Thursday, June 23, 2011

Whose Prayer Was Effective?

After Isaac was born and weaned, tensions mounted in Abraham's family.  Ishmael is reported as laughing (i.e., mocking), though we do not know if this was directed at Sarah being an elderly mother, the knowledge that what he had as a son of Abraham was certainly lost in the new half-brother, or both.  Whichever the case, the action prompted Sarah to tell Abraham that Hagar and her son were no longer welcome and to send them away (Gen 21:9-10).  Though this displeased Abraham, God comforted him with the promise that Ishmael would be blessed.  Abraham prepared food and water for the journey and sent them out early probably to ensure a good distance before the heat of day set upon them.

We are unaware how long Hagar and Ishmael wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba, but it exhausted their water rations.  Ishmael was the first to succumb to exhaustion.1 Hagar leaves him in what little shade she can find under a shrub and walked off
about as far off from him as an arrow can be shot, or is usually shot out of a bow; according to the Jews this was about half a mile, for they say two bowshots make a mile.2
Hagar here sat down, lifted up her voice, and wept (Gen 21:16) awaiting the inevitable that never came.  This displayed a remarkable lack of faith.  The promised care and blessing for her and Ishmael should have been enough to carry them had she only sought God's direction.  On a natural level we can understand the distress in which she found herself.  The wilderness was a harsh place, and being without a visible resource, there was no means of survival.  But the next verse tells us something remarkable: Ishmael had also cried out, and it was to his voice God responded.  How much faith did the boy have in the God of his father?  Evidently, it was sufficient.  The faith of Abraham had been instilled in his son enough to know that God could deliver on his promise, and because of that, the angel of God came to comfort Hagar so she could nourish Ishmael.

Lessons to be learned
God is faithful to his promise – All that he has said, he will do.  Ishmael had received the promise of a multitudinous family.  Dying in the desert was not going to happen.

God is faithful to answer – To whom the Lord chooses, he gives his ear.  And he will give the answer that is needed.  Ishmael's answer was delivered to Hagar that both may be helped.

1 This is somewhat surprising as he was a strapping lad approximately 17 years old.  Ishmael was 14 years older than Isaac; then by adding in the weaning period of two to three years, we arrive at this age.
2John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible, accessed at

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