God had promised Abraham’s childless wife, Sarah, *that she would finally bear a child*, even though she was ninety and Abraham was one hundred. And so Sarah did finally bear a child, a baby boy whom the proud father, Abraham, named Isaac.
Sarah was so happy at finally being a mother that she said, “God has given me a good reason to laugh, and everyone who hears me laugh will laugh with me”.
“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha” laughed Sarah. Immediately she heard all around her lots of other “ha ha ha’s” which came from the people throughout the town who had heard Sarah’s infectious laughter.
After her laughter had subsided, Sarah said, “Who would have told Abraham that Sarah would suckle children. Me, an old woman of ninety? Ha ha ha ha ha ha . Yet I’ve borne him a son for his old age, and mine too. Ha ha ha ha ha ha……..”.
Isaac began to grow, and was weaned. To celebrate the weaning, Abraham gave a feast. Among the invitees was Hagar the Egyptian slave-woman *who had borne Abraham’s other son, Ishmael.* Ishmael was at the feast too, but didn’t behave particularly well, for he kept laughing at his half-brother, Isaac. This made Sarah so furious that she said to Abraham, “Drive out this slave-woman and her son. I’m simply not having him sharing Isaac’s inheritance from you when you die.”
This didn’t make Abraham happy at all, for Ishmael was, after all, his son. But God, seeing Abraham’s disquiet, said to him, “Don’t worry on account of Ishmael and Hagar. Just do what Sarah says, for you will have descendants through Isaac.”
“Isaac’s not the son I’m worrying about” said Abraham, “I’m more worried about Ishmael.”
“Let me finish” said God. “You will have descendants through Ishmael too. Feel better now?”
Early the following morning Abraham took some food and a waterskin full of water to Hagar.
“What’s this for?” said Hagar.
“It’s for your journey” said Abraham, whereupon he picked Ishmael up and put him on Hagar’s shoulder.
“Off you both go now” said Abraham.
Hagar, with Ishmael on her shoulder, set off for Beersheba, whose wilderness she wandered around in. Being hot and arid there, it wasn’t too long before Hagar and Ishmael had consumed all their food and water. Hagar put Ishmael under a bush to get him out of the hot sun. She sat down some two bowshots away and said, “How can I watch my child die?” Then she began weeping.
Luckily for Hagar, God heard her weeping. He summoned an angel to find out what the matter was.
“Yoohoo, Hagar” called down the angel “I’m an angel from God. Can I help you with anything?”
Hagar explained her predicament. Then the angel said, “Get to your feet, lift Ishmael up and hold him in your arms, because God will make of him a great nation.”
“You’re being elliptical” said Hagar. “Explain what you mean.”
“What I mean”, said the angel “is that Ishmael and his descendants, which is to say his sons, grandsons, great-grandsons, and all their descendants, no matter over how many generations, will constitute a new great nation. God has decreed this. What God says, goes.”
“I see” said Hagar.
Then God, through the agency of the angel, caused a well full of water to appear before Hagar. She thought it a mirage, but when she was able to fill her waterskin with water from the well, and to give it to Ishmael to drink, she realised the well was no mirage and that God had done a miraculous thing.
Ishmael spent his boyhood in the wilderness of Paran, in the Negeb Desert. When he grew up he became, for reasons best known to himself, an archer. Ishmael wished also for a wife, but couldn’t find someone suitable to marry from among the local Paranian girls, for, as mere desert girls, they were too insular in outlook for his tastes. Ishmael – the child of a mixed marriage, having a Babylonian-born but Hebrew father, and an Egyptian mother – was innately a cosmopolitan, and so wished in a wife someone as cosmopolitan as he.
While growing up, Ishmael had been told by Hagar time and time again about how socially and politically advanced her native Egypt was, compared with the primitive Hebrew society in which she and Ishmael had been forced to live. From the lips of Hagar, the young Ishmael learned of Egypt’s cities, temples and elaborate burial sites; and of Egypt’s sophisticated theology and religion; and of Egypt’s complex economic system that regulated trade and commerce throughout its empire.
No wonder, then, that Ishmael concluded that the pool of available Egyptian girls was the best source from which to find a wife.
So Ishmael said to Hagar, “Mother, seeing as you are Egyptian, do you think you can find me an intelligent, sophisticated and beautiful Egyptian girl for me to marry?”
“I’m glad you asked, Ishmael” said Hagar, “for I was becoming worried that, in your desperation, you might betray your glorious heritage on my side, and settle for one of these local desert girls to be your wife. Not that most aren’t fine girls in their own way, don’t get me wrong. But they are below your station. Yes, Ishmael, I’ll gladly find you an intelligent, sophisticated and beautiful Egyptian girl to marry, for there are so many in my beloved Egypt, from where I was taken as a young girl and sold into slavery.”
To cut a long story short, Hagar was able to find as a wife for Ishmael, an Egyptian girl who met all his requirements.
– Genesis 21, 1-21