Oh, wow. This week’s verse has been a hard one. Really tough. We’ve seen Hagar become a slave, become a surrogate, run away, speak to God, and then return to have her child. And now, as God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah is miraculously fulfilled, Hagar is cast out again.
Sarah tells Abraham to “Get rid of that slave woman and her son,” because she does not want Ishmael, Hagar’s son, so share in Isaac’s inheritance. Abraham sends her away, but she gets lost and runs out of water.
Dying of thirst
She believes that they will die. You can imagine it: desperate, terrible thirst. Seeing your child get weaker and weaker. Being sure you will die of dehydration, and your son with you. So she puts him under a tree, in the shade, and walks a distance away.
Genesis 21:16, our verse for the week, says,
“Then she went off and sat down about a bow-shot away, for she thought, ‘I cannot watch the boy die.’ And as she sat there, she began to sob.”
16 – or perhaps more – years earlier, Hagar had spoken with the Lord in the desert. Rachel gave a great write up last week in her post Can you see me? God had told her that her son would grow up, and now it seemed that he was going to die in the desert.
Just as an aside, Abraham was 86 when Ishmael was born, and 100 when Isaac was born. So Ishmael must have been at least 14 – probably closer to 16 or 17 as Isaac was weaned – when this incident happens. I always had it in my head that Ishmael was a small boy when this happened, but I’ve had to rethink that. Even allowing for different ageing times in Genesis, Ishmael was several years old than Isaac.
At a distance
It’s been a difficult verse. It’s so hard to imagine you would feel facing the death of your child. So many parents do face this, and I cannot begin to imagine the pain of it. It strikes me as strange in some ways that Hagar chooses to sit some distance away rather than being with Ishmael as he is dying. But perhaps that’s why it’s there: God sees Hagar, and intervenes, even if she has run away from her son’s final moments.
A bow-shot is about half a mile away, so she is at some distance. Perhaps, it’s only at that distance, that she can begin to cry. Perhaps, it’s only at that distance that the reality of her situation truly descends, and she really comes to the end of herself. Certainly, it’s at that distance that God can intervene.
The God who sees me
Last week, we saw Hagar celebrating that she had a God who saw her. Once again, he sees her, in her pain, her isolation and facing death. At her lowest point, when she has been abandoned by everyone, when the worst is about to happen, God sees her.
I imagine, as she walked, getting lost in the desert, she ranted at God. She probably asked him what the point was of the last 20 years that she had been with Abraham and Sarah. She probably raged at the hopelessness of her situation. Perhaps she had been praying desperately for water for hours.
It was only when she was at the very end, facing the death of her son, and probably her own death as well, that she sobbed. And that’s when God intervenes.
God does use our emotions, our extreme circumstances. He’s there when we reach the very end of our limits. He knows the pain of the parent losing their child. He knows the suffering of one facing death.
As relevant today
So yes, this is a hard verse. But there are parents today who face their death of their child. There are people dying of a lack of clean water. There are slaves who are abused and then cast out. This is an old story, but not an irrelevant one.
Yes, God sees us in our sufferings. But do we see others? Do we seek to assist those who may find themselves in a situation like Hagar? For there are certainly Hagars in our world today.
Next week, Hagar’s story draws to a close. Rachel will be looking at our final verse: God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘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
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