Truly, I can not imagine what it must have been like, to be Hagar, Abraham’s wife’s servant.
I’ve started reading through the Bible for 2017. The stories are all familiar–this is not my first time through reading the Bible through: that, combined with years of flannelgraph stories in stuffy Sunday School classrooms have pretty much ingrained the stories contained within the pages of the Bible deep into my mind.
In fact, I have to be careful to remind myself to truly read the words on the pages before me. I’m a fast reader by nature, and the temptation is to speed past that which I’ve already read before, without truly stopping to see what is there, in the words on the page.
And that’s the experience I had just a couple of days ago, as I read the story of Abraham, his wife Sarai (soon to be renamed “Sarah” by God)….and the promises God laid out for them: that Abraham and Sarah, though past child-bearing years, would father many nations.
Within that story, is the story of Hagar. It’s not a pretty story. It sheds a light on both Abraham and Sarah’s sinfulness that doesn’t quite seem to match the behavior we would expect from someone who found favor in God’s eyes and who was chosen by God in the way that Abraham was called out.
It goes like this:
In that culture, child-bearing was everything. It was of vital importance, to have an heir–and multiple heirs, actually. To be barren was a mark of shame. And Sarah was barren. God had promised that they would have many children. However, none had arrived. I’m not sure if Sarah knew of God’s promise at this point, but even if she didn’t, there had to be much heart-ache over having empty arms. Sarah, out of frustration that she had not become pregnant yet and belief that she never would provide Abraham with a son and heir, desperately insisted that Abraham commit adultery with Hagar, her Egyptian servant.
What astonishes me in this story, is that Abraham did. It appears that he didn’t even question this. He simply “…listened to the voice of Sarai.”
I think there is a part me that is angered by his actions. Infuriated, even.
And Sarai–how could she do this to another woman? How could she do such a thing, to her servant.
The sinful actions in this story are nearly suffocating.
And, my heart aches for Hagar.
Verse 4 says of Hagar’s reaction this: “..And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.”
And why shouldn’t she have?
I’ve actually heard preachers preach about how wrong Hagar was, to treat Sarah in such a way. And that, too angers me. Was her response not to be expected? Her dignity was already stripped, as a servant. She had no rights; she was at the mercy of Sarah already…and then “given” to Abraham, to produce a child.
Maybe her contempt towards Sarah, is to be expected. Maybe, just maybe, it was her way of desperately fighting for some shred of dignity and importance–maybe even she was searching to belong, to be respected. Maybe she saw her pregnancy as a way to gain that from these people.
As you can imagine, her contemptuous attitude toward Sarah did not fly. It infuriated Sarah, and she lashed out at Abraham. And, Abraham shrugged off that lashing and told Sarah, “She’s your servant–do whatever you want to her.”
As if she were property, and not a person.
Sarah then “dealt harshly” with Hagar–though we are not told the details. Did she threaten her? Did she have her beaten? Was she insulting, further ripping to part Hagar’s soul?
We do not know…but whatever the results, Hagar fled.
She ran away.
Can you blame her? Who wouldn’t want to run from such a dreadful situation?
Hagar fled into the wilderness, and found refuge near a spring of water. There, we are told, that the angel of the Lord found her. Who was this angel? What did it look like? We are not told those details. I wish that we were.
She is told by the angel to “Return to your mistress and submit to her.”
Go back and not only be in the presence of the one that hates you, but submit to her as well? The humiliation of that is nearly overwhelming. I can not even imagine.
But then she hears words that soften the grief and the bite of the situation.
Oh, I’m sure it didn’t take it away fully. Nor did it erase the sting of humiliation and shame. Sometimes, such things remain a very long time. O, I know this full well. So well, in my own life. But maybe the words the angel spoke lessened the sharp edges of the grief and pain.
Because, there was a promise, for her.
God had not forgotten her.
She would have a son. And numerous descendants, as well. And her son would not live a servant-life like she had.
And she was to name the child “Ishmael”, which means “God hears.”
But, here’s the part that struck me in my soul this past week, as I read it: it’s Hagar’s words, after hearing the promise from the angel of the Lord. It’s her words, in the wake of her realization that God saw her. That he had not turned a blind eye to her grief, pain and shame:
Oh, my soul. The one that looks after her.
He is the God who “looks after us”. Is there not tremendous comfort, in that phrase?
I’m a very independent person, by nature. Even more so, in the wake of much grief and heartache that ripped into our lives several years ago, making me into a single mom of four. And so many times, I think, “I’m doing great. I don’t need anyone to “look after me.”
But that’s not true.
And you do, too.
And there is great comfort in knowing that the God of all creation–the one who made heaven and earth, the holy, sovereign God–“looks after us.”
There is much tenderness in that phrase. Sometimes, that tenderness is hard to accept. Too overwhelming. Sometimes, the idea that we are loved so greatly with a love that we can never fully comprehend, is more than we can fathom.
But scripture is truth. And this is truth.
He is a seeing God. And, He looked after Hagar and cared for her hurting soul.
And, He does the same for you and I.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ge 16:13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.