Hagar's Wilderness Sojourn

Genesis 21:15-21

Paul Lindemulder

Aimless, pointless, goalless: all describe the nature of the serpent seed's sojourn. Hagar has been exiled from the covenant home and is to seek refuge under the common-curse sun. With her son Ishmael, Hagar possesses no place to go but to dwell under the common curse of the sun. This narrative declares that there is a difference between the serpent seed's sojourn and the Abrahamite sojourn. The covenant community lives in light of consummation glory, but the Hagarite lives by Qoheleth's common curse proclamation—"Vanity of vanities all is vanity."

Hagar's Situation

Hagar sits center stage with her child, and there is no food and water. Hagar has now come to the end of her journey. She has been sent away from the covenant community, and now her life has come to an end. This is not a joyful ending, but a morbid ending as Hagar can only place her child under the comfortless shade and wait for their death under the sun. This appears to be their future: journey, dehydration, and then death.

The last scene was quiet, as Ishmael's master disowned him in a silent ceremony. Remember Abraham, the master, woke Hagar up, handed her food and water, and then handed her Ishmael. The child is banished and sent away. Abraham set the solemn tone of the last narrative as he quietly banished this family to the wilderness away from the covenant home to dwell under the sun (Gen. 21:9-21).

The ceremony is over and now we hear the voice of Hagar. "Do not let me see the boy die!" she cries. But who is listening? She is now confronted with the meaninglessness of her life under the sun. The new Cain vagrant-wandering family is confronted with what it means to live under the common curse as Hagar sits a bowshot away from her child. She can only see and hear her son take his last few dying breaths in the comfortless shade. To her, existence is but life ending in a meaningless death. In truth, there is little that can be done to alleviate the common curse.

There is nothing that this mother can do as we hear her sobs of pain. This wilderness living is a curse under the sun culminating in death. This mother finds no refuge under the common curse, and she is an example of what the preacher says in Ecclesiastes, "Vanity of vanities….Vanity of vanities! All is Vanity" (Ecc. 1:2). Hagar's wilderness sojourn provides us with a description of life radically different from the Abrahamic wilderness sojourn. The former is characterized by death and despair, but the latter is marked by life and hope.

Hagar's Comfort

The Angel of the Lord speaks to Hagar again. The Angel of the Lord spoke to her in chapter 16 and told her to return to Sarah. But that is not the case at this point in Hagar's life. He reminds her of what he said in chapter 16 about this child, "Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son; and you shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has given heed to your affliction" (v. 12). This child she carried in her womb has now come to fruition. She is not called to go back to the covenant community, but now she is called to look to this child. She is called to look to the child who will be a wild ass of a man (16:12). This wild ass of a man is to be her strength in the wilderness sojourn. The Lord has not forgotten what he has stated, but rather he reminds and unfolds for Hagar what has already been said previously in the history of the covenant.

The Angel of the Lord proceeds to make a declaration about this boy. The promise that was spoken to Abraham as he was told to send this serpent seed anti-covenant family away is now told to Hagar. The Angel of the Lord who intrudes into history now tells Hagar that this child will become a great nation. This child who is dehydrated, this child from whom Hagar sits a bow shot away, this child that she watches die in the meaningless wilderness experience will not die now, and his life will be prolonged. The boy is not Isaac, but this boy is merely a temporary provision in this life. Hagar is not turned to the reality of what Isaac pointed to; she is only pointed to her son. This son, to whom she has given birth, will not win anything of eternal substance for her, but only a temporary name under the sun. Hagar is called to look to this child (who mocked the covenant community), but not beyond this child to provide life for her.

The Lord now points Hagar's focus away from this boy and points her attention to the well of water that is before her. The Lord opens her eyes and she sees the well. She notices a well that had been covered, a well for temporary provision. The Angel of the Lord (pre-incarnate Christ) does not call this woman to look to eschatological resurrection-life, rather he calls her attention to the temporary provision of the well that is before her. This is not like the woman at the well in John whose attention is turned from the city of man to Christ the king. This slave woman's attention is turned only to this well, this temporary provision of life under the common curse.

Hagar is not pointed to the true giver of eternal life. She is not pointed to a true immortal name, but to Ishmael, a name that will last as long as the city of man, a name that is associated with a wild ass.

Hagar's Future

We observe that Hagar and her descendants will be against the people of Isaac. She also serves to anticipate a major event in the history of redemption. Hagar is a precursor for the exodus of Israel—Isaac's line and Abraham's family. Hagar is the slave woman who is oppressed by Sarah and then driven away. Hagar, like Moses, is asked to leave a family. Hagar leads the Ishmaelites. Moses leads Israel. Hagar needs water; God intrudes and opens her eyes to see a well. Moses needs water; God intervenes and makes the water sweet. Hagar settles in the desert of Paran. Moses camps in Paran (Num. 12:16).

Hagar's life anticipates Israel's exodus event (the Abrahamites if you will). The fundamental distinction is that Hagar's exodus is not the same exodus as Moses', but a satanic serpent exodus for the city of man. This is anti-redemption! Hagar is the one who is sent out of the covenant home. She is sent out because she has mocked the covenant of grace through her son.1 Unlike the serpent in the garden who is listened to and allowed to speak, Hagar is sent away speechless, representing the new serpent people sent away by a typological second Adam. The mother is then confronted with the meaningless existence of life when one is apart from the covenant of grace. Thus, this is really no exodus in terms of redemption and freedom from bondage; rather this is freedom from the covenant into the bondage of a meaningless existence under the common-curse sun.

