Let Her Speak for Herself: Nineteenth-Century Women Writing on the Women of Genesis

By Marion Ann Taylor; Heather E. Weir | Go to book overview
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§35 Sarah Hall
(1761–1830)

Sarah Ewing Hall was a well-educated Presbyterian woman from Philadelphia.4 Conversations on the Bible (1818), her only major work, is a paraphrase of and a commentary on the Old Testament in the form of a conversation between a mother and her three children (Catherine, Fanny, and Charles).

In this short excerpt, we have one question from Catherine asked in the middle of a conversation on the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. 22). This question prompted the retelling of the story of Hagar and Ishmael, which had been passed over in Hall's earlier discussions of Abraham's family. The question Hall put in Catherine's mouth was not a new question; it was one rabbinic interpreters also asked.

Like Trimmer, Hall invoked the doctrine of the Providence of God in discussing God's protection of Ishmael and Hagar. Unlike Trimmer, who drew a striking application from Ishmael's life for young people who had to leave home, Hall did not explicitly draw lessons for life from the story of Hagar and Ishmael.

From Sarah Hall, Conversations on the Bible (Philadelphia: Harrison
Hall, 1818), 37–38. "Text from 4th ed., 1927."

CATHERINE. Why is Isaac denominated the only son of Abraham, when Ishmael was also his son?

MOTHER. Because the spiritual promise bestowed upon Abraham was to be transmitted through Isaac to his posterity, and finally from them to all mankind. Ishmael, was the son of Hagar, a wife less honourable than Sarah, who being the first, was considered the superior.

In those days, it was the practice even of good men, to have several wives. Sarah, seems at first, to have adopted Ishmael, supposing him to be the promised heir of Abraham. But when Isaac was afterwards given to her, she instigates her husband (not however without provocation from the unbecoming conduct of both mother and son,) to banish both from his house, declaring that he should not inherit with her son. This unreasonable desire was very grievous to the venerable patriarch, but his unerring Counsellor, commanded him to listen to his wife and comforted him with an assurance, that of Ishmael also, "he would make a great nation." Thus encouraged, he sent away the unhappy Hagar and her son, furnishing them, however, with such provisions as she could carry. When these were spent, as they wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba, despairing of any further supply, she laid her son down under some bushes, and that she might not see him die (B.C. 1892)5 she sat down to weep at a distance! From this overwhelming anguish she was aroused by a voice of consolation, directing her to "take up the lad, and give him a drink from a well," which she now perceived to be at hand; for "he should live and become a great nation."

4 For more information on Sarah Hall, see part 2, "Sarah—The First Mother of Israel."

Before his birth, when Hagar had fled into the same wilderness from the unkind treatment of her mistress, "The Angel of the Lord" had appeared unto her, and told her, "that her prosperity should not be numbered for multitude, that her son should be a wild man, that his hand should be against every man and every man's hand against him, yet he should dwell in the presence of his brethren." And now that the prophecy might be fulfilled, the hand of providence conducted him to the desert, where he grew up and "became an archer" or a wild man….

-190-

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