Genesis 21: 15- 21
And the water in the skin was used up, and she placed the boy under one of the shrubs. Then she went and sat down across from him at a distance of about a bowshot; for she said to herself, “Let me not see the death of the boy.” So she sat opposite him, and lifted her voice and wept.
And God heard the voice of the lad. Then the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her, “What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad and hold him with your hand, for I will make him a great nation.”
Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink. So God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. He dwelt in the Wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
Motherhood is a blessed thing, just as it is a challenging thing. It is a joyous thing, but at other times it is a painful experience. It can be a sad experience. It can be a heart-breaking thing to be a mother. There are times when a mother weeps. Have you ever heard the cry of a weeping mother? Worse still, if she is a single mother. Our society is filled with single mothers. In south Africa the ‘typical’ child is raised by a mother in a single-parent household. The child has absent but living father. There are also children with absent mothers. A mother who is supposed to teach the boy child how to treat women with respect and honour; a mother to teach the girl child how to act around boys; to teach her worth, value and dignity as a woman. To teach her that sex is not love and you can’t make a man to love you by sleeping with them.
This lack of a stable family life contributes to some of the social problems: problems such as youth unemployment, violent crime, teenage pregnancy and alcohol and drug abuse. Majority of single parents are young unemployed females.
When we speak of single mothers, we are speaking about those mothers who rear their children single-handedly. They are responsible for their children physical, educational and emotional needs, exclusively. They have to bear the burden of the joys of raising children alone. Perhaps they receive assistance from somewhere, but the whole responsibility of the child’s welfare falls on them and them alone. They train their children in the way without a partner in the process, without a co-trainer, without a mate who is willing to shoulder the operation of preparation with them. They are Single Mothers.
Therefore, based on this definition of single motherhood, you can be married and still be a single mother. Some married mothers know what I am describing. Every morsel of bread the child eats, they prepare. Every stitch of clothing the child wears, they bought. They tuck the child in at every night and wake them up every morning. They teaching them the Lord’s Prayer and their ABC’s. They are the homework checkers and the carpool drivers. They coach the little league baseball team and bake brownies for PTA’s. Everything the child needs, this mother provides single-handedly. Daddy may be sitting right there, but he does not lift a finger to help.
Hagar was an Egyptian slave living in the home of Abraham. Her name means “uncertainty”- the entire story of her life is indeed based and shaped by trouble and circumstaces, it was not an easy life; it was full of worry in as much as it was full of bewilderment, confusion and distrust. She later became Abraham’s concubine. Now a concubine is someone with whom you engage in ongoing sexual relationship yet cannot be married to them. Having sexual intimacy with another woman’s wife, and yet you can never marry him. What is worse when you know the ‘other’ woman, and they also know you- when that woman happens to be your mistress? But she was more than Abraham’s concubine, she was in fact, Abrams second wife. Genesis 16:3 says Abraham took her to be his wife.
Hagar (Keturah) was offered, by her mistress, to Abram to be as a second wife. Sarai presented this offering to her husband because she had been barren for so long and sought a way to fulfil God’s promise, especially since they were getting older; she later regretted that choice- be careful of making long term decisions and choices based on a temporary situation. Be careful of always making choices to cater for the now; to do things just because of the pressing demand of the moment. Now Sarai wanted to remove the shame and ridicule she was getting for having not produced an heir for Abram.
Sarah realised God was too slow in keeping his promises, and so she tried to take it upon herself and fulfil God’s promise. She was too hasty and lacked trust in God. Abram instead of showing more faith in God, and standing up as the head in his house, does not reprove his wife. When Sarah suggests the he sleep with Hagar, he does not protest, but does as suggested by his wife. This lets us into a deeper understanding of the type of man Abram was- he was not a leader in his house, and he was in most cases pulled by the nose by his wife. His lack of faith in God, has immense repercussions on future generations. Isn’t it interesting that the choices and decisions parents make later on affect their children negatively? That sometime we think we are only taking decisions for ourselves to fulfil our immediate need, but sometimes the consequences of our decisions are multi-generational.
