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HAGAR AND ISHMAEL IN THE DESERT.
here Elijah wandered about into the southern desert, and sat down under the rethem, or shrub of broom, just as our Arabs sat down under it every day and every night.”
In this desert Hagar and her son wandered till their bread was eaten, and their water“spent in the bottle.” This was a situation of such misery as fancy cannot depict, for the inhospitable desert afforded no prospect of a fresh supply. The mother and her loved one were, therefore, in danger of perishing with thirst. Ishmael, it would appear, although a young man, began to fail sooner than Hagar, and needed her support. This she afforded him as long as her agonizing feelings would permit; but when the usual symptoms came upon him—when his eyes became inflamed, and his parched lips and tongue were chapped and swollen—when his brain seemed to grow thick and inflamed, and he was deafened by the hollow sound in his ears—some bushes afforded him a shelter, under which he would fain lie down and die; and then his affectionate mother withdrew, that she might not witness his death, and that she might lift up her voice and weep without restraint.
With the ancient masters, the usual mode of treating this subject has been to place the mother and her son in the midst of a verdant grove of chesnuts, with Italian monasteries in the back ground, to which the outcasts in vain cast their longing eyes; or else to represent them in the costumes of a virgin and child, seated on the margin of a rich stream of water, while they are dying with thirst. These travesties, which have neither Scripture, ancient geography, nor oriental costume for their support, are powerfully controverted in the accompanying engraving. In the foreground, Hagar is seen prostrate on the sands, sinking under the united effects of famine and despair; the exhausted skin bottle lies on the ground, while her sunken eyes seem to be making a last effort to implore the mercy of Heaven. In the distance, Ishmael is discerned half imbedded in the sands, and partly hidden from view by the slender branches of the Tamarix gallica, a shrub which abounds throughout the peninsula, as well as in the land of Edom and Palestine. The sky is cloudless and of a milky hue, the light bright, the shadows sharp and strong, betokening the presence of a sun of consuming splendour, and all the accessories expressing death and desolation.
These representations are borne out by the narrative and the physical condition of that country. Every thing seemed to ensure the death of the banished ones. But “ man's extremity is God's opportunity.” As Ishmael, of whose descendants it had been
promised that they should become a great nation, seemed about to close his eyes in death, the God of Abraham sent his angel to comfort Hagar, assuring her that her son should yet become the father of a great nation; and at the same time the angel showed her a well of water, which saved them from impending death.
The sentiments which should be excited in the mind of the reader by this narrative and its illustration, are those of sympathy for the sufferings of Hagar and her son, and admiration of the mercy of Him who looked from his throne in heaven and pitied and relieved them. They are calculated also to imprint one important truth on the memory, namely, That God is ever ready to listen to the voice of prayer. While passing through this desert earth, the invitation is freely offered — “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters,” Isa. lv. 1.
Relieved from death, Hagar and Ishmael soon after settled in the desert of Paran, which is a continuation of the desert of Beersheba, probably joining themselves to a party of Bedouin shepherds. Here Ishmael acquired a charaeter in conformity with that which the Divine predictions had assigned to him. " And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren:" that is, he should become wild and fierce as the desert ass—his hand should oppose every man, and every man's hand oppose him and he should never be rooted out from the domain which God would give to him, bordering upon the possessions of the other children of Abraham. And so it has happened. Ishmael took a wife out of the land of Egypt, and God so prospered him, according to his promise, that his descendants became numerous, and lords of the deserts over which they roamed, a distinction which they enjoy to this day. The Arabs, indeed, seem to make aggression on all the world a condition of existence. Issuing from their deserts, they make aggressions upon settled districts, and upon travellers, and then retire into their wilds again, where they are safe. Their hand is against every man, therefore, and every man's hand is against them; whence they are living witnesses to the truth of the Divine word. Reader, ponder upon these things, and admire and adore the prescience and the ways of the Almighty.