Bottles, Genesis 21. 12-21
Ernest J. Parish, Dereham, formerly of Bolivia
The Bible and bottles! Bottles are mentioned in the Bible, although they were not glass ones, but probably goat skins turned inside out and sewn, and used for carrying purposes. They are first mentioned in Genesis 21. 12-21, in that rather strange incident in the life of Abraham, the friend of God. A great mistake had been made, for Abraham and Sarah had tried to hurry forward God's seemingly delayed promise, and to work out things by their methods, and of course they failed.
Not only so, but others suffered too; and it is well for all of us to remember, that others will suffer when we fail to do God's will in His own way.
Hagar, who bore a son to Abraham, is four times referred to as an Egyptian, reminding us that she had no covenant right to God's blessings, as she was not a member of Abraham's family although a member of his household. She was a servant and not a daughter, but although she had no claim on God's goodness, nevertheless she came under His overruling care, just as blessing comes to us through grace and not through merit. The name Hagar is said to mean "stranger" or "sojourner", and that rightly describes what the Christian is, or at least what he ought to be. To what extent we fulfil this aspect of our Christian calling can largely be judged by our attitude towards the world and the things of the world.
God allowed Abraham to thrust Hagar out into the wilderness, for in verse 14 we read, "And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sh3ba". Soamingly she had little with her apart from the bread and a bottle of water given to her as a parting gift from Abraham. It has been said that still water in Scripture is often symbolic of the Word of God, while running or moving water often portrays the Holy Spirit. This bottle of water might suggest to us a limited amount of the Word of God, which brings spiritual life and maintains it. Abraham did not make it, for it was a divine provision; he simply passed it on in a suitable vessel. What a privilege and responsibility rests on us as Christians, to pass on the bottles of Water of life to perishing souls around us.
Many who have never preached a sermon, and would be nervous had they to do so, have nevertheless passed on countless bottles of this precious Water.
Sunday School teachers who do their work faithfully are constantly filling small bottles with Water for boys and girls. Indeed, hospital visitation, tract distribution, and numerous other forms of quiet service for the Lord, could also be included as well. We read in verse 15, "And the water was spent in the bottle", speaking to us of the tragedy of the empty bottle. The quantity that Abraham could pass on was limited, and through the trying experience of thirst Hagar learned that one cannot rely solely on what others give. Empty bottles quench no one's thirst.
The last mention of the bottle in this chapter is in verse 19, where we read, "And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink". God opened Hagar's eyes, and that truly is a divine work. We all need to have our eyes opened continually, that we might see as Hagar saw, a well of water in a dry wilderness scene. She learned the wonderful lesson that there is a divinely provided and inexhaustible supply awaiting us near at hand, a whole well at our disposal.
She went and dipped her bottle, and so the empty bottle was filled again, and who knows how many times! The water Abraham had given her had met a passing need, but the emptied bottle was evidence of its limitations. When she gazed down into the depths of the well (or maybe it was a cistern dug out in the earth), she had no need to fear that God's provision would ever fail.
Let us seek to carry with us some of the lessons this interesting story might teach us: not only to fill our bottle each day at the well, and find ourselves refreshed and strengthened through His Word; but not to forget to draw in plentiful supplies for those around us whom we meet day by day, and who like us are on the journey to eternity.