Overcoming Hate: Lessons from Ishmael


The horrific Hamas attack seems an echo of Biblical Ishmael’s jealousy toward Isaac. Yet Ishmael overcame his hatred, lighting hope.

The Bible subtly shows that Ishmael repented his youthful jealousy later in life. Ishmael’s name follows Isaac’s in their burial of Abraham. Further, the recording of Ishmael’s years upon his death matches the pattern for the righteous Sarah. Overcoming severe character flaws can lead to heights even greater than attained by the lifelong righteous.

More deeply, the Bible reveals our inner struggles through outer stories. Hagar’s disturbing prophecy of Ishmael as a “wild man,” refers to emotions ruling intellect no matter how intelligent, for good or ill. Strangely, Hagar was undisturbed. .

Hagar was an Egyptian princess who sacrificed luxury and status for a harsh life in Canaan as Sarah’s handmaid, just to learn from her. Like Ruth, Hagar made extreme sacrifices for spiritual growth and was worthy of spiritual advancement.

Hagar saw the prophecy as neutral – Ishmael’s nature could be driven by hatred or love. Emotions can drag us to animalistic hatred of difference, or raise us to angelic love over such hatred. Ishmael first chose hatred, but later matured to love.

Today, Ishmael’s inner struggle appears externalized amongst his descendants as extremist voices drown out moderation, exterminating dissent. Yet efforts like the Abraham Accords kindle hope.

Ishmael’s struggle lies within us all. An artificial unity based upon common hate is fragile and short-lived. . A true unity based upon love is enduring; whatever the struggle, its eventual victory is assured. By looking inward and choosing to bond with others in love despite difference in opinion and outlook, we build lasting peace.

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