A twelve-year-old boy is laying under a tree, dying of thirst. Not figuratively, not like a kid who has been playing baseball with his friends.
His mother is 30 yards away, waiting for him to die, sure that she will die next. If they were at the hospital, they would be hooked to IVs in an instant, fluids flowing into their bodies, saving their lives.
But they aren’t here and they aren’t now. Hagar and Ishmael are in the desert in the old days. The way old days. Four thousand years ago.
They were in the desert without water because Abraham sort of trusted God, but lacked wisdom.
He had sent his son and his son’s mother into the wilderness with a canteen and a backpack of food. Not enough to get anywhere, really. Only enough to get them away from the tents.
The story before this is a reminder that great people, all people, do foolish things.
Abraham and Sarah had heard God promise them that they would have a son. But they were old. Sarah had passed menopause decades before. But Sarah had heard about surrogate pregnancy. It made perfect sense. “Have sex with Hagar,” she said. “Because Hagar’s my servant, if she has a baby it will count as mine.” So Abraham did and Hagar was with child.
Sarah was horrible to Hagar. And Abraham wasn’t any help. But God made promises to Hagar. And Hagar and Abraham had a son, Ishmael.
He wasn’t the son of the promise. He was the son of the scheme. The son of not quite enough faith. The son of “let’s not wait to see how God works this out, let’s make our own plan and call it God’s.”
Then Sarah got pregnant. And Isaac was born.
I don’t know enough about their culture to know how teasing worked. Ishmael may have been normal, teasing his younger half-brother. But that’s not how Sarah saw it. She saw it as competition. She was the mother of the promise, and she again was wanting action. She told Abraham to get rid of “that slave woman.”
Abraham seems to be genuinely torn. He had been part of raising Ishmael. He’s been spending time with him, teaching him about the family business. For all Abraham had known, this was the son God had provided. And now Sarah wants him gone.
But God says, “I will care for him, you can let him go.” And Abraham did.
But as we saw at the beginning of our story, Abraham didn’t provide much food or water or direction. Hagar and Ishmael were dying.
And then God.
God spoke to Hagar. He encouraged her. He told her that the promise of blessing did extend to Ishmael. He told her that Ishmael would become a nation, too. And he opened her eyes to see a well that was near.
They survived. Ishmael grew up. Hagar raised him as a single mother. We know this because she’s the one who found him a wife, not Abraham. Back from her homeland, from Egypt. He became an archer, not a shepherd like his father, or his brother.
From Genesis 16 and 21.