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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Genesis 21



Verses 1-5

Genesis 21:1-5

Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac

The birth of Isaac


1. God’s power as distinctly seen.

2. God’s power as it affects personal interest.

3. God’s power manifested as benevolent.


1. The promises of God sooner or later pass into exact fulfilment.

2. Their fulfilment justifies our confidence in God.

3. Their fulfilment is the stay of the believer’s soul.

III. As IT ILLUSTRATES THE FAITH OF MAN. Abraham believed in God against all human hope, and Sarah “by faith received strength to conceive Hebrews 11:11).

1. It was a faith which was severely tried.

2. It was a practical faith. All the time he was waiting, Abraham was obedient to the word of the Lord.


1. Both births were announced long before.

2. Both occur at the time fixed by God.

3. Both persons were named before their birth.

4. Both births were supernatural.

5. Both births were the occasion of great joy.

6. Both births are associated with the life beyond. (T. H. Leale.)

Isaac a type of Christ

I. IN THY APPROPRIATENESS OF HIS NAME. “Laughter,” “rejoicing.”



1. The description of the sacrifice which was given. “Thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest.” How naturally our thoughts are led by this language to Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, the Son of His delight, His dearly beloved Son.

2. He was to be presented as a sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-2, &c). Here again we are directly led to Jesus. He came to be a sacrifice.

3. He was to be devoted and sacrificed by his Father. To Abraham God said, “Take now thy son,” &c. Jesus was God’s gift to the world.

4. He was to be offered on mount Moriah. To this spot, with his father, he travelled for three days, &c. Near the same spot--on Calvary, Jesus was sacrificed for the sin of the world.

5. Isaac bare the wood, which was designed to burn the offering. Christ also bare the cross on which He was to be crucified.

6. Isaac freely submitted to be bound and tied upon the altar. Jesus voluntarily went forth to death, and freely surrendered his spirit into the hands of his Father. But here the typical resemblance terminates. For Isaac a substitute is provided.


1. Let the subject lead us to contemplate the true desert of sin--which is death.

2. Consider the necessity of an atoning sacrifice.

3. Consider the infinite merit and preciousness of that sacrifice which God has provided--His own Son.

4. The necessity of a believing, personal interest in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

5. The awful consequence of neglecting the propitiation the love of God has provided--eternal death. (J. Burns, D. D.)

Light in the clouds; or, comfort for the discouraged

I. Back there in the beginning, God’s call to Abraham had been accompanied by a promise. “From thy kindred, and from thy Father’s house unto a land that I will show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee and make thy name great, and thou shalt be a blessing, and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” So accompanied with the call came the promise. He was to sacrifice--but sacrifice was only a rougher path to a smooth and shining end. Out of its thorns was to blossom a better destiny than Abraham otherwise could possibly have gained. It was not all cross for Abraham; it was crown, too, and the cross was but the ladder climbing up which he should reach and wear the crown. What was true for Abraham is just as true for you and me. There comes to us no call of God, how rough and heavy soever its yoke may seem, that is not cushioned too with promise, that does not point onward and upward from itself to some vast and burdened blessing which otherwise we could not gain! You must yield a bad habit. Yes, but in order that you may enter into a great self-mastering.

II. And the energy to do the duty, the strength to bear the burden, is to be found where? This is where it is to be found--in faith in the promise. Well, Abraham yields to the call and puts faith in the promise, and goes on and enters Canaan. They have staid in the land for several long years, and still their tent is voiceless of a child. They have been much blessed in other ways. Abraham is a person held, too, in very good repute. His name and position are most honourable. Every way and on every side the best things seem to come to Abraham--except the one special thing which he desires most of all, and which is absolutely essential to lift him into the high destiny God has promised him. He is still childless. I think, too, Abraham must have been just now in a despondent reaction after a great strain. The anxiety about Lot, and that military expedition, had taxed him terribly. I think all this, because the Word of God, which just now comes to him, seems to be a word answering to just such a mood as this. And then the Lord illustrates the glory of this promise to him. “Look up,” God said to Abraham; “canst thou tell the stars to number them? So shall thy seed be.” It is a great thing when a husband and a wife are united in the same faith. It is a great thing when they stand in equal faith, and so together pass forward into the uncertain years. Usually where a man and wife are believing people the wife has the greater faith. It is she who gets the firmest hold upon the Divine promises. It is she who rests on them the more utterly. It is she who, by many a faithful word and by the serene example of her trust, gives heart to the husband’s failing courage, gives swiftness to his more laggard step. It was not so with Abraham and Sarah. Abraham was more a man of faith than Sarah was a woman of faith. And Abraham instead of being led on in the right way by his wife was led off in the wrong was by her. I have no time to wait to tell you of all the gain and shame which came to Abraham and to Sarah from this false step. How, even though Ishmael came to the tent, discord came with him; how jealous Sarah grew, and then how cruel. From the time of that second manifestation of the promise and the ratification of it full fourteen years have sped away. Ishmael has been born, but Ishmael is not the promised seed. Still Abraham’s tent is empty of the true heir. I think Abraham had fallen into a lower sort of life since he had gone off in the wrong way. I suppose he tried to be content with Ishmael. That is the way a great many Christians live. They do not think that God means all He says. Possibly He may mean half; but never all, to them anyway. They must get on as best they can with a little joy and a little peace, and be very thankful for that little, and never hope that they can have much more. And then God comes to break in upon him with another and better word of promise still. He comes to him announcing for Himself a new name--God Almighty, Omnipotent, the God with whom nothing is impossible. “Abraham,” He says, “I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect,” that is, sincere in faith--upright. And then the promise is again renewed in terms more unmistakable. Abraham is to have a son and Sarah is to be its mother. All God’s thoughts for us are always greater than our thoughts for Him. (W. Hoyt.)

Prayer sure to be answered

When the season has been cold and backward, when rains fell and prices rose, and farmers desponded, and the poor despaired, I have heard old people, whose hopes resting on God’s promise did not rise and fall with the barometer nor shifting winds, say we shall have harvest after all; and this you can safely say of the labours and fruits of prayer. (T. Guthrie.)

Verses 1-34


Genesis 21:1-34; Genesis 22:1-24

Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. Which things are an allegory.- Galatians 4:22.

"Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son." Genesis 22:10

IN the birth of Isaac, Abraham at length sees the long-delayed fulfilment of the promise. But his trials are by no means over. He has himself introduced into his family the seeds of discord and disturbance, and speedily the fruit is borne. Ishmael, at the birth of Isaac, was a lad of fourteen years, and, reckoning from Eastern customs, he must have been over sixteen when the feast was made in honour of the weaned child. Certainly he was quite old enough to understand the important and not very welcome alteration in his prospects which the birth of this new son effected. He had been brought up to count himself the heir of all the wealth and influence of Abraham. There was no alienation of feeling between father and son: no shadow had flitted over the bright prospect of the boy as he grew up; when suddenly and unexpectedly there was interposed between him and his expectation the effectual barrier of this child of Sarah’s. The importance of this child to the family was in due course indicated in many ways offensive to Ishmael; and when the feast was made, his spleen could no longer be repressed. This weaning was the first step in the direction of an independent existence, and this would be the point of the feast in celebration. The child was no longer a mere part of the mother, but an individual, a member of the family. The hopes of the parents were carried forward to the time when he should be quite independent of them.

But in all this there was great food for the ridicule of a thoughtless lad. It was precisely the kind of thing which could easily be mocked without any great expenditure of wit by a boy of Ishmael’s age. The too visible pride of the aged mother, the incongruity of maternal duties with ninety years, the concentration of attention and honours on so small an object, -all this was, doubtless, a temptation to a boy who had probably at no time too much reverence. But the words and gestures which others might have disregarded as childish frolic, or, at worst, as the unseemly and ill-natured impertinence of a boy who knew no better, stung Sarah, and left a poison in her blood that infuriated her. "Cast out that bondwoman and her son," she demanded of Abraham. Evidently she feared the rivalry of this second household of Abraham, and was resolved it should come to an end. The mocking of Ishmael is but the violent concussion that at last produces the explosion, for which material has long been laid in train. She had seen on Abraham’s part a clinging to Ishmael, which she was unable to appreciate. And though her harsh decision was nothing more than the dictate of maternal jealousy, it did prevent things from running on as they were until even a more painful family quarrel must have been the issue.

The act of expulsion was itself unaccountably harsh. There was nothing to prevent Abraham sending the boy and his mother under an escort to some safe place; nothing to prevent him from giving the lad some share of his possessions sufficient to provide for him. Nothing of this kind was done. The woman and the boy were simply put to the door; and this, although Ishmael had for years been counted Abraham’s heir, and though he was a member of the covenant made with Abraham. There may have been some law giving Sarah absolute power over her maid; but if any law gave her power to do what was now done, it was a thoroughly barbarous one, and she was a barbarous woman who used it.

It is one of those painful cases in which one poor creature clothed with a little brief authority stretches it to the utmost in vindictive maltreatment of another. Sarah happened to be mistress, and, instead of using her position to make those under her happy, she used it for her own convenience, for the gratification of her own spite, and to make those beneath her conscious of her power by their suffering. She happened to be a mother, and instead of bringing her into sympathy with all women and their children, this concentrated her affection with a fierce jealousy on her own child. She breathed freely when Hagar and Ishmael were fairly out of sight. A smile of satisfied malice betrayed her bitter spirit. No thought of the sufferings to which she had committed a woman who had served her well for years, who had yielded everything to her will, and who had no other natural protector but her, no glimpses of Abraham’s saddened face, visited her with any relentings. It mattered not to her what came of the woman and the boy to whom she really owed a more loving and careful regard than to any except Abraham and Isaac. It is a story often repeated. One who has been a member of the household for many years is at last dismissed at the dictate of some petty pique or spite as remorselessly and inhumanly as a piece of old furniture might be parted with. Some thoroughly good servant, who has made sacrifices to forward his employer’s interest, is at last. through no offence of his own, found to be in his employer’s way, and at once all old services are forgotten, all old ties broken, and the authority of the employer, legal but inhuman, is exercised. It is often those who can least defend themselves who are thus treated; no resistance is possible, and also, alas! the party is too weak to face the wilderness on which she is thrown out, and if any cares to follow her history, we may find her at the last gasp under a bush.

Still, both for Abraham and for Ishmael, it was better this severance should take place. It was grievous to Abraham; and Sarah saw that for this very reason it was necessary. Ishmael was his firstborn, and for many years had received the whole of his parental affection: and, looking on the little Isaac, he might feel the desirableness of keeping another son in reserve, lest this strangely-given child might as strangely pass away. Coming to him in a way so unusual, and having perhaps in his appearance some indication of his peculiar birth, he might seem scarcely fit for the rough life Abraham himself had led. On the other hand, it was plain that in Ishmael were the very qualities which Isaac was already showing that he lacked. Already Abraham was observing that with all his insolence and turbulence there was a natural force and independence of character which might come to be most useful in the patriarchal household. The man who had pursued and routed the allied kings could not but be drawn to a youth who already gave promise of capacity for similar enterprises-and this youth his own son. But can Abraham have failed to let his fancy picture the deeds this lad might one day do at the head of his armed slaves? And may he not have dreamt of a glory in the land not altogether such as the promise of God encouraged him to look for, but such as the tribes around would acknowledge and fear? All the hopes Abraham had of Ishmael had gained firm hold of his mind before Isaac was born; and before Isaac grew up, Ishmael must have taken the most influential place in the house and plans of Abraham. His mind would thus have received a strong bias towards conquests and forcible modes of advance. He might have been led to neglect, and, perhaps, finally despise, the unostentatious blessings of heaven.

