What happens on the day that you realize that you can do something the boss can’t? What happens when someone who works for you suddenly surpasses your ability or status? I’ll tell you what happens-instant conflict and role reversal. In the passage from Genesis 21:8-21, Hagar starts looking down on Sarah, and in turn Sarah becomes abusive to Hagar.
Sarah was probably jealous because of Ishmael, even though she had a hand in Ishmael’s birth. God promised that Abraham and Sarah would have a child despite their old age. Sarah doubted God, so she suggested that Abraham try to make her handmaid Hagar pregnant. Hagar was forced against her will to have sexual relations with Abraham, and bear him a son. Ishmael, who was a teenager when Isaac was born, had to know that Isaac’s birth was nothing but a miracle of God’s grace. Nevertheless, when Isaac became the centre of attention, Ishmael began to scoff at him, and perhaps even his parents.
Sarah saw that there would be a confrontation between Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael wanted Abraham’s power and authority passed down to him, but God wanted to establish Isaac as the heir. Isaac became the founder of the Jewish nation, and Ishmael became the father of the Arab nation. That inevitable conflict between Isaac and Ishmael was the seed for the confrontation between Arabs and Christians today, especially in the Middle East.
Just because God chose the Jews as His chosen people doesn’t mean that other people can’t receive Christ in faith and receive His grace and care. History is full of stories of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and people of other religions receiving Christ in faith. God is portrayed as the God of all people, but it is often to hold all other people accountable for how they treated Israel and each other. Yes, God is the God of the Arab nation, and in His own time and in His own way He will punish the Arabs and Muslim extremists for their poor treatment of Christians and Jews.
Sarah’s demand that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away was both very displeasing to Abraham and distressing, because he loved Ishmael. To banish a surrogate mother went against cultural norms as well. The law of Abraham’s day forbade the putting out of a handmaiden’s son if a rightful, natural heir was born. Sarah’s request offended social law, Abraham’s sensibilities and his love for Ishmael. Ultimately, this was such a personal and painful decision for Abraham that the Lord had to tell him to listen to Sarah. Obeying God can be heart-wrenching, but it must be done.
Abraham mourning his loss, Hagar mourning her impending death and bereavement, and Ishmael crying out in anguish combine to present a picture of our world which knows so much about the time to mourn yet often has so few resources to meet tragedy when it comes. Our world needs an experience not unlike Hagar’s experience as told in Genesis 21:19-20. God is there for us when we suffer. He still works through us and the church to accomplish His divine will.
Hagar found her ultimate hope in God when she thought all hope was gone. Hagar discovered that we learn more in our suffering than when things are going well. Sometimes God brings believers to a difficult place in the wilderness to discipline them so they can realize their need for Him. In the desert, people can see themselves as they really are. There they learn that He hears and will never leave or forsake His children.
At some point, all of us will have a tough time doing what we know we should do because of our emotions. We’re going to be torn up inside by our feelings. God has the power to reveal the truth of a situation to us, and when He does, He pushes us past our feelings to accomplish what He wants us to do.
God provided a son to Hagar when she cried for a son in Genesis 16:11. God provided a son for Sarah even though she had doubts. God fulfilled His promises when conditions appeared hopeless. God will fulfill His promises, not matter how difficult our problems are. Even when we don’t know when and how God will act, we must trust that He watches over us
Isolation from human community does not mean isolation from God. God is always with us during the desert times in our lives. God guides us to new communities that will surround us with love and support. Hagar and Ishmael found a new community of support in Egypt. While the pain of separation might never leave us, God never leaves us. He loves us no matter what is happening in our lives.
When all hope seemed lost to Hagar and Ishmael, God was there for them. When Hagar cried out to God, God provided water and made Ishmael a great nation. God made another great nation through Abraham, Sarah and Isaac. In today’s world, we see nation pitted against nation because of the untamed sins of jealousy, pride and selfish ambition. If the world will remember that God loves and cares for everyone even when they fall into sin, the world can become a place where all nations and all people love each other as family.
God sees every human misery, and He knows every painful sob. God hears the cries of the victims, the excluded, the outcasts. When people push God out, He is still there with them. God will be with and provide for the ones that the in-crowd say are not good enough. God works beyond our understandings, fears and doubts. When we exclude and push out others, God is still at work in their lives.
In times of hardship, how do we interact with God? Do we call out to God in our pain, or do we quietly rest in our sorrow alone? The next time we are struggling or we feel as though God may be distant, we should pause and remember Hagar and Ishmael and consider setting aside a few extra minutes to talk to God about what we are going through.
Thanks be to God, AMEN
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 31)
- Briscoe, D.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 1: Genesis (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987; pp.178-180)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010; pp. 27-29)
- Pastor Bob Coy, “Push Past.” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jordan Tremble, “Bible Study: 2 Pentecost, Proper 7(A).” Retrieved from www.episcopaldigitalnetwork.com
- “Abraham 3-Hagar and Ishmael in the Desert-I See You.” Retrieved from www.theologicalstew.com
- Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, “Commentary on Genesis 21:8-21.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.com
- Daniel B. Clendenin, Ph.D., “Ishmael: God Hears and Sees.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net
- Charles Lane Cowen, “Bible Study, 3rd Sunday After Pentecost, June 27, 2017.” Retrieved from www.episcopaldigitalnetwork.com
- Nissa Peterson, “Genesis 21:8-21.” Retrieved from email@example.com