Genesis 16 begins with Sarah distraught over her inability to bear children. God had promised that Abraham would be the father of a great multitude—even that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the heaven (Genesis 15:5). And one more thing: God told Abraham that his heir would come forth from his own body (Genesis 14).
But time had passed and Sarah began to despair she would ever bear a child. Struggling with having to walk by faith and not by sight, she did what we are often tempted to do: she took matters into her own hands. She insisted that Abraham have a child with her maidservant, Hagar. But when it became obvious that Hagar had conceived, the relationship between Sarah and Hagar soured (verse 5), resulting in Sarah sending Hagar away.
Verse 7 picks up with Hagar stranded in the wilderness. She was destitute and utterly alone. It is in this difficult spot the Lord showed up to Hagar. And He posed an interesting two-part question to her: “…where have you come from and where are you going?” Hagar could answer the first part of the question but not second. But both her response and her non-response were troubling. As far as where she came from, verse 8 tells us that she saw herself as “fleeing from Sarah.” As far as where she was going, she had no idea! What an incredibly difficult place to be! She was hemmed in by fear. She had no place to go and no place safe to return. And she was with child!
But the Lord gave her direction when she was aimless and He gave her a promise for her future when she was hopeless. He told her she would have a child (which she knew) and that she would bear a son (which she did not know). And He instructed Hagar to name him Ishmael.
God has a purpose behind everything He does. And so He did with Ishmael. The name Ishmael means, “God hears.” The Lord said, “You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has given heed to your affliction.”
What a gift of God to Hagar! And I don’t just mean the gift of a son, but his very name. From the moment he was born, every time Hagar called her son she would be reminded of how God listens to her. Can you imagine it? Every time she called his name she would be making a statement of faith, “God hears me!”
Oh that I may be an Ishmael for those I know and interact with! That when they call me, when they think if me, whenever I am with them, they would be reminded of God’s care and concern for their lives. It’s really not an unrealistic aspiration. For when we practice the art of listening we take a significant step of growth in that direction. May your listening ministry this week be as one who belongs to “the God who hears.”
Prayer: Heavenly Father, may I listen to others with such care that they would feel as if they are being heard by you.