Not long ago I came across a Chinese folktale that illustrated one of their many proverbs. The saying is loosely translated, “Beware of plucking up a crop to help it grow.” The story that is told to explain this expression is about an impatient farmer who lived during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). The man was eager to see his rice seedlings grow quickly and he became agitated that nature was moving so slow. So he thought of a solution. He would pull up each plant a few inches to “help” them grow. After a day of tedious work, the man surveyed his paddy field. He was happy that his crop seemed to have “grown” taller. But his joy was short-lived. The next day, the plants had begun to wither because their roots were no longer deep.
The moral of the story is fairly obvious. We have to let things go about their natural course and being too anxious to help an event to develop often results in us making a mess of things.
This parable reminded me of the true story that transpired in the tents of the Old Testament patriarch, Abraham. In Genesis 16 we see that God’s promises are not being fulfilled in Abraham’s life at the speed his wife Sarah thought they should. God had promised the old man and his barren wife a son and descendants so great that their number would compare to the stars in the sky. God’s nation building program and salvation plan was beginning with Abe.
The only problem was that God was working on His eternal time table, not the human one. The promise had been given, but it seemed that either God had forgotten about it or that He was moving as slow as molasses on a winter morning. Sarah and Abraham hatch a plan to help God out and speed things up. Down in Egypt they had acquired a servant-girl named Hagar.
Sarah suggests that Abraham spend a night with Hagar and nine months later they got Ishmael. This was not God’s plan, but nonetheless even the Lord would not undo this done deed. The result was disastrous for Abraham, and we are still feeling the effects today. Unable to have a son, Sarah became green with envy and there were years of discord in his household.
Eventually, when Isaac, “the son of Promise,” was born by Sarah there wasn’t enough room under Abraham’s tent for Hagar and Ishamel, and at the urging of Sarah they were sent packing. Of course, this must have broken Abe’s heart. Worse yet, the two nations which came from theses sons—the Jewish people from Isaac and the Arabs from Ishmael—could never get learn to coexist.
Many years later, about the year 610 AD, an Arab, a descendant of Ishmael, a merchant by the name of Muhammad claims to have visions and visitations from angels.
While living in the country of Saudi Arabia he decides to start his own religion. So he takes some of the Middle Eastern folklore of the day and some of the stories he has heard from the Hebrew Old Testament and the Gospels and he marries them into the religion of Islam.
It’s fascinating to note that in the Koran’s retelling of Abraham’s story, Ishmael is the son of promise and not Isaac. Muslims contend that since Ismael is the elder son then he has claims to Abraham’s prosperity and promises. I submit to you that much of Muhammad’s redacting of the truth is for Arab peoples who want to see that Ishmael and not Isaac is the one that God loved and worked through as the son of the promise.
This in a large degree is what the Arab-Israeli conflict is about today. This is why the Muslims and the Jews hate each other. We’re dealing with the implications of a really bitter old family feud that has been going on for thousands of years. Every time you see a sea of white gowns bowing down towards Mecca, an act of Islamic terrorism or the threat of war in the Middle East it’s all because Abraham went to bed with a woman he wasn’t married to. We are still living in the fallout of Abraham’s household and his decision to “help” God out.
The application for you and me could not be more clear—don’t get impatient with the Lord and produce an Ishmael out of your own energy, when He wants to give you an Isaac. We can get “ahead” of God when we don’t see things developing in our life like we think they should. If we will wait on the Lord we can save ourselves a lot of potential heartache by trying to do too much. Don’t trade a good thing, for God’s best thing. Wait on His timing and His provision. -DM