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(genesis Xxi. 14—19.)
Abraham, the father of the faithful, and "the friend of God," was called by the Almighty from Ur of the Chaldees, into the land of Canaan, where it was promised him that his posterity should become a great nation. Abraham obeyed the call, and when he arrived there the promise was renewed. Still, with this magnificent prospect set before his eyes, Abraham was childless. So years rolled on, during which period the patriarch wandered about in the midst of the idolatrous inhabitants of Canaan, or sojourned in Egypt to escape the horrors of famine. At length the promise was again repeated, and even ratified by solemn covenant. Still the performance was delayed, and the faith of Abraham subjected yet longer to trial. His own faith was pre-eminently strong; but not so was that of Sarah. Abandoning all hopes of having offspring herself, she requested him to take Hagar, her Egyptian maid, who in due time bare a son, whom Abraham named Ishmael, which signifies " God attends," or "hears."
Before Ishmael was born, the conduct of her mistress had become so trying, that Hagar fled from her presence into the wilderness. Here an angel appeared to the fugitive, commanding her to return and submit herself to her mistress, giving her at the same time a promise that her child should be the father of multitudes. This was doubtless told to Abraham, for the name he gave to the child, as mentioned above, was dictated by the angel. Thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael, the promise was renewed with a more distinct explanation, and the performance was declared to be at hand. Sarah was to bear a son, of whom the Messiah should come, or, as it is expressed in the word of God, in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed, Gen. xxii. 18.
At length the promise was fulfilled. Sarah was delivered of a son, whom Abraham circumcised on the eighth day, calling him Isaac, as he had been commanded.
The joy of the parents on the birth of Isaac must have been great indeed. In him they beheld the promised Seed through whom the whole world was to be blessed.
Thus time passed on, without any recorded event of note till Isaac was weaned, which was probably about three years after his birth, according to oriental customs. On that day, Abraham made a feast, and recognised the son of Sarah as his heir. This excited the envy of Hagar, who had probably cherished the idea that her son would inherit Abraham's wealth. Ishmael, also, had been led to expect this, and partaking of his mother's feeling, he was detected by Sarah mocking Isaac. In consequence of this, Sarah demanded of Abraham that he should banish Hagar and Ishmael from his tents; and the Almighty having designs of his own with both Isaac and Ishmael, directed him to comply with Sarah's demand, and the "bondwoman and her son" were sent forth, with some bread and a bottle of water, to seek subsistence elsewhere, perhaps to return to Egypt, her native land.
The sacred historian says that Hagar wandered into the "wilderness of Beersheba." Now Beersheba signifies the " well of an oath," or the "well of seven," and it was so called afterwards on account of the covenant between Abraham and Abimelech, king of Gerar. The spot where this covenant was made was at the southern extremity of the subsequent kingdom of Abraham's descendants, the extent of which was proverbially described by naming the two extreme towns Dan and Beersheba, both of which were erected at an after date. The " wilderness of Beersheba," then, probably denotes the desert country beyond Beersheba, and towards the desert of Paran, where Hagar and Ishmael afterwards lived. An idea of this desert may be gathered from an extract, borrowed from an interesting " Report of Travels in Palestine and the adjacent regions, undertaken for the illustration of Biblical Geography." "We now came," say the writers of this report, "to Wady Lelen; and on the north side of its water-course we had the satisfaction of discovering the site of ancient Beersheba, the celebrated border city of Palestine, still bearing in Arabic the name of Bir Seba. Near the water-course are two circular wells of excellent water, nearly forty feet deep. They are both surrounded with drinking troughs of stone, for the use of camels and flocks, such as doubtless were used of old for the flocks that then fed on the adjacent hills. Ascending the low hills north of the wells, we found them strewed with the ruins of former habitations, the foundations of which are distinctly to be traced. These ruins extend over a space of half a mile long, by a quarter of a mile broad. Here, then, is the place where Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob often lived; here Samuel made his sons judges; and from