If, then, Abraham was to become the founder, not of one new warlike power in addition to the already too numerous warlike powers of the East, but of a religion which should finally develop into the most elevating and purifying influence among men, it is obvious that Ishmael was not at all a desirable heir. Whatever pain it gave to Abraham to part with him, separation in some form had become necessary. It was impossible that the father should continue to enjoy the filial affection of Ishmael, his lively talk, and warm enthusiasm, and adventurous exploits, and at the same time concentrate his hope and his care on Isaac. He had, therefore, to give up, with something of the sorrow and self-control he afterwards underwent in connection with the sacrifice of Isaac, the lad whose bright face had for so many years shone in all his paths. And in some such way are we often called to part with prospects which have wrought themselves very deep into our spirit, and which, indeed, just because they are very promising and seductive, have become dangerous to us, upsetting the balance of our life, and throwing into the shade objects and purposes which ought to be outstanding. And when we are thus required to give up what we were looking to for comfort, for applause, and for profit, the voice of God in its first admonition sometimes seems to us little better than the jealousy of a woman. Like Sarah’s demand, that none should share with her son, does the requirement seem which indicates to us that we must set nothing on a level with God’s direct gifts to us. We refuse to see why we may not have all the pleasures and enjoyments, all the display and brilliance that the world can give. We feel as if we were needlessly restricted. But this instance shows us that when circumstances compel us to give up something of this kind which we have been cherishing, room is given for a better thing than itself to grow.

For Ishmael himself, too, wronged as he was in the mode of his expulsion, it was yet far better that he should go. Isaac was the true heir. No jeering allusions to his late birth or to his appearance could alter that fact. And to a temper like Ishmael’s it was impossible to occupy a subordinate, dependent position. All he required to call out his latent powers was to be thrown thus on his own resources. The daring and high spirit and quickness to take offence and use violence, which would have wrought untold mischief in a pastoral camp, were the very qualities which found fit exercise in the desert, and seemed there only in keeping with the life he had to lead. And his hard experience at first would at his age do him no harm, but good only. To be compelled to face life single-handed at the age of sixteen is by no means a fate to be pitied. It was the making Of Ishmael. and is the making of many a lad in every generation.

But the two fugitives are soon reminded that, though expelled from Abraham’s tents and protection, they are not expelled from his God. Ishmael finds it true that when father and mother forsake him, the Lord takes him up. At the very outset of his desert life he is made conscious that God is still his God, mindful of his wants, responsive to his cry of distress.

It was not through Ishmael the promised seed was to come, but the descendants of Ishmael had every inducement to retain faith in the God of Abraham, who listened to their father’s cry. The fact of being excluded from certain privileges did not involve that they were to be excluded from all privileges. God still "heard the voice of the lad, and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven."

It is this voice of God to Hagar that so speedily, and apparently once for all, lifts her out of despair to cheerful hope. It would appear as if her despair had been needless; at least from the words addressed to her, "What aileth thee, Hagar?" it would appear as if she might herself have found the water that was close at hand, if only she had been disposed to look for it. But she had lost heart, and perhaps with her despair was mingled some resentment, not only at Sarah, but at the whole Hebrew connection, including the God of the Hebrews, who had before encouraged her. Here was the end of the magnificent promise which that God had made her before her child was born-a helpless human form gasping its life away without a drop of water to moisten the parched tongue and bring light to the glazing eyes, and with no easier couch than the burning sand. Was it for this, the bitterest drop that, apart from sin, can be given to any parent to drink, she had been brought from Egypt and led through all her past? Had her hopes been nursed by means so extraordinary only that they might be so bitterly blighted? Thus she learnt to her conclusions, and judged that because her skin of water had failed God had failed her too. No one can blame her, with her boy dying before her, and herself helpless to relieve one pang of his suffering. Hitherto, in the well-furnished tents of Abraham, she had been able to respond to his slightest desire. Thirst he had never known, save as the relish to some boyish adventure. But now, when his eyes appeal to her in dying anguish, she can but turn away in helpless despair. She cannot relieve his simplest want. Not for her own fate has she any tears, but to see her pride, her life and joy, perishing thus miserably, is more than she can bear.

No one can blame, but every one may learn from her. When angry resentment and unbelieving despair fill the mind, we may perish of thirst in the midst of springs. When God’s promises produce no faith, but seem to us so much waste paper, we are necessarily in danger of missing their fulfilment. When we ascribe to God the harshness and wickedness of those who represent Him in the world, we commit moral suicide. So far from the promises given to Hagar being now at the point of extinction, this was the first considerable step toward their fulfilment. When Ishmael turned his back on the familiar tents, and flung his last gibe at Sarah, he was really setting out to a far richer inheritance, so far as this world goes, than ever fell to Isaac and his sons.

But the chief use Paul makes of this entire episode in the history is to see in it an allegory. a kind of picture made up of real persons and events, representing the impossibility of law and gospel living harmoniously together, the incompatibility of a spirit of service with a spirit of sonship. Hagar, he says, is in this picture the likeness of the law given from Sinai, which gendereth to bondage. Hagar and her son, that is to say, stand for the law and the kind of righteousness produced by the law, -not superficially a bad kind; on the contrary, a righteousness with much dash and brilliance and strong manly force about it. but at the root defective, faulty in its origin, springing from the slavish spirit. And first Paul bids us notice how the free-born is persecuted and mocked by the slave-born, that is, how the children of God who are trying to live by love and faith in Christ are put to shame and made uneasy by the law. They believe they are God’s dear children, that they are loved by Him, and may go out and in freely in His house as their own home, using all that is His with the freedom of His heirs; but the law mocks them, frightens them, tells them it is God’s firstborn; law lying far back in the dimness of eternity, coeval with God Himself. It tells them they are puny and weak, scarcely out of their mother’s arms, tottering, lisping creatures, doing much mischief, but none of the housework, at best only getting some little thing to pretend to work at. In contrast to their feeble, soft, unskilled weakness, it sets before them a finely-moulded, athletic form, becoming disciplined to all work, and able to take a place among the serviceable and able-bodied. But with all this there is in that puny babe a life begun which will grow and make it the true heir, dwelling in the house and possessing what it has not toiled for, while the vigorous, likely-looking lad must go into the wilderness and make a possession for himself with his own bow and spear.

Now, of course, righteousness of life and character, or perfect manhood, is the end at which all that we call salvation aims, and that which can give us the purest, ripest character is salvation for us; that which can make us, for all purposes, most serviceable and strong. And when we are confronted with persons who might speak of service we cannot render, of an upright, unfaltering carriage we cannot assume, of a general human worthiness we can make no pretension to, we are justly perturbed, and should regain our equanimity only under the influence of the most undoubted truth-and fact. If we can honestly say in our hearts, "Although we can show no such work done, and no such masculine growth, yet we have a life in us which is of God, and will grow"; if we are sure that we have the spirit of God’s children, a spirit of love and dutifulness, we may take comfort from this incident. We may remind ourselves that it is not he who has at the present moment the best appearance who always abides in the father’s home, but he who is by birth the heir. Have we or have we not the spirit of the Son? not feeling that we must every evening make good our claim to another night’s lodging by showing the task we have. accomplished, but being conscious that the interests in which we are called to work are our own interests, that we are heirs in the father’s house, so that all we do for the house is really done for ourselves. Do we go out and in with God, feeling no need of His commands, our own eye seeing where help is required, and our own desires being wholly directed towards that which engages all His attention and work?

For Paul would have each of us apply, allegorically, the words, Cast out the bondwoman and her son, that is, cast out the legal mode of earning a standing in God’s house, and with this legal mode cast out all the self-seeking, the servile fear of God, the self-righteousness, and the hardheartedness it engenders. Cast out wholly from yourself the spirit of the slave, and cherish the spirit-of the son and heir. The slave-born may seem for a while to have a firm footing in the father’s house, but it cannot last. The temper and tastes of Ishmael are radically different from those of Abraham, and when the slave-born becomes mature, the wild Egyptian strain will appear in his character. Moreover, he looks upon the goods of Abraham as plunder; he cannot rid himself of the feeling of an alien, and this would, at length, show itself in a want of frankness with Abraham-slowly, but surely, the confidence between them would be worn out. Nothing but being a child of God, being born of the Spirit, can give the feeling of intimacy, confidence, unity of interest, which constitutes true religion. All we do as slaves goes for nothing; that is to say, all we do, not because we see the good of it, but because we are commanded; not because we have any liking for the thing done, but because we wish to be paid for it. The day is coming when we shall attain our majority, when it will be said to us by God, Now, do whatever you like, whatever you have a mind to; no surveillance, no commands are now needed; I put all into your own hand. What, in these circumstances, should we straightway do? Should we, for the love of the thing, carry on the same work to which God’s commands had driven us; should we, if left absolutely in charge, find nothing more attractive than just to prosecute that idea of life and the world set before us by Christ? Or should we see that we had merely been keeping ourselves in check for a while, biding our time, untamed as Ishmael, craving the rewards but not the life of the children of God? The most serious of all questions these-questions that determine the issues of our whole life, that determine whether our home is to be-where all the best interests Of men and the highest blessings of God have their seat, or in the pathless desert where life is an aimless wandering, dissociated from all the forward movements of men.

The distinction between the servile spirit and the spirit of sonship being thus radical, it could be by no mere formality, or exhibition of his legal title, that Isaac became the heir of God’s heritage. His sacrifice on Moriah was the requisite condition of his succession to Abraham’s place; it was the only suitable celebration of his majority. Abraham himself had been able to enter into covenant with God only by sacrifice; and sacrifice not of a dead and external kind, but vivified by an actual surrender of himself to God, and by so true a perception of God’s holiness and requirements that he was in a horror of great darkness. By no other process can any of his heirs succeed to the inheritance. A true resignation of self, in whatever outward form this resignation may appear, is required that we may become one with God in His holy purposes and in His eternal blessedness. There could be no doubt that Abraham had found a true heir, when Isaac laid himself on the altar and steadied his heart to receive the knife. Dearer to God, and of immeasurably greater value than any service, was this surrender of himself into the hand of his Father and his God. In this was promise of all service and all loving fellowship. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. O Lord, truly I am Thy servant; I am Thy servant, the son of Thine handmaid: Thou hast loosed my bonds."

So incomparable with the most distinguished service did this sacrifice of Isaac’s self appear, that the record of his active life seems to have had no interest to his contemporaries or successors. There was but this one thing to say of him. No more seemed needful. The sacrifice was indeed great, and worthy of commemoration. No act could so conclusively have shown that Isaac was thoroughly at one with God. He had much to live for; from his birth there hovered round him interests and hopes of the most exciting and flattering nature; a new kind of glory such as had not yet been attained on earth was to be attained, or, at any rate, approached in him. This glory was certain to be realised, being guaranteed by God’s promise, so that his hopes might launch out in the boldest confidence and give him the aspect and bearing of a king; while it was uncertain in the time and manner of its realisation, so that the most attractive mystery hung around his future.

