Hagar had always been carried along by the current of other people’s lives. In Egypt she had been sold as a slave to the highest bidder. Abraham bought her and Sarah took her as her personal servant. They had brought her to Canaan, and then quite unexpectedly, her own body, her womb, had been called into service. She would bear a child for Abraham and Sarah.
While the arrangement had been far from ideal, it actually turned out to be a stroke of fortune. Even before Ishmael was born, he — and Hagar, by association — had been the center of attention. Her son would be sole heir to the family fortune. Hagar was not so naive to think that fate had taken any notice of her, but at least for once the current had carried her to a good place.
It was not uncommon for the surrogate mother to be sent away once the child was born, but Hagar had been allowed to stay, and for thirteen years, she had enjoyed this new status. It was as if, for the first time, she had suddenly acquired a face, a kind of identity, even if it was only to herself.
Unfortunately, circumstances would change again. After twenty five years of waiting, her mistress, Sarah, gave birth to her own child. Hagar found her life upended again, this time by a mere child who wasn’t even aware she existed. She couldn’t blame the child, only Sarah, who mocked her at every turn. And even then, Hagar heard in Sarah’s words the echo of her own voice, the things she had said when she thought she had the upper hand. But how foolish she had been. Sarah had always had the advantage.
Abraham sent them off with “provisions.” Her son’s expected inheritance was now diminished to a flask of water and a piece of bread. Once again Hagar was expendable, the unwanted leftovers of someone else’s feast.
They had been walking for the better part of the day, and now they rested under the shade of a bush. Hagar placed the flask against her boy’s cracked lips and carefully drained the last drops of water into his mouth. He was too weak to swallow. Her own thirst, her own pain she could bear, but not this — not her son’s eyes searching for hope she could not give, not his lips begging for water she did not have, not his body that she could not carry. Anything but this. If Ishmael died now, nothing else mattered.
As she walked away, she wept. It was not supposed to end like this. Seventeen years ago she had wandered in this wilderness with the child in her womb. Then, as now, she had been hopeless, at the mercy of Sarah’s cruel whim. But an angel of the Lord had come to her saying, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” The angel had even given her son a name, saying “Call him Ishmael, because the Lord sees your suffering.”
She had gone back to Sarah, as the angel had instructed. In those days, she had whispered the name “Ishmael” to herself over and over: The Lord had seen her suffering. The words had washed over her wounds, and in this way she had endured Sarah’s mistreatment.
For thirteen years it had seemed that God was watching over them. But the words of the angel mocked her now. Had God really seen her suffering? Hagar opened her mouth wide to the sky and sobbed bitter, hopeless tears.
How surprised she was then to hear a voice from heaven saying, “Hagar, what is the matter with you?” She stopped short, and the voice continued, ”Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.”
The God who had seen her suffering had found her again.
“Get up, Hagar. Go, take your son by the hand, for I will make his descendants into a great nation.” Once again God was redirecting the current of her life, or perhaps just reminding her that he had been in charge of its course all along. Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She filled the flask, and the fresh water from the well revived them both.
Hagar and her son carved out a life in the wilderness. Though they would face cold, hunger, wild animals, and hostility, Hagar no longer felt like collateral damage in a dangerous game of chance.
The God who had seen her suffering so many years ago knew where they were. The same God who came to Abraham had come to her. The same God who made a promise to Abraham had made her a promise, and though she doubted him, he had not forgotten. The same God who listened to Abraham had heard the voice of her son. The same God had opened her eyes, and now she knew he could be trusted.
What came before:
Sarah and Abraham | Deja Vu All Over Again: Part 2
Though I try to remain faithful to the events and characters as described in the Bible, I take some liberties where the Bible is silent, especially regarding what the characters might have thought or felt. I encourage you to read the original story to separate fact from fiction. Genesis 21:1-21
For the purposes of the story I’m assuming Hagar and Ishmael were sent away around the time of Isaac’s weaning (see Genesis 21:8-12), and that Isaac was weaned at three years old. We know Ishmael was at least in his teens, since Ishmael was fourteen when Isaac was born (calculated using Abraham’s age when each child was born, 87 and 100 respectively).