Q. Why does Abraham appear to be so cruel as to send Ishmael away with little food, facing the likelihood of death?
I love questions like this. It is the way we should approach Scripture.
The answer to your question comes primarily from Genesis 17:15-22 and Genesis 21:9-21.
The first thing I would say is that Abraham seems to have been very affectionate and attached to Ishmael. After all, he was Abraham’s first-born child. As such, he would have been first in line to be Abraham’s heir, and this could not be because the Messiah was to come from the line of Isaac. Abraham apparently would have been content to have Ishmael as his heir (see Genesis 17:18; 21:11). It was necessary for Ishmael to be completely out of the picture, or there would have been problems. Thus we have Sarah’s strong insistence that he be sent away. Otherwise it seems unlikely that Abraham would have done so.
Although it would seem that sending Ishmael away with very little food was putting his life at risk, God had promised Abraham that he would make Ishmael a great nation (Genesis 21:13). The end result was that Ishmael would learn to live in wilderness places, which only served to make him strong.
Thus, when the great test of Abraham’s faith (the sacrifice of Isaac) came, Isaac was Abraham’s only hope of having an heir, and thus he must trust God to raise him to life (see Romans 4:13-25; Hebrews 11:17-19).
I hope this helps,
Related Topics: Old Testament