Plainly his was a life worth entering on and living through; a life fit to engage and absorb a man’s whole desire, interest, and effort; a life such as might well make a man gird himself and resolve to play the man throughout, that so each part of it might reveal its secret to him, and that none of its wonder might be lost. It was a life which, above all others, seemed worth protecting from all injury and risk, and for which, no doubt, not a few of the homeborn servants in the patriarchal encampment would have gladly ventured their own. There have, indeed, been few, if any, lives of which it could so truly be said, The world cannot do without this-at all hazards and costs this must be cherished. And all this must have been even more obvious to its owner than to any one else, and must have begotten in him an unquestioning assurance, that he at least had a charmed life, and would live and see good days. Yet with whatever shock the command of God came upon him, there is no word of doubt or remonstrance or rebellion. He gave his life to Him who had first given it to him. And thus yielding himself to God, he entered into the inheritance, and became worthy to stand to all time the representative heir of God, as Abraham by his faith had become the father of the faithful.

Verse 6-7

Genesis 21:6-7

Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh

The rejoicing of Isaac’s birth



1. There was an element of amazement and wonder.

2. There was an element touchingly human.

3. There was a confident expectation of universal sympathy. “All that hear will laugh with me.”

4. There was an acknowledgment of the Divine source of the joy. “God hath made me to laugh.” (T. H. Leale.)

Verses 8-13

Genesis 21:8-13

Cast out this bondwoman and her son

The allegory of Isaac and Ishmael


1. As to the liberty enjoyed.

2. As to the security of their positions. (T. H. Leale.)

Isaac and Ishmael separated

It only needs a glance beneath the surface to see that the future course of these two great branches of the Abrahamic blood was destined to be so divergent, that their currents could no longer mingle with advantage to either.

1. So far as Ishmael was concerned, the archer and huntsman whose home was to be the desert, with his bow for his best inheritance, it was well that he should be early trained to the hardships of a nomadic chieftain. For his own comfort, he could not be too soon compelled to forego all idle dreams of one day succeeding to his father’s estate. Too soon he could not be withdrawn from the presence of a brother whose priority would only inflame his envy. It was the kindest thing for the youth to send him away from his father’s tents. Let it be remembered that he was not sent away from his father’s God. The mercies of God are not limited to the area of His covenant.

2. For Isaac’s sake, on the other hand, it was scarcely less advisable to “cast out” the bondmaid’s son. His yielding disposition was ill fitted to withstand the influence or endure the hostility of his older and more impetuous brother. Besides, the people of the covenant needed to be from the outset a separated people, kept clear of Gentile alliances. Ishmael’s mother was a pagan slave; out of her Egyptian home he married a pagan wife. From all such close contact with heathendom it was requisite to guard the selected family through which a purer faith was to be transmitted.

3. Perhaps we may add a further consideration. No single home can long hold with safety the child of nature and the child of grace. This early family history was meant to be full of significance for the Church of God. And it had to be made clear that in God’s spiritual family circle, or within their eternal home, no place can be found for such as are His only after the flesh, bearing on their body, indeed, the seal of His covenant, yet not born again of His Holy Spirit. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)

Isaac and Ishmael


Observe on this event--

1. That God has a fixed time for fulfilling his word (see 5:2.)

2. When the time comes he is always found faithful.

3. The birth of Isaac connects itself with a blessing imparted to his parents. Each renewed his or her youth.


1. That which is carnal always hates and despises that which is spiritual.

2. The world seems to be much stronger than the children of promise.

3. But, in the end, Isaac prevails over Ishmael.

III. THE EPISODE. Hagar means “fugitive.” First, she fled from Egypt, of which country she was a native; then, from her mistress (see ch. 16); and now from her master and husband. Ishmael means “ God heareth.” God heard Abraham’s prayer for him (Genesis 17:18); and now he hears Hague’s cry. (The Congregational Pulpit.)

Abraham and the promised seed

1. In particular we see first that the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, in their full and ultimate significance, are precisely identical with those of the Gospel. The Church began in Abraham’s household--as Paul has emphatically put it, the Gospel was preached before unto him, and so if the initiatory rite of that covenant, which was not a mere national thing, but included in it spiritual blessings for all the nations of the earth, could be administered to infants we need have no scruple about the baptism of infants. In Abraham’s case, an adult circumcision, as the Apostle affirms, was a seal of the righteousness of his faith. That is to say, faith was necessary to his circumcision, and yet he was commanded to circumcise Isaac upon the eighth day when it was impossible that Isaac could have faith. Why, then, though faith be required of an adult for his baptism, may we not baptize the infant of a believer, just as Abraham circumcised Isaac, being eight days old?

2. Again, the view which I have brought out concerning the promised seed, sets vividly before us the ultimate number of the saved. Abraham was to be the father of many nations, and to have a seed as the dust of the earth, or as the stars of heaven innumerable--and that, as we have seen, refers not to the Jewish nations, but to the seed of believers.

3. Finally, we have brought out into distinct relief by this view of the promised seed, the character of the saved. Abraham “is the father of all them that believe,” but this faith is inseparably connected with a spiritual birth-a birth resulting not from the operation of natural causes, but from the agency of the Holy Ghost. Now see how plainly that is foreshadowed tin the birth of Isaac as contrasted with that of Ishmael. Ishmael’s birth was of the flesh, but that of Isaac was in fulfilment of promise. It was really supernatural, it was a divine gift; and one great reason for the long delay was just that this might be made apparent. Isaac thus stands for those who are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Let me conclude by giving in plainest language what I judge to be for us now the spiritual truths suggested by this old history.

1. In the first place, the Deliverer for whom Abraham looked, whose actual coming in the future was made sure to him by the birth of Isaac, and whose day he saw afar off and was glad, has appeared among men. By a yet more striking miracle than that which issued in the birth of Isaac, “The Word who was God was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

2. Secondly, we learn from this old history, that in connection with the exercise of this faith, we must be supernaturally born, in order to enjoy the full blessings of salvation.

3. Finally, there is no inheritance without spiritual sonship. Ishmael who was born of the flesh, was cast out. Isaac who was born of the promise was the heir--the promised land belongs to the promised seed. “If children, then heirs.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Separation of the seed born after the flesh from the seed that is by promise

Beyond all question, the thing here done is felt, at first sight, on all hands to be harsh; and the manner of doing it perhaps even harsher still. Now, it is not necessary to acquit Sarah of all personal vindictiveness, or to consider her as acting from the best and hightest motives, merely because God commanded Abraham to hearken unto her voice. This may be only another instance of evil overruled for good.

I. Thus, in the first place, LET THE ACTUAL OFFENCE OF ISHMAEL, Now no longer a child, but a lad of at least some fourteen years of age, be fairly understood and estimated. The apostle Paul represents it in a strong light--“He that was born after the flesh, persecuted him that was born after theSpirit “--and he points to it as the type and model of the cruel envy with which the “ children of promise “ are in every age pursued (Galatians 4:28-29.) It may have been little more than an act of self-defence on the part of Sarah, when she seized the first opportunity of overt injury or insult, to put an end to a competition of rights that threatened consequences so disastrous.

II. Again, secondly, it is to be remembered THAT THE COMPETITION IN QUESTION ADMITTED OF NO COMPROMISE and that, whatever might be her motives, Sarah did, in point of fact, stand with God in the controversy.

III. Nor, in the third place, is it to be overlooked that the severity of the measure resorted to is apt to be greatly EXAGGERATED IF IT IS LOOKED AT IN THE LIGHT OF THE SOCIAL USAGES AND SOCIAL ARRANGEMENTS OF MODERN DOMESTIC LIFE. It was no unusual step for the head of a household in these primitive times, to make an early separation between the heir, who was to be retained at home in the chief settlement of the tribe, and other members of the family, who must be sent to push their way elsewhere. Nor are the wanderers sent away to a far country. They are to tarry for farther orders on the very borders of the place where Abraham himself is dwelling. The wilderness of Beer-sheba is almost at his very door; and long ere the bread and water they take with them are consumed, it may be expected that Abraham will be in circumstances to communicate with them more fully as to what they are to do. By some mistake or mischance, however, it unfortunately happened otherwise. Unforseen delay occured; and the wanderers were reduced to straits. Were a conjecture here warranted, it might be surmised as not improbable that the impatience of disappointed ambition may have tended to precipitate, as well as to aggravate, the crisis.

IV. Once more, in the fourth place, a presumptive proof, at least, of THE PATRIARCH’S CONTINUED INTEREST IN ISHMAEL, and continued care for his accommodation, is to be found in the account given of his interview with Abimelech, king of Gerar (Genesis 21:25-26). If it was a well that had belonged to Ishmael especially if it was the well which God caused Hagar in her distress to see, and around which, probably, her son formed his earliest settlement, Abimelech’s ignorance and Abraham’s anxiety are simply and naturally explained. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

The destinies of Ishmael

“Cast out this bondwoman and her son” (Genesis 21:10). These were harsh words; it was hard for one so young to have all blighted; it was grievous in Abraham’s sight to witness the bitter fate of his eldest born. And yet was it not the most blessed destiny that could happen to the boy? The hot blood of the Egyptian mother which coursed through his veins could not have been kept in check in the domestic circle among vassals and dependants; he was sent to measure himself with men, to cat out his own way in the world, to learn independence, resolution, energy; and it is for this reason that to this very day his dependants are so sharply stamped with all the individuality of their founder. In them are exhibited the characteristics of Abraham and Hagar, the marvellous devoutness of the one with the fierce passions of the other, and together with these the iron will, the dignified calmness of self dependence wrought out by circumstances in the character of Ishmael. And how often is it that in this way the darkest day is the beginning of the brightest life. Reverses, difficulties, trials, are often amongst God’s best blessings. From the loss of property is brought out very often the latent energies of character, a power to suffer and to act which in the querulous being without a wish ungratified you would have scarcely said had existed at all. The man compelled to labour gains energy, strength of character, the development of all that is within him. Can you call that loss? The richest resources are not from without, but from within. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

Verse 14

Genesis 21:14

And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba--

The story of Hagar and Ishmael

THE OUTCAST. AS Abraham is the father of all the faithful, so the Arab Ishmael is the father of all our outcasts. He was an impudent boy, who mocked his betters, and became “ a wild ass of a man,” whose hand was against every man. Do not despise the poor outcast children of our cities. Respect them for their sorrows; take them into your pity; let them find a home in your heart. For are we not all outcasts, the children of Adam the outcast? And are we not the followers of Him who makes the outcasts of earth the inmates of heaven?

II. THE GOD OF THE OUTCAST. The highest kindness is to be personally interested in us, and to meet our wants. And God showed such kindness to Ishmael (Genesis 21:17). God pities most those who most need pity; and so should you.

III. THE ANGEL OF THE OUTCAST. It is part of angel’s work to cheer and save the outcast. A church near Dijon contains a monument with a group of the Bible prophets and kings, each holding a scroll of mourning from his writings. But above is a circle of angels who look far sadder than the prophets whose words they read. They see more in the sorrows than the men below them see. The angels see the whole of the sins and sorrows of the young, and so rejoice more than we can do over the work of God among them. The orphans of society are cast upon the fatherhood of God, and He wishes them to be the children of our adoption.

IV. THE ALLEGORY OF THE OUTCAST. Look at that lad in the desert perishing of thirst, and a fountain at his side. Are you not a spiritual Ishmael to-day, a wanderer upon life’s highway, perishing of thirst at the side of the fountains of living water? Earth is a sandy desert, which holds nothing that can slake your soul’s thirst. But Jesus Christ has opened the fountain of life, and now it is at your very side. (J. Wells.)

