Collection Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tours, France/Photo: Peter Willi, Bridgeman Art Library

As Hagar weeps in the wilderness, Ishmael looks to his mother for relief, but she cannot bear to face him: “Let me not look upon the death of the child,” she cries in Genesis 21:16. French artist Jean Charles Cazin (1841–1901) captures the bleakest moment in Hagar’s sad story. There is no hint yet of the angel who will lead Hagar and Ishmael to a well of fresh water.

Like Sarah before her, Hagar is a metaphor for Israel. Her desperate travails represent Israel’s own wilderness experience, where time and again, in the Books of Exodus and Numbers, the Israelites despair for water, which in turn is provided by a compassionate God (see, for example, Exodus 15:22–25).