URC Daily Devotion 13 June 2023

Tuesday, 13 June 2023  
Hagar and Ishmael cast out 


Genesis 21

The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Now Sarah said, ‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.’  And she said, ‘Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.  But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac.  So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’  The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son.  But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named after you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.’  So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.  And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.  Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’  Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.  God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.  He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.


The stories we tell ourselves!  Sarah’s encouragement of Abraham to rape Hagar, their slave, led to Ishmael’s birth.  Sarah’s resulting jealousy led to Hagar’s oppression and escape.  Hagar was, conveniently, persuaded to return to her oppression by an angel in Chapter 16.  

The various editors of Genesis were telling stories from the victor’s perspective; as people who saw themselves descended from Abraham and Isaac.  Of course they also had to deal with the fact that Ishmael’s progeny – seen as the Arab peoples – were also Abraham’s descendants.  One son has written out of the story for the other to flourish; the writers made Sarah and Isaac’s interests paramount.

The story assumes that some people can be used for the benefit of others.  The editors have a God disinterested in justice who is content for Hagar and Ishmael to be left to die in the desert.  A toxic story which could be used to justify harm.  Such stories help justify times when we use the Biblical authors’ prejudices and ideologies to support our own.  

Yet there’s another story going on here too.  Sarah’s behaviour is both monstrous and ironic – she has an Egyptian slave and her descendants will be slaves in Egypt.  She has, however, been pimped by her husband and, as we saw yesterday, had no choice, power, or agency in that situation.  There’s a story we need to tell ourselves about how we behave when we’re denied our dignity.  A former colleague of mine called this “oppression sickness” – we act badly as a response to the toxic web in which we find ourselves.  

The central story of the Jewish people is the Exodus. We need to consider how freedom is found in all the situations we inhabit.  Hagar and Ishmael found freedom from their oppression; I hope Sarah and Abraham found it from their complex relationship and behaviours.  I hope you do too.


God of freedom, God of justice,
help us to see where we 
act out of our own oppression.
Deliver us, good Lord,
from our own injustice, evil and oppression,
that we might fight the powers of evil
that seek to exclude and oppress.




Today’s writer

The Rev’d Andy Braunston is the URC’s Minister for Digital Worship and member of the Peedie Kirk URC in Orkney.



New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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