“Fear not” (II)“Fear not; for God hath heard …” (Genesis 21: 17)
The next “fear not” in the Bible is found in Genesis 21: 17 where God mercifully intervened to save Hagar and her son Ishmael in the wilderness of Beersheba: “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”.
Who was Hagar? Genesis Chapter 16 tells us that Hagar was the Egyptian handmaid of Abraham whom Sarah, who was barren, had given to her husband as a concubine – “that I may obtain children by her” (v 3). Hagar conceived and “bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son’s name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael” (v 15).
Why were Hagar and Ishmael wandering in the wilderness? Why had they left the safe haven of Abraham’s home? We learn from Genesis Chapter 21 that Sarah had just given birth to Isaac, the child promised by God to the patriarch and his wife: “And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken. 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” (vv 1-3).
On the day of Isaac’s weaning, Abraham had made a great feast. But this happy celebration was marred by family strife. Sarah saw for herself Ishmael mocking Isaac: “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” (vv 8-9).
With Isaac’s birth, Ishmael, who was now about seventeen years old, “was aware of the great change in his prospects, and under the impulse of irritated or resentful feelings, in which he was probably joined by his mother, treated the young heir with derision and probably some violence” (J F Brown Commentary).
Infuriated by his jeerings, and sensing that the boy was instigated by his mother, Sarah demanded that Abraham drive both mother and son out of the house: “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” (v 10).
“ … wherefore, to put it out of all doubt who was heir, she (Sarah) desires that he and his mother both might be cast out of the house, which would be a clear determination of this matter. … the covenant God had so often renewed with Abraham should be established with Isaac, and not with Ishmael (Gen. 17: 19)” (John Gill).
Sarah’s harsh response grieved Abraham. But God directed him to “hearken unto her (Sarah’s) voice” because God’s covenant was with Isaac and not Ishmael: “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” (vv 12-13).
Submitting to God’s will, Abraham rose up early to send Hagar and Ishmael away with some bread and water (v 14). Both mother and son subsequently lost their way in the wilderness of Beersheba. Feeling faint, hungry and thirsty, they could not continue their journey. In despair, Hagar laid the ailing lad under a shrub to protect him from the scorching sun: “And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs” (v 15). Unable to bear the sight of her dying son, she sat at a distance and wept: “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” (v 16).
At this point of deep anguish, God graciously intervened to help the desperate mother and save her dying son. He sent “the angel of God” to comfort them: “Fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.” We note that the Bible does not record the lad’s words, sighs, nor groans, but his cries were heard by God. It was not stated whether he had repented. It is likely that God showed mercy to the ailing boy because of His promise to Abraham: “And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed” (Gen. 21: 13).
“God hears and tenderly sympathises not only with the voice of supplication, but with that of distress. Not a groan, a tear, or a sigh escapes his notice, or fails to reach his heart. He hears the young ravens when they cry, and delights to feed them – Job 38: 41; Ps. 147: 9; Lk. 12: 24” (Family Bible Notes).
Hagar was instructed to help the languishing child: “Now, go, lift him up and hold him in thy hand” for the Lord “will make him a great nation” (v 18). Here, God renewed His promise that He had made earlier both to her and to Abraham (Gen. 16: 10). This assured Hagar that her son would recover and live.
The angel of God then opened Hagar’s eyes to see a well of water from which she gave her son to drink (v 19). With God’s blessing, the lad grew up in the wilderness. He became a skilful archer and warrior (cf. Gen. 16: 12). He made his home in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him out of her own country (vv 20-21).
Brethren, have we ever been in a seemingly hopeless situation where there is none to help? Evidently, that was Hagar’s plight. The life of her beloved son, Ishmael, was ebbing away in the desert sand. There was none to turn to for help in that inhospitable wilderness. In utter despair, Hagar “lift up her voice, and wept”. God mercifully intervened to minister to both mother and son in their desperation. Having heard the sighs and groans of the dying boy, the Lord comforted the despairing mother with the words, “fear not” for He “hath heard the voice of the lad where he is”. He directed her to a well of water which refreshed and revived the dying lad. He also promised to “make him a great nation”, even though he was not the rightful heir of Abraham. What a precious lesson of trusting the Lord to comfort and help us in our distress!
We thank God that He shows mercy and compassion to the undeserving. Though Hagar and her son caused strife in Abraham’s family, the Lord was gracious to care for them in their
hour of need. Like Hagar and Ishmael, we are also undeserving of God’s mercies and favours. Though we are often rebellious, He is ever gracious to hear our cries and show kindness towards us. May we not take God’s goodness for granted, but be grateful for every mercy from His loving hand. Let us follow our Lord’s example to be kind and gracious in all our dealings.