The following is a piece I did NOT author. It is the final section to the HAGAR series I posted all of June and today. It is so good, I am still processing it. The good news in this sometimes sad tale is that God is rooting for each player in the drama. There is no Protagonist, no Antagonist, only a good God directing everyone to their best life.
The Forecast Concerning Ishmael
In the strength of the revelation of God received in the desert, Hagar returned to her mistress and bore Abraham his child. Abraham was 86 years of age (Genesis 16:16) and then, when he reached his 100th year (Genesis 21:5), Sarah bore him Isaac. This means that for over 14 years Hagar and her son lived in the patriarch’s home with all the tension and feeling there must have been as Sarah daily looked upon the son of her husband by another woman. After Isaac was born Hagar and Ishmael began to manifest their jealousy, and when Ishmael began to maltreat Isaac, Sarah could stand it no longer, and compelled Abraham to cast out the bondwoman and her child. As Bible names often set forth some feature of the character or history of those who bore them, so Ishmael meaning “God shall hear,” was fully understood by Hagar when in the wilderness (Genesis 21:9-21) God heard the moaning of her broken heart.
How painters and poets have seized upon this pathetic incident of the poor woman and her boy in the wilderness, thirst-ridden and ready to die! One of the finest masterpieces adorning the Dresden Gallery is the painting called Hagar in the Wilderness—and cold is the heart that can gaze upon it without deep emotion. The boy is pictured on his back, dying with thirst, while his poor but beautiful mother in an agonizing prayer, “lifted up her voice and wept,” saying, “Let me not see the death of the child.” Could anything be more poignant? True, Hagar had “despised Sarah” and “mocked Isaac,” but surely she had not deserved such cruel treatment as this—death from hunger and thirst in a barren land!
But how Hagar’s extremity became God’s opportunity. When the last drop of water had gone, and Hagar tenderly places her almost dead boy under the shrubs, God heard the dying cry of the lad, and also the wail of Hagar’s broken heart, for out of heaven came His voice, “What aileth thee, Hagar? Fear not.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water, and both she and her boy were saved from death. Abraham had given Hagar a bottle, but it was soon empty. God gave her a well, and the lad drank and God was with him, and he grew and became an archer in the wilderness. The last glimpse we have of Hagar is of her securing a wife for her son, out of the land of Egypt, her own land (Genesis 21:21)—the land of idols and worldliness. Untaught by the piety and instruction of Abraham, and by God’s mercy to herself, Hagar failed Him in the choice of such a wife for the boy whom He had blessed.
The practical lessons to be learned from the history of Hagar have been fittingly summarized by Dr. James Crichton in his article on Hagar in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia—
The life and experience of Hagar teach, among other truths, the temptations incident to a new position; the foolishness of hasty action in times of trial and difficulty; the care exercised over the lonely by the all-seeing God; the Divine purpose in the life of everyone, however obscure and friendless; how God works out His gracious purposes by seemingly harsh methods; and the strength, comfort and encouragement that ever accompany the hardest experiences of His children.
It only remains to be said that Paul uses the story of Hagar as an allegory to distinguish law from grace (Galatians 4:21-31). Hagar the bondwoman is contrasted with Sarah the freewoman, and Ishmael “born after the flesh” with Isaac “born through promise”; thence freedom and grace appear as the characteristic qualities of Christianity. Hagar represents the Old Covenant and Sarah the New Covenant which is superior to the Old with its ordinances. Under grace all within the household of faith live by faith, and Sarah represents “the Jerusalem that is above”—“our mother” (rv), which is the free spiritual city to which all children of the promise even now belong (Philippians 3:21).