Hagar birthed Ishmael and everything we read subsequently demonstrated that she loved Ishmael. Because Ishmael was Sarai’s adopted son, Sarai would/should have been at the birth. At times, the birth mother leaned on the legs of the adoptive mother as the baby left her body to show she was giving birth for the adoptive mother. Probably, Hagar was Ishmael’s mother figure because she provided him with breast milk. In the ancient Near East, women breast fed children, and especially sons, for three years. Although the Bible narrative seems to suggest that Sarah did not accept Abram and Hagar’s son as her own, Abram loved Ishmael and considered Ishmael his son.
The next time the Bible provided information about Hagar, she and Ishmael were together at Isaac’s weaning festival (Genesis 21:8-13). At this time Ishmael was about 16-17 years of age. The Bible did not record a festival to celebrate Ishmael’s weaned from Hagar. Perhaps both Ishmael and Hagar were a little jealous at the attention that Isaac received. At the festival, Sarah saw Hagar and Ishmael laughing (mocking) at Isaac. Sarah became angry and demanded that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away from the camp. Sarah feared that Ishmael threatened Isaac’s inheritance from Abraham. Sarah’s demand displeased Abraham, not so much because Hagar would be sent away, but because his son Ishmael would be expelled. Nonetheless, God told Abraham to attend to Sarah’s words because God’s blessing of Abraham offspring would be through Isaac. At the same time God assured Abraham that he would make a nation of Ishmael. The next morning Abraham rose early, gave bread and a skin of water to Hagar and sent her away.
I was stunned when I read that Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael off with just bread and water. This was his son and his son’s mother that he was expelling. Why didn’t he give them a donkey for Hagar to ride, a flock of sheep, and a variety of foods. Abraham had enormous wealth. Surely Abraham could have shared it with Hagar and Ishmael. Because Ishmael was in his mid to late teens, he knew how to care for flocks. Abraham broke the custom of the ancient Near East of care for his secondary wife. Further, as Abraham’s first born son, Ishmael should have had a share of Abraham’s wealth. The English Standard Version Bible text notes possibly explain Abraham’s careless treatment of Ishmael. The notes say that Ishmael’s misbehavior led to his expulsion form Abraham’s camp. Perhaps, Ishmael’s behavior contributed to the reason Hagar and Ishmael were give so few supplies.
Expelled from Abraham’s camp Hagar and Ishmael wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba (Genesis 21:14-21). Finally, their water ran out. They were dying of lack of water and dehydration. Hagar could not stand to see the son she loved die. She placed him under a bush and sat down a wept some distance away from Ishmael. Ishmael must have been moaning because God said to Hagar, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy” (Genesis 21:17). God went on to say that he would make Ishmael a great nation. Notice, God did not say, he heard Hagar weeping; but that he heard the Ishmael’s voice. The Bible leaves the reader with the conclusion that God was more concerned about Abraham’s son than with Abraham’s secondary wife. God’s words could have been the result of his promise to Abraham to make a nation of Ishmael because Ishmael was Abraham’s son (Genesis 21:13).
Then, Hagar’s saw a well of water. She went to the well and filled the skin with water. She gave the water to Ishmael to drink. Both Hagar and Ishmael were refreshed and lived. God was with Ishmael and he became an accomplished bowman. Hagar and Ishmael made their home in the wilderness of Paran in the northern Sinai Peninsula. Hagar went to Egypt and found a wife for Ishmael. In time, Ishmael became the father of the Arab nations.
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Copyright August 22, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth