The narrator of Herman Melville’s book, “Moby Dick” begins his story with the words, “call me Ishmael.” When this narrator tells us to call him Ishmael he’s telling us about himself. He is an outcast. He’s rejected by his 29 call me ishmaelfather and a pariah to his people. He is the son of a slave and destined to remain such his entire life. Although protected by God, his half-brother would inherit all that his father leaves. He is rebellious and jealous and bitter and in many ways senses that he’s been passed over for all the good things in life. He’s a man set on vengeance like the Ahab of Moby Dick. He will stop at nothing to get even or to hurt the “chosen” and take for himself the best of everything. He’s the one who will do what it takes to get what he wants.

Ishmael, the child of Hagar, is used by Paul to contrast the situation of the believer in Christ with the non-believer. The non-believer is trapped, enslaved to making his way in life on his own. He must put his confidence in his own abilities rather than trust in the loving relationship with his father. He is an illegitimate child. This child is a slave, while the other child, the son of the free woman, Sarah, is an heir. Through faith in Christ, the Messiah, we are heirs to the promise. Children of promise do not live with their parents under an arrangement of law. Their connection is not based on what they “do” but on who they “are.” They live together on the basis of love. In Galatians 4:25-26, Paul writes, “Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.”

Paul sees the earthly Jerusalem as the center of the religion of bondage. God was shut up in a Temple from the people and accessed only through strict religious rituals and sacrifices and mediators called priests. Paul’s argument is that those who hold to such religion, as Maxie Dunnam writes, “…whether they in fact trace their ancestry to Ishmael or not, are sons of Hagar. That line continues prolifically until today, for it includes all those who seek salvation apart from the freely given grace of God through Jesus Christ.” Dunnam goes on to say that on the other hand “Those who acknowledge Christ as Lord, who by faith receive His grace, claim the Jerusalem above. Like Isaac, the believing recipients of grace are the children of promise, whether any trace of Isaac’s blood flows through them are not. It is grace, all grace!”