In Genesis 21:9-10, Sarah had given birth to Isaac. Sarah decided she would no longer share a household with Hagar her handmaid and her son Ishmael, whom Hagar had borne to Abraham. Sarah wanted no rivals for Isaac’s inheritance. She demanded that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away.
Abraham was upset (21:11). God told Abraham to acquiesce to Sarah’s demands. Indeed, Isaac was the child of the promise, and would be the sole heir of the Messianic blessing. But, Abraham didn’t have to worry about Ishmael’s well-being, for God would bless him too (21:12-13).
Abraham gave bread and water to Hagar, and sent her away on foot into the wilderness with Ishmael.
Soon, the provisions were gone. Hagar left Ishmael under a bush to die, and walked a distance away so as not to hear the boy’s suffering. She and the boy both wept in despair.
God called to Hagar from heaven and said, “What is the matter with you, Hagar?” (21:17).
Now, this can seem like a very unkind, sarcastic question. Why would God belittle her suffering? Most of us as parents have probably dismissed our children’s boo-boos, until we later noticed they were cut and bleeding! Couldn’t God see the depths of Hagar’s anguish? She was hungry and thirsty in the wilderness, having been cruelly cast out of the comforts of her home, now faced with the slow and miserable death of her preteen son.
Of course, God could see what was the matter. God asked the question not to gather information, and certainly not to disparage her suffering. God wanted Hagar to consider her situation, to be reminded of God’s faithfulness and power. In fact, God quickly reassured Hagar: “Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him” (21:18). God opened Hagar’s eyes to a nearby well of water (21:19), which reminds us that God’s help is never far. But more importantly, God comforted her by a reminder of a previous promise He had made to her in a very similar set of circumstances.
You see, back in Genesis 16, when Sarah was barren, she gave Abraham her handmaid Hagar to produce children. Hagar quickly became pregnant. This created frustration and tension, and Sarah chased her out into the wilderness. On that occasion, God appeared to Hagar near a well, asking her questions about her situation. God commanded her to return to Sarah for the time being, but promised, “you will bear a son, and you shall call his name Ishmael [meaning, “God hears”], because the Lord has given heed to your affliction. He will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; and he will live to the east of his brothers” (16:10-12).
Hagar simply needed to remember God’s promise, to find her source of comfort. She needed only to think of her child’s name, “God hears,” to remember that God was watchful. She needed only to take Ishmael’s “hand” (21:18), to jog her memories of God’s previous promises about his hand. Indeed, Ishmael outlived their desperation in the wilderness, and became a great nation in his own right, whose descendants figure into the Biblical story in many ways throughout history.
What is the Matter with YOU?
Every Christian’s life will be punctuated with trouble. God knows our frame and cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). The secret to lifting our countenance is to know that God hears, and to remember God’s promises. O Christian, “What’s the matter with you?” Not to make light of your travails; but if you can identify the problem, God has the solution! “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).
Is your problem stress? “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Is your problem worry about stuff? “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:32-33).
Is your problem sickness? Call for the elders of the church, who will pray (James 5:15). A glorified body is on the way (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).
Is your problem sin? Forgiveness is always available, through Christ (1 John 1:9-2:1, 1 Corinthians 10:13).
Is your problem doubts about our country’s future? The gates of Hades shall never overcome the church (Matthew 16:18).
Never fear! “In all these things, we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us!” (Romans 8:37). –John Guzzetta