The sorrows of the outcasts




1. His Providence interfered when they were at their worst extremity.

2. His Providence was administered with touches of human tenderness.

3. His Providence made use of natural means. (T. H. Leale.)


A suggestive narrative, illustrating various Scriptures.

1. “The way of transgressors is hard.”

2. God is “not far from every one of us.”

3. “God is no respecter of persons.”

4. It echoes the words, “Them that honour Me I will honour.”

I. MAN’S EXTREMITY IS GOD’S OPPORTUNITY. The darkest hour proceeds the dawn. We are never beyond Divine help.

II. BANE AND BLESSING ARE OFTEN NEAR EACH OTHER. The antidotes of various poisons grow close beside them. Mercies are contiguous to miseries.

III. DIVINE HELP IS ALWAYS KIND AND APPROPRIATE. God not only provided water, but, as one suggests, in such a way as to meet every want of the two sufferers.

1. He gave Hagar something to do for her boy.

2. He reminded Hagar of His aid to others. A well showed that dwellers had been in the desert before her. Biography is a “well” telling of heaven’s blessing upon those who have preceded us.

3. He made a glorious promise to Hagar. (T. R. Stevenson.)

Hagar and Ishmael in distress


1. It is not valued according to the locality in which it is placed.

2. It is not judged according to social standing.

3. It is not judged according to the human standard of usefulness.


1. At times this power seems to come unexpectedly.

2. It is manifested when all earthly resources fail.

3. This supernatural power is generally exerted in, conjunction with human efforts. Hagar had to go to the well; the water did not come to her. (Homilist.)

Hagar in the wilderness

1. I learn from this Oriental scene, in the first place, what a sad thing it is when people do not know their place, and get too proud for their business. Hagar was an assistant in that household, but she wanted to rule there. She ridiculed and jeered until her son, Ishmael, got the same tricks. My friends, one-half of the trouble in the world today comes from the fact that people do not know their place; or, finding their place, will not stay in it.

2. Again: I find in this Oriental scene a lesson of sympathy with woman when she goes forth trudging in the desert. What a great change it was for this Hagar. There was the tent, and all the surroundings of Abraham’s house, beautiful and luxurious no doubt. Now she is going out into the hot sands of the desert. O, what a change it was. And in our day, we often see the wheel of fortune turn. Here is a beautiful home. You cannot think of anything that can be added to it. Books to read. Pictures to look at. Dark night drops. Pillow hot. Pulses flutter. Eyes close. Widowhood. Hagar in the wilderness! May God have mercy upon woman in her toils, her struggles, her hardships, her desolation, and may the great heart of Divine sympathy enclose her for ever.

3. Again: I find in this Oriental scene, the fact that every mother leads forth tremendous destinies. You say: “ That isn’t an unusual scene, a mother leading her child by the hand.” Who is that she is leading? Ishmael, you say. Who is Ishmael? A great nation is to be founded; a nation so strong that it is to stand for thousands of years against all the armies of the world. Egypt and Assyria thunder against it; but in vain. Gaulus brings up his army; and his army is smitten. Alexander decides upon a campaign, brings up his hosts and dies. For a long while that nation monopolizes the learning of the world. It is the nation of the Arabs. Who founded it? Ishmael, the lad that Hagar led into the wilderness. She had no idea she was leading forth such destinies. Neither does any mother. A good many years ago, A christian mother sat teaching lessons of religion to her child; and he drank in those lessons. She never knew that Lamphier would come forth and establish the Fulton-street prayer-meeting, and by one meeting revolutionize the devotions of the whole earth, and thrill the eternities with his Christian influence. Lamphier said it was his mother who brought him to Jesus Christ. She never had an idea that she was leading forth such destinies. I tell you there are wilder deserts than Beer-sheba in many of the fashionable circles of this day. Dissipated parents leading dissipated children. Avaricious parents leading avaricious children.

4. I learn one more lesson from this Oriental scene, and that is, that every wilderness has a well in it. Hagar and Ishmael gave up to die. Hagar’s heart sank within her as she heard her child crying: “Water! water! water!” “Ah,” she says, “my darling, there is no water. This is a desert.” And then God’s angel said from the cloud: “ What aileth thee, Hagar?” And she looked up and saw him pointing to a well of water, where she filled the bottle for the lad. Blessed be God that there is in every wilderness a well, if you only know how to find it--fountains for all these thirsty souls this morning. “On that last day, on that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried: If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink.” All these other fountains you find are mere mirages of the desert. (Dr. Talmage.)

Ishmael, the bondwoman’s son


1. Ishmael’s fault.

2. Sarah’s anger.

3. God’s decree. His will is supreme over all human arrangements.

II. DISTRESSED IN THE WILDERNESS. Where is her pride now, her petulance, jealousy, anger?


1. God heard the voice of the lad.

2. God opened her eyes.

3. God was with the lad.


1. God rules.

2. God pities.

3. God saves. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)



1. Of whom? Hagar, the bondwoman, and Ishmael, Abraham’s son. Type of those who are cast out spiritually. Bondslaves of sin, whom the truth has not made free (Galatians 4:31; John 8:36).

2. By whom? Abraham; at Sarah’s request, and by the Lord’s direction. With a human pity for Hagar, he yet obeyed God. The event eminently instructive to us. Servants of the law shall not, as such, divide with the free children the promises and blessings of the gospel; they are for the heirs of Christ, the Son who has made us free.

3. Wherefore? Because of the mocking of the son of the free woman. God will avenge his own elect. Mockers are cast out. Isaac mocked for his child-like attachment to his mother; and the seed of Abraham this day mocked for their attachment to Christ.

4. How? Kindly, pitifully. Food for the journey was given. The bond have their good things in this life. Even they are blessed so far.

5. Whither? Egypt, the house of bondage, their destination. The bond journey through a wilderness to a prison.

II. THE JOURNEY. Through the wilderness of Beer-sheba. Drear, desolate, lonely. The home where they might have been happy, behind; before them--Egypt. Ishmael, fainting and weary, likely to die. The mother’ssolicitude. Cannot bear to see him die. The death of the free, beautiful, attractive. Religious analogy. The world cannot bear to see its loved ones die. Tenderness of mothers.


1. God heard the lad. He “hears our sighs and counts our tears.” His compassions fail not.

2. The voice of the angel. Comforting, guiding. Exhorted to hope or duty.

3. The promise. The lad should not die. The only word that could comfort that mother’s heart.

4. The well of water. Gracious provision for the bondwoman and her son.

5. The bondwoman and her son did not go down into Egypt. They remained in the wilderness; became the founders of a great nation. God would not have any perish.


1. The sin and folly of despising Christ and his people.

2. The mercy of God to even such thoughtless sinners.

3. The strength of maternal affection, and duties of youth.

4. He maketh streams to flow in the desert. The river of life is not far from us; “Whosoever will, let him come unto Me and drink.”

V. We need Divine grace to open our eyes that we may see this stream. (J. C. Gray.)


The first feeling we have in reading the story of Hagar and Ishmael is that they were both most cruelly used. The next feeling is that surely we do not know the whole case. It must be only the outside that we see. Behind all this there must be something we do not fully understand. When the first flush of anger dies away I begin to wonder whether there may not be something behind which, when known, will explain everything, and add to this confused and riotous life of ours a solemnity and a grandeur supernatural! Through this incident, as through a door ajar, we may see a good deal of human life on what may be called its tragical side.

1. As a mere matter of fact there are events in human life which cannot but affect us with a sense of disorder in the government and administration of things, if, indeed, there be either government or administration. One is taken, another left. One moves upwards to wealth and honour, another is neither prosperous by day nor restful by night. You may take one of two views of this state of facts.

(a) Life is a scramble; the strong man wins; the weak man dies; luck is the only god, chance is the only law, death the only end. The disorder of human life mocks the order of material nature. Or thus:

(b) There must be a power mightier than man’s, controlling and shaping things. Looking at human history in great breadths we see that even confusion itself is not lawless; it is a discord in the solemn music; it is an eccentricity in the astronomic movement; but it is caught up by the great laws, and wrought into the general harmony; above all, beyond all, there is a benign and holy power. Now from my point of view it requires less faith to believe this than to believe the other.

2. As a further matter of fact in human life, there are cases marked by utter despair, for which it seems utterly impossible that any deliverance can ever arise. Hagar’s is a case in point. Her water was spent. The hot sun was beating on her head. Ishmael was faint with weakness. No human friend answered the appealing voice. Some of us may have been in the same circumstances as to their effect upon the soul. When you were left a widow with six children--no fortune, the water gone, the children crying for bread, the officer at the door, you wished to die; you were subdued by a great fear. But I ask you, in God’s house, if there were not made to you sudden revelations, or given to you unexpected promises that brought light to the weary and hopeless heart? How did friends appear, how were doors opened, how did the boys get a little schooling and get their first chance in life? Are you the person now to turn round and say that it all came by chance, or will you not rather exclaim, “This is the Lord’s doing; I was brought low and He helped me”? And what men God trains in the wilderness 1 It would seem as if great destinies often had rough beginnings!

3. You will bear me witness, as a further matter of fact, that life is full of surprises and improbabilities, and that the proverb, “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity,” is supported by innumerable instances. “God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.” She expected to die, and lo! she never was so sure of life. These surprises not only save life from monotony; they keep us, if rightly valued, lowly, expectant, dependent. They operate in two contrary ways--lifting up man, and casting him down.

4. As a matter of fact, the men who seem to be the most prosperous have trials of a heavy and most disciplinary kind. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The expulsive power of love to Christ

Love to Christ will not suffer the near neighbourhood of anything in its bosom that is derogatory to Christ; either it will reduce or abandon it, be it pleasure, profit, or whatever else. Abraham, who loved Hagar and Ishmael in their due place, when the one began to jostle with her mistress, and the other to jeer and mock at Isaac, he puts them both out of doors; love to Christ will not suffer thee to side with anything against Christ, but take His part with Him against any that oppose Him. (H. G. Salter.)

Verse 16

Genesis 21:16

Let me not see the death of the child

Physical and spiritual life contrasted


1. That the Ruler of the world does not treat man here according to his character.

2. That the youngest, as well as the oldest, should live in constant preparation for the change.

3. That parents should not centre their affection upon their children.

II. THE PARENTAL DISTRESS WHICH SUCH AN EVENT PRODUCES. Like the tearing of a branch from a plant quivering all over with sensibility. Spiritual discipline.

III. THE ATTENTIVENESS OF GOD TO DISTRESSED PARENTS (Genesis 21:17). God is at all times present with us. This should--

1. Comfort us in our sorrows.

2. Restrain us from all sin.

3. Stimulate us to a true life.


Parental solicitude


1. Salvation is supreme. It is not the only object of a parent’s anxiety, but the chief. The favour of God is above all favour. A holy heart is the greatest wealth your child can ever possess.

2. Many other objects harmonize by being made subordinate to that. Hagar wanted water for her child; an object, the value of which in this cooler climate we may seldom have had occasion rightly to prize. It was entirely proper for this mother, at that time, earnestly to long for a spring of water. So there are a thousand wants pertaining to man’s complex being which it is legitimate to indulge. Concerning them all, it is only important now to notice that two rules pertain to them.


