.
The Pew Foundation has done a survey of the two million Muslims living in America. Eight percent said that suicide bombings and other forms of violence in the name of Islam are "sometimes" or "often" justified.
Franklin Graham adds: “That's 144,000 Muslims [in the U.S.] who openly say without hesitation that violence in the name of Islam is justified! Our nation and our politicians need to realize the dangers of allowing people into this country that are not properly vetted."
Simply put, Abraham and Sarah could not live together with Hagar and Ishmael. They had to separate. But so many governmental leaders in America are repeating history thinking we can all be one happy family. Will things unravel again? And, has the unravelling already started?
It took two weeks to find a Muslim cemetery that would receive the bodies of Malik and Rizwan, and it is located hours away from San Bernardino. Only ten people attended the funeral.
As a father who lost a son in a car wreck nine years ago, I can imagine how many deaths Abraham died as grief took hold after losing Ishmael. One can only guess how much Abraham missed him. The Biblical record does not say father and son ever met face to face again.
Ishmael did return for his father’s funeral, however, and helped Isaac lay Abraham to rest in the Cave of Machpelah beside his beloved Sarah (Genesis 25:9).