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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 21

Simeon's Horae HomileticaeHorae Homileticae

Verses 9-10


Genesis 21:9-10. And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had borne unto Abraham, mocking. Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bond-woman and her son: for the son of this bond-woman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.

SIN, even in this world, almost always brings its own punishment along with it: and not unfrequently the sin itself is marked in the punishment that follows it. We can have no doubt but that Sarah erred when she gave Hagar into Abraham’s bosom, in hopes of having the promised seed by her. And scarcely had her device been carried into execution before she began to suffer for it. As soon as Hagar had a prospect of becoming a mother, she began to despise her mistress. Her contempt excited vehement indignation in the breast of Sarah; insomuch that she made Abraham himself also a party in the quarrel, and accused him of encouraging Hagar in her insolence. When Abraham, to vindicate himself, empowered her to use her own discretion with respect to Hagar, she began to retaliate on her contemptuous bond-maid, and to treat her with excessive severity. Thus was domestic harmony interrupted by those very means which Sarah had adopted to increase her happiness. Hagar, unable to bear the unkind treatment of her mistress, fled from her face; and returned to her only in consequence of being commanded to do so by an angel of the Lord [Note: Genesis 16:3-9.]. We cannot suppose that her forced submission was attended with much comfort either to herself or her mistress: where there was no love, there would be found many occasions of vexation and dispute. At last, after about eighteen years, a quarrel arose, which determined Sarah to expel from her family both Hagar and her son. This domestic occurrence is replete with instruction: we propose therefore to make some observations upon,


The history itself—

The expulsion of Hagar and her son, who was now about seventeen years of age, was a strong measure. Let us inquire into,


The grounds and reasons of it—

[Sarah had seen Ishmael mocking Isaac. From the resolution adopted by Sarah in consequence of it, we apprehend, that Ishmael had derided the pretensions of Isaac to inherit his father’s substance. No doubt, Isaac was instructed as early as possible to regard God as his God, and to expect both from his earthly and his heavenly Father the accomplishment of all that God had promised him. Ishmael, on the other hand, would but ill brook the idea of being excluded from the birth-right; and therefore would be ready to dispute Isaac’s title to it. Possibly too the very name Isaac, which signifies laughter, would afford Ishmael many occasions of profane banter. Had this “mocking” been nothing more than idle jest, attended with a foolish pleasure in teasing her child, we take for granted that Sarah would have deemed it sufficient to reprove the fault, and to point out to Ishmael the impropriety of his conduct. But she saw that it proceeded from profaneness; that it argued a rebellious spirit against God; that it would become his daily practice; and that his mother encouraged him in it, glad to avenge in that way the wrongs that she supposed herself to suffer. On these accounts Sarah despaired of accomplishing her ends by correction, and determined to prevent a recurrence of such offences by an immediate and final expulsion of the offenders.]


The manner in which it was carried into execution—

[Sarah, though right in her judgment respecting the means of obtaining domestic peace, seems to have been too precipitate, and too peremptory in her demands for their expulsion: and Abraham demurred about the carrying it into execution. He indeed had different feelings from Sarah. Sarah’s regards were fixed exclusively on Isaac: she did not consider Ishmael as a son, but rather as an intruder, and a rival. But Abraham, being the father of both, felt a paternal affection towards each of them: nor was he indifferent towards Hagar, whom he had considered, and lived with, as a legitimate wife. Perhaps too he suspected that Sarah’s proposal originated in an irritation of temper, and that less severe measures would in a little time satisfy her mind. He was grieved exceedingly at the thought of proceeding to such extremities: but finding how resolutely she was bent upon it, he committed the matter to God, and sought direction from above. God directed him to acquiesce in Sarah’s wishes; and reminded him, that her proposal, however grievous it might be to him, accorded exactly with his repeated declarations, that “in Isaac should his seed be called,” and that all the blessings of the covenant exclusively belonged to him [Note: Genesis 17:19; Genesis 17:21.]. The divine will being thus made known to him, he deferred not to comply with it, but dismissed them early the very next morning. The provision which he gave them for their journey, was not such as might have been expected from a person of his opulence; but we can have no doubt but that he acted in this by the divine direction, and that the mode of their dismission, as well as their dismission itself, was intended for their humiliation and punishment, and probably too for the shewing unto us, that the natural man has no claim upon him for even the most common blessings of his providence. That Hagar and Ishmael were reduced to straits, was owing to their having “wandered” out of their way in the wilderness of Beersheba: had they prosecuted their journey in the direct path to Egypt, where Hagar’s friends were, we take for granted that they would have found their provision adequate to their support.]