Abraham was a man of God, and yet the bible records many mistakes that he made. It is interesting that the Bible presents human persons just as they are- imperfect, ‘sinners’ who are but just striving to be better people. But this end is never realised. Although Abram slept his maid, his name is not scraped from the list of faith heroes.
The problem is we live in an idealised world, and not a real one. Some Christian folks like to act as if they are holy all the time and do no wrong. They are quick to condemn and criticise those that fall, failing to realise that they themselves are imperfect. It’s easy for me to comment and criticize another’s sin failing to realise that I have my own shortcomings that might not be so widely publicized or might only be known to myself.
We expect a perfect life, a perfect career, a perfect marriage, a perfect man wearing a knight and shining armour caring a rose in his teeth, who will sweep you off your feet, and take you into his golden chariot and ride you to his kingly palace where you’ll make love the whole night. We expect a perfect preacher- we’ll I have bad news for you: he is not coming! Only one came, and unfortunately he left; his name was Jesus Christ, and he will come back. But in the mean time you are left with a bunch of imperfect preachers, who are saved but still sinners. They will preach holiness to you as if they themselves are holy. But thank God nowhere the Bible mentions you have to be perfect to preach about Jesus Christ- for if any of us were to wait, we would wait forever!
I have lived with a number of preachers. Knowing someone from a distance you are prone to make the mistake of interpreting them as you see them in the public discourse. Getting to know someone personally and on a more intimate basis is a different case, however. I have known preachers who could preach beautiful sermons on marriage, and yet whilst sitting and having lunch with their wives, I would question the way they treat their wives. I have met preachers who could preach eloquent sermons, and yet they had anger management issues. I have given up on the quest to meet a normal human being. I have come to the conclusion that no one is perfect and the more you get to know someone, sooner or later you will begin to see their blindness, their disability, their abnormality.
Hagar lived with the man of faith. You never really know somebody until you’ve lived with them. The home really, that’s where your perceived Christianity is tested. Who you are at home is the greatest indicator of the Christian you claim to be. You can smile at church, be nice and tidy and professional around people that you don’t know, but the people at home can testify as to the extent of your Christian conviction. The thing is, we are kind to people that we don’t know. But when I want to know who a person really is I watch how they treat people whom they think they don’t need. If you are rude and unfriendly to the waiter and then the next minute you want to smile to me and act as if you are the most courteous person- you have just revealed who you truly are. People can be friendly and nice to you if they do not know you. Just as we are nice to visitors- we give them attention, we serve them on the best plates and glasses, and we cook excellent food for them. But after a few visits the special treatment drastically change. You see, the special treatment was just a deception, it’s not who we really are. We were just giving them a good image of us, which is not necessarily true. If they were to live with us, they would realise we are on the contrary cold people, moody people, unwelcoming people, nagging people, poor people, lazy people, angry people etc.
When Hagar realized that she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Sarai sensed her slave’s attitude which caused her to suffer greatly. Sarai then consulted her husband about the matter who gave her permission to do with Hagar as she saw fit. Sarai dealt with her harshly, which resulted in Hagar fleeing from Abram’s settlement.
The first time, Hagar fled into the desert on her way to Shur. En route, an angel of Yahweh appeared to Hagar at the well of a spring. He instructed her to return to Sarai her mistress, so that she may bear a child. Afterward, Hagar referred to God as “El Roi”, meaning “the God that sees me”. She then did as she was instructed by returning to Abram in order to have her child. When Abram was eighty-six years of age, Hagar gave birth to his firstborn son named Ishmael.
