Ishmael: Elect or Reprobate?

I was reading Genesis 17:20 where God says that He has blessed Ishmael. As this point, I can’t see this blessing other than true, literal blessing. This would mean that Ishmael was one of God’s elect. It just doesn’t seem like this is a passage that can be read in any kind of figurative manner. I suppose the main counter argument for Ishmael’s election might be in Galatians 4, along with the cited Genesis passage where Sarah tells Abraham to cast out Hagar and Ishmael. 

“Tell me, those desiring to be under Law, do you not hear the Law? For it has been written, Abraham had two sons, one out of the slave woman and one out of the free woman. But, indeed, he of the slave woman has been born according to flesh, and he out of the free woman through the promise”

Chris: Ishmael was the son of a female slave, named Hagar. Isaac was the son of Sarah, who was not a slave, but a free woman. Ishmael was born according to nature. Isaac, though having a physical birth just like Ishmael had it “according to promise” since at the age Sarah and Abraham it would be physically impossible — but of course, God supernaturally intervened. As stated below, Paul is using the metaphor known as “allegory” in order to illustrate what the necessary implications are for those who would desire to be under Law.

“which things are being allegorized, for these are two covenants, one, indeed, from Mount Sinai bringing forth to slavery (which is Hagar, for Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, and she slaves with her children), but the Jerusalem from above is free, who is the mother of us all; for it has been written, “Be glad, barren one not bearing; break forth and shout, the one not travailing; for more are the children of the desolate rather than she having the husband.”

Chris: Using this allegorical illustration, Paul says Hagar IS Mount Sinai. Hagar is the Law and she gives birth to slaves. Ishmael is allegorically put forth as all who would desire to be under law. “He who does these things shall live by them” and “cursed is the one who does not continue in all things in the book of the Law to them,” are the two-fold demands of God’s Law. In Galatians 5 Paul says that those who would be circumcised in such a way as to infringe upon Christ’s sole role as Savior and Law-fulfiller, would not be profited by Christ and would be a debtor to fulfill the whole Law in their own persons — preceptive and penal both (Galatians 5:2-3).

When considering whether Ishmael is elect or not, and specifically when considering whether or not Galatians proves Ishmael non-elect, it is important to realize that Paul is using an allegory of Ishmael being born to a woman who was a PHYSICAL slave. And consequently, he is born a PHYSICAL slave as well. At least at this point, one cannot say that Ishmael (or even Hagar) is a spiritual slave to sin since Paul is only focusing on the fact that just as Ishmael was a physical slave, so those who would be under the law are spiritual slaves.

Ephesians 2 says that we were children of wrath, just as the others. So likewise, all elect initially had Hagar as their mother, and so we were all just a bunch of Ishmaels in our lost state. The point here is that Paul is not here discussing Ishmael’s spiritual state, but using the historical fact of Ishmael’s being born of a slave woman. There are other passages that have implications for Ishmael’s spiritual state.

“But, brothers, we are children of promise according to Isaac. But then, even as he born according to flesh persecuted the one according to Spirit, so it is also now. But what says the Scripture? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for in no way shall the son of the slave woman inherit with the son of the free woman.” Then, brothers, we are not children of a slave woman but of the free woman” (Galatians 4:21-31).

Chris: This allegory is that just as Isaac’s PHYSICAL birth was according to promise, so our (the elect) SPIRITUAL birth is according to promise. Paul says that just as Ishmael persecuted Isaac concerning his miraculous physical birth, so too, will unbelievers persecute those who are miraculously born according to the Spirit. John Brown writes:

“Those whom Ishmael represents in the allegory still persecute those whom Isaac represents.”

Paul quotes Genesis 21:10 to show what the Scripture says concerning those who persecute Christians, those born according to Spirit. The Scripture says that the sons of the slave woman shall not inherit with the sons of the free woman. Those whom Paul says will not inherit unbelievers (ultimately the reprobate). The unbelieving reprobate are those persecutors who will be finally cast out.

“And the Angel of Jehovah found her by a well of water in the wilderness; by the well in the way of Shur. And He said, Hagar, Sarai’s slave-girl, where did you come from? And where do you go? And she said, I am fleeing from the face of my mistress, Sarai. And the Angel of Jehovah said to her, Return to your mistress and submit yourself under her hand. And the Angel of Jehovah said to her, I will exceedingly multiply your seed, so that it shall not be numbered for multitude. And the Angel of Jehovah said to her, Behold! You are with child and shall bear a son; and you shall call his name Ishmael, because Jehovah has listened to your affliction. And he shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against all, and the hand of everyone against him; and he shall live before all his brothers” (Genesis 16:7-12).

Chris: This passage demonstrates how God will multiply many things concerning Ishmael. But the part where God says what kind of man Ishmael will be might make some think that Ishmael is reprobate. But I don’t know if it can be said that Ishmael will necessarily be this “wild ass of a man” in perpetuity. Although in a different manner, Saul of Tarsus before his conversion was somewhat of an “ass of a man” prior to his conversion to Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus.

“And as to Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall father twelve chiefs, and I will make him a great nation” (Genesis 17:20).

Chris: Given the Apostle’s analogous use of Ishmael in the book of Galatians, it does not appear that one can logically say that Ishmael was not elect. While one could say that Ishmael was lost when he mocked, that is different than saying that he was non-elect (i.e., reprobate).

“And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, he whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. And she said to Abraham, Drive away this slave-girl and her son, for the son of this slave-girl shall not inherit with my son, with Isaac. And the thing was very evil in the eyes of Abraham, on account of his son. And God said to Abraham, Let it not be evil in your eyes because of the boy, and on account of your slave-girl. All that Sarah says to you, listen to her voice, for in Isaac your Seed shall be called. And also I will make a nation of the son of the slave-girl, for he is your seed” (Genesis 21:9-13).

Chris: The question here is what did Sarah think that Ishmael WAS NOT to inherit, but Isaac WAS to inherit? Paul had used the PHYSICAL, family inheritance that Ishmael was cast out of to illustrate the SPIRITUAL, family inheritance that believers have in Christ — being born of the “free woman.”

God said to Abraham that in Isaac your Seed shall be called. We see how in Galatians 3:16 that “Seed” refers to Christ. The promise of salvation is to Abraham and to those in Christ before the foundation of the world. Romans 9 further shows the calling of Jacob and the rejection (reprobation) of Esau. The main point here is that both Isaac and Ishmael received temporal and physical things, and the way Paul quotes Sarah saying “cast out the slave woman and her son” does not imply Hagar’s and Ishmael’s reprobation. Paul simply cites them to make a spiritual point. In Galatians 4, Paul is saying that just as the physical slave woman and her son were cast out of the PHYSICAL family of Abraham, so the spiritual slaves will be cast out of the SPIRITUAL family of believers as the children of God.