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EXEGESIS > Old Testament > Pentateuch > Genesis > Gen. 21:8-21

In the Wilderness
Gen. 21:8-21


Abraham and Sarah were given a son in their old age as God had promised.

Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar (Gen. 16), was in his mid-teens, and there was conflict in the family; Ishmael resented Isaac, and Sarah resented Hagar and her son; Sarah tells Abraham to cast out the bondwoman and her son; the matter was displeasing to Abraham but God instructs him to listen to Sarah; so Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away.

This is a moving passage, filled with emotion and pathos; it is a passage for the one who is troubled, pressed down, and suffering; it is for the one facing unbearable circumstances, and facing a questionable future.

Consider the experience of Hagar and the response of God.

The Experience of Hagar (vs. 8-16)

She experienced a “wilderness” (v. 14)

She was banished and went into the Wilderness of Beersheba, a place of desolation, loneliness, and no life—a place where you would not want to live; a dry, arid, and desert-like area, with few shrubs and brushes; no plush vegetation; it was a forsaken and foreboding area.

Circumstances brought this wilderness into her life, circumstances she had little control over; it was a wilderness for which she was not prepared and did not want; but God is behind all circumstances; see: God is Sovereign.

At various times throughout the believer’s life the wilderness is experienced; not a physical wilderness, but an emotional wilderness, a psychological wilderness, a spiritual wilderness.

You feel alone, in pain, forsaken; the sun refuses to shine; dark clouds conceal the blue sky; the heart aches; you think that no one cares and no one understands; the soul cries out with unanswered questions; you do not know what to do or where to go; you despair of life and cry out for relief; you wonder why.

She “wandered” in the wilderness (v. 14)

The wilderness did not come and go; it was not momentary; it continued with unending affliction; she wandered with no purpose, hope, or joy; her state was aimless and without direction; she was living in the wilderness.

She came to the end of her resources – “the water in the skin was used up” (v. 15)   Hagar was in the desert with her child, and she had no water.

Resources that an individual has are not sufficient for a wilderness experience that God ordains; the individual is not strong enough, wise enough, or smart enough; the wilderness is a cruel teacher; it teaches what you do not know and do not want to learn.

She “wept” in the wilderness (v. 16)

She wept for the son that would die; when the water was expended, she placed her son under one of the brushes and went a distance away; she said: “Let me not see the death of the boy” (v. 16).

She wept for herself because of her plight; she was resigned to the inevitable; she wept because life had brought her to this point.

So it is with the believer; there is weeping in the wilderness, physical tears that must be wiped away and spiritual tears which cannot be verbalized.

The Response of God (vs. 17-21)

“God heard” (v. 17)

The Scripture says that “God heard the voice of the lad”; perhaps it was the cries of desperation in the face of death, but God heard.   The point is that God knew of the wilderness and of the plight of these two; He sees all and knows all.   Just to know that God knows is enough for the believer; God may deliver; God may not deliver; but the fact is that God knows of the experience in the wilderness; God knows where you are in the wilderness and God knows what is happening to you in the wilderness.

God spoke (v. 17)

Three distinct aspects of His speaking:

“What ails you, Hagar” (v. 17) – He called her by name; He was concerned with her plight; by the question Hagar was assured of the Lord’s concern.

“Fear not” (v. 17) – don’t be anxious; don’t despair; don’t become overwhelmed by the wilderness experience; fear reveals a wrong focus.

“Arise” (v. 18) – Hagar was given a job to do; rescue the lad because there is a future for him; in the wilderness there is something to do; in the wilderness you do not stop living.

For the believer who is in a wilderness, it must be remembered that God knows and cares; because of the presence of the Lord, there is no cause for fear and anxiety; don’t just wait for what seems an evil end, do the work of the Lord; keep living.

“God opened her eyes” (v. 19)

God opened her eyes to His provision, and “she saw a well of water” (v. 19; see: II Ki. 6:17); she filled the skin and gave her son a drink; the provision was there during her experience, but she did not see it; the provision was even close enough for her to see; the provision was adequate, for she was able to fill the skin.

God knows the plight of the believer in the wilderness, and He already has sufficient provisions; in fact, the provisions we need are found only in Him; we need the Lord to open our eyes so that we will see Him and His provisions; our hope is in Him.


The wilderness became a place of blessing and growth for Hagar and her son: “So God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer” (v. 20); later “He dwelt in the Wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt” (v. 21); that which seemed the place of death became the place of life.

For the believer who is in a wilderness experience, God is able to do the same today—transform evil into good.

See: Gen. 27 - The Stolen Blessing

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