Abraham (Genesis 21)

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Patriarchs

  • After waiting almost twenty-five years, “the Lord, visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken.”
  • The birth of Isaac was a great event for Sarah, and it removed her perceived curse among the people.  It restored her to good standing, and was evidence of her right relationship with God. 
  • It also was good for Abraham.  Without Isaac, Abraham could not be a father of many descendants, and there would be no one to inherit the Promised Land.
  • These promises were kept despite all human obstacles.  Sarah was ninety; Abraham was one hundred years old. 
  • This was a child borne in their old age, precisely at the time at which God had promised.
  • Abraham names his son Isaac and circumcises him on the eighth day after he was born.
  • Sarah bursts forth with joy.  God had made her laugh and everyone who hears will laugh with her! 
  • Both of the words used for laugh come from the same root as the name, Isaac. 
  • She continues, “Imagine telling Abraham that she suckles a child!  In his old age!”  Her joy is unrestrained.
  • But things changed on the day that the child was weaned.  A child was usually weaned around the age of three. 
  • It was a time marked by a great celebration. 
  • On that day, Sarah watched her son with his half-brother, Ishmael. 
  • Some translations read that Ishmael was mocking Isaac.  Others say he was abusing him, and some rabbis accused Ishmael of molesting Isaac. 
  • The ambiguous word is another variation of the name Isaac.  It could mean that they were happily together, laughing, enjoying themselves. 
  • Yet, it is exactly here that Sarah senses danger. 
  • Some ancient laws gave sons of slave wives an equal inheritance to those sons of free wives.  Other laws said those rights were to be relinquished if the slave family members were given their freedom. 
  • Maybe this is what Sarah had in mind, as she demands that Abraham "get rid of the slave woman and her son." 
  • The text does not say whether or not giving them their freedom was her motivation.
  • By expelling them from the community, by sending them off on their own, she was passing a virtual death sentence upon them.
  • There was simply no way to survive alone in that society.
  • Abraham was "greatly distressed and very displeased" with Sarah's request because it involved his son.  It suggests that Abraham had strong affection and great love for Ishmael. 
  • Yet, God endorses Sarah's plan and tells Abraham not to be troubled.
  • Then God told Abraham to "do whatever Sarah tells you to do."
  • God explained that it would be through Isaac that his offspring would be recognized. But Ishmael was not to be forgotten.  He, too, would become the father of a great nation simply because he was an offspring of Abraham. 
  • Abraham was obedient.  He begins early the next morning and provides provisions for Hagar and her son.
  • We are told that she was given a skin of water, which is about 30 pounds (equal to 3 and a half gallons) of water. And they wandered into the desert of Beersheba, moving in a southeasterly direction towards northern Arabia. 
  • Eventually the water ran out and the threat of death loomed large. Hagar placed Ishmael under a bush—at least he would die in the shade.  She wept freely. 
  • The lad also lifted up his voice and cried out. Ishmael means, "God hears," and he certainly lived up to his name on this occasion.  It was his prayer that God answered.
  • God gave Hagar several short commands.  "Don't be afraid, return to the boy, lift him up and take him by the hand." Along with these demands, God repeated his words of promise.
  • Her child would not die because God would make of him a great nation.
  • Then, God opened her eyes and she saw a well that she hadn't noticed before. 
  • Hagar was the only Old Testament woman who experienced a theophany (a visible expression of God), and it happened to her twice.  She also was the recipient of a promise of land and of many descendants. 
  • God was faithful to Abraham and Sarah in fulfilling the promise for them to have a son, but He was also faithful to Hagar in fulfilling the promise to her that she would have many descendants.
  • The story of Hagar demands that we consider the rights and worth of every individual.  God's interest in Hagar was unwavering and profound.  Hagar was guiltless and her suffering did not go unnoticed. God's justice and compassion are absolute and unconditional.

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