“His Eye is on the Sparrow”
Rev. Caesar J. David of Union Park United Methodist Church, Des Moines, Iowa
- Genesis 21:8-21
As we read the story of Abraham in the Bible, it’s like an intricately woven drama. I don’t know what kind of drama you might enjoy on television, but the one that unfolds here is of the kind that keeps you glued and instructed.
Just to give you a recap of what happened in Abraham’s life in the period we’re studying, here’s what happened.
Abraham’s story began with his call, when his name was Abram. God told Abram, “Now Yahweh said to Abram, “Get out of your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you” (12:1-3). God’s promise to make of Abram a great nation implies that Abram will have a legitimate heir.
Abram (later Abraham) was 75 years old at the time of his departure from Haran (12:4). He was married to Sarai (later Sarah), but they had no children—and at their age they had no reason (except God’s promise that he would make of Abram a great nation) to believe that they would ever have a child.
Later, God said, “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” But Abram said, “Lord, what will you give me, since I go childless, and he who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” (15:1-2). God responded, “This man will not be your heir, but he who will come out of your own body will be your heir. Look now toward the sky, and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your seed be” (15:4-5). This promise is very specific. Abram will have a child—a legitimate heir.
But Sarai, in anguish because she had been unable to bear children for Abram, told him to go in to her slave-girl, Hagar, so that Hagar might bear a child for him (16:2). (This is where Hagar enters the picture). She had grown weary of waiting for God to keep his promise to Abram, and felt a need to take matters in her own hands. Abram did as she asked, and Hagar conceived a child.
Hagar then began to look with contempt on Sarai, who complained bitterly to Abram (16:5). Abram told Sarai to do as she would with Hagar, and Sarai acted so harshly that Hagar ran away into the wilderness (16:6). An angel found her there and told her that she would bear a son who would have so many descendants that they could not be counted. The angel told her to name her son Ishmael (Hebrew: yismael -”God hears”).
Abraham was 86 years old when Ishmael was born to him, and 100 years old when Isaac was born. This means that Ishmael was 14 years old when Isaac was born.
Sarah is angry that they were playing (as equals). Some scholars say that the teenager Ishmael was mocking or taunting or teasing toddler Isaac.
Whether provoked by innocent play or spiteful mocking, Sarah demands that Abraham do something about it. What is her idea? To cast out Hagar and Ishmael. Yes, to throw them out of the house. They’re left to face a harsh wilderness environment. At best, they will suffer deprivation. At worst, they will die.
I want to focus on 3 characters here – Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael. I see these things happening to these characters. They happen to us even today. And we can look at them to draw our strength and comfort that God loves us even though people can’t or won’t.
1. A man (Abraham) who is unable to provide for or take care of his child.
2. A woman (Hagar) who felt used and was cast aside.
3. A child (Ishmael) who felt rejected and unloved.
1. Abraham – A man who is unable to provide for or take care of his child.
Let’s look at Abraham first. Abraham loves Ishmael, and does not want to dismiss him and his mother. He also has a responsibility to his son—and to Hagar, for that matter. “The thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight on account of his son” (v. 11).
Like Abraham who had to drive out Hagar, there are some amongst us who aren’t able to take care of their families for several reasons. There’s no denying that some may not be taking their responsibilities as fathers seriously because they just don’t care, or are selfish, but there are several that are also victims of circumstances. In many cases, others have stepped in to play the role of fathers (by adoption or other ways of caring and love) in our lives and we should be grateful for God’s provision – like God Himself provided for Hagar and Ishmael
God assures Abraham that God will make a nation of the son of the handmaid Hagar also. (“I will also make a nation of the son of the handmaid, because he is your seed” – v. 13).
2. Hagar – A woman who felt used and was cast aside.
Let’s look at Hagar next.
Hagar who is an Egyptian slave girl who is unwittingly brought into the drama of the story. When Hagar is thrown out into the wilderness to fend for herself and her child, I want you to imagine how she must have felt.
• Wanting to die but needing to live for her boy
Have you felt like that? Used and cast aside?
It’s more prevalent than we’d like to admit: Fathers working hard and providing for their families can feel unappreciated and used when their family only looks to him for the provision but doesn’t care for what he has to get through to keep the bread on the table. He may wonder if the family even cares for him as long as he brings home the bacon.
Today is father’s day. With a special focus on fathers, please spare a thought for the fathers who have, and who do even now, sacrifice so much for the family with no concern for themselves, hiding their own desires or pains and being satisfied to see a smile on the family members’ faces. If you’re fortunate to have your father with you, spare a thought for your father, spare some time to let your father know how much you love him and appreciate what he does.
It’s not only the men folk. Sometimes, the woman of the house is busy taking care of the house – husband and children – caring for their needs and the needs of the home to the exclusion of her own and gets taken for granted, and she may feel used.
Don’t let your loved ones feel used! Express your love and appreciation!
Hagar was cast out by people that used her. She must be feeling worthless and insignificant. She’s sitting in the wilderness away from her son because she knows that they’re both going to die, and she cannot bear to see her son die. At that time, when no one cared for Hagar, when no one cared whether she and her son lived or died, when no help was available, God answers her helpless cry!
Genesis 21:17 And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.
God provided water for Hagar and her son. He didn’t let them perish in the wilderness. God especially loves those that are cast out and cast aside – The Bible mentions these categories of people very often – widows, orphans, strangers, foreigners. Even in the ministry of Jesus we clearly see that God has a special concern for those that are used and/or tossed aside by society.
3. Ishmael – The child who was felt unwanted and rejected.
Thirdly we take a look at Ishmael who must have felt so unloved, unwanted and rejected. What a horrible feeling! He was, from his own perspective and experience, rejected by his father and driven out of a place he called home for more than 15 years. For what fault of Ishmael, was he thrown out to die?
I think he is like millions of people today who seem to have no exceptional beauty or skill or all those things that the world loves to glorify and admire. I wonder if sometimes our children have these feelings of self-doubt when, because of parental and societal pressure to perform, they may find that they don’t seem to measure up to expectations of them, and may experience rejection or even conditional love. I’m also wondering about the many categories of people who face such violent attitudes and made to feel like they don’t belong, like they’re not wanted, like they’re not fit to live, and no one would care if they do or don’t.
People may not care for us, but God does. God saved Ishmael and his mother that day and blessed him also. (Genesis 21:18 “Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”). Ishmael grows up under divine protection, becomes an
expert bowman, marries an Egyptian woman, has twelve children and becomes the father of a great nation himself just as God promised.
From all of this we must feel comforted and assured that God cares for us. God loves us. Say: “God loves me”. That’s the affirmation we need to keep making because we all go through these times when we feel that the world is a cruel place. People’s love, no matter how close we are, even within the family, has limitations. Sometimes, people may love us, want to help us, but may not be able to, for many reasons.
Our New Testament reading from Matthew 10, although relating mainly to the context of persecution, gives us this important indication of Gods’ love: that we are valuable, we are precious in His sight. That passage says that God values even the sparrows that are sold five for a penny, how much more must God value us! Like that beautiful song says:
I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
for his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.
There is another beautiful expression to prove how intimately God knows us and cares for us. Matthew 10:30 says, “Even the hairs on your head” are counted!
The message is not just about nations and tribes; it’s about people, about individuals, about us. We need to know that God sees the limitations of a father, the tears of an outcast woman and an abandoned child. We need to know that God hears us when we feel forsaken, forgotten, confined, unloved, unwanted and rejected.
People may use us or disappoint us, but God will always love you.
Let me end with this beautiful verse from Isaiah 49:15 which shows how much God loves you. It says “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”