Headings matter. The New International Version titles this text, “Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away.” The English Standard Version titles this text, “God Protects Hagar and Ishmael.” The first heading emphasizes Abraham’s duty. The latter heading emphasizes God’s care. In this text we see both severity and grace in God’s choices. God cares for the outcast while moving his specific promise along to redeem the world through the promised seed.
Hagar (and probably her 16-year-old son Ishmael) felt outcast from Abraham and Sarah. They felt thrown out. Jesus had compassion on such people (Matthew 9:36). In Jesus’ day people felt “harassed” (to cut open) and “helpless” (to throw down). People feel the same today. How does God care for such people while continuing to leverage his purpose?
God called Abraham (Genesis 12). God made a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15). God sealed the covenant with Abraham by circumcision (Genesis 17). Abraham and Sarah’s impatience with the fulfillment of that promise created real problems for the couple. But God did not allow their poor choice to derail his plan of saving the world through their seed (Galatians 3:16).
When Isaac, the son of the promise, was old enough to be weaned (probably two or three years of age), Abraham held a great feast to celebrate Isaac’s move from infancy to the terrible twos. These were big occasions in the Ancient Near East. Sarah saw something that disturbed her. Ishmael (Abraham’s son through Hagar) was mocking (same word for the meaning of Isaac’s name, “laughter”) her son, Isaac. Earlier we learned that there was bad blood between Sarah and Hagar (Genesis 16:6). In fact, it looks as if history is about to repeat itself with Sarah sending Hagar away—though this time she is not pregnant with Ishmael; he is a teenager. Sarah wanted a clear line drawn in the sand between her son and Hagar’s son.
This distressed (the word for “evil” with the nuance here being “broken to pieces”) Abraham. After all, Ishmael was still his son. But God’s choice would work in spite of Sarah’s feelings. God came alongside of Sarah and told Abraham to follow suit. God would choose between Ishmael and Isaac as to the messianic line, but that did not mean God would not care for Hagar and Ishmael.
God’s care of Hagar and Ishmael is proof positive of his love for all the nations and his wide embrace of all peoples. Reluctantly Abraham prepared to send the mother and son away with some basic provisions (food and water). Like Hagar had done earlier in Genesis 16 she wandered in the Desert of Beersheba (northeast portion of the Sinai Peninsula).
It does not take long for the water to run out in the desert. It seems odd for Hagar to have put her teenage son under one of the bushes. Stranger yet is the fact that she put herself in a position not to see the young man struggle and die for lack of water and food. Hagar and Ishmael both cried. God’s heart was touched by their grief. An angel answered from Heaven. The question asked by the angel, “What is the matter, Hagar?” makes one think of Hagar’s first trip to the desert (16:8). The question there is, “Where have you come from and where are you going?”
God’s care is seen in the angel’s encouragement not to be afraid, an acknowledgement that God heard their cries, and a promise that God would make him into a great nation—a promise that occurs three times in this text. In addition to those three things God opened her eyes to a well of water. Whether this was only a physical phenomenon or a supernatural phenomenon is hard to say. Regardless, Ishmael was refreshed by the water and was spared. Ishmael grew up and lived out his days in the desert.
God’s Choice and Care
Genesis 17:19, 20
This last part of our printed text takes us back to the chapter that highlights the seal of the covenant with Abraham. Isaac was God’s choice for being the son of promise—plain and simple. The covenant promise belonged to him (see Romans 3:1, 2; 9:4, 5; Galatians 4:21-31). But God’s care remained for all peoples, which would include Ishmael. God promised to hear, bless, and multiply his seed. For anyone who has ever felt outcast, marginalized, or forgotten, this lesson teaches that God will not abandon them. For God, out of sight does not mean out of mind.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.