1. The history of children as presented by the Scriptures.

2. God has arranged His covenant of grace with reference to the salvation of children. It appears under the Old Testament in two distinct forms. The one was the application of the seal of the covenant to children. The other was a specific requirement that they should be thoroughly brought under the influence of God’s law and government. Then, in the New Testament, it is to us perfectly clear that the same great principle is continued, because our Lord treated children as if they had the same relation to His kingdom under the New Testament as under the Old.


1. This subject possesses a great and manifold interest for the

Church of God.

2. Parents, this subject is emphatically yours.

3. And what an interest have the young in this subject. (E. N. Rich, D. D.)

Parental responsibility

But though we all sympathize with Hagar in the disconsolate outburst of her soul, “Let me not see the death of the child,” though we all acknowledge the intense interest which we feel in our child’s welfare, yet many of us are, after all, doing that to and for our child which is not merely sitting bye and seeing him die, but which is helping on his death, and making ready his grave. The proposition that I lay down is this. That a large number of parents in Christian lands are pursuing with their children a course of conduct that must inevitably work out their spiritual death. Alas! the proof is too startling and overpowering to be either gainsayed or set aside.

1. The infinite superiority of the soul to the body, and of eternity to time, being acknowledged, I proceed to remark, that one way in which parents, who cry out in view of physical dissolution, “Let me not see the death of the child,” are yet accomplishing their child’s spiritual death, is, by showing the child, that they regard the body more than the soul.

2. I proceed to remark, secondly, that we are procuring the spiritual death of our child by showing that child that we regard the things of time more than the things of eternity. This superior regard for temporal over eternal things is evidenced by the fact that we lay our plans so much for time, and few or none, perhaps, for eternity.

3. A third way in which parents accomplish the spiritual death of their children is by showing them that they regard the favour and opinions of men more than the favour and law of God. What a Moloch is human opinion! How many thousands of children are cast into its burning arms, and sacrificed to the favour or frowns of a deceitful world, while the deafening din of fashion’s giddy throng drowns the shrieks of agony which burst from their spirits as they die without hope, without pardon, without Christ!

4. Lastly, we aid and abet the spiritual death of the child by our irreligious example, both in doing that which is positively wrong, and in neglecting to do what is as positively required. (Bishop Stevens.)

Compassion for souls

I. COMPASSION FOR SOULS--THE REASONS WHICH JUSTIFY IT, NAY, COMPEL IT. It scarce needs that I do more than rehearse in bare outline the reasons why we should tenderly compassionate the perishing sons of men.

1. For first, observe, the dreadful nature of the calamity which will overwhelm them. Calamities occurring to our fellow men naturally awaken in us a feeling of commiseration; but what calamity under heaven can be equal to the ruin of a soul? Brethren, if our bowels do not yearn for men who are daily hastening towards destruction, are we men at all?

2. I could abundantly justify compassion for perishing men, even on the ground of natural feelings. A mother who did not, like Hagar, weep for her dying child--call her not “mother,” call her “ monster.” A man who passes through the scenes of misery which even this city presents in its more squalid quarters, and yet is never disturbed by them, I venture to say he is unworthy of the name of man.

3. In this instance what nature suggests grace enforces. The more we become what we shall be, the more will compassion rule our hearts. If you would be like Jesus, you must be tender and very pitiful. Ye would be as unlike Him as possible if ye could sit down in grim content, and, with a Stoic’s philosophy, turn all the flesh within you into stone.

4. Brethren, the whole run and current, and tenour and spirit of the gospel influences us to compassion. Ye are debtors, for what were ye if compassion had not come to your rescue? Divine compassion, all undeserved and free, has redeemed you from your vain conversation. Surely those who receive mercy should show mercy; those who owe all they have to the pity of God, should not be pitiless to their brethren.

5. Let me beseech you to believe that it is needful as well as justifiable that you should feel compassion for the sons of men. You all desire to glorify Christ by becoming soul-winners--I hope you do--and be it remembered that, other things being equal, he is the fittest in God’s hand to win souls who pities souls most.

6. But I stand not here any longer to justify what I would far rather commend and personally feel.

II. We shall pass on to notice THE SIGHT WHICH TRUE COMPASSION DREADS. Like Hagar, the compassionate spirit says, “Let me not see the death of the child,” or as some have read it, “How can I see the death of the child? “ To contemplate a soul passing away without hope is too terrible a task I It will greatly add to your feeling of sorrow if you are forced to feel that the ruin of your child or of any other person may have been partly caused by your example. Is it not an awful thing that a soul should perish with the gospel so near? If Ishmael had died, and the water had been within bow-shot, and yet unseen till too late, it had been a dreadful reflection for the mother.

III. In the third place, I would speak upon COMPASSION FOR THE SOULS OF MEN--THE TEMPTATION IT MUST RESIST. We must not fall into the temptation to imitate the example of Hagar too closely. She put the child under the shrubs and turned away her gaze from the all too mournful spectacle. She could not endure to look, but she sat where she could watch in despair. There is a temptation with each one of us to try to forget that souls are being lost.

IV. I will now speak upon THE PATH WHICH TRUE PASSION WILL BE SURE TO FOLLOW and what is that?

1. First of all, true pity does all it can. Before Hagar sat down and wept, she had done her utmost for her boy.

2. But what next does compassion do? Having done all it can, it sits down and weeps over its own feebleness. If you know how to weep before the Lord, He will yield to tears what He will not yield to anything besides. Oh, ye saints, compassionate sinners; sigh and cry for them; be able to say, as Whitfield could to his congregation, “Sirs, if ye are lost, it is not for want of my weeping for you, for I pour out my soul day and night in petitions unto God that ye may live.”

3. And then what else doth Hagar teach us? She stood there ready to do anything that was needful after the Lord had interposed. The angel opened her eyes; until then she was powerless, and sat and wept, and prayed, but when he pointed to the well, did she linger for a minute? Did she delay to put it to her child’s lips? Was she slack in the blessed task? Oh, no! with what alacrity did she spring to the well; with what speed did she fill the bottle; with what motherly joy did she hasten to her child, and give him the saving draught! And so I want every member here to stand ready to mark the faintest indication of grace in any soul.

V. But I must close, and the last point shall be THE ENCOURAGEMENT WHICH TRUE COMPASSION FOR SOULS WILL ALWAYS RECEIVE. First take the case in hand. The mother compassionated, God compassionated too. You pity, God pities. The motions of God’s Spirit in the souls of His people are the footfalls of God’s eternal purposes about to be fulfilled. (C. H.Spurgeon.)


1. First observe, how affliction followeth affliction, and one grief in the neck of another, when once God beginneth to exercise us. She lost her place, she wandereth in the wilderness with her child, comfortless and desolate; the water of the bottle is spent, and no more to be had when the child crieth for drink, and is ready to die for it; and, lastly, she giveth her child up to death as she thought, getting her far off as unable to hear the cry of it. Let it school us, if the Lord so deal with us; we are not privileged, we have no immunity. If the Cross come to us as a thing judged fit for us of our God, we may not set Him a stint, and say thus much will I bear, and no more; but leave Him to His own good pleasure, expecting and enduring even one upon another, as thick as ever it shall please Him to send them. Taking hold of this promise by a lively faith, that He will never lay more upon us, than He will make us able to bear, but will give the issue with the temptation, that we may endure it. And praying to His Majesty upon that promise, that for His mercy sake He would so do. Oh, pitiful parting betwixt a mother and her child! Oh, sorrow upon sorrow, and the last the greatest by a thousand degrees! Whose stony heart bewaileth not, as we hear it, this truthful case, of a poor mother and her child?

2. Secondly, observe we again the divers passions of love herein, either of parents to children or friend to friend; some cannot be drawn from them either day or night when they are like to die, and it is a great love and a good. But here it is otherwise, for the mother’s heart cannot abide to see the child die, and this also because she loved it; so are many where they love entirely. Thus differ our divers natures even in one thing, and we have our divers reasons upon divers circumstances. Blessed is the party whose affections draweth nearest the Lord’s allowance and an holy patience.

3. Lastly, consider how in this bitter agony and most heavy plight, yet she neither openeth her mouth against the Lord, nor against the means of her woe, Abraham and Sarah--no, not against Sarah--that was the first and chief cause indeed to stir up Abraham to put her away. No cursing, no banning, no raving nor railing is heard out of her; a very great commendation of her, and a very great want in our days in some that think themselves no common Christians, for that thing almost happeneth not to cross their minds, but the very air almost is infected with their bannings, be it never so small and of no account. Their soul is acquainted with bitterness altogether, and their tongues cannot but take like course. Surely, surely, neither Abraham nor Sarah, nor God, I fear me, should have escaped curses ninny and great; but for Sarah, she should have been cursed to the deep pit of hell ten thousand times, and further, if further were any further torment to be had for her. But learn, Oh, fiery and furious spirits l even by Hagar here, no other lesson, follow it, and use it with careful hearts if you mean not to brew for yourselves in hell what you wish to others. (Bp. Babington.)

Approach of death

A plough is coming from the far end of a long field, and a daisy stands nodding and full of dew-dimples. That furrow is sure to strike the daisy. It casts its shadow as gaily, and inhales its gentle breath as freely, and stands as simple and radiant and expectant as ever; and yet that crushing furrow, which is turning and turning others in its course, is drawing near, and in a moment it whirls the headless flower with sudden reversal under the sod! And as is the daisy with no power of thought, so are ten thousand thinking sentient flowers of life, blossoming in places of peril, and yet thinking that no furrow of disaster is running in toward them--that no iron plough of trouble is about to overturn them. Sometimes it dimly dawns upon us, when we see other men’s mischiefs and wrongs, that we are in the same category with them, and that perhaps the storms which have overtaken them will overtake us also. But it is only for a moment, for we are artful to cover the ear and not listen to the voice that warns us of our danger. (H. W.Beecher.)

Not afraid to die

In the early part of the career of the Rev. John Wesley, influenced by a desire to do good, he undertook a voyage to Georgia. During a storm on the voyage he was very much alarmed by the fear of death, and being a severe judge of himself, he concluded that he was unfit to die. He observed the lively faith of the Germans, who, in the midst of danger, kept their minds in a, state of tranquility and ease, to which he and the English on board were strangers. While they were singing at the commencement of their service, the sea broke over them, split the mainsail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks as if the great deep had swallowed them up. The English screamed terribly: the Germans calmly sung on. Mr. Wesley asked one of them afterwards if he were not afraid. He answered: “I thank God, no.” “But were not your women and children afraid?” He replied, mildly, “No; our women and children are not afraid to die.” (Moral and Religious Anecdotes.)

Verse 17

Genesis 21:17

And God heard the voice of the lad


A minister once said to a boy, “Can you pray?
How did you pray?” He said, “Sir, I begged.” He could not have used a better word; praying is begging of God. Prayer is very much like a bow. The arrow is a promise; the string is faith. You use your faith, and with it send a promise up to the skies. There are a great many things to think of in prayer. Let me tell you of one or two.

1. You should always address God by one of His names or titles, in a very reverent way. You have to thank God for His mercies; you have to confess to God your sins; you have to trust God to bless you; you have to ask for other people; then, to end all, “For Jesus Christ’s sake.” Tell God anything you like, only take care you ask it all in the name of Jesus, because we have no promise to prayer that God will hear us unless we add the name of Jesus to it.

