IVP - Strangely Dim - His Eye Is on the Donkey

October 13, 2008

His Eye Is on the Donkey

We continue our second fortnight of donkey tales with a bird's eye view of a donkey's mother.
The angel of the LORD . . . said to [Hagar]:
       "You are now with child
       and you will have a son.
       You shall name him Ishmael,
       for the LORD has heard of your misery.
He will be a wild donkey of a man;
       his hand will be against everyone
       and everyone's hand against him,
       and he will live in hostility
       toward all his brothers."
She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me." (Genesis 16:11-13)
I've always felt a certain amount of solidarity with Hagar and her son Ishmael. They're perhaps not the first but maybe the most innocent outsiders in the Scriptures--certainly the ones we are led to feel the most sympathy for.
We're meant to identify with Hagar's master, actually. Abram is our ultimate patriarch, through whom all nations would be blessed. But we go on to watch him endlessly maneuver and manipulate in ways that are embarrassing to his legacy. Kings such as the Pharaoh of Egypt suffer his schemes, servants such as Hagar suffer his exploitation, and his own son suffers his neglect.
In this scene we find Hagar chased out into the desert, with Abram's tacit approval, by the wife of her unborn child's father. In the desert, alone, she is unseen and unheard by anyone. And yet God sees and hears her, and intervenes into her situation.
Maybe a bit too much for Hagar's liking, actually, because God sends her back to the place she's just escaped. God sees clearly enough to know that while Hagar is among the more innocent outsiders in the canon of Scripture, she's by no means guiltless. We learned prior to this scene that she showed some disdain for her boss, Sarai, perhaps vainly imagining that bearing Abram a son would make him love her and forsake his wife. Or she was grasping at a fortune she naively expected to be hers. Or maybe she had simply taken enough abuse from her masters and lashed back with the little ammunition she had been given: Ishmael, the unpromised son of Abram.
No, Hagar needs to go back. It's not clear why; although we'll learn that Ishmael is important theologically, he doesn't play a significant role in the story that ensues, and Hagar is ultimately chased away again, this time with God's blessing and provision. But she is sent back, recognizing that, if nothing else, she has at least been seen and heard by God.
She doesn't go back alone, however; God sends her back with a gift as well. She will soon bear a son who will grow to be "a wild donkey of a man," not cut out for the life of servitude she's lived to date. This is Abram's son and will complicate matters for our beloved patriarch and his child of promise, but it's a good reminder to all of us that there is more going on in the world than what directly concerns us.
We will learn eventually that, although Ishmael is by no means guiltless and most likely will suffer lifelong daddy issues you wouldn't believe, he himself will become a patriarch of a great nation. Ishmael inherits from his father and mother the moxie and toughness of a wild donkey, and while we won't be privy to the adventures that await him, we trust that he'll be able to bear any burden under the watchful eye of a God who sees him.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at October 13, 2008 7:50 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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