•  4 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Before we consider Jacob’s remarkable history, may I turn aside for a moment to Ishmael; to one of those golden rays of God’s grace that lie hidden to the casual reader. We know little of Ishmael. He was, perhaps, fifteen or sixteen when he mocked his little brother Isaac and so was the cause of his mother and himself being turned out of his parental home to become homeless wanderers, parched with thirst. You recall Hagar’s despair as she cast the lad under a bush, and sat her down over against him a good way off: for she said, “Let me not see the death of the child”; and she sat over against him and lifted up her voice and wept. (Gen. 21:1616And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept. (Genesis 21:16)).
And what of the boy? He, too, evidently lifted up his voice: not to weep, but to pray. He was to be a wild man (Gen. 16:1212And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren. (Genesis 16:12)) and perhaps he was a “wild boy”, but he had not lived all those years with his dear old father, without learning something of the value of prayer. And indeed you remember his name means “Heard of God”. Let us remember this, and bear in mind that Ishmael very likely was jealous of the little boy who had, instead of himself, become “heir of all things”; he would have been almost more than natural, had this not been so. Remembering these things, it is peculiarly gratifying to find Ishmael with Isaac burying his father (25:9). Surely we may see that God was working in his heart.
Ishmael and his mother may have suffered very severely on account of their expulsion from that wealthy home of his childhood, and there was plenty of cause for bitter repentance for his past sins. How exquisite it is, then, to find that the name of Ishmael’s daughter Mahalath (28:9) means “FORGIVEN”! (see Dr. Edersheim). That little girl was probably brought up in circumstances very different to those surrounding her father’s childhood, and all on account of his sin. But every time he looked at her, he was afresh reminded that all was forgiven. There are many lovely names for children in the Old Testament Scriptures; but I know none that surpass in beauty the name of Ishmael’s little daughter “Mahalath”.
Nor is this all. Did Ishmael’s heart sometimes ache that his children were brought up in such a different home to the one he had enjoyed as a child? Through God’s amazing grace, we find in Gen. 28:99Then went Esau unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham's son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife. (Genesis 28:9) that this very daughter of Ishmael, Mahalath, is as a bride, brought back to the very home that her father had lost through his sin. To me, this is charming beyond words. Who can tell the worth of that word “FORGIVEN”, but the one who has known something of its sweetness through the bitter experience of sin? But how doubly sweet, when restoration to the place lost, follows the forgiveness. May Ishmael and Mahalath comfort and encourage you, as they have already comforted and encouraged me! But even this is not all. Esau and Mahalath had a little son whom they called Reuel. And Reuel, we are told, means “The Friend of God”. This, you remember, is the lovely name that Abraham, the babe’s great-grandfather, bore. (See James 2:2323And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. (James 2:23); Isa. 41:88But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. (Isaiah 41:8); 2 Chron. 20:77Art not thou our God, who didst drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel, and gavest it to the seed of Abraham thy friend for ever? (2 Chronicles 20:7)). To me, it is very sweet that they chose this name for their child.
The pardon that caused Ishmael to call his little daughter “Forgiven”, has been called “Restorative Forgiveness”, for it showed that the Great Shepherd had restored his soul. The pardon that gave that daughter the very home he had lost through sin, has been called “Governmental Forgiveness”: showing that God had in His governmental dealings remitted to his child the punishment he has suffered for his sin. There is a third pardon: a pardon that comes first to the believer: God’s “Eternal Forgiveness”. It is well for us to understand that in God’s dealings with His people, pardon, or forgiveness, must be looked at in these three aspects. And may we not expect that inasmuch as Ishmael also was a son of Abraham (See Luke 19:99And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. (Luke 19:9)) that he received eternal forgiveness, as well as restorative and governmental? But although it seems that Ishmael received all this grace from God: we need to remember that he was the grandfather of Amalek, of whom “the Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” We cannot lightly sin against God and His people without very bitter fruits being the result.