January 10

Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible

Reading schedule

Matthew 5:1-12; Acts 4:23-31; Psalm 9:1-10; Genesis 20-21

The story of Hagar is one of tragedy and trial. Sarah asks her to sleep with Abraham, leading to her giving birth to Ishmael. Although Sarah immediately despises Hagar and treats her harshly, she remains with Sarah and Abraham until today’s incident in Genesis 21. Ishmael is now fourteen years old, and Sarah can take his presence no more. Admittedly, Ishmael does not help matters by mocking Sarah. The Hebrew says Ishmael was ‘laughing,’ using the same word that forms Isaac’s name, which literally means ‘one who laughs.’ The suggestion may be that Ishmael was starting to play the role given to Isaac. That makes it a little more understandable as to why Sarah decides to get rid of Ishmael. Her joy and gratitude at the birth of her long-awaited son is not enough for her. Likewise, we are urged to reflect on all that we have received so that we forgive and love others (Ephesians 4:32; 1 John 4:11).

God instructs Abraham to go along with his wife’s demands. He reminds him that even though Ishmael is rejected by them, he will not be rejected by God. Abraham can take comfort in the Lord’s declaration that Ishmael will be the father of another nation.

Once again, Hagar finds herself in the desert running from Sarah (Genesis 16). Things look desperate this time, with no food or water. Hagar gives up and waits for death to take her and Ishmael. Then we are told that God hears her son crying, which in Hebrew would remind readers of what Ishmael’s name means: God hears (Genesis 16:11). The play on words reflects the importance in ancient Israel of naming people and places, but also of remembering God’s promises.

In Genesis 16, Hagar received some remarkable promises. God told Hagar that he hears her and sees her. She even got to see El-Roi, which literally means ‘God who sees me’ (Genesis 16:13). God’s earlier promises to provide for her and her son should have given her hope when things looked desperate in the desert. Likewise, we may not see a way out of our situations, but we can know that God is with us. No matter how hopeless the situation, we can focus on God’s promises. Hagar had been given a promise that Ishmael would grow up to be a man (Genesis 16:12). We may not have such specific promises, but we have many general promises such as those in Psalm 9. The psalmist reminds us that God is a refuge for those in trouble, and that he will never forsake those who pursue him and trust in him (Psalm 9:9-10).  Such promises can comfort us in our suffering, even if we do not know exactly how things will work out.

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