December 30, 2021
Take a moment to read the first 21 verses of Genesis 21. Sometimes we get the impression that people who trust Christ, read their Bibles, pray, and attend church live calm and peaceful lives amid the turmoil around them. But the biblical data really does not support that conclusion. Like Sarah, Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael, we find our lives in a constant test of stressful choices. Many of these force us back to total dependence on God. And such is the life of faith.
With Isaac’s birth came laughter that had not permeated through the tents of Abraham for years. Laughter is a theme carried throughout this eventful baby shower. In fact, Isaac’s name means ‘laughter’ in Hebrew. This indeed was a time of rejoicing for everyone. But quickly, rejoicing turned to mocking (v. 9). Ishmael may have been mocking as a result of an older sibling, adolescent mentality, but it is also possible that he was old enough to realize that all his hopes of inheritance were dashed because of Isaac’s birth. That, along with so much other baggage in the tense relationship between Sarah, Abraham, and Hagar, made Sarah’s demand for Abraham to “Cast out this slave woman with her son…” such a stinging rebuke and an unspeakable grievance on Abraham’s part. Under God’s direction, Abraham sent Hagar and their son Ismael away, and she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba (v 14).
And so, we come to the two verses in our verse for today. Hagar and Ishmael’s physical resources are used up with no foreseen possibility of replenishment. Their emotions are depleted. Their thoughts and actions portray attitudes of complete defeat. There are no words from either of them, only wails and weeping from both. What we are left with is the reality that, during periods of pleasantness, rejection and trouble rear their ugly heads, and we are left wondering how we got there!
The rest of the story tells us God provided bountiful resources that met Hagar and Ishmael where they were. There is God’s presence. He hears their cries for help (Ishmael’s name means ‘God hears’ in Hebrew). He even calls Hagar by her name! There is God’s peace. He knows how each of them are feeling and calls for them to “fear not.” There is God’s provision. He calls for Hagar to “look up” and see the well provided for refreshment. All of this means He will sustain His promise toward them.
This story is not shared as a nicety of how God worked in the past, but as a marker for how we can respond when up against the troubles of this life. Through our faith we affirm the presence of God, we rest in the peace He gives through His Word, and we ask and seek His provision for the resources needed to carry us through. The pathway of such faith is not easy, but in faith we believe it is bountifully available.
By Bill Niblette, Ph.D., Bible League International Staff, Pennsylvania, U.S.
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