On one of the hot days we’ve endured this summer, I suddenly pictured Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness, unprotected from the scorching heat.
Ishmael was Abraham’s (then Abram) first son. When Sarah (then Sarai) despaired of bearing a child, she gave Hagar, her Egyptian slave, to Abram, hoping that Hagar would be able to conceive a child.
Once Hagar became pregnant, she looked down on Sarai for being infertile. Sarai made Hagar’s life miserable, and Hagar ran away into the wilderness. Imagine a pregnant woman, probably a teenager, running away from harsh treatment. But the runaway was rescued. An angel found Hagar sitting near a spring, and asked her where she was from and where she was going (Genesis 16: 7-9, NIV).
Hagar explained that she was escaping from her mistress. The angel sent her back to Sarai with the Lord’s promise. The angel said the Lord heard of Hagar’s suffering. Hagar, a slave, an Egyptian, an unmarried woman, was worth the Lord’s attention.
You are now with child
and you will have a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
for the Lord has heard of your misery (Genesis 16:11).
Ishmael, whose name can be interpreted as God hears, was born in Abram’s camp.
The following chapters of Genesis (17-20) describe many changes in Abram’s household. The Lord confirmed his covenant with Abram. Abram was renamed Abraham, and Sarai, Sarah. Abraham circumcised all the males in his household. The Lord promised Abraham and Sarah a son. The Lord destroyed Sodom. Abimelech, king of Gerar, took Sarah into his household as a concubine, but she was returned to Abraham. Thirteen years after Ishmael’s birth, Isaac was born.
Until that moment, Ishmael had been Abraham’s only son. Ishmael wasn’t happy to be displaced. When Isaac was weaned, and a celebration took place, Ishmael made his displeasure known, and Sarah asked Abraham to drive Hagar and her son out of the household:
Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac (Genesis 21:9).
This time, Hagar didn’t flee. Instead, she and her son were cast out. Abraham sent them away with food and water. They wandered until the water ran out. Hagar put Ishmael under a bush and went a distance away so she didn’t have to watch him die. Sobbing, they both awaited death. But the angel heard them, and spoke to Hagar:
What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation (Genesis 21:17-18).
God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. They were saved (Genesis 21:19).
It interests me that Hagar left Abraham’s household twice, first as a runaway and then as an outcast. She was often depicted with a small child, although the text indicates that Ishmael was actually about fourteen.
Hagar was an outsider. She was an Egyptian, far from her family. She and her mistress didn’t get along. A woman at the bottom of the social ladder, she couldn’t win.
Yet the Lord had time for her. The Lord saw and heard her. The Lord sent an angel to comfort her and rescue her son. Not only did the Lord rescue Hagar and Ishmael, but the Lord also promised to make Ishmael into a great nation. Hagar was nobody in the eyes of the world, but she was someone in God’s eyes.
I’m searching for God in our hot and smoky weather. It’s not only the discomfort of the heat that is oppressive. We know the consequences of wildfire. No one looks forward to weeks of smoky skies. No one wants to see people forced to evacuate. No one wants to see pictures of burned homes.
Will God hear us? Will God see us? Will God open our eyes to a well of water where we can refresh ourselves?
Even if we aren’t trying to survive in a physical desert, there may be times when we’re in a spiritual desert, a relationship desert, or a financial desert. We may be the outsider, the one who has no power and can be pushed aside. We may be too young to make our way in the adult world. We may be facing parenthood with few resources.
Hagar’s story tells us that God does see us and hear us. We may feel unimportant and unnoticed, but God doesn’t ignore us.
Ishmael became the father of numberless descendants, as God promised Hagar. God also promised a hard life for him:
He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward all his brothers (Genesis 16:12).
Yet God was with Ishmael through all the hardships of his life.
Let us pray...
May we sense your presence, oh God who hears us and sees us, even in the scorching heat, even in desperate circumstances.
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Thank you, Linda, for the retelling of this story with its underlying theme of God’s presence & care. We need to be reminded. (I’m catching up on my reading)