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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 21

Expositor's Dictionary of TextsExpositor's Dictionary

Verses 1-34

Sarah the Steadfast

Genesis 21:0

What is that quality in the mind of Sarah which lies below all other qualities, and which subsists when others change? It may be expressed in one word steadfastness. The abiding secret of this woman's greatness is her own abidingness.

I. Sarah in the romantic stage. When the scene first opens in the married life of Abraham and Sarah, they are having an experience which their romance had not bargained for the poverty of the land. For a married pair I can imagine no duller experience. This must have been Sarah's first real sorrow not the famine in the land, but the famine in Abraham's soul. She sees her ideal husband in a new light. She has seen him in Ur of the Chaldees flaming with the poetic impulse to abandon himself for the sake of humanity. She beholds him in the land of Canaan with his fire cooled down. True he is under a cloud, and the cloud distresses her; but her eye looks beyond the cloud to the normal shining of her husband's soul.

II. She has need of all her hope; for meantime the gloom deepens. The complaint which has come to Abraham is one which seems occasionally to beset high-strung natures a reaction of the nerves producing extreme timidity. He says to Sarah, 'We are going into a country where I shall suffer by your beauty. Men will envy me the possession of you; they will lament that you are wedded, bound; they will seek to kill me that you may be free. You can save me if you will. Pretend that you are already free.' This is the eclipse in Abraham's heart of the wifely relation itself. A more terrible strain upon a woman's conjugal love is not to be conceived. Yet this noble woman stood the strain.

III. The cloud clears from Canaan, and Abraham and Sarah return. Years pass, and for Abraham prosperity dawns. But there throbs in Sarah's heart a pulse of pain. There is as yet no heir. She says to her husband, 'Take my slave Hagar as a second wife'. She says to herself, 'If an heir should come through Hagar he will still be my son, not hers'. But Sarah has miscalculated something. She has said that even maternity will not make Hagar less her slave. In body perhaps not: but in spirit it will break her bonds. It is essential to Sarah's peace that Hagar should be not a person but a thing. The combat ends in favour of Sarah. Mother and son are sent out into the desert. Sarah has purified her home. She has relighted her nuptial fire.

G. Matheson, Representative Women of the Bible, p. 55.

Ishmael the Outcast

Genesis 21:10

Israel has from the very first provided a place for the pariah has opened a door of entrance to the man whom she has herself turned out. Ishmael is the first pariah, the first outcast from society. To any man who had breathed the patriarchal atmosphere the expulsion from that atmosphere was death in the desert. Expulsion from the patriarchal fold was not necessarily a change of land at all: the outcast could live in sight of his former home. But the sting lay in the fact that the brotherhood itself was broken.

I. What brought Ishmael into this exile? As in nearly all cases of social ostracism he owes it partly to his misfortune for an Eastern of being an unconventional man. The spirit of the age is at variance with his spirit. He set up the authority of his individual conscience in opposition to the use and want of the whole community. What was that individual conviction for which Ishmael strove? Ishmael saw Hagar, his actual mother, in the position of a menial to his adopted mother. He saw her subjected to daily indignities. He listened to her assertions of a right to be equal to Sarah, of her claim to be treated as the wife of Abraham.

II. Then something happened. A real heir was born to Sarah. Ishmael was supplanted. All his hopes were withered. He seems to have thrown off the mask which had hitherto concealed his irritation. His tone became mocking, satirical. He preferred a life of independent poverty to a life of luxurious vassalage. He panted to be free. The wrath of Sarah was kindled. She moves her hand and says 'Go!' and Hagar and Ishmael issue forth from the patriarchal home to return no more. When they reach the desert their supply of water is exhausted. Hagar betook herself to prayer. It was not the God of Israel she communed with. It was her own God. But he answered her. The answer comes in the form of an inward peace. It sent no supernatural vision, because that was not needed. The means of refuge lay within the limits of the natural. The well was there, had always been there. What was wanted was a mental calm adequate to the recognition of it.

III. But the grand thing was the moral bearing of the fact. It had an historical significance. It declared that God had a place for the pariah. It proclaimed that the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac was still the God of Egypt and the God of Hagar. God is larger than all our creeds, and higher than all our theories.

G. Matheson, Representative Men of the Bible, p. 1.

References. XXI. 6. Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 167. XXI. 16. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 974. XXI. 17. C. Bosanquet, Tender Grass for the Lambs, p. 1. J. Vaughan, Sermons to Children (5th Series), p. 105. XXI. 19. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix. No. 1123; ibid. vol. xxv. No. 1461. XXI. J. Parker, Adam, Noah, and Abraham, p. 14. P. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 50.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Genesis 21". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/genesis-21.html. 1910.
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