Israel's exodus is a fundamentally different experience than Hagar's exodus. They are under the oppression of the serpent people. Israel is led through a temporary time of suffering and then they are brought to their typological heaven, Canaan. Thus the exodus of Israel leads to a goal. There is a time of suffering; then there is deliverance culminating in rest. Hagar's exodus drives her away from the covenant people. Hagar's exodus does not lead to a goal, only a meaningless existence under the common curse.

Hagar needs a new identity to soften the pain of her satanic exodus anti-redemptive event. Hagar now moves from slave woman to the mother and head of a great nation. Hagar is the one who finds the wife for her child. She is head of the nation as she takes on the role of a father in finding a wife for the child. According to custom, it is the father who is to find the wife, but Hagar takes the responsibility. Hagar, the Egyptian, wants to find a mate from the Egyptian people. She does not want her line to intermarry with the seed of the woman. So she finds an Egyptian spouse and takes on the role of the father. Thus she becomes the mocker of the family arrangement in the common grace situation in which she finds herself. She is the mother and father of this nation. There is no need for Abraham to find a wife for her child; Hagar can do just fine on her own!

Hagar does not look into any family line; she looks into the Egyptian line. This child is to be a super-oppressor of Israel. This mother wants this child to marry into her line. He is the one whose lineage will move from petty mocking to serpent-warrior oppressor. He will be the father of a great nation. His lineage is with the Egyptian line that will oppress and enslave the Israelites. He will use this temporary time under common grace curse in his meaningless existence to persecute the covenant people of God and then die.

Ishmael is not going to wait patiently for the future. No! this man has more pride and dignity than that; this man is going to be the mighty warrior against the people of God and God himself. This child picks up his war bowthe war bow that God temporarily lays down after the flood (Gen. 9:13). This child, as he is becoming man, is beginning here to fulfill his role as the wild-ass-serpent-warrior people. He will move from hunting animals to hunting the people of God. It is God who has provided for him and suspended his death in the wilderness. Now this child picks up the war bow as if to initiate holy war with God and his people. Indeed the seed of the serpent is presumptuous with God's longsuffering and provision for the common grace reprobate.

This anti-covenant family is the one which undergoes little change. They begin in the wilderness about to die, and the narrative ends with them still in the wilderness. There is really nothing that has changed. They have just been revived and their death sentence is put off a little while longer. This suspension has allowed a little transition in the narrative. Instead of Hagar sitting a bow shot away, this child picks up his bow. Then Hagar takes the old water skin that is empty in the beginning of the narrative and fills it again. In the beginning they are weak; now they are refreshed. But they are refreshed for what? Refreshed for a longer meaningless existence to face the wrath of God? Refreshed with no security or goal or purpose except to initiate holy war with God who preserved them?

This anti-covenant people had time to repent, but they are exiled from the covenant home at the command of God. It is God and God alone who has guided and revived this family. He has allowed this anti-Israel people to exist, and he has raised them up. God alone sustains the reprobate for his purposes. We see from this narrative that God is playing an eschatological chess game, initiated in time in Genesis 3:15. The battle and the final future victory are declared in the first gospel. It is God who is moving and orchestrating each piece until the final consummation. The serpent seed is so ignorant and arrogant that it does not see that in each stage of the game, it has been in checkmate. It is God who revives this family and raises up the challenger for his new creatures, his typological second-Adam people. It is God who brings about victory through his typological second Adam, Abraham. It is Abraham who (unlike the first Adam) sent the serpent seed into the wilderness. This is why God can tell Abraham that his descendants will be enslaved. God has decreed the future and therefore knows the future. God also knows the final resting place for his people. It is not Canaan, but Heaven—the reality for the type. God knows the outcome of the battle before that outcome arrives in history.

As we see the history of the covenant unfold, we notice that it appears at various times as if the serpent-seed gains the upper hand. This is only a mere appearance because we know that God never loses control or allows the serpent-reprobate-people to win. At the time of the Egyptians, Israel is in bondage to the anti-Israel-Ishmaelite people. It is the Lord who delivers his people and brings them through the water ordeal of the Red Sea and crushes the serpent army under the forces of the water. His people are declared his righteous people as they are delivered through this ordeal. There is another time when it appears the serpent has won—Christ on the cross crying out, "My God my God why have you forsaken me?" Christ cries out on the cross when he faces the full existential horror of the reprobates' meaningless existence. Three days later he is raised from the dead. He passes the ordeal of death. It appears that the serpent has won, but Christ is declared the righteous Son of God by conquering death. This is a vindication and pardon for his people and a declaration of final consummation judgment against the reprobate.

It is Christ who has secured your eternal existence for you. It is Christ who gives you his confirmation spirit, the Holy Spirit, as a downpayment for the life to come. You now begin to taste that life spiritually as you are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. Look to Christ knowing that your wilderness experience is not like Hagar's. You are not given a temporary provision of water, the temporary promise of being a great nation, but you have the eternal land of Heaven. Your paradigm is not suffering and then facing the horror of hell, but your paradigm is suffering and then glory. Your good shepherd who allows the reprobate to exist under common grace for a time is leading you now. Your Good Shepherd is leading you and has secured for you all that you are and all that you possess. Look to Christ, your Good Shepherd !

Covenant United Reformed Church

Fresno, California


1 Genesis 21:9-21 shows that Hagar has her identity in her son. She does not rebuke Ishmael for his wicked act. Therefore she participates by not preventing or stopping his mockery of Isaac.