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“Now these are the records of the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maid, bore to Abraham; and these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael, and Kedar and Adbeel and Mibsam and Mishma and Dumah and Massa, Hadad and Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah.  These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages, and by their camps; twelve princes according to their tribes.”  Gen. 25:12-16

Because of Isaac being the promised child, and the significance that his birth and near-sacrifice represents to both Judaism and Christianity, Ishmael tends to be cast in a negative light.  His mother Hagar was an Egyptian, a maidservant of Abraham’s and was not his original wife.  Ishmael is viewed as the progenitor of the Arabs, and the Arabs are seen as being at odds with the Jews, who are recognized as God’s chosen people.

All of this means we don’t offer much credence to Ishmael, and we often are blinded to any virtuous or spiritual thing with regards to Hagar or Ishmael.  Consider that:

  • Ishmael, just as Isaac, was named by God before birth.
  • After Hagar fled from Sarah, God told her to go back and submit, and she was obedient. In Genesis 16:10 Hagar received a promise from God, that her descendants would be too numerous to count.  This echos the promise given to Sarah concerning her descendants.
  • Ishmael, just as Isaac, had a brush with death.  In Genesis 21, Sarah sent Hagar and Ishmael away, and upon running out of water, Hagar thought Ishmael would not survive.
  • God visited Hagar a second time to reassure her.  How many in scripture get one visitation, let alone two?
  • God heard Ishmael’s cry as he lay dying, and promised to make a great nation of him, and He does – there are twelve princes of Ishmael before there are twelve tribes of Israel.

In short, many of the same promises of God were made to both Hagar and Ishmael as well as to Abraham, Sarah and Isaac.  In part, God’s promise to Abraham to make him many nations was a promise God was willing to fulfill even if not only through Sarah.

It is important to view Hagar and Ishmael as significant people in the story of Abraham; to learn lessons from them as to God’s promises, God’s favor, and God seeing our plight and hearing our cries.  We must not simply reduce their story to “That’s where the Arabs/Muslims come from” which unfortunately happens much today.

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“Now Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah.”  Gen. 25:1

Although most see no real issue with Abraham taking a wife at this point (Sarah having passed away, and Hagar having been sent away with God’s approval quite some time ago), many Jewish scholars (including Rashi) believe that Keturah is actually Hagar.

Keturah’s name is similar to the Hebrew word qetoret, which means incense (or to burn incense) or possibly sacrifice .  This alludes to beautiful deeds, or answered prayer.  The belief is that Hagar, after having been sent away from Abraham dabbled in idolatry but repenting of it, and ultimately stayed chaste and otherwise became righteous.  Some also believe that Keturah’s name was derived from an incense trade route.

We have virtually no background information on Keturah, so nothing in the scriptures specifically contradicts the idea that Keturah and Hagar could be one and the same; the only obvious difference is in name – but a name change, either by God, in a legal sense or even as a term of endearment – is not an impossibility, as we see many other such examples in the scriptures.

For those who have not heard this theory before, it is generally not understood why such a theory would even exist, or perhaps wishful thinking; however it would make sense that the hope that Father Abraham could always, through the lens of history, be looked at as one of the most righteous men of faith, there is cause not to want to view him as an adulterer.  After all, Hagar technically did become Abraham’s second wife (Gen. 16:3) so as long as she is alive, Abraham cannot re-marry according to the law, even though it may be acceptable in the local culture.

It is worth noting that in 25:6 a reference is made to the “sons of [Abraham’s] concubines”; however many agree this is a mistranslation, and that the term is technically singular (i.e. concubine) and would better have been rendered ‘concubinage’ or similar.

“Now Isaac had come from going to Beer-lahai-roi; for he was living in the Negev. Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, camels were coming.  Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from the camel.  She said to the servant, “Who is that man walking in the field to meet us?” And the servant said, “He is my master.” Then she took her veil and covered herself.  The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done.  Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”  Gen. 24:62-67

Because I believe that Isaac is a picture of the Christ, and Rebekah is a picture of the church, it is difficult not to attempt to draw parallels between this portion of the narrative and end-times happenings.  Unfortunately to do so would probably raise more questions than it answered.  For instance, there is repeated instruction from Abraham not to take Isaac back to the land where he was from, but we know the Christ ultimately returns at the second advent, so it is difficult to draw such a parallel.