Hitherto we have seen nothing but a domestic occurrence: we must next contemplate,


The mystery contained in it—

Here, as in multitudes of other passages, we are entirely indebted to the New-Testament writers for the insight which we have into the meaning of the Old Testament. Here also we see the advantage that is to be derived from the study of the Old-Testament history: since in very many instances the incidents that are recorded, are not mere memoirs of what has passed, but types and shadows of better and more important things. This family quarrel was designed to instruct the whole world; and to shew us,


That the children of promise would always be objects of hatred and contempt to the natural man—

[We should not have ventured to deduce such a position as this from an altercation that took place between two children so many hundred years ago, if an inspired Apostle had not put this very construction upon it. But the disagreements of Cain and Abel, and of Ishmael and Isaac, are recorded on purpose to shew us what is in the heart of man. The principles upon which they acted are common to the whole human race; and will operate in a similar manner whenever circumstances arise to call them forth into action. On this ground we might have formed a reasonable conjecture, that every one who resembled Ishmael, would be hostile to those who resembled Isaac. But the Scriptures supersede all conjecture about the matter: for they affirm, in reference to this very history, that “as then he that was born after the flesh, persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now [Note: Galatians 4:29.].” Indeed the very same things are grounds of offence to the carnal man in this day, as were in the days of Ishmael. He cannot endure that any persons should be marked by God as his favoured and peculiar people. Our blessed Lord says, “Because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you [Note: John 15:19.].” The very name of “saints” and “elect” is as offensive to the world, as that of Isaac was to Ishmael, because it imports a preference in the Father’s estimation of them. Some indeed will say, that there is no persecution in this day: but St. Paul expressly calls Ishmael’s conduct towards Isaac “persecution:” and let it be remembered, that to be mocked and despised by our relations and friends is as bitter persecution, and as difficult to bear, as almost any other injury that men can inflict. The Apostle thought so when he numbered “mockings and scourgings with bonds and imprisonment [Note: Hebrews 11:36.].” And if those who profess religion are not imprisoned and put to death for their adherence to Christ, sure I am that they are mocked and derided as much as in any age; and that, in this sense at least, “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution [Note: 2 Timothy 3:12.].”]


That they alone are members of the true church—

[St. Paul explains this whole history as an allegory [Note: Galatians 3:24-28.]. He tells us that Hagar, the bond-woman, typified the Mosaic covenant entered into at Mount Sinai, which brought forth children in a state of bondage: but Sarah, the free woman, typified the Christian covenant, which brings forth children in a state of liberty. The natural seed of the former represents all who are born after the flesh: the spiritual seed of the latter, that is, the child of promise, represents those who are born after the Spirit. Hence it appears that we must be children of promise, in order to belong to the church of Christ. We must have embraced the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus; we must, “by means of the promises, have been made partakers of a divine nature [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.] ;” and been led by them to “purify ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.].” These things are the inseparable attendants of a spiritual birth; and are therefore necessary to make us real members of the church of Christ. The mere circumstance of being descended from Christian parents, or having received the seal of the Christian covenant, or making a profession of the Christian faith, will not constitute us Christians. St. Paul, in reference to this very history, makes this distinction, and leaves no doubt respecting the truth or importance of it: “All,” says he, “are not Israel, who are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but In Isaac shall thy seed be called: that is, They who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of promise are counted for the seed [Note: Romans 9:6-8.].”]


