This week in our noontime Bible study we came across this passage about Hagar and Ishmael, and their trip into the wilderness. I love this short passage because it is filled with nonverbal communication. Posture, Actions, and Appearance are all found in these few verses.
Early in the morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He put them on her shoulders, gave her the child, and sent her away. So she went wandering aimlessly through the wilderness of Beer Sheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she shoved the child under one of the shrubs. Then she went and sat down by herself across from him at quite a distance, about a bowshot away; for she thought, “I refuse to watch the child die.” So she sat across from him and wept uncontrollably. But God heard the boy's voice. The angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and asked her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Don't be afraid, for God has heard the boy's voice right where he is crying. Get up! Help the boy up and hold him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God enabled Hagar to see a well of water. She went over and filled the skin with water, and then gave the boy a drink.
(Genesis 21:14–19, Net Bible)
Abraham’s actions while he was forcing Hagar to leave show his divided heart. His wife insisted that Hagar was to be driven out, but you can see Abraham’s compassion for Hagar, and Ishmael, his son.
Hagar’s pain and anguish are demonstrated by her action placing the child under a bush, and then going some distance away so that she would not have to watch him die. Her posture, “sat down by herself,” reveals a sense of defeat and surrender. Her appearance, weeping uncontrollably while she sat on the ground shows her inner pain and sorrow. No longer was she going to wander, there was no more hope. I’ve talked before about the importance of sitting in the Bible. It reflects that someone has settled, found a place to rest, or established their position. In Hagar’s case, it shows that she is resigned to her impending fate.
In an earlier post (June 2, 2013) I discussed the significance of the phrase “arise” or “get up” in the Bible. This phrase is used to indicate that a time of transition is near. In this story we see that Hagar has given up all hope. She is sitting on the ground waiting for her son to die, and her own certain death. The angel called to her and told her to “get up.” As soon as you read those words you know something is about to change. In this case, her life and her son’s life are completely changed. From being on the verge of death, they find water and they receive a promise that his descendants would become a “great nation.”
Passages like this show how powerful nonverbal communication is throughout the Bible. It’s not hidden in obscure passages. Nor does it take an advanced theological degree to benefit from watching for these nonverbal clues. The key to taking advantage of body language in the Bible is training yourself to pay attention to the signals, and then use them to increase your understanding and appreciation of God’s word.