Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: Water for Ishmael

Scripture: Genesis 21:14-19

Background: After the miraculous birth of Isaac, problems arose between Abraham’s sons and their mothers. So at Sarah’s demand and with God’s approval, Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away. They ended up wandering the wilderness, using up their supplies. Soon Ishmael was dying of thirst.

Observations: The desert was hot. The supplies were gone. Ishmael was dying, and there was nothing Hagar could do about it. Indeed, her despair was so great, the situation seemed so impossible, that she didn’t cry out for deliverance, nor did she plead for a miracle. No, in her anguish her only request that it may not be made greater by witnessing her only son die.

Then God showed up, providing everything she needed.

Now a well showing up in the desert might not be the most astounding miracle in the Bible, it still reveals many important truths about God’s supernatural provision:

Supernatural provision is not necessary until natural supplies are exhausted. There is a reason why many biblical miracles occur in desert. God often refuses to do one until an impossible situation demands it. Why? Not only is it far too easy for us to take credit for God’s work, but there is simply no reason for Him to employ the supernatural when that natural He has already given will be sufficient. After all, God doesn’t do miracles to impress or entertain us. He does them to provide what we need. Yet how often do we forget this, demanding God supernaturally intervene without using what He has already provided us, thinking that this somehow shows great trust or dependency? Such an attitude applied to any other area—money or power, for example—would be considered greed, not faith.

God provides according to our needs, not our requests. Hagar asked that she wouldn’t see Ishmael die. God provided water. So maybe we don’t get what we desired or requested. This didn’t mean God failed to act. It simply means He acted according to what He knew was best, according to what we needed most.

Provision of the ordinary can be still supernatural. Sometimes we think impossible circumstances require the obviously miraculous solution. But Hagar’s story shows that sometimes God uses very ordinary means to solve our problems. Ishmael was dying of thirst, so He showed Hagar a well of water. Does that mean Hagar, in her anguish, simply missed a well that was there all along? Or did God cause the well to materialize out of nowhere? The Scripture doesn’t say, because truthfully, it doesn’t matter. The point is God provided the water, making it a supernatural act, whether of materialization or guidance to the right place at the right time.

Sometimes the main supernatural provision is sight. Even if the well was already there, God still needed to open Hagar’s eyes to see it. It is the same with us. Sometimes God has already provided what we needed, but for one reason or another—grief, pain, distraction, fear to name a few—we fail to see it. And it is hard to use what we cannot see. So when we ask God to provide, we should also ask for the eyes to see His provision, whatever form it may take.

Supernatural provision goes beyond the physical. God could have simply opened Hagar’s eyes to see the well. But He didn’t. Instead, He used the physical need to address the greater spiritual issues: Hagar’s fear, her loss of purpose, her hopelessness. These things may have existed from the moment Abraham sent her away, but not until here, when Hagar is at her greatest physical need, does God speak. Then after He reassured her, addressing the spiritual issues, He provided the physical.

Significance: So what does all this mean for us?

First, God is able to provide. Like Hagar, we can be easily overwhelmed by our circumstances. Impossible situations arise today as much as in Hagar’s time. But impossibilities do not baffle God. He is omnipotent, doing whatever He likes. Now His method of provision may vary—miraculous, supernatural, ordinary, natural, or some combination thereof—but that doesn’t change the basic truth of His provision: no matter what we may face today or tomorrow or any day in the future, God is able to provide whatever we may need.

Second, God has purpose. Often suffering and pain are hardest to bear when we see it as pointless, which is why I believe God took time to remind Hagar of what He had promised her earlier—that He had a plan for Ishmael’s life. So yes, our circumstances may seem random at times. Events may look accidental, and situations completely arbitrary. But God is sovereign. He is in control. Nothing surprises Him. Nor does He act capriciously. So even though we might not perceive the purpose, we can rest in the truth that God acts as He does for a reason, and His plans cannot be thwarted.

Third, God sees and hears. God’s provision does little good if He is unaware of a need or if He doesn’t care. So when God speaks to Hagar, He reassures her that He knew of her problems. Just as He saw her when pregnant with Ishmael, He heard the crying of her teenage son now. He knew where they were and what that needed, and out of that knowledge He provided. So while pain and suffering can make God seem distance, He does see our situations, He does hear our cries—and He acts accordingly.

Therefore, God is trustworthy. This is why God could assure Hagar that she didn’t need to fear, when from a human viewpoint she had every reason to fear. She was, after all, stuck in the direst of circumstances with death looming over her shoulder. Yet even here God says, “Fear not.” Why? Because He sees and hears us. Because He knows what we need, both physically and spiritually. Because He has a purpose. Because He can provide whatever we need by whatever means He chooses. In short, He is loving and He is strong. So we can rely on Him, no matter what we face.

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