2. Every boy and girl ought to have a form of prayer, though they need not always use it. A psalm is sometimes very good. But the more you practise, the more you will have to say out of your heart.

3. Wandering thoughts often trouble us in prayer. They are like the birds which flew down on Abraham’s altar and spoiled the sacrifice. We must drive away these little birds; we must ask God to keep off the wandering thoughts.

4. When you are praying always remember that there is One who is offering up that prayer for you to God. That prayer does not go to God just as you send it up; but before it gets to the throne of God it gets much sweeter. Jesus puts His sweet incense into our prayer. So God will be pleased with us for His sake.

5. Pray always. You cannot always kneel down and pray, but little prayers in your hearts can always be going up. These little darts or ejaculations can be sent up anywhere, at any time. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

God is with us everywhere

I. THIS PASSAGE TEACHES A LESSON TO PARENTS. It teaches that God is with us at our work; that the wilderness of life is full of Him; that in the waste of this world He is close beside us; that our children are His children; that He sees them under the shrub of the desert; that He has a property in them, a work for them, a work in them; that they are heirs, not of the desert in which they seem to be perishing, but of the many mansions of their heavenly Father’s house. Believe that your children have been united to Christ; and that if you teach them to claim this union for themselves, its strength and its healing shall come out for them day by day as you seek to bring them up for Him.


1. God saw the lad as he lay beneath the desert shrub. And He sees you, wherever you are, at home or abroad--His eye is ever on you. Learn this lesson first--God’s eye is ever on the lad, and sees him wherever he is.

2. God was the true protector of the lad, and He is your true and only Friend. He sees in you the adopted children of Jesus Christ. Even from your helpless infancy has He thus looked on you, and had purposes of love towards you.

3. God had a purpose for the lad and a work in him. He meant him to become a great nation in these waste places. His casting out, dark as it seemed, was preparing the way for this; and so it is with you. Everything around you is ordered by God for an end. That end is truly your best spiritual happiness.

4. God heard the voice of the lad; and He will hear you in every time of your trouble. Ishmael was heard because he was the son of Abraham; you will be heard because you are the son of God through Christ. (Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.)

God’s constant care

Homeless, helpless: is there any sight more pitiable than this--a child in the wilderness? Think of the hundreds about us, pinched with hunger, perishing in sore need; the young life passing away neglected, to appear before the throne of God, there by its presence to plead against us, or else rising up in this wilderness to avenge our disregard--“a wild man whose hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him.”

I. We dwell on these words especially as teaching THE FATHER’S CARE FOR THE CHILDREN. DO not think of this event as occurring under a dispensation so different from ours that we can find in it no distinct teaching for to-day--very beautiful, but of little worth save for its beauty. These words mean a thousandfold more to us than they could do to Hagar. The Father had not then revealed Himself in the only-begotten Son. The Son of God went away into the wilderness; He shivered in the cold night-blast; He felt the pitiless beating of the storm. And now in all the world there is not one poor child shut out from His sympathy, for He Himself has lived a child of poverty and woe.

II. NOT TO ANGELS NOW IS THIS WORK OF RESCUE GIVEN. It is our high honour and prerogative to be the ministers of the Father’s love. Angels may bring the tidings, perhaps, but only that we may obey. Angels shall reveal the means, but only that we may carry the blessing. Hagar must fill the bottle and give the lad to drink; she must lift him up and hold him by the hand. (M. G. Pearse.)

What aileth thee, Hagar?--

What aileth thee?

As there was a well of water close to Hagar, though unknown to her at the time, so the Lord has made provision for every human life. In the worst straits there is a well for us, and God places a beauteous flower in every thorny path.

1. First, let me come to you who consider yourself to be a Christian believer.

2. I intend, now, to go to another class amongst you. I find here a person who makes an outward profession of religion, but who is not a sincere Christian. What aileth thee, professor? You reply, “Well, though I profess to be religious, I am not religious in all things.”

3. What aileth thee, backslider? You reply, “The Lord has withdrawn from me.” Ah, you judge the Lord as if He were human. I come to another backslider, and ask, “What aileth thee?” You reply, “I cannot return to God; for He must be disgusted with my character.” Let me tell you of a man who had a foul disease. He was taken to the hospital in Piccadilly, but his breath was offensive and his body so full of pollution that few could bear to be near him. He was placed in a spare bed; but though he had a disease of such a disgusting nature, the doctor smiled kindly upon him, and did all in his power to heal him. As the gentle surgeon did not turn from that wretched man, so the Lord will receive you, and heal your backsliding. (W. Birch.)

What aileth thee, Hagar?

I. Now first, “WHAT AILETH THEE, HAGAR?” And to that question we give three answers. The first answer is this--she thought her son was given over unto death. Poor Hagar had a grief that swallowed up all other griefs. She had a sorrow that made all other sorrows appear utterly insignificant. What cared she if she had lost an Abraham’s home? She was losing her boy, that was something infinitely worse. What did it matter to her if all her hopes for the future were blighted and blasted? What a picture we have here of the anxious inquirer--the experience of the sinner when first awakened to the consciousness of his soul’s danger. The grief of the anxious inquirer is a grief that swallows up all other griefs. How little does it matter to him whether he has trouble in business or not. The trouble of his soul has made him oblivious to all other trouble. The one all-absorbing thought of the anxious soul, the thought that drives all others out of the mind, is--not “my son,” but “my soul is dying.” But observe, that Ishmael was her only son, and this added to her trial. If she had had another boy, it would have been bad enough, but poor Ishmael--if he was gone, her all was gone. No other hope. Lose him, and she had lost everything. Here again I see the sinner’s sorrow, for he also argues, I have but one soul, and if that is lost, it is a loss indeed. I think there was a third drop of bitterness in her cup, and that was her previously bright expectations. I do not know what exact future Hagar pictured for her boy, but doubtless it was a happy one. He was Abraham’s son; he would be Abraham’s heir. Likely enough, that often before Isaac was born, she used to pat the head of Ishmael, and say, “Ah, my boy, you are born to a fortune; you will never have to slave for your bread like some poor wretches. Thank God you are not like others.” And so the sinner, when convinced of sin, feels the painfulness of his condition all the more because of his previously bright expectations. Ah, he used once to think his soul was so well to do, it could never be in want. Often would he say, “Oh, soul, thank God thou art not as other souls. Thou art a good, moral, well-meaning soul, and thou needst never have a doubt about resting in the bosom of father Abraham above.” But, oh, when the light of God streamed into his soul, then he saw how utterly deluded he had been.

2. The second thing that ailed Hagar was, that she was powerless to aid him. Not only was the case bad, but she could not make it better. All human resources had now failed. The bottle is as dry as the desert itself, and she has flung it aside in despairing rage. The dry sand rattles in it unmoistened, and the skin is cracking in the heat. Here again I see the sinner’s case exactly photographed; all his hopes frustrated, and all his wonderfully clever expedients proving utterly futile. There was a time when he managed to satisfy or stupify his soul with the expedients of formal worship--outward reformation and life alteration. But there comes a time when he gets to the end of all his old resources, and a blessed time it is, although he does not think so.

3. The third thing that ailed Hagar was that she was stupefied with despair. Frantic effort had given place to despairing quiet; and that was a more fatal sign. “If the boy is to die, let him die, and I cannot help it.” So she takes the poor, emaciated lad and casts him down in the sand, saying, “Let him have the little benefit that the shadow of a shrub can give, and I will go and sit with my back towards him, for I cannot see him die.” She is so stupefied with her sorrow--so utterly benumbed by it, that she could not even pray. Is this thy case? Has frantic effort with thee given place to the quietude of despair? Art thou now found saying, “There is no hope for me, I am the man with the unclean spirit in me. Better I never can be. Saved I never shall be. It may be said of many a sinner who thinks he is dumb with despair, “God has heard the crying of thy soul.” Your lips could not pray, but, unconsciously to yourself, your heart did.

4. Now, we observe here, that sad as was the case of Hagar, yet there were many favourable signs about her, using her as an illustration of the sinner; and the first favourable thing I notice is that all indifference was gone. If there ever had been any it was clean gone to the winds now. Indifference! Why Hagar was ready to die for the salvation of her boy. Art thou like Hagar? Is thine indifference broken through? It is a grand moment when a man finds out he has a soul. And the next hopeful thing I observe in Hagar was--she was completely humbled. What a difference between that broken-hearted woman sitting under the shrub, and the jaunty maid of Sarah. Who would recognize in her the one that used to be so pert and quick with her answers, and who gaily laughed at her mistress? Sinner, is that the case with you? There was a time when you had plenty of excuses to offer about yourself. And then we notice that a third favourable sign was--she had come to the end of her own resources. When Hagar came to theend of the bottle, she was very near finding the well; and he who comes to the end of his own expedients is very near finding out God’s grand plan of salvation.

II. HAGAR AILED A GREAT DEAL MORE THAN SHE NEED HAVE DONE. She need not have been so miserable after all. And the first reason why she need not have ailed so much is this: Her son was not appointed to death, he was appointed to life. God had said to Abraham, “I will make of him a great nation.” When a broken-hearted sinner says, “My poor soul is appointed unto death,” we say to ourselves, “He is mistaken; God has not appointed his soul unto death, but unto life.” She ailed more than she need have done, for the very thing that she wanted was already prepared. “What aileth thee, Hagar?” She answers, “Want of water.” Why, Hagar, there it is. And oh, blessed truth, dear anxious soul, everything you want is already prepared. Do you want an atonement? The atonement was made eighteen hundred and seventy-two years ago. Do you feel you need cleansing? There is the blood already shed. Do you need forgiveness? There are with our God plenteous pardons. And observe next, the water for which her son was dying was within--what distance? Why, within a bow-shot of her--nearer than that, for I am inclined to think that the well was just between Ishmael and Hagar, and that was the reason she did not see it. Oh, friend, Christ is nearer to thee than the well was to Hagar.

III. I conclude by showing you HOW HAGAR LOST ALL HER AILMENTS.

1. She lost them I think, first, through prayer. “I have heard the cry of the lad.” These are the sighings of a soul that God can understand, and He saith to thee, poor, despairing sinner, to-night, though you say you cannot pray, “I have heard the praying of thy soul.”

2. And then notice, He opened her eyes to see what was already provided. He did not strengthen Hagar to do anything fresh, He only opened her eyes to see what was already done. And that is just how God deals with souls now. He does not ask the sinner to do anything further, but simply says, “Look this way.” At the command the sinner’s eyes are turned into the right direction, and the soul says what in all probability Hagar said, “Why, there it is!--there is what I want--there is the well--there is the water.” Yes, there it is; and oh, why did not the sinner see it before?

3. And then, lastly, God used her pitcher. The very thing that had been no use came in very handy now. While she trusted to the pitcher it was a worthless thing, but the moment she made it subservient to the well it became valuable. It was useful as a means. Do not trust in the sermon, or you will be like Hagar, trusting to her bottle. Do not rest on the service; you will be as bitterly disappointed as she was when that bottle, all dried and cracked and sandy, lay at her feet. But, oh--may God open thine eyes to see the well, and may He make the words of tonight the pitcher to carry the water to thy dying soul! God grant it for Christ’s sake!--Amen. (A. G. Brown.)

