Faith Recovered (Freedom Sunday)

Published: Monday, 16 October 2017

This interview was given on 15 October 2017 by Megan Barnett-Smith and Keren McClelland. It is the tenth in our series on Abraham and Sarah.

Small group questions/highlights in BOLD and articles/videos to look up...

K: This morning I really want us to look at some themes in this passage through a different person’s eyes. So I thought I’d interview Megan who came to me a few months back wanting to do a service on International Justice Mission (IJM). Megan has been part of the ABC community for a few years now. She has done Law/Arts (indigenous studies) and a Masters in community development.

A few years ago, ABC supported Lisa C (part of the Thursday night GROW/Hub community) when she went to Uganda working on the project shown in this video. She is now working in Sydney as a legal associate for the Chief Justice of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. In her new job she is looking at writing the court training manual for IJM in Uganda. (Lisa’s grandparents were foundation members of Ashburton Baptist Church 80 years ago.)

Watch video of IJM Uganda

We are nearly at the end of this series on Abraham! 

El Elyon (God most High), Adonai/YHWH, El Roi (God of seeing), El Shaddai (Almighty God), and today... El Olam (everlasting God, 7 x 7…)

Let me encourage you to keep open the text of Genesis 21 in front of you. 


Last week, Tri talked about how different stories had been woven together. There is a contrast between being host to guests or migrants in a hostile environment… the guilt of the city of Sodom were their treatment of foreigners.

In chapter 20 Abraham is back to being a migrant, and he tricks Abimelech just like he had Pharaoh in chapter 16. Just like Pharaoh, Abimelech sends Abraham and Sarah away with wealth and an invitation to the land…

The years pass on and the promised child is born to Sarah and Abraham: Isaac!
To mark his transition from baby to young boy Abraham organises a party.
This should be the day of celebration.

Read through Genesis 21: 8-24, noting phrases/details to chase up later...

The child (Isaac) grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 

But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian (Ishmael), whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac.

So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”

The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy  and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. 

As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” 

So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. 

And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 

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. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

At that time Abimelech, with Phicol the commander of his army, said to Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do; now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but as I have dealt loyally with you, you will deal with me and with the land where you have resided as an alien.” And Abraham said, “I swear it.”

When Abraham complained to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized, Abimelech said, “I do not know who has done this; you did not tell me, and I have not heard of it until today.” So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a covenant. 

Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs of the flock. And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs that you have set apart?” Abraham said, “These seven ewe lambs you shall accept from my hand, in order that you may be a witness for me that I dug this well.” Therefore that place was called Beer-sheba; that is Well of seven or Well of the oath because there both of them swore an oath. 

When they had made a covenant at Beer-sheba, Abimelech, with Phicol the commander of his army, left and returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of the Lord, El Olam, the Everlasting God.

And Abraham resided as an alien many days in the land of the Philistines. (end reading)

K: Megan, you’ve been watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” - how has that informed your reading of this passage? What did you notice reading through this over the past few weeks?

M: I found this image (Jean-Charles Cazin) powerful, because to me, it captures the desperation poor Hagar must have felt at that moment she realised all her water had run out and there she and her son are wandering around the desert and if she doesn't find any more, her son will surely die. That’s the best she thinks she can do for him at that moment - put him in the shade of a bush and wait for the inevitable.

The anguish of a mother who thinks her son is about to die. A son who was once considered the fulfilment of a prophecy now an outcast.

The internal tumult of a woman whose life has been so dramatically turned on its head. Perhaps this is the moment she cries out  in pain but also probably anger, "How did my life turn out like this?". Was she not a daughter of Pharaoh? So the girl who grows up as a princess and no doubt once had all her own dreams and ambitions essentially becomes a slave, then a handmaid.

She had no control over her life. Even after bearing Abraham the child so longed for, the very woman who came up with the plan treats her badly. She did what was demanded of her and she is still thrown out. 

It all smacks of injustice. But we also see God notices the slave, the outcast, the unfairly treated. He offers hope (water) where there is none (the desert).

K: What is it about IJM that you believe is important?

M: It recognises that everyday violence is destroying the efforts of millions trying to rise out of poverty today.  4 billion people around the world are not protected by their justice systems.  They do not have effective justice systems, policy, law enforcement, access to judicial systems to protect them from modern day slavery, assault, trafficking.  

Slavery isn’t just something that used to happen in poor Hagar's days. There are currently 45 million people enslaved in modern slavery, that is the use of violence or lies to force someone to work for little or no pay.

If perpetrators of such crimes are able to act with impunity the poor continue to remain unsafe and live in fear.  How can anyone trapped in that cycle thrive or fulfil their God given potential, irrespective of the best efforts of aid and development initiatives?

K: Can you give us a couple of examples of this?

M: *digging wells is not any good without protection for those going to collect water… 

*it is well documented that getting girls in school is absolutely foundational to improving livelihoods and sustainable development. But if those girls are victims of assault at school or on their way to school and they and their families have no recourse to the police or judicial systems against perpetrators, how are they going to be able to perform at school?

IJM works locally to strengthen justice systems to protect the poor against violence so strides made in the fight against poverty are not continually undermined.

For small groups: In his 2014 book, The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence (Oxford University Press) Gary Haugen (founder of IJM) introduces and defines the term "The Locust Effect", referring to the all-encompassing and devastating effects of common, ordinary violence on the lives of the poor. From the book: “Beneath the surface of the world's poorest communities, common violence – like rape, forced labor, illegal detention, land theft, police abuse and other brutality – has become routine and relentless. And like a horde of locusts devouring everything in their path, the unchecked plague of violence ruins lives, blocks the road out of poverty, and undercuts development.”

What criteria/s do we need to specify in our mission giving and local projects more clearly?

K: I had never noticed in the text before that Abraham is the one who is credited with digging the well (end of ch21). 

The storyteller doesn’t tell us if Hagar knows or not.

But Abraham has taken a step to redeeming himself for me in this passage… he goes out after Hagar and Ishmael 

Abraham is certainly still in the wilderness of Beersheeba in 22:19. 

Richard Fidler in his book "Ghost Empire" (ch.5 Children of Ishmael) talks about how the early followers of the Prophet Muhammad are not referred to as Muslims but  as Mhaggráyé or Hagarenes (p190). 

Here are two articles by Susan Carland… The word Hajj is related to Hagar/Hajjar's pilgrimage and the well in the story is located at Mecca. In the light of how important Hagar's story is for Muslims then understanding her part in the story of Genesis is crucial for inter-faith conversations.

Beyond the Harem: Muslim Women Fighting Sexism is Nothing New

Right beneath your feet: The meaning of the Hajj

Here's a clip from the New York Times last month looking at what the pilgrimage of Hajj might look like..."The Contradictions of Hajj, Through the Lens of a Smartphone"

Megan chose this short clip from IJM. IJM “the lost sheep” She has resources (newsletters and cards to sign up to pray with IJM) that you could look at after the service in the foyer.