When Isaac was born to Sarah (Sarai), the relationship between Hagar and her mistress had come to a climax. At a celebration after Isaac was weaned, Sarah found the teenage Ishmael mocking her son. Ishmael was either joking with the young lad or more likely mocking him. Sibling rivalries seem to be the rule and not the exception in human society. We also know that older children have trouble adjusting to not being the only child any longer. They tend to feel neglected as more attention has to be focused upon a totally dependent child. All of this would ring true enough for Ishmael, but there was even a deeper rift felt by the boy. He was the son of a slave woman. Even though he was the older son, Isaac was the one who had higher legal status in the family.
The son of a slave woman was still a slave, no matter who his father was. Ishmael may have felt this deeply. The prophecy given to Hagar was that the boy was going to struggle with everyone. His hand would be against them and theirs against his. There could be another way to look at this in that Ishmael may only have been playing with Isaac. In that case, it was a problem with Sarah and not Ishmael. The NET Bible text indicates the possibility that Sarah took the slave boy’s playing with Isaac as making Ishmael a child of equal or even superior status which threatened her son inheriting fully the estate and the promise She was so upset by it that she demanded from her husband, who was now referred to as Abraham, to send Hagar and her son away.
Sarah was a woman of temper. She declared that Ishmael would not share in Isaac’s inheritance. She did not care how precarious it made their situation in society. Where would they go and how they might make a living was irrelevant. The only thing that mattered is that all rivals to her son’s inheritance be removed. Abraham was greatly distressed. What a tough household to live in! Having to live with two women! Such a dysfunctional home. A house full of mistrust, a house full of jealousy, a house full of hatred and disrespect, a home filled with abuse. Tradition has it that, Sarah used to treat her harshly, imposed heavy work upon her, and even beat her.
Some will try to justify their behaviour, put all the blame on the Hagar. Making the situation her fault. She must have done something or her child did something that caused them to treat her this way. Maybe if she were a little more humble, a little more submissive, and a little more respectful then this situation would have never occurred. However, I have learned in life that you cannot do enough to please jealous, mean, despiteful people. When she smiled, Sarah felt like she was laughing at her. Abraham was no better, he treated her like a thing to be used rather than a person to be respected, a means to an end. Genesis 16:3 says Abraham took her to be his wife, so we are talking about a husband-second wife relationship. Because of this, Abraham’s behaviour is unjustifiable. But, before we condemn Abraham and vote to take his name off the roll of faith, let us be mindful that works does not save us lest any man should boast
So Abraham released Hagar and her son from being slaves of their household. Hagar would now be a free woman, and Ishmael a free man as a teenager. Abraham gave Hagar bread and water for a journey into the wilderness of Beersheba. She and her son wandered aimlessly until the bottle of water was completely consumed. In a moment of despair, she burst in tears. Her son then called to God (who taught Ishmael how to pray?) in the chaos of Abraham’s house, in the uncertainty of their life and livelihood, the weeping mother never neglected her child’s spiritual development. She had taught her that there is a God that see, and when she had forgotten to pray herself, the child remembered the teaching. And upon hearing him, an angel of Yahweh confirmed to Hagar that her son would become a great nation. God came through for her again in the desert of her situation.
Both Hagar and his lad were now outside the Abramic covenant, and thus warranted no blessings from God. But because the lad cried, God could still hear. And when God hears, he answers. Sometimes it is necessary to cry out to God. Even though he can see our dilemma, sometimes it is necessary to also cry out to him. God is a God who hears! And he said “Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand.” Literally, bind fast ray hand to him, i.e. give him thy support now, and take care of him till he reaches manhood. Although it is tough, although it is difficult, I will provide until he is a man.
But now seeing that Hagar came from a believing family, and has had personal encounters with the God, why isn’t she praying in the midst of her situation? Why isn’t she calling to God, we wonder? She had lived with a man of God, a hero of faith, and she was used, abused and kicked out. She had seen first-hand the behaviour of Abraham and Sarah. She had seen their religion. She was an eyewitness to just how religious they were and look how they have mistreated her. The same God had asked her to go back to the house of Abram, all for what? For more abuse, insult, hard labour, and rape? How can she now pray to the same God that did not protect her from being a surrogate mother, did not protect her from being divorced and cast out in the wilderness? There are times when the weeping woman is disappointed in God. There are times she is discouraged from praying, when she does not feel like praying.
