After Sarah witnesses Ishmael mocking her son Isaac, she tells her husband Abraham to cast out the bondwoman, Hagar, and her son. Abraham is distraught over the notion, after all, Ishmael is his son, too. Ishmael is about 17 years old when this event occurs, so he has lived in his father’s household a long time. Yet it has become apparent that there is no way for Ishmael and Isaac, not to mention their mothers, to live peacefully together in one household.
Genesis 21:14 tells us:
“And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.”
Years earlier, Hagar had left Abraham’s house voluntarily after a dispute between her and Sarah (Genesis 16:6). She had fled from her mistress and encountered the Angel of the Lord at the well of Beer-lahai-roi. This time is different. This time she is banished from the home, sent away through no choice of her own. She and her son Ishmael are given a little bread and a skin of water, and then sent away. God finds her once again, desperate and near a well of water. But unlike Beer-lahai-roi, Hagar does not see the well this time. She and Ishmael have reached the point of dehydration and she resolves herself to the idea that they will simply die of thirst in a barren land.
“Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” (John 4:10)
This scene of Hagar and Ishmael in the desert is absolutely rich with spiritual imagery. It reminds us of a parallel instance where a desperate woman encountered God at a well; a Samaritan woman who came to draw water from Jacob’s well in John 4. This woman saw the well of water, but she didn’t see the Well of Living Water Who sat upon it. She, too, was”dying from thirst”, albeit a spiritual thirst that brought spiritual death. Like Hagar, the Samaritan woman’s eyes had to be opened to see the Well of life-giving water, a Well that was there all along.
“Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:13-14)
Hagar and Ishmael carried with them into the barren desert a source of water of their own. But, alas, it was not enough. For our own sources of water shall always run empty and must be refilled. Yet like Hagar, the time comes when we are at the end of our own resources, when we must admit that we do not have anymore on which to rely. In desperation we fall to the ground, waiting for the embrace of death to finally bring an end to our hopelessness. But we, too, lie next to a Well that we cannot see, dying of thirst when the Well of Living water is nigh unto us. And we will never see it until the Spirit of God opens our own eyes and leads us to it.
It is no coincidence, in my opinion, that Genesis 21 ends with the account of another well, a well of which Abraham has had taken from him (v. 25). We have seen the great need of Hagar and Ishmael, the poor outcasts, for the Well of Living Water. Now we see that Abraham, the wealthy and successful man, has just as great of need for it. Rich, poor, man, woman, well-fed, hungry, confident, desperate: it makes no difference what condition we find ourselves in, our need for the Lord Jesus Christ is ever-present. Hagar could not live without the Well of Water, neither could Abraham. The Lord Jesus is ever-accessible to even the outcast and downtrodden, and He is ever-necessary for even the rich and mighty.