All of a sudden, it's harder to just read past all of those names that don't automatically register in the Bible, right? Most of us have spent our whole lives skimming through the reading, not really pausing at all to consider who it is we're reading about if it's not a name we recognize from Sunday school already - David, Moses, Jesus.
But here we are with the Ishmaelites, and they change the entire story of Joseph being sold into slavery.
And the only reason we can put the Ishmaelites into context is because several chapters and three generations earlier, God told us about Ishmael - by name.
If we're paying attention, the Bible is full of names that may not seem important the first time we read them, but maybe they come back into the story later. The Edomites, for another example, are the sons of Esau. Esau was Jacob's brother, the one who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup. The Moabites were the descendants of Lot, who was Abraham's nephew and the only righteous man in Sodom and Gomorrah.
Are you starting to see?
These are all threads that run through the Bible, and we miss them because we think the names are not important.
Yet, they were important enough for God to include them in His Word.
They're important because they help us to see how the world is oven together, not just in God's chosen people but beyond them. Remember in Isaiah when God calls not just Israel, but Egypt and Assyria His? Israel may have been chosen, but the rest of the world is no less God's. There's not a single person who is not God's child.
And that is why He takes great care to call them by name every chance He gets.
We can learn a lot from this.
I'm a big proponent of calling others by name. It's not "the cashier at the grocery store;" it's Christy. It's not "the server at the restaurant;" it's Dana. It's not "the guy who lives down the street;" it's Morris. It's not "the guy I talked to on the phone about that;" it's Spencer. It takes three seconds to look at someone's nametag or listen to them introduce themselves, and it costs absolutely nothing to call someone by name and give them the dignity of a human being created in the image of God.
Because the truth is, you don't know where their story is going to be woven back in. You don't know how their thread runs through the world. You don't know where or when God is going to pop them back up.
But how many times have you read the story of Joseph without realizing Ishmael was a part of it? And how much difference does it make to suddenly realise that?
So how many stories have you read in your life without realizing Dana is a part of it? How many times have you read right past Spencer? How many times have you missed the countless number of other persons right in front of you whose thread is woven in right here and...it matters. It always matters. It always changes the depths of the story, always changes how we understand things.
If God calls them by name, it's a name we ought to know and pay attention to. That's the point.
(And remember, I'm just as guilty as nearly everyone else of missing Ishmael in this story for...an embarrassingly long time, even though I try to make this an emphasis in my life. So I'm not just talking to you; I'm also talking to me.)