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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Ha´gar (a stranger), a native of Egypt, and servant of Abraham; but how or when she became an inmate of his family we are not informed. Whatever were her origin and previous history, her servile condition in the family of Abraham must have prevented her from being ever known beyond the limits of her humble sphere, had not her name, by a spontaneous act of her mistress, become indissolubly linked with the patriarch's history. The long continued sterility of Sarah suggested to her the idea (not uncommon in the East) of becoming a mother by proxy through her handmaid, whom, with that view, she gave to Abraham as a secondary wife [ABRAHAM; ADOPTION; CONCUBINAGE].

The honor of such an alliance and elevation was too great and unexpected for the weak and ill-regulated mind of Hagar: and no sooner did she find herself in a delicate situation, which made her, in the prospect of becoming a mother, an object of increasing interest and importance to Abraham, than she openly indulged in triumph over her less favored mistress, and showed by her altered behavior a growing habit of disrespect and insolence. The feelings of Sarah were severely wounded, and she broke out to her husband in loud complaints of the servant's petulance; and Abraham, whose meek and prudent behavior is strikingly contrasted with the violence of his wife, leaves her with unfettered power, as mistress of his household, to take what steps she pleases to obtain the required redress.

Hagar, though taken into the relation of concubine to Abraham, continued still, being a dotal maid-servant, under the absolute power of her mistress, who was neither reluctant nor sparing in making the minion reap the fruits of her insolence. Sarah, indeed, not content with the simple exertion of her authority, seems to have resorted even to corporal chastisement. Sensible, at length, of the hopelessness of getting the better of her mistress, Hagar determined on flight; and having seemingly formed the purpose of returning to her relations in Egypt, she took the direction of that country; which led her to what was afterwards called Shur, through a long tract of sandy uninhabited country, lying on the west of Arabia Petræa, to the extent of 150 miles between Palestine and Egypt. In that lonely region she was sitting by a fountain to replenish her skin-bottle or recruit her wearied limbs, when the angel of the Lord, whose language on this occasion bespeaks him to have been more than a created being, appeared, and in the kindliest manner remonstrated with her on the course she was pursuing, and encouraged her to return by the promise that she would ere long have a son, whom Providence destined to become a great man, and whose wild and irregular features of character would be indelibly impressed on the mighty nation that should spring from him. Obedient to the heavenly visitor, and having distinguished the place by the name of Beer-lahai-roi, 'the well of the visible God,' Hagar retraced her steps to the tent of Abraham, where in due time she had a son; and having probably narrated this remarkable interview to Abraham, that patriarch, as directed by the angel, called the name of the child Ishmael, 'God hath heard.'

Fourteen years had elapsed after the birth of Ishmael when an event occurred in the family of Abraham, by the appearance of the long-promised heir, which entirely changed the prospects of that young man, though nothing materially affecting him took place till the weaning of Isaac, which, as is generally thought, was at the end of his third year. Ishmael was then a lad of seventeen years of age; and being fully capable of understanding his altered relations to the inheritance, as well as having felt perhaps a sensible diminution of Sarah's affection towards him, it is not wonderful that a disappointed youth should inconsiderately give vent to his feelings on a festive occasion, when the newly-weaned child, clad according to custom with the sacred symbolic robe, which was the badge of the birthright, was formally installed heir of the tribe. The harmony of the weaning feast was disturbed by Ishmael being discovered mocking. This conduct gave mortal offence to Sarah, who from that moment would be satisfied with nothing short of his irrevocable expulsion from the family; and as his mother also was included in the same condemnation, there is ground to believe that she had been repeating her former insolence, as well as instigating her son to his improprieties of behavior. So harsh a measure was extremely painful to the affectionate heart of Abraham; but his scruples were removed by the timely appearance of his divine counselor, who said, 'Let it not be grievous in thy sight, because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman: in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice.' The incident affords a very remarkable instance of an overruling Providence in making this family feud in the tent of a pastoral chief 4000 years ago the occasion of separating two mighty nations, who, according to the prophecy, have ever since occupied an important chapter in the history of man. Hagar and Ishmael departed early on the day fixed for their removal, Abraham furnishing them with the necessary supply of traveling provisions.

In spite of their instructions for threading the desert, the two exiles missed their way. Overcome by fatigue and thirst, increasing at every step under the unmitigated rays of a vertical sun, the strength of the young Ishmael, as was natural, first gave way, and his mother laid him down in complete exhaustion under one of the stunted shrubs of this arid region, in the hope of his obtaining some momentary relief from smelling the damp in the shade. The burning fever, however, continued unabated, and the poor woman, forgetting her own sorrow, destitute and alone in the midst of a wilderness, and absorbed in the fate of her son, withdrew to a little distance, unable to witness his lingering sufferings; and there 'she lifted up her voice and wept.' In this distressing situation the angel of the Lord appeared for the purpose of comforting her, and directed her to a fountain, which, concealed by the brushwood, had escaped her notice, and from which she drew a refreshing draught, that had the effect of reviving the almost lifeless Ishmael.

Of the subsequent history of Ishmael we have no account, further than that he established him self in the wilderness of Paran, in the neighborhood of Sinai, was married by his mother to a countrywoman of her own, and maintained both himself and family by the produce of his bow.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Hagar'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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