Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, July 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
Take your personal ministry to the Next Level by helping StudyLight build churches and supporting pastors in Uganda.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
Genesis 21

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 17


‘And God heard the voice of the lad.’

Genesis 21:17

A minister once said to a boy, ‘Can you pray? How did you pray?’ He said, ‘Sir, I begged.’ He could not have used a better word: praying is begging of God.

Prayer is very much like a bow. The arrow is a promise; the string is faith. You use your faith; with your faith you send a promise up to the skies. David said, ‘I will make my prayer and look up,’—look up and see where the arrow comes down again.

There are a great many things to think of in prayer. Let me tell you of one or two.

I. You should always address God by one of His names or titles, in a very reverent way. You have to thank God for His mercies; you have to confess to God your sins; you have to trust God to bless you; you have to ask for other people; then to end all ‘For Jesus Christ’s sake.’ Tell God anything you like, only take care you ask it all in the name of Jesus, because we have no promise to prayer that God will hear us unless we add the name of Jesus to it.

II. Every boy and girl ought to have a form of prayer, though they need not always use it. A psalm is sometimes very good. But the more you practise, the more you will have to say out of your heart.

III. Wandering thoughts often trouble us in prayer. They are like the birds which flew down on Abraham’s altar and spoilt the sacrifice. We must drive away these little birds; we must ask God to keep off the wandering thoughts.

IV. When you are praying always remember that there is One who is offering up that prayer for you to God. That prayer does not go to God just as you send it up: but before it gets to the throne of God it gets much sweeter. Jesus puts His sweet incense into our prayer. So God will be pleased with us for His sake.

V. Pray always. You cannot always kneel down and pray, but little prayers in your hearts can be always going up. These little darts or ejaculations can be sent up anywhere, at any time.

Rev. Jas. Vaughan.


I. This passage teaches a lesson to parents.—It teaches that God is with us at our work; that the wilderness of life is full of Him; that in the waste of this world He is close beside us; that our children are His children; that He sees them under the shrub of the desert; that He has a property in them, a work for them, a work in them; that they are heirs, not of the desert in which they seem to be perishing, but of the many mansions of their heavenly Father’s house. Believe that your children have been united to Christ; and that if you teach them to claim this union for themselves, its strength and its healing shall come out for them day by day as you seek to bring them up for Him.

II. This passage contains instruction for the young themselves.—(1) God saw the lad as he lay beneath the desert shrub. And He sees you, wherever you are, at home or abroad—His eye is ever on you. Learn this lesson first—God’s eye is ever on the lad, and sees him wherever he is. (2) God was the true protector of the lad, and He is your true and only Friend. He sees in you the adopted children of Jesus Christ. Even from your helpless infancy has He thus looked on you, and had purposes of love towards you. (3) God had a purpose for the lad and a work in him. He meant him to become a great nation in these waste places. His casting out, dark as it seemed, was preparing the way for this; and so it is with you. Everything around you is ordered by God for an end. That end is truly your best spiritual happiness. (4) God heard the voice of the lad; and He will hear you in every time of your trouble. Ishmael was heard because he was the son of Abraham; you will be heard because you are the son of God through Christ.

Bishop S. Wilberforce.

Verse 19


‘She saw a well; … and went and filled the bottle with water.’

Genesis 21:19

Two jealous women like Sarah and Hagar are of all beings the most unmanageable, and this poor Abraham found out to his cost. After much bickering and contention they had to be separated, and to Abraham it was a fearful heart-wrench. But think ye not that this separation prepared him for that more terrible separation on Moriah when Isaac’s life was in the balance? God leads us by very gradual steps to the Moriah-crisis. With ‘eyes full of heart-break’ Abraham bade them both ‘adieu.’ He gave Hagar some cakes of bread and a bottle filled with water. Only bread and water! How simply those ancient people lived. Hagar, with her boy of sixteen, faced the dreary wilderness of Beersheba, but, alas, she lost her way. The water was soon spent, and the lad would have died of thirst under the burning sun had not an angel led them to a friendly well of water.