What the scene is about otherwise is the meeting of Rebekah and Isaac, and the consummation of their relationship.   There are a few items worth noting in these verses:

1 – Isaac was not living with Abraham, he was living in the Negev (v. 62).  Some speculate that Isaac parted ways with Abraham after his near-sacrifice in Genesis 22; that perhaps Isaac was disturbed by this, possibly being at an age where he did not have as full an understanding of God as Abraham did.  Also we note that it appears Isaac did not return with Abraham from Mount Moriah that fateful day (Gen. 22:19).

2 – The text notes where Isaac was coming from – Beer-lahai-roi – does this mean he was just arriving? If read that way it would appear to be divinely orchestrated; he would have had to leave his home at the right time to arrive while the caravan was arriving.  Such was the case with the servant, who arrived right when Rebekah was going out to draw water.

3 – It is also worth noting that the Targum Onkelos (the official Babylonian translation of the Torah), as well as some common translations render the place name where Hagar saw the Angel of the Lord at the well in Gen 16:14 and Beer-lahai-roi as the same place.  This was the place where Hagar fled to from Sarah after becoming pregnant with Ishmael.  The Lord told Hagar to go back and submit to her mistress.  It is believed by many Jewish scholars that this is in the text to allude to the fact that Isaac was actually looking for Hagar – to bring her back to Abraham now that Sarah has passed on – which I will discuss more in the next chapter’s postings.

4 – When Rebekah dismounts the camel (v. 64), according to Rashi she practically fell off.  It would appear that if she didn’t know the man was Isaac yet, she was certainly hoping it was.

5 – The servant refers to Isaac as his masters (v. 65).  Prior to this the servant referred several times to Abraham as his master.  In this case the servant likely considers both men as his master, though it draws an interesting parallel to the servant being a picture of the Holy Spirit, Isaac being a picture of the Christ, and Abraham being a picture of God.

6 – I find it fascinating that although the long awaited bride of Isaac finally arrives, it appears she waits patiently, with veil over her head, for Isaac to finish his conversation with the servant.  Before they enter the tent, the text tells us in verse 66 “The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done.”  The servant’s report to his master took precedence.

“God was with the lad, and he grew; and he lived in the wilderness and became an archer.  He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt. ”  Gen.21:20-21

We are given a hint about Ishmael’s future as he lay dying under a tree, and Hagar sits down ‘about a bowshot’ away (Gen. 21:16).  We see he becomes an archer.  Ishmael’s future was spoken of by God in Genesis 16:11-12.

The fact that Ishmael got a wife from Egypt says more about Hagar, however, who chose the wife for him.  This calls into question how Hagar felt about Abraham’s beliefs, which he surely made known to his household (Gen. 14:14; 17:23).  Perhaps being sent away left her disenchanted with the Hebrew people so she sought an Egyptian wife for Ishmael.

Hagar has had two experiences with God that we know of:  God spoke with Hagar when she fled from Sarah (Gen. 16), and again when Sarah sent her away (Gen. 21). Hagar also had God’s promise that Ishmael would not die but become a great nation, and so far he has survived as God said.  Her concern that Ishmael would die shows her lack of faith.

So is she turning her back on God by seeking an Egyptian wife for Ishmael, or did she simply see no benefit to have Ishmael marry a Hebrew woman?

 

““Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink.”  Gen. 21:18-19

Ishmael is about to die, and suddenly Hagar turns and sees a well.  This was not a miracle well that magically appeared, but rather a well that was present the whole time, it just was not seen by Hagar until this moment.  We may think, how did they not see a well when they are dying of thirst in a desert?

While most common translations use the phrase “she saw a well”, at least one translation uses the phrase “she perceived a well”, so perhaps this speaks to our spiritual condition at times.  The Midrash teaches that God always provides what we need; it is us who must be ready to open our eyes to see it.

“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.

“When the water in the skin was used up, she left the boy under one of the bushes.  Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, “Do not let me see the boy die.” And she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept.”  Gen. 21:15-16

This may strike us as odd behavior upon reading, and it should cause us to pause; it is not normal behavior.  Hagar runs out of water, then puts Ishmael (now over 16 years old) under a tree.  She leaves him there because she does not want to see him die.  If our child is dying, we comfort them until their last breath, do we not?  R’ Hirsch explains that this shows Hagar’s selfishness, she could not trouble herself to comfort the boy in his dying moments.  After all, we see it was Ishmael’s cry (v. 17), rather than Hagar’s weeping, that God heard.  Hence Ishmael’s name holds true – as his name means “God hears”, or “The LORD will hear”.

