Galleria Di Palazzo/Great Women of the Bible

“Hagar and the angel,” by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione. Leaning against a cloud, an angel appears to Hagar and her son Ishmael, dying of thirst in the desert near Beersheba. Hagar gestures weakly toward the now-empty water jug that Ishmael’s father, Abraham, gave them when he exiled them. The baby lies under a desiccated bush, where Hagar left him when their water ran out, pleading “Let me not look on the child as he dies” (Genesis 21:16).

Promising to make “a great nation” of Ishmael (Genesis 21:18), the angel tells Hagar to lift up the boy and hold him, and God reveals a well to Hagar. A modern darshan, or creator of midrash, Dorothée Sölle describes Hagar as an archetype for poor, struggling modern women whom, she writes, God will liberate, just as he led Hagar to a free and dignified life.