The Wilderness will bring Ishmael the wealth of who he is, but not before devastation.
To Abraham and Sarah, laughter is born as Isaac enters their home. Joy abounds for Sarah, but there is no joy in Sarah’s heart for the child that reminds her of her and her husband’s mistake so long ago. She has her own child now but Ishmael still shames her by his presence.
Shame is that quality that says you are not ______ enough. That which has plagued Sarah, the inability to conceive and have a child, is gone now. Laughter is in her arms and heart. “All will laugh with her,” she says. It’s a half truth, for if the joy ran deeper, she could let Hagar be. But as we heard with Cain, sin creeps at the back door. It waits. Our sins do not let go so easily. They rise up in the night and catch our breath. They whisper shame.
Abraham, listening to Sarah, casts out Hagar and Ishmael, blood of his blood and flesh of his flesh. We hear the garden of Eden echo again–we maintain a defense by saying we were just taking orders.
Hagar and Ishmael walk into the wilderness. The wilderness will raise him. It will be his teacher. It will be his father in Abraham’s absence–if he makes it. It’s not a guarantee as Hagar takes him from camp to the unknown.
They run out of food.
They run out of water.
They run out of hope.
Hagar ‘casts’ the undernourished Ishmael under a bush. The Hebrew here is Shalak, to cast, but also to throw or to fling. They all mean the same–she discards Ishmael as one would discard something when it is no longer of use or has no life left in it. You cast out. You throw away. You fling something out of sight.
The next words are pivotal, too. She can’t watch her only son die. She has to avert her gaze, another encounter with shame. We all turn away.
And it is there that she meets the holy one. It is the rawness of despair that she encounters a hope that passes understanding.
Why are we inspired by those who rise above their circumstances, those who turn loss into gain? It is this: hope is a function of struggle. Those that struggle and find room for laughter and joy, remind us that we may also. We have the courage and needed hope to struggle on.