“God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.” Gen. 21:17
Ishmael’s name means ‘God hears’ or ‘God hearkens’, and so God hears Ishmael’s cry as he lay dying. We note that God heard Ishmael’s cry over Hagar’s weeping. Hagar had left the teenage Ishmael under a tree to die after they ran out of water in the desert. Rashi speculated that Ishmael likely fell ill, causing them to run out of water prematurely due to the need to sustain Ishmael. This comes from the assumption that Abraham certainly would have provided them with enough provisions under normal circumstances when he sent them off.
What is fascinating is how this verse ends, which may get glossed over: “God has heard the voice of the lad where he is“. Many translations use this phrase, and one even reads “in his present state.” What are we to make of this, if anything? Though it would be easy to dismiss these words, they are written down but initially seem to add no value or clarification to the text, which should cause us to ask why they are there if they could have just as easily been omitted.
In the context we see the boy is perishing in the desert, and needs water to survive. After God hears his cry, Hagar perceives a well and is able to provide him a drink, allowing him to live and eventually thrive.
Does this speak to our spiritual condition? Are we perishing in the desert, and only after we cry out to God are we shown the well from which we must drink?
Some would say this is reading into the text. To those I would say, if there is a lesson to be gleaned or a truth to be recognized, why not learn the lesson or recognize the truth? When we do not read scripture in this way, how much are we missing? There are hundreds of passages like this which serve to remind us of our sorry state; to remind us of our need for salvation; to point us to a well of living water which sustains our spirit indefinitely: Jesus the Messiah.