Promises hold a significant place within the stories in the Scriptures. Much of this has to do with having to trust the fulfillment of a promise that people would not see.
Abraham is one such example. He was given a short (one year) promise as a “down payment” for the long term one. God had made large promises, and had definitely taken care of him, but the promise of not “just” a son of the woman he loved, but also countless descendents.
While Paul, understandably, focuses on Isaac, Ishmael is a different kind of promise. While Isaac is the promised line of love, God still promises Abraham that Ishmael will live and have descendents, too.
God didn’t have to make this commitment to Abraham, yet chose to. This speaks to God’s character. God understood that while Isaac was the “child of the promise”, Abraham still loved Ishmael and wanted him to do well and be well. Abraham, just as Paul, would not have questioned the wisdom of God’s will, neither would have Abraham.
Unquestionably, God’s commitment towards Ishmael reassured Abraham that he (Abraham) had made the right decision. Decisions are part of the struggle that the church has a problem with this passage. As has been preached on (at Generations) and addressed here in the devotionals, is that the ancient world understood God differently than we do.
Paul’s words prompt many to reflect upon God’s mightiness and glory. In the face of such, how could any person not believe, follow, and trust God? That’s Paul’s assumption. How could anyone not believe in God and God’s promises?
That same logic is carried forth to today within certain strains of Christianity. Those strains of Christianity, understandably, are of the same mindset as Paul. It’s not that they are wrong, per se, but as theology as aged and matured, the understanding of God’s grace has transformed thinking from the “chess player” God who chooses certain pieces to die or live to the guiding hand of God, which still allows humanity the ability to choose their path.
Jesus promised to be with disciples and us by extension. If God is as capricious as many modern theologians presume, then a promise from God is cold comfort. On the other hand, if God makes promises through guidance and love, then the comfort of a promise warms the soul.