All right by and by

A woman, with sad face and doleful voice, was once complaining bitterly of her hard lot in life, and of the trials and misfortunes which she was called to pass through, when the sweet voice of a child, of only five years, broke in with: “It will all come right by-and-by, mother.” Those words, coming as they did from childish lips, made an impression on my mind which will never be erased. Many times since, amid the conflicts of life, I have seemed to hear a childish voice saying, “It will all come right by-and-by.” Oh that we might always have the love and confidence of a little child. Then we should ever trust in our heavenly Father’s tender care, feeling that He will bring us safely through all the troubles of this life, and that all things shall work together for our good and the glory of God. (S. W. W.)

Verse 19

Genesis 21:19

God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water

The hidden well discovered

In this hidden well, which Ishmael’s prayer uncovered, lies many a true lesson, if only we have the right sort of pitcher to dip and draw.

I. How CAME THE WELL TO BE THERE, JUST WHERE AND WHEN IT WAS WANTED? The Arab shepherds who dug it never meant it for wandering travellers, but for their own flocks. God guided the steps of Hagar to it. Life is full of hidden wells--stored-up blessings, ready at the right moment to supply the answer to prayer. God foresees our prayers as well as our necessities.

II. OUR ENCOURAGEMENT TO PRAY IS NOT OUR OWN GOODNESS, BUT GOD’S. We plead not the name of Abraham, or of any earthly parent or friend, but the name of Jesus, God’s own dear Son.

III. Learn from this story NOT TO THINK LITTLE THINGS OF NO IMPORTANCE, and not to be afraid to pray to God about little things as well as great. There are two reasons which prove that God does not disdain to attend little things:

IV. Prayer itself is a hidden well; a secret source of strength,and joy, and wisdom, not only in times of trouble, but always. (E. R. Conder, D. D.)

Christian culture


1. Physical

2. Intellectual.

3. Spiritual.


1. Creator.

2. Providence.

3. Conscience.

4. Revelation.

5. Redemption.

III. LIGHT IS BENEFICENT. (The Homiletic Review.)

Hagar in the wilderness



1. It was despair in opposition to God’s plain promises. “Let me not see the death of the child,” she says. Why, the Lord Himself had spoken to her from heaven years ago, and told her that that very child should live to be a man and a powerful and great one. And this promise He had renewed but a short time before to Abraham, who would naturally mention the renewal of it to her. But in this hour of seeming danger, Jehovah’s words are nothing to her; she either does not think of or she disbelieves them. “My child must die,” she says, and east him down to die. How like ourselves in some of our trials!

2. The despair of Hagar was despair in opposition to her own experience. This was not the first time she had been in a desert (see Genesis 16:1-16). And there, we might have expected, the Lord would have left her to reap the fruit of her rashness; but not so. He is observant of her there. In admiration of the Lord’s goodness, she calls the place where she had experienced it by a name implying, “Thou God seest me.” But this is now clean forgotten. Ourselves again, brethren. “I know whom I have believed. The experience I myself have had in days past of my Saviour’s love and faithfulness encourages me, nay, compels me, to trust Him now.” The Lord brings us into a desert and appears for us there. “I can never forget this,” we say. “The remembrance of this mercy will be a stay to me all my life long.” But we get into the desert again, and what do we say then? All the many proofs we have had of the Lord’s power and faithfulness, are as much out of our thoughts as though we had never had one of them.

3. Hagar’s despair was despair in opposition to fact also. It was despair in the very midst of abundance.

III. Let us look now at THE INTERPOSITION OF GOD IN BEHALF OF THIS DESPAIRING WOMAN, the mercy He showed her. It consisted, you observe, in this one simple thing, He “opened her eyes.” He did no more for her, for no more was needed. Wondering, happy woman! we say; but not more wondering or more happy than many a despairing sinner has been, when the Lord has opened his eyes and discovered to him His great salvation, His abounding mercy, the fountain of living waters He has provided for him in Jesus Christ. (C. Bradley, M. A.)

Providence timely

We find a multitude of Providences so timed to a minute, that, had they fallen out ever so little sooner or later, they had signified but little in comparison of what they now do. Certainly, it cannot be casualty, but counsel, that so exactly nicks the opportunity. Contingencies keep no rules. How remarkable to this purpose was the tidings brought to Saul, that the Philistines had invaded the land just as he was ready to grasp the prey (1 Samuel 23:27). The angel calls to Abraham, and shows him another sacrifice, just when his hand was giving the fatal stroke to Isaac (Genesis 22:10-11). A well of water is discovered to Hagar just when she had left the child as not able to see its Genesis 21:16-19). Rabshakeh meets with blasting providence, hears a rumour that frustrated his design, just when ready to give the shock against Jerusalem (Isaiah 37:7-8). So when Haman’s plot against the Jews was ripe, and all things ready for execution, “On that night could not the king sleep” (Esther 6:1). When the horns are ready to gore Judah, immediately carpenters are prepared to fray them away (Zechariah 1:18-21). How remarkable was the relief of Rochelle by a shoal of fish that came into the harbour when they were ready to perish with hunger, such as they never observed either before or after that time. Mr. Dodd could not go to bed one night, but feels a strong impulse to visit (though unreasonable) a neighbouring gentleman, and just as he came he meets him at his door, with a halter in his pocket, just going to hang himself. Dr. Tare and his wife, in the Irish rebellion, flying through the woods with a sucking child, which was just ready to expire, the mother, going to rest it upon a rock, puts her hand upon a bottle of warm milk, by which it was preserved. A good woman, from whose mouth I received it, being driven to a great extremity, all supplies failing, was exceedingly plunged into unbelieving doubts and fears, not seing whence supplies would come; when lo! in the nick of time, turning some things in a chest, she unexpectedly lights upon a piece of gold, which supplied her present wants till God opened another door of supply. If these things fall out casually, how is it that they observe the very juncture of time so exactly? This is become proverbial in Scripture. “In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen” (Genesis 22:14). (J. Flavel.)

Strange providences

“Suppose you were in a smith’s shop, and there should see several sorts of tools, some crooked, some bowed, others hooked, would you,” asks Spencer, “condemn all these things for nought because they do not look handsome? The smith makes use of them all for the doing of his work. Thus it is with the providences of God: they seem to us to be very crooked and strange, yet they all carry on God’s work.”

Eyes opened

I. Taking HAGAR’S CASE first, I shall address myself to certain unconverted ones who are in a hopeful condition.

1. Taking Hagar’s case as the model to work upon, we may see in her and in many like her a preparedness for mercy. In many respects she was in a fit state to become an object of mercy’s help. She had a strong sense of need. The water was spent in the bottle, she herself was ready to faint, and her child lay at death’s door; and this sense of need was attended by vehement desires. It is quite certain that, in Hagar’s case, the will was right enough with reference to the water. It would have been preposterous indeed to say to Hagar, “If there be water, are you willing to drink?” “Willing?” she would say; “look at my parched lips, hear my dolorous cries, look at my poor punting, dying child!” And so with you; if I were to propose to you the question, “Are you willing to be saved?” you might look at me in the face and say, “Willing! oh, sir, I have long passed beyond that stage I am punting, groaning, thirsting, fainting, dying to find Christ.” All this is hopeful, but I must again remind you that to will to be rich does not make a man rich, and that to will to be saved cannot in itself save you.

2. In the second place, mercy was prepared for Hagar, and is prepared for those in a like state. The water was near to Hagar; and so is Christ near to you, my dear friend, this morning. The mercy of God is not a thing to be sought for up yonder among the stars, nor to be discovered in the depths; it is nigh thee, it is even in thy mouth and in thy heart.

3. We pass on, then, in the third place, to notice that although Hagar was prepared and mercy was prepared, yet there was an impediment in the way, for she could not see the water. There is also an impediment in your way. Hagar had a pair of bright beaming eyes, I will be bound to say, and yet she could not see the water; and men may have first-rate understandings, but not understand that simple thing--faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Simple trust in Jesus has this difficulty in it, that it is not difficult, and therefore the human mind refuses to believe that God can intend to save us by so simple a plan. What blindness is this! So foolish and so fatal. The main reason I think, however, why some do not attain early to peace is because they are looking for more than they will get, and thus their eyes are dazzled with fancies. Again, I am afraid some persons, with the water at their feet, do not drink it because of the bad directions that are given by ministers.

4. I feel certain that there are some here upon whom the Lord intends to work this morning; so we will speak, in the fourth place, upon the divine removal of the impediment. Hagar’s blindness was removed by God. No one else could have removed it. God must open a man’s eyes to understand practically what belief in Jesus Christ is. But while this was divinely removed, it was removed instrumentally. An angel spake out of heaven to Hagar. It matters little whether it be an angel or a man, it is the Word of God which removes this difficulty.

II. Oh that the Spirit of God would give me power from on high while I try to talk to the saints from THE SECOND CASE, viz., that of the apostles in Luke 24:31. This is no Hagar, but “Cleopas and another disciple.” They ought to have known Jesus for these reasons.

1. They were acquainted with Him, they had been with Him for years in public and in private, they had heard His voice so often that they ought to have recollected its tones.

2. They ought to have known Him, because He was close to them; He was walking with them along the same road, He was not up on a mountain at a distance.

3. They ought to have seen Him, because they had the Scriptures to reflect His image, and yet how possible it is for us to open that precious Book and turn over page after page of it and not see Christ.

4. What is more, these disciples ought to have seen Jesus, for they had the Scriptures opened to them.

5. There was another reason why the disciples ought to have seen Him, namely, that they had received testimonies from others about Him. Now what is the reason for this? Why do we not see Him? I think it must be ascribed in our case to the same as in theirs, namely, our unbelief. They evidently did not expect to see Him, and therefore they did not discover Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A welcome discovery

I. It often happens that when we are in trouble and distress, THE SUPPLY OF OUR NEED, AND THE CONSOLATION FOR OUR SORROW ARE VERY NEAR AT HAND. There is a well close to us at our feet, if we could but see it.

1. How true this often is in providence with Christian people. We have known them to be in sore alarm at some approaching ill, or in the most fearless distress on account of some troublous circumstances which already surround them. They have said, “We don’t know what we shall do to-morrow.” They have inquired, “Who shall roll us away the stone?” They wot not that God has already provided for to-morrow, and has rolled the stone away. If they knew all, they would understand that their trial is purely imaginary. They are making it by their unbelief. It has no other existence than that which their distrust of God gives to it.

2. Though this is true of providence, I prefer rather to deal with the matter of spiritual blessings. It often happens that souls are disturbed in spiritual matters about things that ought not to disturb them. For instance, a large proportion of spiritual distresses are occasioned by a forgetfulness or an ignorance of the doctrines of the Bible. Sometimes, holy Scripture has its well near to the troubled heart, not so much in the form of doctrine, as in the form of promise. There was never a trouble yet in human experience among God’s people, but what there was a promise to meet it. At other times the well appears in the form neither of a doctrine nor of a promise, but in the shape of an experience of some one else. Perhaps nothing more effectually comforts, under the blessing of God, than the discovery that some undoubtedly good man has passed through the same state of heart in which we are found. And, beloved, sometimes it pleases the Holy Spirit to open a well of living waters for us in the person, and work, and life, and sympathy, and love, of our Well-beloved, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus suffers with thee, O thou child of God,--suffers in thee. Thou art a member of His body, and therefore He endures in thee. Thou art making up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ for His body’s sake, which is the Church. Besides, once more, our sorrows often arise from our not observing the Holy Spirit.

