A Scripture Portion Which Drives Me Crazy!

Posted on August 25, 2017


By David Ettinger

An Apology
Let me right off the bat apologize if this title offends you; this is certainly not my intention. After all, I love and adore the Word of God, having read through all 66 books of the Bible numerous times during my three-plus decades as a Christian.

angryHowever, there are a few portions of Scripture which over the years have struck me as rather perplexing. This is in no way a slight on the scriptures themselves, but on what I believe is the completely nonsensical behavior of the personalities involved.

I’ll focus on one particular portion here and hope to write on more later. If you think I’m being too critical, by all means let me know! Or, if you think I’m not seeing the obvious, please enlighten me. Either way, I’d love to know what you think. (You can comment beneath this post, or on my Facebook page.)

The Baffling Episode
Let’s look at Genesis 21:8-20, where Sarah orders Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away.

In a nutshell, Isaac, Abraham’s son with his wife Sarah, has reached an age where he is being weaned, and a feast is being held to commemorate the event. At the affair, older brother Ishmael, Abraham’s now-teenage son with handmaiden Hagar, mocks Isaac, and Sarah is infuriated. We’re not sure what the nature of the mocking is, but the passage indicates it is cruel and inappropriate.

Sarah will have none of it. She tells Abraham in no uncertain terms, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac” (Genesis 21:10). She is not wrong; theologically speaking (the doctrine of Israel’s “choosing”), the separation of the two nations which will descend from the two boys is an absolute necessity. So yes, Hagar and Ishmael MUST go (God Himself confirms this, v. 12). However, it is the way their leaving transpires which baffles me.

genesisWe are told, “Early THE NEXT MORNING Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba” (v. 14, emphasis added). Eventually, the food and water run out, and Hagar and Ishmael are near death. Verses 15-16 read: “When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, ‘I cannot watch the boy die.’ And as she sat there, she began to sob.”

The Lord, of course, comes to the rescue of mother and son, and blesses them both.

Why I’m Baffled
I am mystified as to the incredible hurriedness and shoddy planning of this event. Yes, I agree that Hagar and Ishmael had to go, but the very next morning? And with a seeming minimum of provision? And with a seeming utter lack of planning? Was Abraham so petrified of raging Sarah that he meekly and mindlessly consented to her whim immediately?

Why couldn’t this have been handled more intelligently? Yes, Sarah was understandably irate and wanted the scoundrels gone, but why couldn’t Abraham have taken control? They lived on a large piece of land and Abraham easily could have kept Sarah and Hagar separate for a few days.

Why couldn’t Abraham have said to Sarah, “Dear, I know how upset you are, and yes, I am going to send Hagar and Ishmael away. However, I can’t do it at once. I need three or four days to plan this out. Just give this a few days, Sarah, and all will be taken care of”?

hagar ishamelWhat could have been done that wasn’t done? First, Abraham and Hagar could have sat down and determined where she and Ishmael would go. Second, they could have determined how long it would have taken to get there. Third, they could have determined the proper amount of provision required for the trip. Fourth, Abraham had trained fighting men in his employment (Genesis 14:14), why could he have not assigned a contingent of 15 or so to accompany Hagar and Ishmael to their destination and not leave them until mother and son arrived?

Am I Being Too Critical?
So, what do you think? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Am I being unreasonable? Of course the “spiritual” answer is that God used this episode to show Himself to Hagar and do a great work in their lives. Granted, but He could have done that anyway.

How could Abraham have put the lives of his son and son’s mother in peril the way he did? I claim he let himself be bullied by Sarah and was not man enough to stand up to her. I think this is an instance of the Bible not commenting on, but simply recording the weakness of man. I think Abraham comes off looking really weak here, and could have done way, way better!

Well, that’s my rant. What do you think?