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.
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.