Hitherto Hagar and her baby had been banished from home. The household of Abraham had been to Hagar and her boy such a pleasant and doubtless much-prized abode; henceforth their connection with the patriarch’s encampment was to be completely severed. This is all she knew, this is all she had. She had lived all her life in the house of Abraham- she knew no other family, she knew no other friends.
And now she finds herself in the desert- cut out of resources, no help and no hope. She is a single mother in a hostile world. She had not asked for any of this- she had not asked to sleep with Abram, she had not asked to be pregnant with Ishmael, she did not ask to be a mother, and again without her will she was banished into the wilderness. The bottle of water and loaf of bread Abraham had given them has run out. Bread and Water. Isn’t that food for prisoners? That represents the least you can give a human being. Abraham could have given them more, if for no other reason, Hagar’s son was his son. He did not have to provide for her so much, but as a father, he should have provided more for this son, his first born son. Bread and Water. The weeping woman has been cut out of relationships and out of resources.
If that wasn’t enough, Genenis 21:14 (KJV) says Abraham sent her away. The Hebrew word “Shalach” is in the Piel tense expressing an “intensive” or “intentional” action. The word expresses Abraham’s action as casting them off or expelling them. This word is used in Genesis 3:23 (KJV) Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden. This is what happened to Adam and Eve after their sin. Part of their punishment was that God sent them away. What was Hagar’s great sin for which she is being sent away? She had been used and abused and now being sent away. Abraham did not say, “See you later,” nor did he say, “Farewell”. He said Good bye and good riddance don’t you come around here anymore. This word represents divorce, total separation; final and complete detachment with no hope of reconciliation.
And now the weeping woman finds herself in the wilderness. She has lost it all. One day she had a home, then suddenly she was homeless. One day she had a job, then suddenly she was unemployed. One day she had it all, then suddenly she had nothing. One day she was laughing with her son, then suddenly they both were crying. We find her wandering in the wilderness of Beersheba. She had lost her direction, she had lost her way and her future.
The wilderness of Beersheba was a place for thieves, robbers, riff-raff and bandits. This single mother and her son are in this alien place and her meagre means are running out. The weeping single mom is isolated and alone – living her adolescent years shouldering adult parenting Responsibilities. There is no-one to help her. She has to be both father and mother, provider and caretaker for the child she is barely equipped to handle.
And the water was spent in (literally, from) the bottle- they were exhausted, hungry and fainting. The water that Abram had provided had run out. When human implements had run out, when Abrahams water had vanished, God provided for her a well of living water! This well is Jesus Christ himself.
After casting the child under a shrub- meaning that she was caring her teenage son, who had by now fainted, and so because she also could not go on anymore, her energy gave in, and she cast him off. And she went and sat down not wanting to see him dying. She had given up, she was tired, and she couldn’t do it anymore. She could not raise this lad on her own, she could not be mother and father, she could not provide bread for him anymore, and she had given up!
And God opened her eyes. Not necessarily by miraculous operation; perhaps simply by providentially guiding her search for water. It might not take a miracle but God will provide. He led her to the well of living water. He opened up her eyes, whereas they were previously closed and she could not see, but now she can see. She can say, I was once blind, but now I see. I was once lost but now ii am found. He changed her vision, he changed her mind, her ideology. When people had failed her, God led her to the well, when humans had disappointed her, Jesus found her. and when she found the well of living water, she fed the lad as well.
God has always proved to come through to them that cry to him. In the midst of their desert situation, he is able to keep you and lead you to the well of living water! Others can fail you, but God will never fail you.