I. God’s well is to be found in every wilderness by those who have eyes to see it. There is no Sahara without its oases. ‘He maketh streams to flow in the desert.’ The well was there bubbling up all the time; but Hagar could not see it, so limited was her range of sight. What we all need are opened eyes to see the well. We need the faith eye, the spiritual vision, and then our terrible blindness will disappear. We do not want a new well, but opened eyes to see the old one. The well was pointed out by an angel, and the succouring of the outcast is truly angels’ work. If you cannot see the well the angel can. ‘Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.’

II. God’s well is always larger than man’s bottle; the one is only finite, whilst the other is infinite, and therefore the bottle can never exhaust the well. The bottle is very soon exhausted, and needs refilling, but you cannot exhaust the well until you exhaust God Himself. There is more than enough in the well to supply our needs for a million millenniums.

III. Man’s bottle is of little or no use without God’s well behind it. Without the well the bottle could never have saved the lives of Hagar and her boy. The bottle alone can never satisfy the profoundest needs of humanity. Mere instrumentalities cannot save—we must go right back to the fountain of life. There can be no real life in the soul apart from the life-giving God.

IV. God’s well and man’s bottle are never more needed than in a burning desert. Water is more scarce in the wilderness than in any other portion of God’s creation, and therefore it is most in demand.

One can better do without a well in the streets of a busy city than in the parched and arid desert. ‘Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.’ He always helps us when all other helps have failed. He showed Hagar a fountain of sparkling water that seemed to sing, ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.’ The music of that bubbling spring exceeded in sweetness the music of a thousand harps.

V. If we look after the bottle, God will look after the well. Do not let us be fretful and anxious and sceptical—let us do our part, and God will do all the rest. Hagar had to fill the bottle with water and hold it to the lips of her child. Neither God nor His angel will do for us what we ought to do for ourselves. There is room in the Divine programme for human effort.

VI. Man’s bottle goes up in value when filled from God’s well. The well communicates its own preciousness to the bottle when that is put to holy uses. A soul filled with the Holy Spirit is more precious than all the diamonds of the Transvaal. Everything touched by God instantly runs up in value more than a thousandfold.

VII. God’s well is never far away from man’s bottle. Ishmael was dying of thirst, and yet there was a bubbling well only a bowshot off! And the spiritual Ishmaels need not die of thirst, for Christ the great Fountain of Life is always near at hand—in fact, the well is not far away from any one of us. ‘I have heard the cry of the lad.’ Our God is not deaf—He is within reach of the feeblest cry. He is near the miner in the bowels of the earth; He is near the seaman on the stormy waters; He is near the soldier amid the fiery hail of battle. ‘The Word is nigh thee in thine heart.’ Our God is not a cold, iron Stoic, enthroned behind the distant stars; but One Who is ‘nearer to us than breathing.’

VIII. God’s well is for every man in every zone. Even Ishmael, the son of the bonds-woman, found succour and life at the well. ‘If any man thirst, let him come to come to Me and drink.’ Any man. If he is a man that is all-sufficient. An Englishman, or a Frenchman, or a Russian, or a Chinaman? Yes— any man. The well is for all who bring their bottles—Hagar as well as Sarah—Ishmael as well as Isaac—Gentile as well as Jew. The Gospel is not for England, but for the whole wide world. Our God knows neither geographical nor ethnological boundaries, and He is no respecter of persons.


‘In all our lives, even the saddest and loneliest, there are sources of comfort and joy which have been prepared in the providence of God, but we are too much occupied with ourselves and our circumstances to behold them until God opens our eyes. Therefore, the Apostle says: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him, but God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit.” We need the cleansed vision of faith; beside us stands our Lord with raiment for our rags, eye-salve for our blindness, health for our poverty, food for our famishing soul, and water for our thirst. It is not necessary to pray that He should come; He is already beside us. We need only two things—first, the grace of vision that we may see; secondly, the grace of appropriation that we may take.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Genesis 21". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/genesis-21.html. 1876.
Ads FreeProfile