Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness by W.L. Taylor

Today’s Bible readings and excerpts

He will be a wild donkey of a man.
He will be hostile to everyone,
and everyone will be hostile to him.
He will live away from his brothers.”

So Hagar named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “Here I have seen one who sees me!” –Genesis 16:12-13 [Nicole Mullen sings it]

When the water in the skin was gone, she shoved the child under one of the shrubs. Then she went and sat down by herself across from him at quite a distance, about a bowshot, away; for she thought, “I refuse to watch the child die.” So she sat across from him and wept uncontrollably.

But God heard the boy’s voice. The angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and asked her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Don’t be afraid, for God has heard the boy’s voice right where he is crying. – Genesis 21:15-17

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. But one, the son by the slave woman, was born by natural descent, while the other, the son by the free woman, was born through the promise…. But you, brothers and sisters, are children of the promise like Isaac. But just as at that time the one born by natural descent persecuted the one born according to the Spirit, so it is now. But what does the scripture say? “Throw out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman will not share the inheritance with the son” of the free woman. – Galatians 4:22-3, 28-30

More thoughts for meditation

The relationship cut-off is among the most difficult things someone has to endure, especially when someone just “ghosts” on a relationship you thought was significant. Hagar’s relationship with Abraham and Sarah is full of the threat of being cut-off.

There are reasons for this tendency to cut-off. For one thing, Sarah and Abraham are immigrants. They came from Iraq to Palestine and had to find their way in the world by relying on God and one another. They are kind of cut off from their family system and its resources. Their situation feels fragile.  It’s not the same, but it is a bit like all the thirtysomething children who won’t go see their parents in Kansas because it is Covid season and they shouldn’t threaten them with death. The parents often feel painfully cut off and Zoom does not solve their problem.

For another thing, Sarah can’t have children. No matter how much Abraham loves her, in an agrarian family children are crucial. In a patriarchal family, an heir is important. So she feels like an outcast, like everyone must be looking at her feeling sorry for her. I suppose that is a little like watching people who have children living in “pods” with other families and you are single, stuck in your apartment most of the time – and now the winter spike is coming and you will really have to stay there.

Sarah gives the slave who was bought to be her personal servant to Abraham so he can father an heir. Hagar becomes pregnant with Ishmael. Sarah thinks Hagar is looking down on her and treats her so cruelly she flees into the desert. There God finds her alone by a spring of water. God’s prophecy about the boy she will have is a bit alarming. For one thing, “He will be hostile to everyone, and everyone will be hostile to him. He will live away from his brothers.” The isolated isolate; maybe he’ll have a congenital isolation defect. You might think you have that defect and that’s why you never reach out to anyone.

Hagar goes back and gives birth and Ishmael grows into a preteen. Sarah miraculously becomes pregnant post-menopause and gives birth to Isaac. She sees Ishmael playing with and maybe mocking her son and here we go again. Against Abraham’s wishes Hagar and Ishmael are sent off into the desert with provisions that don’t last long enough. God finds her again, weeping. Terrible things happen to us and then miraculous things happen in the middle of them. There is probably a promise lurking in the Covid season. Maybe it can’t be seen unless through eyes that have cried.

That’s how Paul uses the Hagar story. Those stuck in the natural world will try to drag us down and terrible things are bound to happen. But we are children of the promise.

Suggestions for action

Some things need to be cut-off. Whatever comes from slavery needs to be cast out.

Some things will never be cut off, like the promises of God expressed in the ever-loving work of Jesus, who is seeing us and finding us in our wilderness. Giving birth to an heir is nice. But being born again as an heir is even nicer. God revealed purpose in both Sarah and Hagar, despite the ways they felt cut off. I hang on to all that.

Covid season is deepening some relationships but wrecking others. Experts observe when people are experiencing greater stress from sources external to a relationship, they struggle more to problem-solve within their relationships, and may inadvertently take out their stress on each other (experts tend to prove what we all already know). Divorce rates and domestic violence are spiking along with the infection. Perhaps the cut-off cut off, the isolated isolate.  But a relationship cut-off is so traumatic! — especially for the one cut off, but also for the cutter. Such an act needs to be well-considered. Don’t do it in isolation, like a policeman pushed by fear and reactivity to pull the trigger. Have as much dialogue as possible. God sees you and hears the cries of the child in you. God’s presence might give you the courage to get in or back into relationships.

Pray: Help me to remember I am a child of the promise when I am  alone or feeling alone and weeping.