Scripture for Reflection: Genesis 21:8-21
“But God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, ‘Hagar, what’s wrong?” Do not be afraid! God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.” Genesis 21:17, NLT
Our life stories are complex, complicated and contradictory – filled with misunderstandings, conflicts and unforgiveness because of our human failings and sinful human nature. But God is our loving Heavenly Father who is all powerful, all knowing and all loving. And He is patiently waiting for us to turn to Christ so that we can rewrite the stories of our foibles, failings and failures, into glorious testimonies of His mercy and grace, with the power of the Holy Spirit,
When Hagar was pregnant with Ishmael, she ran away after she was abused by Sarah. At that time, she received the assurance from an angel that God had heard her distress and that she will have more descendants than she could count.1 It was like the promise that God had given to Abraham:
“Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!”2
But fourteen years later, after the birth of Isaac, Hagar found herself and Ishmael facing death in the wilderness. Sarah’s anger had been aroused when she saw Ishmael teasing Isaac and told Abraham to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. Although Abraham was upset, he complied with Sarah’s demands after he was assured by God that Ishmael’s descendants will become a nation too.3 By faith, he provided Hagar with food and water and sent her and Ishmael into the wilderness.
After wandering aimlessly in the wilderness of Beersheba, Hagar ran out of water and burst into tears in despair as she could not watch Ishmael die from dehydration. But God heard Ishmael crying and sent an angel to comfort them and remind Hagar of God’s earlier promise to her years ago:
“Hagar, what’s wrong? Do not be afraid. God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Go to him and comfort him, for I will make a great nation from his descendants.”4
Her eyes were then opened to see a well full of water and they went on to live in the wilderness of Paran. The story of Hagar and Ishmael is more than a historical story of Abraham’s family. It is a sacred story to show us the perfect faithfulness of our Heavenly Father whose love is endless. God is our Divine Story teller of Love. He weaves our human fears, failings, and failures together with our lust, greed, pride, anger, and envy into beautiful narratives of His amazing mercy and grace.
Just as God heard the cry of Ishmael, we can cry out to God with a childlike dependence on the infinite power of God. Then like Hagar, we need to hear God asking us, “What’s wrong?” and confront our doubts and fears that keep us from seeing the wonderful promises and providence of God’s faithful love.
Our human stories may be futile, foolish and fragmented but every one of our stories has a place in the beautiful and wonderful tapestry of God’s eternal love. The story of Hagar and Sarah is a demonstration of the difference between living in fear as a slave of sin and living by faith as a child of God.
In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul described the births of Ishmael and Isaac as representing two ways to be in relationship with God. We can live by the law and be slaves of sin like Ishmael. Or we can live by grace and be like Isaac, the children of promise, who may be ridiculed by those who are slaves of sin:
“And you, dear brothers and sisters, are children of the promise, just like Isaac. But you are now being persecuted by those who want you to keep the law, just as Ishmael, the child born by human effort, persecuted Isaac, the child born by the power of the Spirit.”5
The good news of the gospel is that through faith in Jesus Christ, we are reborn – not with a physical birth from human passion or plan but a birth that comes from God.6 And as we live in the light of God’s love, we can change our life story – from stories of anger and abandonment to a story of faith in the total dependence on the amazing grace of God. We can then be transformed – from living as human beings seeking a spiritual experience to being a child of God living in the kingdom of heaven for the glory of God in the here and now.
As we seek to live in the kingdom of heaven, we will face obstacles, opposition and oppression, like the Jews in Egypt, But our struggles and sorrows are the compost for the seed of God’s love to grow roots of faith in our hearts. For God hears our cries and collects our tears:
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”7
Our insignificant and futile life stories are but the inspiring stories of God’s mercy and love when our tears are turned into springs of Living Water by the grace of God to nourish the roots of faith in a spiritually dry and thirsty world:
“By faith we see the hand of God
In the light of creation’s grand design
In the lives of those who prove His faithfulness
Who walk by faith and not by sight”8
Abba Father, thank You for drawing me to Your throne of grace through my fears. Help me to rewrite my life story into a living testimony of Your resurrection power by being a pencil in Your Hands through the Holy Spirit.
Contemplatio: Changing my life story
- How do the stories in the bible convict, correct, challenge and comfort me?
- What are the parts in my life story that need to be changed?
- What are the stones in my heart that keep me from joy and peace?
- What baby steps in my walk with God do I need to take to change my life story?
Song of Praise
- Genesis 16
- Genesis 15:5
- Genesis 21:11-12
- Genesis 21:17
- Galatians 4:28-29
- Psalms 56:8
- By Faith, Keith Getty