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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, June 17, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Genesis 21:8–21

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.

But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.”

So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt. (NRSV)

Abraham. In many ways, he’s not a nice man, the living embodiment of Lord Acton’s quote “Great men are almost always bad men.” And there’s Sarah too, though she was subjected to some pretty reprehensible behavior on the part of her husband. The Late Bronze Age was a savage era, and Abraham and Sarah? People of their time.

And what is it that sets Sarah off here? The sight of two half-brothers playing together. Never mind that it was her idea in the first place to send Abraham to her slave girl; now the other child, Ishmael, was a threat to her own child’s inheritance. If you study ancient history at all, you know how these stories play out. It’s usually bloody.

Abraham? Well, he’s “distressed” by Sarah’s demand. “Here’s some bread and a skin of water, there’s the desert, good luck, woman with a child and no protection.” That’s a death sentence, and Abraham, he’s distressed. Because it’s all so unpleasant for him.

God knows what happens if they stay, because he knows these people. So he gets the child and the child’s mother away from them. The child and his mother—they were wronged, God knew they were wronged, and God was with them, and cared for them, and fulfilled his promises to them. Like God does. Even when “God’s people” fail.

So, happy ending, right?

But I wonder if this episode isn’t in the front of Abraham’s mind on that day described in the next chapter when God demands the life of Isaac. Does Abraham think back on how they botched the promise of God when they used Hagar and how they sent her and an innocent child to their expected deaths in the wilderness? Is that why Abraham doesn’t say anything? Is it because of his guilt? Does he think he deserves it?

Handcuffed by privilege and guilt and the demands of the times, it’s so very hard to do the right thing. Maybe we’re all more like Abraham than we’d like to think.

Lord, you know us at our best and at our worst. Teach us to heed the better angels of our nature, even when their voice seems faint and their direction hard. Help us, as you have, to stand with and care for those wronged by the world and our times. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

Reflection and Prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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