One of my favorite singing partners is the gifted Tasha Fischer.
We debuted this song publicly several years ago and I was impressed with how dialed-in the audience was to this never-before-heard song about a very, very old story. Afterward, the best compliment was given by a man who said, “Wow. Is all that really in the Bible? I can’t wait to go home and reread those chapters!”
The account of Sarah and Hagar is found in Genesis 15, 16, 17 and 21. It is a terrific story, and a great help in understanding much of the conflict in both ancient and modern times.
As the first wife of Abraham, Sarai (later renamed Sarah, by God) had certain expectations about what her child’s birthright would be, should she ever have children. However, as she passed childbearing age, Sarai, desperate for a child, gave her Egyptian slave, Hagar, to her husband, to be his wife, “that I may obtain children by her.”
Hagar did conceive, and as her son, Ishmael, was Abraham’s firstborn, she also had certain expectations about what her child was due.
I won’t tell the rest of the story – the song does a great job of it, and the rest of the story is in Genesis and has been referenced often over the past two thousand years.
I can feel the mother-love of each of these women and this song poured itself out as I sat at the piano to compose.
In the end, the family is divided.
Abrahams Farewell to Ishmael by George Segal, 1987. Photo by Oriol Tarridas
Artist: George Segal. 107 x 54 x 54 inches. Collection Perez Art Museum Miami, gift of The George and Helen Segal Foundation, Inc. (I especially liked the multiple perspectives of this sculpture offered here: )
Abraham, who was promised in Genesis 17:4 to be the “Father of Nations”, had that promise fulfilled.
Abraham and Isaac by William Whitaker
Because it’s not always easy to keep these famous Old Testament names straight, I thought a reference chart might be appropriate:
Lineage from Abraham to Jesus by Biblestudy-org
As I was writing this song, I could vividly see the ending: Sarah and Hagar, each in full “mama bear” mode, singing downstage, pacing back and forth, singing her side of the story to the other wife AND to the audience, SO certain that her way of viewing the situation was correct.
Jean Charles Cazin, Hagar and Ishmael, 1880
I feel compassion for each woman. I feel it for Abraham, and I certainly feel it for the boys, Ishmael and Isaac.
This song’s cover photo credit goes to Rebecca Marsh. Models are our vocalist, Tasha Fischer, and my dear friend and mentor (musical and otherwise), June Blinn.
While many are familiar with the stories of individuals from the Old Testament – Adam & Eve, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Hannah, David, Elijah, Job, Daniel – the great story of the covenant people’s return from Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem is not as well known. Here’s the timeline:
The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah
975 BC Solomon’s death – the united tribes (descendants of Jacob’s 12 sons) divide into Israel (10 tribes) in the north and Judah (2 tribes) in the south (includes the city of Jerusalem and the temple.)
721 BC (254 years later) End of the northern kingdom of Israel – The 10 tribes are carried away by the Assyrian army. These are the “lost 10 tribes of Israel”.
Carved stone from Nimrud: Assyria carries away the 10 tribes of the Northern Kingdom – Israel
609 BC (112 years after the northern kingdom fell) Daniel and others from Judah are carried away to Babylon
587 BC (22 years after Daniel was taken) Capture of Judah’s Jerusalem – many more carried away to Babylon
James Tissot – The Flight of the Prisoners. Babylon captures Jerusalem.
586 BC Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon
539 BC (48 years after Babylon captured of Jerusalem) Persia conquers Babylon.
537 BC Persian king, Cyrus the Great, allows captives to return to Jerusalem with the stolen temple treasures. 50,000 return to rebuild the temple, led by Zerubbabel.
Blue: Sheshbazzar / Zerubabbel group Red: Ezra / Nehemiah group
516 BC (70 years after the temple was destroyed by Babylonians) The (Second) temple in Jerusalem is completed
458 BC (79 years after Zerubbabel ‘s group went back to Jerusalem) Ezra commissioned to lead almost 2,000 additional exiles back to Jerusalem, along with much gold and silver for the temple.
Jeremiah the prophet had promised in Jeremiah 29:10-14 that God’s people would be without a temple for 70 years:
10 For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.
11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
12 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
14 And I will be found of you, saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive.
King Cyrus, not a member of the covenant people, read the following Jewish prophecy in Isaiah, 44:28,45:1-4. (Considering it was written 100 years before Cyrus was born, it must have been a pretty powerful read!)
Statue of Isaiah the Prophet – by Salvatore Revelli
28 That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. 1 Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; 2 I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: 3 And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. 4 For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.
As Zerubbabel’s first wave of returning Exiles walked the 1,000+ miles from Babylon back to Jerusalem, only those in their well over 50 years old could have remembered the city – most were too young to have lived there! To them, Jerusalem lived only in the stories of their parents and the scriptures that foretold their captivity. And yet, each of them thought of Jerusalem as “home”.
Return of Captive Israel, by Minerva Teichert, 1945, oil on canvas, 53 1/2 x 90 inches. See workshere.
Psalm 137:1, 4-6 1 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. 4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? 5 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. 6 If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
I envision this song, Home Again, being sung with first Cyrus , then Zerubbabel alone on stage. The returning exile choir will weave their way up and down the theater aisles, singing. They will come up to the front of the stage as they stand facing the audience, singing the final verse:
On the site marked by God, made of stone and cedar wood, Stands our temple of God, just where Solomon’s temple stood! See the fathers weep! Hear the shout from Jerusalem! Now the children of Israel can say they are home again: Home again!
I believe the desire to return to “home” is universal. MY heart is moved as I listen to these voices sing of their return to their nation’s home. My heart is filled with compassion for all those who are unwillingly away from their homeland.
My thanks to my ever-fabulous vocalists:
Thanks to our Cyrus, Bruce Burton, (who has a habit of portraying Persian Kings, having been our Xerxes in the 2-week Green Bay run of Esther: Queen of Persia. To hear more of Bruce’s work, click here) and our Zerubbabel, Jesse Baumgart (to hear more of Jesse’s work, click here). Thanks to the choir members: Greg Krehbiel, Tasha Fischer, Susan & Mikaela Torbenson, Steve & Christy Gilchrist, Lori Blean, Karen Gebhardt, Arlene & James Marker, Bob Olsen and Bill Sieber.