This turn of events to save Ishmael ultimately comes about due to what was already ordained by God:  His promise to Abraham concerning his descendants; to make them into a great nation.  This promise applied to both Isaac and Ishmael.  So in this way, Hagar was able to be comforted by God’s promise to Abraham concerning the fate of her son.  Today, we still reap the benefits of the promises God made to Abraham.

So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away.  And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba.  Gen. 21:14

In this passage, the word “wandered” has also been translated as “strayed”.  Rashi says that Hagar “strayed” back to her father’s house, idolatry.  We must remember that Hagar was an Egyptian; she was likely acquired by Abraham as a gift from Pharaoh in Genesis 12.  She would have been no stranger to idolatry while in Egypt.  As for Abraham and his household, Josephus makes much effort to tell us Abraham strived to have others in his household believe in the one true God.  Ultimately Hagar chooses a wife for Ishmael who is an Egyptian (Gen. 21:21), which leaves us to wonder how receptive she was to Abraham’s God – whom she herself experienced twice (Gen. 16:8 & 21:17).

Perhaps Hagar is a picture of one who does not receive God, despite the example of Abraham, and despite her own experience with God.  In which case we see her end is like that of Cain’s line – there is nothing further to be recorded in history (save for a comparison of slavery versus freedom in Galatians 4).  The inheritance of Isaac does not belong to Ishmael; their ways were parted instead.

“So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away.”  Gen 21:14(a)

Abraham acts quickly, arising early in the morning, and this is not the first time.  With the circumcision of himself and his household, he did not put off the act as we may based upon our fear of pain; but rather he did this the same day (Gen. 17:23), and we know he had no small household (See Gen. 14:14).

Likewise, here we see the putting out of Hagar and Ishmael once he knew it was God’s will (21:12)

In Genesis 22, we see Abraham arise early yet again when he receives God’s call to go to Moriah where he will be tested with the offering of Isaac (Gen. 22:3).

Thus we should learn that when we perceive that God wants us to take action, we should act quickly; for the sooner we act, the sooner His promises will be fulfilled.

The Separation of Isaac and Ishmael: A Short Essay

I believe there is an interesting parallel that can be drawn from the story of the separation of Isaac and Ishmael in Genesis 21. The calling for a separation of a family seems contrary to Judeo-Christian values, and seems to run opposite the idea of familial reconciliation also taught in the scriptures.  So we must ask, why is story this here?

Certainly we know that many historical events from the Hebrew scriptures occurred not just for reasons in their own time; but as examples, symbolically and otherwise, of how future events would come about as well.  I believe this separation of Ishmael and Isaac illustrates such a point.

So we have a call for separation, endorsed by God, which appears to be related to inheritance.  Isaac, in several ways, represents Jesus; He was the son whose birth was a miracle, he was the promised one, he was to be sacrificed by his father. More generally speaking, the children of Abraham, in the New Testament writings, represent those who believe by faith: an over-arching attribute of Abraham’s story.

Ishmael, on the other hand, was the son of the flesh; Abraham and Sarah had the promise of a son that would come, but they sought out their own means to have a child through another woman, their servant Hagar.  (Incidentally, polygamy does exist in the bible but is never specifically endorsed by God.)  And we see that here in Genesis 21, Ishmael is cut off from the great inheritance that was reserved all along for Isaac.

I have heard some say that Isaac represents followers of Christ, and that Ishmael represents the Jew who does not believe Jesus as Messiah;  And while I cannot say there is no parallel in this view, it seems rather short-sighted.  I think the defining difference between Ishmael and Isaac is that one son was a promise who came through the appointed vessel (Sarah) by faith, through no doing of their own; and the other came as a resort of a sort of fleshly desire to have a child, and possibly bring about God’s promise on their own humanistic terms.

In light of that understanding, I do not see a picture of Christian vs. Jew.  Rather I see it as a picture of a separation of the children of God from the world (i.e. to be in the world and not of the world).  I cannot deduce that the separation is defined in terms of believers of God separating themselves from unbelievers – as we see, Jesus ate and drank with the sinners and tax collectors; He said it was the sick that needed a doctor.

The reality is that the children of this world do not share the same inheritance as the children of God in the end.  However this does not mean those who do not believe get nothing, but likely means they get their pleasure now and only now, as they do not have a portion in the World to Come.

Questions to think about:

Is there any significance that God keeps His promise to Abraham through both the legitimate and illegitimate son (to make them both a great nation?)  What could this mean for the saved and unsaved today? What promise is being kept by God for the unbeliever, even if the inheritance is ultimately not shared in the end?  Worldly goods and pleasures? Abundance in this life, albeit temporary?

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