So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba. And the water in the skin was used up, and she placed the boy under one of the shrubs. Then she went and sat down across from him at a distance of about a bowshot; for she said to herself, “Let me not see the death of the boy.” So she sat opposite him, and lifted her voice and wept. Genesis 21:14-16
What’s Wrong with This Picture
There is something bizarre going on here. Previously we learned that Isaac was born to Sarah. When Isaac was about three years old, God tells Abraham to send his other son Ishmael away. Abraham obeys and sends Ishmael and Hagar off into the desert—with a loaf of bread and a bottle of water. The question is, ‘Why would Abraham, a wealthy man, send away Ishmael (who he loved dearly), with such meager provisions? It does not make sense.
Perhaps Abraham was merely demonstrating his faith by trusting in God for His provision rather than trying to do a work in his own flesh…again. Maybe Abraham was taking God’s promise at face value and saw no need to panic. It could also be that Abraham fully recognized that Ishmael was a work of his flesh and was prophetically illustrating this New Testament precept from Romans 13:14…
Make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
Maybe Abraham somehow knew that Ishmael and Hagar (his mom) would come to symbolize the Law and bondage associated with Mount Sinai (where the Law was given to Moses) and that he was to reckon himself dead to the law. It could be these things or it could just be that Abraham was oblivious to them and was just responding to what he did know.
What Abraham Knew
And it came to pass at that time that Abimelech and Phichol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, “God is with you in all that you do. Now therefore, swear to me by God that you will not deal falsely with me, with my offspring, or with my posterity; but that according to the kindness that I have done to you, you will do to me and to the land in which you have dwelt.” And Abraham said, “I will swear.” Then Abraham rebuked Abimelech because of a well of water which Abimelech’s servants had seized. Genesis 21:22-25
When I first read this interaction between Abraham and King Abimelech, I was confused. Why was it here? Then it clicked—the fact that Ishmael almost died in the desert was not Abrahams fault, but Abimelech’s. Abraham had not sent his son into the desert to die, but with ample provision, for he knew there was a wellspring there (that he owned). What he did not know [then] was that Abimelech stole it.
Now it makes sense why Abimelech comes to Abraham with flattery and an agenda. He obviously learned that God spoke to Hagar from Heaven and about the promise He made to her regarding Ishmael and the great nation he would become. Knowing that he had seized Ishmael’s (Abraham’s) well must have sent an icy shiver down his spine. This is why Abimelech can say with confidence, “God is with you in all you do, ” and also why Abraham can see right through his ploy.
This is precisely the point where I would have likely blown it. Abraham, having the upper hand, has an occasion to prosper on the heels of Abimilech’s error, but instead chooses the higher road. Abraham opts for humility and rather then glory in Abimelech’s downfall, he exhibits both wisdom and charity, creating an original way to worship his Everlasting God, El Olam.