Nobody looks very good in this Genesis story. Nobody. Looking at this story alone, Sarah comes off as the worst, willing, it seems, to sacrifice the life of Hagar the slave girl and her son Ishmael. She seems petty. Trapped in her zero-sum world in which there is only room for one winner. It is a desolate, cut-throat world. Do we think the same sometimes? I know I do.
She holds onto the promise of God that she would bring to life a nation like like it is the last cup of water in the world: “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”[i] She can’t even bring herself to say their names—Hagar. Ishmael—as if doing so, as if acknowledging that they too are people, beings deserving her deference and even her love might drain whatever justification she has manufactured for such an act of cruelty.
Abraham gets better treatment in the story. He comes across as a tired patriarch, weary in his well-doing, unable to manage the drama that swirls all around him: “The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son,”[ii] the story tells us. I’m not sure he deserves the deference. Especially if you back out to look over the whole story of Abraham and Sarah.