“Hagar and Exclusion”

Categories: Bulletin Articles, M. W. Bassford

When we study the use of Old-Testament passages and stories in the New Testament, a surprising trend emerges. The writers of the New Testament often do not use those passages in the way that we do or that we would expect.

This became apparent last week when we studied the use of the story of Lot by Jesus and Peter. Today, gospel preachers like to bag on Lot. They condemn him for “pitching his tent towards Sodom” and point to the corruption of his family with grim satisfaction. By contrast, the New Testament uniformly describes Lot as righteous and uses his escape from destruction as an example of the way that God will save His people.

Much the same thing happens in the New Testament’s use of Genesis 21. This chapter contains the story of Sarah driving Hagar out because Ishmael made fun of Isaac. Here too, we like to moralize about Abraham’s mistake in trying to hurry God's promise along by sleeping with Hagar. If anything, our sympathies lie with the servant girl and her child, who are thrown out into the desert.

Our first clue that this is a mistake lies with Abraham’s motivation for allowing it to happen. He consents to Hagar’s expulsion because God tells him to. In Galatians 4:21-30, Paul picks up on this theme. He compares Hagar to the earthly city of Jerusalem and Sarah to the Jerusalem above. Similarly, he likens Ishmael to the Jews and Isaac to Christians. The Jews might be persecuting Christians like Ishmael harassed Isaac, but in the end, they will be driven out of the kingdom.

We live in an era that exalts tolerance. Anything goes, except for those who refuse to line up with progressive talking points. If we dare to suggest that someone might go to hell because of their practice of sin, we are condemned as hateful bigots. Even within our brotherhood, there are those who embrace members of denominations as fully Christian. If we disagree, they claim that we are tied to church tradition, narrow-minded, and so on.

However, all of this inclusiveness fails to reckon with the exclusive nature of the gospel. Yes, anyone who wishes to become a Christian may do so. Transformation, though, takes place on Christ’s terms, not our terms. Thereafter, we must live God's way, not our way. All who refuse the first of these things will not have their names written in the book of life. Those who refuse the second will have their names blotted out.

This sounds awfully ugly, but it is no uglier than the exclusion of Hagar and Ishmael. If God tells us through His word that someone does not belong with His people, we have no more right to argue with Him than Abraham did. In fact, we are responsible for solemnly warning the deluded about the danger that they are in, even though this leads to more unpleasantness. It appears harsh, but it is the kindest thing that we can do. Conversely, when we welcome those whom the Scriptures exclude, it will cost us our souls along with theirs.