Freedom! Hagar the slave and her son Ishmael had been rude and cheeky to their mistress so many times, that she had finally snapped and ordered them out of the house (Genesis 20 v 10). The trouble is, when someone has been a slave for so long, they’ve never had to make their own decisions, and the decision Hagar made was nearly the end of them. They were provided with food and water, but instead of making clear plans, and aiming for somewhere to stay, she chose to wander in the desert. (21 v 15).
Was it a final act of rebellion against Abraham – to destroy his first-born son? Was it sheer ignorance? Did she get lost? And what was Ishmael thinking? He was no child – at least 15 and maybe quite a bit older – old enough to be using his hunting skills and looking after his mother! There are certainly many puzzles in this short story. What we do know, is that they ran into life-threatening danger as the water was used up.
There are some similarities with the earlier story of when Hagar ran away from Sarah in chapter 16, but what really strikes me is that on that occasion, the angel told her to name the child Ishmael – God hears. And that was their salvation. God heard. God heard the boy crying (v17). God had promised that he would become a great nation, and so provided the water they needed to survive. Then too, I believe he helped them develop the skills they needed to survive. And so the promise was fulfilled.
The story reminds me a little of Onesimus, a run-away slave in the New Testament, who found his way to the Apostle Paul, and became very useful to him (Philemon v 10 – 16). He had been useless as a slave, but had become a great help to Paul. We all make mistakes, as I said in my last post, but when God sets his sights upon us, it’s not how we start, but how we finish that really matters. God may intervene when our foolishness takes us beyond where we can save ourselves. That’s what grace is all about. Then we need to learn to develop the skills to become useful to God, and to fulfil the purposes he has for us. It was time for both Ishmael and Onesimus to grow up. Maybe me too. I’m far from perfect but…
Philippians 3 v 13, 14
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”