II. I think I hear some one say, “I have no doubt, sir, that God has provided a supply for necessities, but may I partake of that supply? may I participate in the provisions of Divine love?” I will answer thee by saying, in the second place, that THIS SUPPLY IS FOR YOU.

III. Now to our last point. IT IS AVAILABLE WITHOUT ANY EXTRAORDINARY EXERTION. Hagar went and filled her bottle with water, and she gave her child to drink. No hydraulic inventions were required; no exceedingly difficult pumping, no mechanical contrivances to obtain the water when the spring was perceived. She did a very simple thing: she held her bottle in the water till it was full, poured out into the child’s mouth, and the dilemma which had perilled life was over. Now, the way by which we get a hold of Christ is faith. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Eyes opened

I. Our first head shall be that IF OUR EYES WERE FURTHER OPENED THE RESULT TO ANY ONE OF US WOULD BE VERY REMARKABLE. We are at present limited in our range of sight. This is true of our natural or physical vision, of our mental vision, and of our spiritual vision; and in each case when the range of sight is enlarged very remarkable discoveries are made. God has been pleased to open the natural eyes of mankind by the invention optical instruments. What a discovery it was when first of all certain pieces of glass were arranged in connection with each other, and men began to peer into the stars! Equally marvellous was the effect upon human knowledge when the microscope was invented. We could never have imagined what wonders of skill and taste would be revealed by the magnifying-glass, and what marvels of beauty would be found compassed within a space too small to measure. Our physical eyes thus opened by either glass reveal strange marvels, and we may infer from this fact that the opening of our mental and spiritual eyes will discover to us equal wonders in other domains, and thus increase our reverence and love towards God.

1. Suppose, that our eyes could be opened as to all our past lives. Our childhood--how different that period would now appear with God’s light upon it. Our vision will be strengthened one day, so that we shall see the end from the beginning, and then we shall understand that the Lord maketh all things work together for good to them that love Him.

2. And now suppose, again, our eyes should be opened upon the future. Ay, would you not like to spy into destiny? Ah, if your eyes could be opened as to all that is to happen, what would you do? If you were wise, and knew your future, you would commit it unto God; commit it to Him though you do not know it.

3. If our eyes were opened, again, on another point, as to the existence of angels, we should see marvels. If the Lord opened the eyes of His greatly beloved servants to see how many of these mighty intelligences are silently guarding then., they would cease to complain of loneliness while in the midst of such a thronging ministry of willing friends.

4. And what, once more, if your eyes could be opened to look into heaven?

II. IN SOME THINGS OUR EYES MUST BE OPENED. Those I have spoken about are desirable in a measure, but these are absolutely necessary. For instance, as to the divine salvation, our eyes must be opened.

III. IN OUR PRESENT CASE IT IS VERY DESIRABLE THAT OUR EYES SHOULD BE OPENED. To many it is imperatively needful at this moment, for if not now recovered from their blindness they will die in their sins.

1. First, we would have opened eyes that we may see Jesus to be very near us. Do not think of Him just now as if He were far away in heaven. He is there in his glorious personality, but His spiritual presence is here also.

2. We desire that you may have your eyes opened to see what you are in Christ. You complain that you are black in yourselves; but you are most fair in Him.

3. Lastly, may the Lord open your eyes to see what you will be in Him. Certain of us are nearer heaven than we think. Let our hearts dance for joy at the bare thought of such speedy felicity. Let us go on our way blessing and magnifying Him who has opened our eyes to see the glory which He has prepared for them that love Him, which shall be ours ere long. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Wells in unexpected places

It is wonderful how God provides for the needs of His creatures in strange places and in unlikely ways. All living things must have water or die; and so water is often found stored up in remarkable and unexpected places. In the heart of Africa, where all is drought and barrenness, it is said that there is sometimes found in the soil a little stem of a plant, and by digging down to the bottom of it, a bulb is discovered which contains a quantity of pure, sweet water. Melons, which are full of water, grow best on light, dry, sandy soil; and sometimes, where water cannot easily be found, certain trees afford a most nourishing and refreshing beverage. There is a vast amount of water in the air, even when no clouds are seen. In a summer day how quickly the outside of a pitcher of cold water will be covered with moisture, which is drawn from the air. So while some plants draw up water from the earth by their roots, others, called air plants, hang upon trees, and, without touching the ground, draw nourishment and moisture from the air. A writer tells of a surveying party who were resting at noon in Florida, when one of the chainmen exclaimed: “I would give fifty cents a swallow for all the water I could drink.” He expressed the sentiment of the others; all were very thirsty, and there was not a spring or a stream of water anywhere in the vicinity. While the men were thus talking, the surveyor saw a crow put his bill into a cluster of broad, long leaves, growing on the side of a tall cypress. The leaves were those of a peculiar air-plant, they were green, and bulged out at the bottom, forming an inverted bell. The smaller end was held to the tree by roots grappling the bark. Feeding on the air and water that it catches and holds, the air-plant becomes a sort of cistern. The surveyor sprang to his feet with a laugh. “Boys,” he said, “that old crow is wiser than every one of us.” “How so?” they asked. “Why, he knows that there are a hundred thousand water-tanks in this forest.” “Where?” they demanded, in amazement. The surveyor cut an air-plant in two, and drained nearly a pint of pure cold water from it. The men did not suffer for water after that, for every tree in the forest had at least one air-plant, and almost every air plant contained a drink of water. So God satisfies the longings of thirsty men. Even amid the desert’s glowing sands, the smitten rock poured forth the life-giving flood. And God also provides living water for thirsty souls; and those who feel in their hearts longings such as earth can never satisfy, may hear amid the restlessness of unsatisfied desire, the voice of Him who stood in the Temple and cried, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink!”

Verse 22

Genesis 21:22

God is with thee in all that thou doest

Christian prosperity



III. ALL CHRISTIAN PROSPERITY IS IDENTIFIED WITH CHRISTIAN ENTERPRISE. Between God blessing a man’s labour and God doing a man’s labour for him there is a wide difference. God won’t pasture the sheep, but God will multiply the flock. God won’t dig the ground, but He’ll water it with rain and dew.


The son of the bondwoman

God’s care even for Ishmael--for one who would appear to be outside all covenant blessings--is a most encouraging fact!

1. God delivered him in extremity. He heard his cry and distress. He knew his needs; for God always knows our needs and how to supply them. There is a well for bondmen as well as for the free. God’s living well is to be reached in any position of life. “The word is nigh thee, in thine heart,” etc. Romans 10:8).

2. God was with the son of the bondwoman as he developed. He was with him as he grew up, and gave him favour in the sight of others. God is ever seeking by His Holy Spirit to mould the characters of the worst for good.

3. God had intentions of grace towards the slave-mother’s boy. He gave a promise to him as well as to Isaac.

4. God shewed how He was with Ishmael by quickening his faculties. “He became an archer.” He had to learn to defend himself, and secure for himself by God’s help a position. The fiery defenders of faith and controversial champions of the truth have their sphere as well as the pious, plodding, pastors of Christ’s flock. We have all to learn to appreciate diversity of talents, and to remember that skill in any work is the outcome of independence, resolution and energy.

4. God’s care was seen in the selection of the place of abode for the son of the bond-woman. He gave to him the desert for his domain, a place in which he might roam and pitch his tent at his own suggestion. The wilderness was the most suitable place for this man of wild nature. Some grow up under the sweet shadow of the home, and ever find there a resting-place. They occupy themselves in some work at hand, pleasant and profitable; but others wander off, perhaps go to sea, emigrate, engage in sheep-farming, cattle-tending in some wide and lonely ranch, or go to gold-digging and diamond-hunting. God works through all these phases of life to discipline the heart. He follows each one, and cares for all.

5. God also was with Ishmael, securing for him acceptance among others. He was to “ dwell in the presence of his brethren” (Genesis 16:12). Though cast out by Abraham he was not cast off by God, or cut off from all interchange with others.

6. God was with Ishmael to the end of his life. He had a shorter life than Isaac. Ishmael died at a hundred and thirty years old, Isaac at a hundred and eighty. Evidently the active, restless, wandering, hazardous life was more wearing and consuming than the calm and meditative life of pastoral Isaac. But that his death was recorded shows that it was noticed by God. (F. Hastings.)

Verses 23-32

Genesis 21:23-32

Swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me

Abraham the friend of man

ABRAHAM YIELDS READILY TO THE REQUEST FOR HIS FRIENDSHIP. Abimelech’s motives in seeking the friendship of Abraham were probably mixed, and included.

1. Expediency.

2. The worship of success.

3. The admiration of goodness.

II. ABRAHAM UNDERTAKES THE DUTIES OF FRIENDSHIP. He freely accepts Abimelech’s conditions.

1. True and righteous dealing.

2. Gratitude for favours shown.

3. Faithfulness to the faults of a friend.


Abraham and Abimelech


Verse 33-34

Genesis 21:33-34

Abraham planted a grove in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of the Lord

Abraham the godly man


1. It was intelligent.

2. It was grateful.

3. It was hopeful.



1. Times of peace God makes to]His servants times of plantation. Such leave He giveth His people.

2. What was done by Abraham with God’s approbation might be turned to sin by man’s superstition. So the groves.

3. The saints’ peace with the world sets them more seriously to serve God.

4. The name of Jehovah, even the eternal God, is the saints’ satisfaction in all plantations (Genesis 21:33).

5. God allows His saints sometimes a longer space of respite after troubles than at others. The longest space of quietness below is but a sojourning time of God’s people. They are not at home. Heaven is the place of his rest, and so is to every true believer (Genesis 21:34). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Grove sanctuaries

It is very curious to notice how the first sanctuaries seem to have been woods, forests, and groves. And it is equally remarkable to notice how, after they were used for true and spiritual worship, they came to be employed exclusively for idolatry--so much so, that in the rest of this blessed Book you will hear God often commanding them utterly to pull down the groves, because those groves had been made places where idols were worshipped. The brass serpent was made by God’s command, its healing virtue was given by God Himself, and the people were divinely told to look at it. But after it had served its purpose, the same people tried to make a god of it. In this instance men took that which was true and good originally, and made such a bad use of it that God commanded it to be ground to powder as “a thing of vanity and as nothing.” These grove sanctuaries came to be desecrated, and therefore He commanded them all to be pulled down. One can see in these groves the first idea of a cathedral. Let any one stand in a lofty avenue of oaks, with their branches intertwining and interlacing, and he will see the nave of a Gothic cathedral. The tracery on the roof, the groined arches, the columns, and the pillars with their picturesque capitals, all is but man trying to embody in the stone what nature has so magnificently developed in her forests, and to perpetuate a grove of stone as a memorial still of the first sanctuaries in which men worshipped.

“Against the clouds, far up the skies,

The walls of the cathedral rise,

Like a mysterious grove of stone.”

Hence, also, the Druids, and the Druid temples, all were instances of the early purpose to which groves and forests were applied, that is, for worship; and when one thinks of the silence and the solemnity of primeval forests, one can see how naturally man would have recourse to them to worship; but when we see how sadly they were abused, one feels how easily the best things may be perverted, and God’s own divine institutions turned into objects of sin and folly. But, blessed be God, neither in this mountain nor in that, neither in grove nor cathedral only, is worship acceptable to God. He is worshipped truly, and the worship is accepted, wherever He is approached in spirit and in truth. (J. Cumming, D. D.)


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 21:4". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

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