Who Weeps for Hagar’s Children?
And she went, and sat down apart from him a good way off, as it were a bowshot; for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat apart from him, and lifted up her voice, and wept (Gen. 21:16).
The woman was, of course, Hagar. The child was Ishmael. Hagar was the handmaid of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. We often speak of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. For Christians and Jewish people, the affinity for this family is well understood. The Bible makes it emphatically clear that the covenant God established to bring blessing to the entire world was to pass from Abraham to Isaac, then on to his posterity, the Jewish people:
And God said, Sarah, thy wife, shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him (Gen. 17:19).
Thus we Christians have scrupulously followed the history of the descendants of Abraham and Isaac with fidelity and unbridled fondness because it was through their seed that the Lord moved toward us in grace and mercy.
For Jewish people, the covenant brought scores of irrevocable promises—promises of a land, a people, a King, and ultimately a Kingdom that will encompass the earth with an era of millennial bliss that has never been experienced on this planet.
And so, during the long pilgrimage of Isaac’s seed across the centuries, true believers have gloried in the Jewish people’s triumphs, marveling at the precision of prophetic fulfillment and divine preservation. And when Israel anguished in the caldron of suffering, we wept as Rachel wept for her children millennia ago.
At the same time, particularly when such trauma now grips the Middle East, we must wonder, Who weeps for Hagar’s children? The 21st chapter of the book of Genesis is extremely enlightening because, for all that we witness in God’s aligning the future course of world history with the heirs of Isaac, there is another story. It is one that unveils a magnificent portrait of a caring God who extends grace and mercy in the midst of trial and encodes the history of another people.
It begins, as is so often the case, with well-meaning individuals trying to assist the Lord by moving His program along when He didn’t seem to be proceeding at a pace quite to their liking. Hagar seemed, to Sarah, to be the answer to her own barrenness and Abraham’s need of an heir. The result of Abraham’s union with Hagar was Ishmael (“God will hear”). After Isaac came on the scene, however, there was rivalry between the boys; and Hagar and her son received their eviction notice:
Wherefore she [Sarah] said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac (21:10).
With no more than a container of water and a portion of bread, Hagar was sent into the wilderness. Seeing their supply of water exhausted and believing Ishmael was going to perish, she sat, as we found her, weeping for her son.
And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? Fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation (21:17–18).
Ishmael was given a name with promise (“God will hear”); that promise was fulfilled when God heard the boy’s cry. The Lord’s response was to provide a well of water, a place of shelter, and a divine pledge: Ishmael would live, and God would make him a great nation. As surely as God has kept the promises He made to Isaac, He also has been faithful to keep His promise to Ishmael.
Ishmael’s heirs, however, were placed on a different course than those of Isaac. Ishmael’s was not the promise of the land, a King, and a Kingdom, but of a nation that “shall not be numbered for multitude” (16:10) and of a progeny consisting of “twelve princes” (17:20). Accordingly, Ishmael’s descendants became Bedouin tribal people, recognized today as the Arab nations. Unfortunately, as the promises endured, so did the animosity between the brothers’ seeds. As we witness every day, the hostilities seem to multiply in intensity.
A Parting of the Ways
In A.D. 610 a camel driver named Muhammad secretly began to preach a new religion in Mecca in Arabia. His god was the astral tribal god of the Bedouin Arabs—Allah. What became his holy book, the Quran, proclaimed the superiority of the Islamic faith and declared Judaism and Christianity “infidel” religions. Although it recognized the Jews as “the people of the Book,” Islam always made them subservient to the Muslim religion. The Quran endorsed conquest by the sword, and soon the new religion swept across the Arab world and far beyond in a war designed to subjugate the “infidels.”
Thus Judaism, Christianity, and Islam truly took very different courses. The result was centuries of bloodshed and hostility that stand as some of the darkest periods in the history of the world.
Although the Arabs never designated Jerusalem as a seat of Muslim authority or laid claim to an Arab state in what came to be known as Palestine, the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948 sent shock waves throughout the Arab world. The Jews were back in their ancestral land, creating an intolerable situation for Muslims, who had claimed the area for Allah and Islam. For Muslims the world over, the answer was annihilate Israel. Their obsession became to drive the Jews into the sea. It sounded like a simple proposition. After all, these were the emaciated children of the Holocaust, hardly formidable opponents. Certainly the work could be accomplished in rather short order. However, it was not to be.
What Arab and Muslim leaders did not count on was that these were, as Islam had acknowledged, the people of the Book. And the destiny of the Jewish people and the nation of Israel had been etched millennia ago by the finger of God on a divine plan far removed from the schema laid out in the Quran and preached in the mosques of the Arab world. The Jewish people survived and prospered in the land God had promised them.
Weeping for Hagar’s Children
With the rise of radical Muslim groups, particularly the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), came a reign of terror seldom witnessed among civilized countries in the modern world. Their mission was to kill the Jews (particularly innocent civilians), wipe Israel off the face of the earth, and create an authoritarian Islamic ministate led by the craggy career terrorist Yasser Arafat.
But this self-proclaimed savior of the hapless Palestinian people has proven himself less than a compassionate chieftain. Corruption under his leadership in what is now the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been documented beyond question. And his passionate protestations of burning concern for his people have been exposed as utter hypocrisy. Arafat’s terror campaign, which has turned into all-out war against Israel, has brought nothing but suffering, death, and privation to the Palestinian people.
Today Palestinians, particularly Christians, are leaving PA-governed areas in droves. A recent report in The Jerusalem Post confirms that Palestinians are fleeing for their lives. Requests for Palestinian visas were up 51 percent for the first six months of this year, compared to 35 percent for the same period a year ago. The little town of Bethlehem, an Arab-Christian community until Arafat took over, is now Muslim. Another prime example of this situation is the Christian-Arab village of Beit Jalla, which has become a post for Arafat’s terrorists to fire into the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo. An Arab Christian from Beit Jalla, who is leaving the region with his family, said more than 30 percent of Beit Jalla’s Christians have fled their homes since Palestinian gunmen have repeatedly entered the village to fire on Gilo.
But what of those left behind? Since Israelis have been targeting known terrorists, Arafat’s people have initiated a reign of terror against Palestinian Arabs marked as “collaborators.” Exactly what does this mean?
It is an old story with Arafat and his cohorts. For the past 20 years, Palestinians suspected of considering selling land to Israelis have been summarily executed, some in the most gruesome ways on the streets of Palestinian towns. Unfortunately, the Western media have ignored this reality as well as the fact that today Palestinian Arabs are being rounded up and killed as suspected “collaborators.”
After Israel recently targeted two Hamas terrorists—men who had killed and maimed hundreds of innocent civilians and who were planning more such attacks—Arafat’s forces rounded up scores of people and, after 10-minute trials with no opportunity of appeal, began executing them. Furthermore, roving bands of Arafat’s Fatah henchmen began killing anyone they suspected of collaboration. Of course, none of these facts were found worthy of international news coverage.
As believers, we have a mandate to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and stand with the Jewish people. And so we do. But let us not forget that Hagar’s children suffer too. And as we weep for Rachel’s children, let us remember our obligation to pray for and reach out to Hagar’s children.
We cannot help but remember the words of Genesis. When speaking of the basic nature of Ishmael and his children, the Bible says,
And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren (16:12).
That prophecy is the legacy of the sons of Ishmael. Who should weep for them the most? The answer is obvious: believers—who care for the souls of men.