Rabbis have noted similarities between the two chapters and have seen the “sacrifice” of losing Ishmael as a preparation for the greatest test: the near-sacrifice of Isaac. The comparison of both “sacrifices” not only ties the two brothers closer together but can also bring new light and dimension to both stories. Notice some parallels between the two stories as listed in the appendix.
The number of parallelisms are too numerous and evident to be neglected. This seems to indicate that both pericopes must be read together for a more complete understanding. This comparison connects the two stories and its characters and brings new dimensions to both stories. The similar terms used to describe both stories (commands, verbs, and terms) confirm the same reality. The Angel of Elohim speaks and rescues in the Ishmael story (Gen 21). The Angel of YHWH calls and saves in the Isaac story (Gen 22), which calls attention to the covenant. In contrast, the Angel of YHWH appears to Hagar in Genesis 16.
Although circumstances are far from ideal in the story of Ishmael and his mother Hagar, and the characters in the story are not exempt from flaws, there are several noteworthy elements in the Ishmael story and in its Genesis context which make it relevant for mission and theology. There is the meaning of Ishmael’s name, the annunciation of his birth, the promises concerning Ishmael that are similar to promises made to Abraham, the manifestation, guidance, and protection offered by the angel of the Lord, and word plays as well as chiastic structures—all these can contribute to a better understanding of the Ishmael story as well as the Abraham story.
The connections with other “main” characters in Genesis and Exodus also seem to indicate that Ishmael and Hagar are typological figures in Genesis who represent the people of Israel in their own journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Sarah and Hagar, “with the human roles reversed . . . anticipate the story in the book of Exodus” (Janzen 1993:46).
While reaching out to Muslims and other peoples of the globe, God’s people cannot afford to follow their own ways and devisings. They have no monopoly on God’s redemptive plan to save humanity. However, the way God’s people fulfill God’s mission counts. Showing love and forgiveness gives credibility to the gospel (John 3:35). As Genesis connects Ishmael and Hagar with Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, and the people of Israel, the whole story takes on new meaning. In the same way the gospel story takes on new meaning as Jesus’ disciples begin mingling with others desiring their good, ministering to their needs, winning their confidence, and communicating the gospel in winsome ways (White 1905:143).
The story of Ishmael in Genesis is not isolated or fragmented. It is more than an interruption to the Abraham story, It is the story of the Sovereign God and his salvation to humankind. Above all, the Ishmael/Hagar story point to the centrality of the God of Genesis and his unpredictable love. Ishmael’s name becomes for Hagar—and for those who earnestly pray to God—a “perpetual sign of God’s mercy.” In this sense Ishmael’s name has become a paradigm of how God consistently acts in mercy in spite human failings.
If indeed Genesis 16 is the climax or the center of the chiastic structure of the Abraham narrative (Gen 12- 22), then the center of the center just might be the message that “the Angel of the Lord found her” (Gen 16:7), again indicating that God is a God who hears and who responds in ways that result in blessing.