Hagar and the Hidden Well

Be’er Sheva is a city in southern Israel, with a population of about 200,000. It’s so far south, in fact, that Old Testament authors spoke of the land of Israel extending “from Dan even to Beer-sheba.” (See Judges 20:1, 1 Samuel 3:20, 2 Samuel 3:10, 2 Samuel 17:11, 2 Samuel 24:2, 15, 1 Kings 4:25, 1 Chronicles 21:2, 2 Chronicles 30:5.)

The name of the city comes from two Hebrew words: beer (בְּאֵר) meaning “a well” and sheba (שֶׁבַע) meaning “an oath.” Abraham made an oath to a king named Abimelech, certifying that he had dug a well at that place, and the name stuck: the well of the oath, or the oath-well.

But before Abraham and Abimelech solemnized that agreement, Sarah’s ex-servant Hagar had a more traumatic and personal experience involving a well (perhaps even the same well) at that place. I’m not going to comment on Abraham’s decision to send Hagar and her son Ishmael away nor on Sarah’s insistence that he do so. Family relationships are complicated, and there’s usually plenty of blame to go around. Nevertheless, Hagar found herself traveling across the desert as a single mother with only a loaf of bread and a bottle of water to sustain herself and her son. God had promised Abraham that Ishmael’s descendants would be numerous, but his prospects looked pretty bleak at that moment. When they ran out of water, Hagar laid her son under a bush, walked about 100 yards away, and cried out to God in despair. (See Genesis 21:9-16.)

“What aileth thee, Hagar?” asked an angel. “Fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation” (Genesis 21:17-18).

Then, “God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water” (Genesis 21:19). Why didn’t she see the well before? Here’s my theory: She was frustrated. She was tired. She was scared. The solution to her problem was right in front of her, but she had to calm down enough to see it. When the angel reaffirmed the Lord’s promise and instructed her to stop being afraid, Hagar was able to compose herself enough to see that God had already answered her prayer. The answer was right in front of her.

One of the most frequently repeated promises in the scriptures is that God answers prayers. “Every one that asketh, receiveth,” said the Savior; “and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened” (3 Nephi 14:8, 3 Nephi 27:29, Matthew 7:8, Luke 11:10).

And Isaiah further extended that promise by affirming that, in some situations, the answer precedes the prayer:

And it shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.

Isaiah 65:24

Sometimes, like Hagar, we would do well to calm our fears, look around, and see whether God has already given us the help we need.

Today, I will pray for help, and I will be observant. I will trust that God can not only answer my prayers but also show me how He has answered them.

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