“The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son.” (Genesis 21:8-11)
In our modern society a child might be weaned by 1 year old, but it is quite possible that young Isaac was two or three years old. Old enough that he had survived infancy and all the illness and injury that comes with those fragile delicate years. He was eating solid food and was thriving. It indeed was a celebration that he had firmly taken his place in the land of living.
But being alive and healthy, as was Hagar’s son, might that he would most probably grow to adulthood and be the inheritor of all that God promised. And Sarah, being a possessive mother, did want that shared with the usurper son of Hagar.
I have to say, I dismayed that there was not a camaraderie between the two women. As we know from other biblical characters, a man having more than one wife was not unusual. Often biblical studies among women studies and considers the life of Hagar as much a worthy topic as the life of Sarah and other wives to men of God. I think that is very good.
“But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.” (Verses 12 – 14)
One of the things I hope studies of Hagar show is that everyone is a part of God’s plan and under God’s blessing. Especially those who do not think they are.
“When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” (Verses 15 – 18)
I have read that Hagar did her son a mercy, sheltering him under a brush, away from the heat of the son. We can assume she hoped she would die first, so she would not have to see his agony. But also hoped, I am sure, that under the brush he would not see her perish. And that might have been the end of the story. But the God of the Old Testament was not done, had not closed the chapter on Hagar and her son.
“Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.” (Verses 19 – 21)
When I sat down to consider the two Old Testament passages this week, I could not decide which one to use. And as I looked at them both, I realized there are many similar themes in these two passages. Maybe the constructors of the Revised Common Lectionary thought the same thing.
“O LORD, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.” (Jeremiah 20:7-8)
Just as Hagar cried out in her distress, the writer of the book of Jeremiah cries out in distress also. Both are called to a difficult life, and struggle in what seems to be their fate.
“If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. For I hear many whispering: “Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. “Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him.” (Verses 9 – 10)
I am sure Hagar felt used and abused, forced into motherhood not because of a relationship that promised support and respect but used to fulfill the hopes and dreams of an old man. And then when she had done what was required of her, she was set aside and driven off in favor of another. And as I compare these two passages, Hagar’s pleas and Jeremiah’s pleas came together in my mind. Jeremiah was called to prophesy, and as he laments, prophesies that was not well received. While he follows his calling from the Lord, he is punished by those around him. But if he determines not to speak, he is tormented inside. Where can he turn? Where could Hagar turn?
“But the LORD is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.” (Verses 11)
It would be simple, and simplistic, of me to say, “See, call upon the Lord and your problems will be gone!” It is not that simple, and I do an injustice to both Hagar and Jeremiah if I gloss over and erase their distress. When one cries out to the Lord, one does not know what the answer will be or even if there will be a favorable answer.
“O LORD of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers” (Verses 12 – 13)
It is only . . . only on the other side of our troubles that we can see and say where I deliverance was. And it is only those who are delivered that are able to speak of it. Tragedy and disaster happen every day, and the victims of it multiply over the generations. I give you not false promise and insubstantial hope. I tell you (or rather the RCL) tells you these stories so that you know you are not the only one that has been set against. We who have lost hope in the desert, and feel torn between two opposing sides, have our own stories to tell. And tell them we will. Selah!