As I read Genesis 21:17, I spent a good time wondering why God heard the cry of the boy whereas his mother also cried at the same time.

"And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is." (ESV).

Why did God hear the voice of the child and not that of the mother, yet they both cried? How do we interpret this intercept and what can we learn from this Scripture?

  • Can we say that children are closer to the heart of God? – Mary Adedosu Dec 15 '18 at 15:25
  • I am thinking seriously about what played out in Genesis 21:17 that made the angel of the Lord to say "Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is" because both mother and child cried?? – Ernest Abinokhauno Dec 15 '18 at 15:28
  • Hagar must have had a bit of pre-history, which Ismael didn't have. Ismael cried, therefore, louder than her, because his world was more shattered than hers. – Constantthin Dec 16 '18 at 4:00
  • This sounds convincing! But could you pin down your assertion? – Ernest Abinokhauno Dec 16 '18 at 15:28
  • It does not say “God did not hear the mother’s prayer”. God likely heard and responded to both, this story is simply offering this information. Most the time we expect the Bible to exhaust a topic or story and usually it does not. – N.Ish Dec 16 '18 at 16:00

This is an excellent question. The answer involves a problem with many of the English translations that render Gen 21:17 something like the NASB: "God heard the lad crying … "

The verb translated "crying" here is קוֹל (qol) which simply means "sound" or "voice" and does not necessarily mean "crying". It occurs over 500 times in the OT and is very rarely translated or even implies "crying" - most often it is simply "voice", eg, Gen 3:8, 10, 17, 4:10, 23, 16:2, 21:12, 16, 18, 26:5, 27:13, 27:22, 38, 27:43, 29:11, 30:6, etc. Thus, there is no record of Ishmael crying.

By contrast, the verb translated "crying" for Hagar (v16) is בָּכָה (bakah). It occurs over 100 times and is most often rendered "crying" or "weeping", eg, Gen 23:2, 27:38, 29:11, 33:4, 37:35, 42:24, 43:30, 45:14, 15, 46:29, 50:1, 17, etc. Incidentally, Gen 21:16 is the first instance we have of someone weeping/crying in the Bible. This is understandable as Hagar's arrogance (Gen 21:9, 10) had significantly contributed to her situation.

Thus, we have in Gen 21:16, 17 a desperate mother and son in a desperate situation. The two responded in different ways - Hagar lamented and wept while the boy may have been either praying or trying to comfort his mother; or possibly a combination of the two. Either way, the boy is speaking and the angel of God responded (v17, 18).

The fact that the angel of God responded to the voice of the lad suggests that he may have prayed a simple childish prayer for help - a touching lesson for us all. This appears to be confirmed by another subtlety - God hears the voice of the lad and then speaks to Hagar. This suggests that Ishmael was praying for God to comfort his mother and God responded accordingly.

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At another time God did hear her:-

NWT "Genesis 16:11 "Jehovah’s angel added: “Here you [Hagar] are pregnant, and you will give birth to a son, and you must name him Ishmael, for Jehovah has heard your affliction."

t seems to be what the situation is and what God put first at any given time. This show God's care for humans at any given time for various reasons.

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  • Does Matthew 18:10 have anything to do with this context? " “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven." – Ernest Abinokhauno Dec 17 '18 at 6:15
  • @ErnestAbinokhauno No. It about not stumbling God chosen one; his children (the elect). If anyone causes them problems they will have God to face (vs6). The Angels are aware of what is going on with them and they also stand before God, thus are ministered to by the angels and can report back to God how they are treated and by whom! So this only applies in a christian context. Not that they are garden angels but the angels take a very close interest in the chosen ones and the preaching work they do and how they care for congregation members.. – user26950 Dec 17 '18 at 15:27
  • Why is everything focusing on the cry of the boy whereas the mother also cried? – Ernest Abinokhauno Dec 17 '18 at 15:33
  • @ErnestAbinokhauno As we are made in God's image think on what he saw and sees? He saw Hager son making fun of Isaac, God's chosen one, not to be put up with so they got sent way. God is not hard hearted so when he looks down as sees an offspring of his faithful servant Abraham his love for the child would move him to act on its behalf and come to the add of the child and mother ; vss 18-21 and blessed them because of Abraham's faith. – user26950 Dec 17 '18 at 15:52

The boy was directly a seed of Abraham and had a promise of God.

Genesis 21:13

And I will make ya nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.”

Therefore God heard the voice of the boy because a nation would come out of him in near future. God could not allow his promise to Abraham to die before fulfillment.

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  • Hello Keiht, welcome to BHSE, glad to have you with us! If you haven't already, please make sure to take our tour, to see how we're a little different than other sites.hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour Thanks! – sara Sep 20 '19 at 5:27

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