The Banishment of Hagar

27 Jul

We are told in Genesis 21:14 that Abraham rose up early in the morning and taking some food and a goatskin of water, he gave them to Hagar for her journey. Then the text adds: he gave her Ishmael, her son. According to the universal law at that time, Abraham didn’t have to give Ishmael to Hagar, but to keep him would have implied Hagar’s presence in Abraham’s household through her son, and that was not desirable. She brought him up to have the same characteristics so evident in herself (Genesis 21:9; cp. 16:3-4). Another point to consider is that after Sarah had died and Abraham took a concubine, Keturah, and had children by her, he later gave them their freedom and sent them away with gifts (Genesis 25:1-6). This was not done in the case of Hagar. She was given her freedom, provisions for her journey and her son, concerning whom she thought to overthrow Sarah’s position in Abraham’s household.

It was customary in that day to carry enough water to take one to the next watering hole or well, and Abraham no doubt directed Hagar to where she could find water, but she wandered in vain seeking it (Genesis 21:14-15). The Hebrew word for wandered is most often translated to err or to go (went) astray. That is, Hagar went astray from the directions of Abraham. Moreover, the text uses the word child in Genesis 21:14 for Ishmael, but this same word is used also of Naomi’s sons who had wives of their own (Ruth 1:5). Ishmael was 13 years old when he was circumcised (Genesis 17:25). He had to have been 14 at the birth of Isaac, because Sarah wasn’t pregnant until sometime after the covenant of circumcision was made with Abraham. Depending upon Isaac’s age when he was weaned, Ishmael could have been between 16 to 18 years of age at the time of Hagar’s banishment from Abraham’s household.

More than likely Ishmael not only had a bow but also knew how to use it (cp. Genesis 21:16, 20). Ishmael was about the same age as Esau and Jacob before either of them was married, and Esau knew how to hunt in the wilderness and provide food for himself. Jacob also lived in tents watching Isaac’s flocks and was able to provide for himself (cp. Genesis 25:27-28). There is no reason to believe otherwise about Ishmael. In fact, once the water situation was solved, nothing more is said in the text about the couple being in danger. Indeed, the wilderness became Ishmael’s home, his choice for dwelling, and his skill as an archer increased (Genesis 21:20-21).

Banishing Hagar and Ishmael may seem to the western mind to be somewhat cruel, but we need to consider the text more closely, because such an idea is foreign to the context. Hagar was and remained a bondwoman; only her son had any claim on Abraham for an inheritance. Hagar was given her freedom and her son. While disappointment may have been evident in that her plan for her son would not be realized, no tears were shed over the freedom she was given. She had her son, and in the end that is what seems to have been the important matter. The context shows that she wandered from the path where water could be found for her and Ishmael. Nevertheless, God, who had assured Abraham that he would care for his son, heard the lad’s cry for help and opened Hagar’s eyes to a well.

I think God’s intervention here is significant in the text. The Hebrew word for opening Hagar’s eyes seems to be used for miraculous events (cp. 1Kings 6:17, 20; Isaiah 35:5). I have to wonder if the blessings of God aren’t all around us, but our eyes have to be opened to see them. For example, while Jesus was on the cross he spoke with the repentant thief, saying he would be with Jesus in paradise (G3857 – see Luke 23:43). The same word is used again by Paul in 2Corinthians 12:4 for the one who was caught up to paradise and saw things he was unable to put into words. Finally, it is used for the 3rd and last time in Revelation 2:7 where the Lord promises the one who overcomes that he will eat of the Tree of Life in the midst of the paradise of God. The point is that the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) uses this same Greek word (G3857) for Eden in Genesis 2:8. If Eden is a place on earth, as seems to be the case in Genesis 2 & 3, and mankind has been banished from it (Genesis 3:22-24), then it may be that Eden or paradise is all around us and awaits our eyes being opened by God.

One final point to consider is that the same Hebrew word used for Abraham sending (H7971) Hagar away (Genesis 21:14) is used of God sending Adam away (Genesis 3:23) from Eden. While one may think this is but a coincidence, there is more. The same Hebrew word used by Sarah wanting to cast out (H1644) the bondwoman (Genesis 21:10) is used of the Lord driving out Adam from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24). Just as Adam and Eve were the parents of mankind according to the flesh, so Abraham and Sarah became the parents of mankind concerning faith. Just as God brought curses upon mankind beginning with Adam and Eve, God reversed this and has promised all nations would be blessed in Abraham (Genesis 18:18). God began again in Abraham and Sarah to show his glory through their descendents with a view to blessing all mankind. With this in mind, the Lord’s opening Hagar’s eyes (a miraculous event) seems to infer the blessings of paradise or Eden are all around us. We just don’t have eyes to see them—yet.

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Posted by on July 27, 2014 in Abraham, Walking with God


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