So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba.
Genesis 21:14

With Abraham and Ishmael, we have trouble understanding how a father, who loved his son, could give him a piece of bread and a little water, pat him on the back, and send him and his mom out into the wilderness. It’s especially difficult to understand since Abraham was very wealthy—not only because of what he brought with him from Ur of the Chaldeans in his travels, but what he got from Pharaoh, and what he got from Abimelech, king of the Philistines. The guy had some serious resources. Why not send a caravan with Ishmael? Why not some foot soldiers to protect the two of them as they headed out into the wilderness? Maybe even some animals laden with food and water and other victuals for the trip? Why not?

Some commentators like to say that based on the ancient codes of the day, like the Code of Hammurabi, what Abraham did here fit in perfect context under the provision of those laws: to release a slave, giving her the freedom with her son to go out and do what they wanted. It was perfectly legitimate. Even so, I don’t see that as the reason. I think the reason Abraham let his son go off into the wilderness is because of his faith. Hold on to your doubt and your concern, and then read that again: Abraham was a man of faith.

If you think this was hard for Abraham, what took place in the next chapter got a whole lot harder and was an even greater test of his faith. But he had reached a place in his life where he believed that God was going to do what God said He was going to do. Twenty-five years of waiting for God’s promise of a son to be fulfilled, twenty-five years of saying, “It’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.” When his wife Sarah said it wasn’t, and the years moved on by, Abraham waited. Do you think by now he had learned a lesson? You bet.

Consider what Abraham was thinking about: God’s promises, especially those regarding his firstborn son. Many times, God had promised He would make a great nation out of Ishmael, including just before He told Abraham to listen to Sarah and send Ishmael away: “Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed” (v. 13). So Abraham knew that Ishmael couldn’t die, at least not until that happened. Also, God had promised that He would take care of Ishmael, so Abraham was thinking, I don’t need to send pack animals or a caravan. I just need to release them. God is going to do something great in his life.

This is good advice for parents who sometimes spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about their children. Especially the children they have dedicated to the Lord, entrusted to the Lord, committed to the Lord, trained up in the Lord. And yet some parents seem to want to surround their children with a caravan of protection their whole life. Good intentions in such an overprotective manner become unhealthy for the children and reveal the parents’ own lack of faith. Suddenly they’re not sending their kids to Sunday school because they don’t want to expose them to germs.

I suggest to you that it’s not a smart tactic to try to protect children from what God is trying to direct. You pray for your children, you raise your children in a normal environment, and then let the kids be around other kids, play, get sick. They’ll get better. And when they’re of a responsible age, release them to the Lord’s sole care—and then trust the Lord. That’s what Abraham did with Ishmael. It’s like he said, “Lord? I believe Your word. I believe Your promises. I’m entrusting him to You now.” Such thoughts reveal the kind of faith that Abraham displayed in releasing the child that God promised He would bless. And we’re not surprised with the result: God kept His promise.

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Skip Heitzig, author of The Bible from 30,000 Feet, is pastor-teacher of Calvary Church, ministering to more than 15,000 people weekly. He holds a DD and PhD from Trinity Southwest University and has a popular multimedia teaching ministry that includes print, audio, and online resources. Skip and his wife, Lenya, reside in New Mexico and have one son and two grandchildren.