"Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee! And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac..."
Have you ever wondered why it is so easy to confuse flesh with Spirit? Have you ever wondered why some people who are law-based, who don't understand the gospel of grace can seem so "together"? (Just don't look far past the surface...rarely are they truly whole people.) ...Or why some who don't even know Christ at all can be so incredibly successful?
Because God heard the cries of Abraham. Ishmael lives, friends, and he bears strong resemblance to Blessing.
If you are placing confidence in your flesh, you can look a lot like a Promise Child. You are receiving a limited blessing. You might "multiply" - even exceedingly. You might bear fruit. Ishmael begets Ishmael begets Ishmael. Flesh begets flesh. But it cannot beget Promise. Your level of performance can build the highest tower and birth a great nation, but it cannot please God, and it cannot have healthy relationships.
"In Isaac shall thy seed be called."
"For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath..."
There will be no flesh able to glory before God. "Flesh" is defined as whatever it is we do to get our needs met, or obtain favor, other than the sacrifice of Jesus Christ - and typically, somehow, some way, we default to the works of our flesh at the expense of another person.
(Anti-Christ simply means "instead of " Christ. Since Christ is the only way, the only truth and the only door, anything you depend on "in addition" to Him is actually instead of Him.)
There is an obvious way Ishmael differs from Isaac: relationships. Ishmael regards not a parent, a spouse, children, friends, or any authority, beyond how they benefit him. Even if all Ishmael gains from you is a sense of his own importance, if you ever stop allowing Ishmael to feel superior, he will turn on you. He's a wild ass of a man (or woman).
Here's the part that makes my heart fear: "And he (Ishmael) will be a wild ass of a man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him..." Gen. 16
Ishmael is a victim-iser (his hand will be against every man), yet imagines himself victimised (every man's hand will be against him). But the fact is, Ishmael simply cannot enjoy healthy relationships for very long, because if you let him get close, he will find something wrong with you. His hand will end up "against" you, and he will not back down or make things right. He is wild, and doesn't form meaningful ties. There is no continuity or faithfulness in Ishmael.
Interestingly, Ishmael can fake relationship for awhile, because "he dwells among his brothers" (same verse, Genesis 16), but if you investigate, you'll find out that nearly all his relationships are shallow and pragmatic. Ishmael makes "new friends", only to use them in an attempt to provoke old friends to jealousy. He flaunts people to impress other people, and needs desperately to be admired. When Ishmael trots you out in front of others, calling you his friend, you better be ready to pick up on his cues. You better perform.
Meanwhile, Isaac enjoys depth of friendship and relationship as a gift of grace. He dwells in peace, even among those who try to harm him. He is close to his mother, (as flawed as she might be), respects his father, (old as he is), and adores his wife. And everyone else is devoted to Isaac in return. Isaac is rich in all ways money can buy - and even richer in all the ways money cannot buy.
Yet he looks so much like Ishmael.
Examine yourselves, friends, to see if you be in the faith. Look for signs of you being in the true lineage of Abraham; first, you put no confidence in your flesh...and second, your great, great love for the brethren.
Your works can be blessed to the point they resemble faith, even when they have nothing to do with faith...because God heard the prayers of his friend Abraham.