My first born son. My estranged son. My vengeful son.
I was eighty six years old when he was born. I had agreed to Sarah’s request of sleeping with Hagar, her handmaid and getting a son by her.
I remember that night vividly. Hagar had come into my bedchamber and Sarah had comfortably excused herself. She slowly undressed before me all the while avoiding my eyes. It was awkward. This was Hagar that was raised in my household and had grown up calling me father. She was younger than Lot, my nephew and here she was naked in front of me, looking down and unsure.
It dawned on me that, this might be her first time and that further made things difficult for me. I motioned for her to join me on the bed. She sat on the edge of the bed, her hands placed on her thighs and her eyes fixed on her hands.
This is wrong, I told myself.
Then she straightened herself and looked me in the eye. “How may I please you, my lord?’’ her voice was strong, sure and portrayed confidence but her eyes betrayed her fear and uneasiness.
She had a lovely body and full firm breasts but none of this stirred me. I just laid on the bed and watched her. She was looking at her hands again. Then she looked up after several awkward moments had passed, moved close to me and began to undress me.
I held her hands and closed my eyes for a moment, willing myself to get it over with. Unfortunately, my body did not quite agree with my mind and refused to work. She had looked at me with sadness in her eyes and I could see that she thought she was not pleasing me as she ought to. Something stirred in me then, a tender feeling and I felt blood rush downwards. She made me feel young again and by the end of the night, I felt deliciously tired.
The night repeated itself severally until she became pregnant and I felt a bit of disappointment that it had to end. She had learnt fast and was eager to please and that had made me feel good.
The first sign of trouble started in Hagar’s second month of pregnancy. She had the early morning disease and was tired a lot and her work was getting sloppy. Something changed in Sarah too. She became vicious and unmerciful always demanding that Hagar carry on as she was before her pregnancy. I know it hadn’t been easy on Sarah. Seeing Hagar pregnant after just a few months of being in my bed, reminded her afresh of her own barrenness and opened all the hurts again.
Hagar changed too. I don’t know whether it was due to her pregnancy because women tend to change when they are pregnant but she started talking back at Sarah. I witnessed this on several occasions and I was infuriated. I tried to talk to Hagar but she didn’t listen. I had lost my respect and fear.
Matters came to a head one day, when Hagar ran away from home. The news left me distraught. She was carrying my child! I was livid and charged into Sarah’s room where she was pacing up and down. ‘’what have you done now?’’ I bellowed.
She had burst into tears. ‘’I am sorry, my lord’’ she said in between sobs. Seeing her crying had drained me of all my anger and I had taken her in my arms and consoled her.
‘’it is all my fault’’ she had lamented. ‘’I treated her badly. I was jealous of her and angry. Why couldn’t I bear you a child? I feel less than a woman, and the girl said so, not in her words but her actions. It was just too much to bear, I am sorry’’
Hearing her make this confession had torn my heart and I couldn’t help the tears too. I held in my arms and rocked her till she stopped sobbing and the spasms that racked her body left and she lay limp in my arms. My heart ached for my Sarah.
Hagar returned home after three days and things were back to normal. I had called Hagar aside and set her straight. She was still Sarah’s handmaid and not her rival. Sarah too had changed towards her.
Seven months later, Ishmael was born. He was a goodly child. He had his mother’s hair color and eyes but his face and complexion was mine. He was my flesh and blood. My son, and in that moment, my heir.
The next thirteen years passed quickly and Ishmael was growing like a weed. He was an athletic young man and loved the outdoors. He was skilled with the bow and arrows and had been following the herdsmen to graze since he turned eleven. I was content. God indeed was faithful and had given me an heir like he promised.
Whenever, I looked at Sarah, however, I saw sadness in her eyes. She would sit outside the tent door in the evenings and watch Hagar telling Ishmael a story and there would be sheen of tears in her eyes. At those moments, I knew she was wishing for a child to call hers. She loved Ishmael and doted over him but as the boy grew, it begun to be evident who his real mother was. It was at those times that I would wonder if my life was really going according to God’s plan.
My night were filled worth horrifying dreams. It had been the same, since Hagar got pregnant. It had gone for a while but it returned and this time more terrible than before. In my dreams, I always saw fightings and wars and killings. Two armies, fighting each other to the death. As Ishmael grew, the dreams became more vivid and about two months shy of his thirteenth birthday, I had the most horrible of them. This time I saw the faces of the leaders of the two armies. They looked alike and they resembled me. I pondered on the meaning on the dream for months but I got no interpretation.
Exactly two months after Ishmael turned thirteen, God appeared to me again. We had been walking together along the shore of the river Euphrates and for a long time he had been silent. I knew something was wrong and felt that He was not happy with me.
When he had spoken, there had been a hint of sadness in his voice and it carried a hint of reprimand. ‘’walk before me and be perfect’’ he had said.
It was a cloudless sky and the moon was at its peak and the stars twinkled brilliantly in the sky. He sighed and I looked at Him, wondering what had made Him so sad. He pointed to the sky and said ‘’look at the stars, can you count them?’’
‘’No’’ I replied.
‘’so shall your seed be’’ He looked me in the eye then and added ‘’but not from your son Ishmael, but from the one that shall come from Sarah’s womb”
I can’t really say why now. It was not out of mirth or relief I am sure. I think it was out of shock. And when I recovered, I was annoyed. I was furious at Him. For years, He had been talking about giving me a heir through Sarah and for twenty four years, it had not come to pass. She had not even conceived once! Now, He was still making the same promise.
It is too late, I had thought. At this time, Sarah had stopped seeing her monthly blood flow and there was no more hope of her conceiving. Even I myself was about a hundred years old and it was hard getting my own body to work.
At that moment, I doubted God. It was one of the low points of my walk with God. I pleaded with God instead to spare Ishmael and make Him the heir. There are moments in my life that I wished had not happened, the two times I betrayed Sarah, my decision to father a son by Hagar and this particular night with God.
When I had finished my request, He had gone quiet again, and the look that passed on His face had made me ashamed. He had been disappointed. I wished I was dead.
‘’I am sorry for my foolishness’’ I wanted to say but my tongue was glued to my mouth and I just stared ahead instead.
‘’I have heard you’’ His voice was somber, sad even. ‘’I will make Ishmael a great nation’’ and then He looked at me determinedly and added with a note of finality ‘’but my covenant will be with Sarah and the seed that she shall bear for you’’
He also commanded me to circumcise myself and all the males in my house as a token of His covenant.
I woke up with mixed feelings. I was sad that I had acted foolishly and missed my way and had followed my own path instead rather than His. I recalled His words that I should walk before Him and be perfect and realized that since the birth of my son, Ishmael, my devotion had reduced considerably. I felt ashamed, especially recalling the look of disappointment that had passed on his face.
I also wondered why he had rejected Ishmael. Was it a punishment for doing the wrong thing or because his birth took me away from Him? It couldn’t be, I concluded. Ishmael had never being God’s plan. I had allowed myself to be carried away. The seed of Sarah had always been the heir, the one that had the covenant blessing. Involuntarily, a smile spread on my face. My Sarah was going to have a child, and that child was going to be the one favored by Yahweh. The thought brought no small joy.
If God had said He would do it, then He would, no matter the seeming impossibility. He is the Almighty. That day, my faith was restored, even when I didn’t realize that I had lost it.
Till next time, when I share more of my story.
Have faith in God, and never lose sight of His promise. It is so easy to let it slip.
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