Genesis 21
Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken.
Sarah the Steadfast

Genesis 21

What is that quality in the mind of Sarah which lies below all other qualities, and which subsists when others change? It may be expressed in one word—steadfastness. The abiding secret of this woman's greatness is her own abidingness.

I. Sarah in the romantic stage. When the scene first opens in the married life of Abraham and Sarah, they are having an experience which their romance had not bargained for—the poverty of the land. For a married pair I can imagine no duller experience. This must have been Sarah's first real sorrow—not the famine in the land, but the famine in Abraham's soul. She sees her ideal husband in a new light. She has seen him in Ur of the Chaldees flaming with the poetic impulse to abandon himself for the sake of humanity. She beholds him in the land of Canaan with his fire cooled down. True he is under a cloud, and the cloud distresses her; but her eye looks beyond the cloud to the normal shining of her husband's soul.

II. She has need of all her hope; for meantime the gloom deepens. The complaint which has come to Abraham is one which seems occasionally to beset high-strung natures—a reaction of the nerves producing extreme timidity. He says to Sarah, 'We are going into a country where I shall suffer by your beauty. Men will envy me the possession of you; they will lament that you are wedded, bound; they will seek to kill me that you may be free. You can save me if you will. Pretend that you are already free.' This is the eclipse in Abraham's heart of the wifely relation itself. A more terrible strain upon a woman's conjugal love is not to be conceived. Yet this noble woman stood the strain.

III. The cloud clears from Canaan, and Abraham and Sarah return. Years pass, and for Abraham prosperity dawns. But there throbs in Sarah's heart a pulse of pain. There is as yet no heir. She says to her husband, 'Take my slave Hagar as a second wife'. She says to herself, 'If an heir should come through Hagar he will still be my son, not hers'. But Sarah has miscalculated something. She has said that even maternity will not make Hagar less her slave. In body perhaps not: but in spirit it will break her bonds. It is essential to Sarah's peace that Hagar should be not a person but a thing. The combat ends in favour of Sarah. Mother and son are sent out into the desert. Sarah has purified her home. She has relighted her nuptial fire.

—G. Matheson, Representative Women of the Bible, p. 55.

Ishmael the Outcast

Genesis 21:10

Israel has from the very first provided a place for the pariah—has opened a door of entrance to the man whom she has herself turned out. Ishmael is the first pariah, the first outcast from society. To any man who had breathed the patriarchal atmosphere the expulsion from that atmosphere was death in the desert. Expulsion from the patriarchal fold was not necessarily a change of land at all: the outcast could live in sight of his former home. But the sting lay in the fact that the brotherhood itself was broken.

I. What brought Ishmael into this exile? As in nearly all cases of social ostracism he owes it partly to his misfortune—for an Eastern—of being an unconventional man. The spirit of the age is at variance with his spirit. He set up the authority of his individual conscience in opposition to the use and want of the whole community. What was that individual conviction for which Ishmael strove? Ishmael saw Hagar, his actual mother, in the position of a menial to his adopted mother. He saw her subjected to daily indignities. He listened to her assertions of a right to be equal to Sarah, of her claim to be treated as the wife of Abraham.

II. Then something happened. A real heir was born to Sarah. Ishmael was supplanted. All his hopes were withered. He seems to have thrown off the mask which had hitherto concealed his irritation. His tone became mocking, satirical. He preferred a life of independent poverty to a life of luxurious vassalage. He panted to be free. The wrath of Sarah was kindled. She moves her hand and says 'Go!' and Hagar and Ishmael issue forth from the patriarchal home to return no more. When they reach the desert their supply of water is exhausted. Hagar betook herself to prayer. It was not the God of Israel she communed with. It was her own God. But he answered her. The answer comes in the form of an inward peace. It sent no supernatural vision, because that was not needed. The means of refuge lay within the limits of the natural. The well was there, had always been there. What was wanted was a mental calm adequate to the recognition of it.

III. But the grand thing was the moral bearing of the fact. It had an historical significance. It declared that God had a place for the pariah. It proclaimed that the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac was still the God of Egypt and the God of Hagar. God is larger than all our creeds, and higher than all our theories.

—G. Matheson, Representative Men of the Bible, p. 1.

References.—XXI. 6.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 167. XXI. 16.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 974. XXI. 17.—C. Bosanquet, Tender Grass for the Lambs, p. 1. J. Vaughan, Sermons to Children (5th Series), p. 105. XXI. 19.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix. No. 1123; ibid. vol. xxv. No. 1461. XXI.—J. Parker, Adam, Noah, and Abraham, p. 14. P. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 50.

For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.
And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac.
And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him.
And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him.
And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me.
And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age.
And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.
And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.
Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.
And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son.
And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.
And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.
And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs.
And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.
And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.
Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.
And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.
And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.
And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.
And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest:
Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son's son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned.
And Abraham said, I will swear.
And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of a well of water, which Abimelech's servants had violently taken away.
And Abimelech said, I wot not who hath done this thing: neither didst thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it, but to day.
And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech; and both of them made a covenant.
And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves.
And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What mean these seven ewe lambs which thou hast set by themselves?
And he said, For these seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me, that I have digged this well.
Wherefore he called that place Beersheba; because there they sware both of them.
Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba: then Abimelech rose up, and Phichol the chief captain of his host, and they returned into the land of the Philistines.
And Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the name of the LORD, the everlasting God.
And Abraham sojourned in the Philistines' land many days.
Nicoll - Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

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