April 18, 2022 · by Regina Felty
(Genesis, chapters 16 + 21)
Hagar lifted her chin and held her head high as she led her son past the curious eyes of the onlookers as she made her way out of the camp. She adjusted the waterskin on her shoulder and glanced back at Ishmael to make sure he still held the sack of food. The people stood in the shadows of their tent openings; watching, curious, silent. None stepped forward to help or rise to her defense.
I will not cry. I will not --
Hagar slowed her steps and spoke under her breath, “Keep walking, child. Hold your head up, but do not look at them. We’ll be fine, son.”
But Hagar didn’t really believe that. Saddled with barely enough food and water to last a day or two, bitterness surged through her chest. She and her son were being cast out in favor of the promised son of Abraham and Sarah.
As if her son–-the very flesh and bone of Abraham, the firstborn of his strength–-was a mere slave boy, a temporary solution until something or someone better came along. And he had. Isaac.
Hagar wished Isaac had never been born.
Had she asked for any of this? Forced to marry Abraham in order to produce an heir for him because her mistress, Sarah, had been barren. It was she, not Sarah, that had produced a male heir, gaining favor from her master but hatred from her mistress. She had escaped the unbearable wrath of Sarah once and God had commanded her to return. The God of Abraham. The God of Sarah. Not her God.
“Hurry, son.” Hagar reached back to tug on Ishmael’s tunic, urging him to move faster. “The sooner we are out of the camp, the sooner they will forget us.” The bitterness of rejection and banishment twisted and thrashed in her belly like an angry tempest. A looming future of isolation and hardship weighed heavy on her heart.
She was now a single mother. The burden of providing for herself and her teenage son lay upon her shoulders like a cloak of stones. No husband or grown son to protect and provide for her. It was a death sentence.
The first time she’d fled in fear and rebellion, God had sent her back. For Sarah. This time, she was cast out, along with the son that Sarah could no longer stand the sight of. There was no purpose of God for her now.
Hagar and Ishmael pushed onward through the sea of sand and bore the punishing sun, day by day, forsaken and exposed. The only destination for Hagar was her homeland, Egypt. But how to get there? As the wind spit sand in her face that caked in her eyes and blinded her way, she resisted and fought back against its abuse.
But when the way grew long and the water was down to a few drops, Hagar’s eyes stayed fixed on her son. While the torture of the desert fed her fury and determination, it began to steal the life of her child. As Ishmael languished, Hagar’s anger transformed from a flaming fire to a simmering dread. When he collapsed in the heat of the late afternoon, Hagar dropped everything at her feet and dragged her son under the small shade of a bush. As she cradled his head in her lap, she rocked and spoke softly to him, denying the tears that, to her, were only a waste of time. Who would hear and answer anyway?
Ishmael moaned softly. She stroked his brow. “Be still, my son. I will find water. I will…”
She lied. Her eyes had been ever watchful every mile they’d traveled. There was no water to be found.
Again, Ishmael groaned and cried out to God in his delirium. Hagar pressed her fingers to his lips. “Shhh. Save your strength, Ishmael.”
She nudged his head from her lap and lay it gently down on a patch of dry grass. When she stood, the world spun around her as she waited for the dizziness to pass. Step by painful step, she slipped from under the shade and faced the brutal sun once more. Shouldering the empty sack and waterskin, she made her way to a pile of dead branches several feet from Ishmael. Sinking to the ground, she turned her back away.
Let me not see the child die.
But Ishmael was not silent. Though his mother believed that God had forsaken them and that they were dead to him, Ishmael had faith in the God of his father, Abraham.
It was Ishmael’s cry that God honored and responded by opening the eyes of his mother, Hagar, to show her what had been there all along: water--the well of Beersheba–-and the way to their future.
Though Hagar struggled with the belief that–-like man–-God had forsaken her, she was wrong. God had a glorious plan for Hagar and Ishmael’s life. The Bible warns us not to lean on our own understanding, but “...in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
God had always known where Hagar was.
You may feel as Hagar did, while you face hardships: being abandoned by a spouse or parent, rejected by society, fearing where you’ll find provisions, where your future will lead you, and an ocean of other uncertainties. But, even though you cannot see it or feel it, God’s hand is still guiding and covering you.
Hagar later became the grandmother of twelve princes and her legacy lives on today. But she had no way of knowing what her future held when she first faced the barren desert on her own.
Be at peace, my friend. Your story is not over yet.