That they alone shall finally possess their Father’s inheritance—

[Whether there was an undue mixture of warmth in Sarah’s spirit, or not, we are sure that, as far as respected the words that she uttered, she spake by a divine impulse: for St. Paul, quoting her words, says, “What saith the Scripture? Cast out the bond-woman and her son; for the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman [Note: Galatians 4:30.].” And this he declares to be a general sentence; a sentence of expulsion passed on all who remain under the covenant of works, and an exclusive grant of heaven and happiness to the children of promise. It is not the persecuting son only, but the bond-woman herself, the mother, the whole Jewish Church, the collective body of natural and unconverted men, wherever they be, all must be “cast out:” no regard will be shewn either to their privileges or professions: if they live and die in their natural state, they can have no part or lot with the children of God. They only who in this world rested on the promises as the one ground of their hope and joy, shall experience their accomplishment in the world to come. Doubtless, if we may so speak, it will be grievous to our heavenly Father to disinherit so many of his professed children; for he swears that “he has no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he turn from his wickedness and live:” but still his decree is gone forth, and cannot be reversed: we must be living members of Christ’s church below, before we can inherit his kingdom above.]

From this subject we may gather some hints:

For the regulating of the conduct of earthly parents—

[It can scarcely be expected in this state of imperfection, but that disagreements will arise between some individuals of a large family. The imperiousness of a master or mistress, the petulance or idleness of a servant; the severity of a parent, or the forwardness of a child; the want of brotherly kindness in children towards each other; and especially the jealousies which subsist, where either the husband or wife is called to exercise authority over the children of the other by a former marriage; any of these things, I say, may soon produce dissatisfaction, and turn our “laughter” into an occasion of sorrow: nor is this ever more likely to arise, than when a husband and his wife differ in their judgment respecting the mode of conducting themselves towards their children. But in all cases it is desirable to avoid precipitancy and passion. Authority must be maintained by those whose right it is to govern: and when occasion calls for it, correction must be administered. But it should always be grievous to us to proceed to extremities: nor should we ever exercise very severe discipline without having first spread the case before God, and implored his direction and blessing. There is an excessive lenity which is as injurious in its effects as the contrary extreme. We should inquire at all times, “What saith the Scripture?” And, when we have once ascertained the will of God, we should neither come short of it through a foolish fondness, nor exceed it through vehement irritation. There is one thing which above all should be checked with a strong hand; I mean, profaneness. Parents in general are too strongly impressed with things which relate to themselves, and too little affected with what relates to God. But a scoffing at religion, or impiety of any kind, ought to be an object of our heaviest displeasure. And though nothing but the most incorrigible impiety can warrant us to proceed to such extremities as those which were enjoined in the instance before us, yet we do not hesitate to say, that an incurable member should rather suffer amputation, than that all the other members should be incessantly tormented, and the life itself endangered, by its union with the body. Nevertheless we say again, No chastisement should ever be given “for our pleasure,” that is, for the gratification of our spleen or anger, but solely “for the profit” of the individual chastised, and the benefit of all connected with him.]


For the perpetuating of the regards of our heavenly Parent—

[Thanks be to God, we materially differ from Ishmael and Isaac in this, that whereas Ishmael could not become a child of promise, we may: for the Scripture says, “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise [Note: Galatians 3:29.].” Moreover, if we be indeed Christ’s, then shall we never be disinherited: for “he hateth putting away [Note: Malachi 2:16.] ;” nor will he suffer any to “pluck us out of his hands [Note: John 10:28-29.],” or to “separate us from his love [Note: Romans 8:35-39.].” If we offend, he will chastise with suitable severity: but he will not cast off his people [Note: Psalms 89:30-35.]: whom he loveth, he loveth to the end [Note: John 13:1.]. Behold then the way of securing to yourselves the heavenly inheritance; lay hold on the promises, especially “the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus [Note: 2 Timothy 1:1.].” Rely on the promises; plead them at a throne of grace; take them as your portion and your heritage; seek to experience their renovating, cleansing efficacy [Note: See notes h and i.]. Be not satisfied with any outward privileges or professions; but “live the life which you now live in the flesh, entirely by faith on the Son of God, as having loved you, and given himself for you [Note: Galatians 2:20.].” Thus, though “once ye were aliens, and strangers from the covenants of promise, ye shall become fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God [Note: Ephesians 2:19.],” and shall “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world [Note: Matthew 24:34.].”]

Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Genesis 21". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/genesis-21.html. 1832.
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