Warren Harding once said, "I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies all right. It's my friends. They're the ones that keep me walking the floor nights!" It's the brother who can become the biggest bother. Isaac and Ishmael are brothers and have much in common. They have the same father. They live close to each other. They each have twelve sons. Yet, these brothers and their descendants have been at war with each other. When you remove the "r" in brother, it becomes a bother. I would like to take that "r" and help build a model of what to think during those times a brother turns on you.
- Rest in God's blessings for you (v.11).
"After the death of Abraham, God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac dwelt by the well." There is an old song we used to sing entitled Count Your Blessings. The words of the song were, "Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done." God did for Isaac what Ishmael would never be able to do. "For I have learned to be content in (who) whatever state I am in" (Philippians 4:11).
- Recognize there's good in your brother, too (v.14).
Dr. Gill points out that though some have seen nothing good in Ishmael, it is there. An ancient Jewish Proverb traced to the time of Abraham said "There are some things to be heard, and not spoken of, and to be patiently borne." Ishmael's kids' names in verse 14—Mishma, Dumah, and Massa—mean "hearing, silence, and patience." If he instructed his children in this, he is a better man than he is usually thought to be. "When you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls 'the image of God,' you begin to love him in spite of. No matter what he does, you see God's image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never sluff off," Martin Luther King, Jr., A Knock at Midnight.
- Remember God's sovereignty in all you go through (v.16).
From Ishmael's twelve sons arise the Arab nations. They are called "twelve princes according to their nations." These nations rise and fall to fulfill God's set purposes. "Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings" (Daniel 2:20). But why would the Lord allow a brother to become a bother? Why the buffeting? "Thanks to God, who diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place," (II Corinthians 2:14). Through those things that break us, we find Christ to grow more fragrant and sweet.
- Returning evil with sacrificial good becomes the only thing you can do (v.18).
"And he died in the presence of all his brethren" (v.18). Isaac never escaped from the bothersome brother. There was no hiding from Ishmael or his descendants. The question is not one of ignoring, but how do I respond to the bothersome brother? "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Luke 6:27-28). But how? "Christian love is not the victim of our emotions, but the servant of our will," J. Stott.