Two Mothers, Two Children

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalm 61-62 (Morning)
Psalm 68:1-20(21-23)24-36 (Evening)
Gen. 21:1-21
Heb. 11:13-22
John 6:41-51

Two Mothers, Two Children

The story of Abraham in Genesis is the first of many fascinating biographies in the Old Testament. Gen. 21:1-21 brings us to the miraculous birth of Isaac to his aged and barren wife, Sarah, and a renewal of God’s promise to Abraham that he will make a great nation of his descendants. It also tells one of the most touching stories in the Bible, the banishment from the house of Abraham of Abraham’s slave woman Hagar and her little boy, who was also Abraham’s son. Sarah does not pass on God’s generous love to the slave woman when she sees that woman’s son “playing with her son Isaac.” Instead she treats Hagar and the child with appalling cruelty, and Abraham acts with appalling cruelty and weakness. God himself seems complicit when he tells Abraham to obey his wife’s wishes (hmm), even though he assures Abraham that he will make a great nation of the slave boy’s descendants, too. Abraham, perhaps interpreting the word of God more cruelly than it was intended (as happens even in our day), banishes mother and child into the Beer-sheba wilderness with only some bread and a skin of water.

When the water runs out, Hagar leaves the child under a bush and sits down “a bowshot” away and prays for death: “’Let me not look upon the death of the child.’” “Then the angel of God speaks to Hagar: ‘Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him fast with your hand; for I will make of him a great nation.’” Then God opens her eyes, she sees a well of water, and she goes, fills the skin with water, and gives the boy a drink.

The Children of Abraham is the title of the book Jimmy Carter wrote pleading for peace between the descendants of Sarah (the Jews) and the descendants of Hagar (the Arabs) in what Christians call the Holy Land. The God of Abraham might have prevented some of the violence and oppression there today by choosing one of Abraham’s children over the other, might have left one woman barren or left the other to die with her child. But how much poorer the world would have been if he had! How much poorer my life would have been without my Jewish and Arab friends! I am glad we have a God of people as well as a God of history, one who cares for us personally in our needs, as he did for Sarah and Hagar.

Written by John DuVal

Although a devoted member of St. Paul’s, John habitually exceeds the recommended word count for Morning Reflection.

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