Friday, January 26, 2018

The God who sees me (Genesis 16, 21:8-20)

Interwoven with the story of Sarah and Abraham is the story of Hagar. Though Sarah is the one remembered and honored in the hall of fame of holy women in many places in the Bible (1 Pet 3:6, Hebrews 11:11, Rom 4:19, 9:9, Gal 4:22-23), Hagar's character shows us another a heart-warming picture of God's support for those less honored, less remembered, and in need of help and grace.

The first exile
When we are introduced to Hagar, she is little more than a pawn in Sarai's plan to move God's plan forward. She is from Egypt, but that is all we know about her backstory before she is given to Abram as a wife. We know Abram agreed to this plan, Hagar's feelings about it are not considered in the text. But Hagar's first recorded contribution to the action is the contempt from her that Sarai perceives when Hagar becomes pregnant.

Abram takes Sarai's side in the dispute, and tells Sarai to deal with her as she sees fit. What Sarai sees fit is treatment so harsh that Hagar feels the need to run away. When Hagar is alone, we get a glimpse into her story at what is likely one of it's most profound points over the course of her life.

Hagar receives a visit from an angel, who is very interested in her circumstances, and gives her direction about them, saying "Return to your mistress and submit to her authority." He follows this up with promises to her, that she will have more descendants than she can count, and that her son will be wild, and live in hostility with others. The angel also gives her Ishmael's name (meaning Hagar is the one who names him when they return, probably after sharing this story with her household). It means "God hears" and is a sign to Hagar that the Lord is involved in her stressful life. She, in response, uses a new name for the Lord "the one who sees me."

What a beautiful interaction this is! Hagar's recorded intimacy with God here is in stark contrast with her holy mistress's relationship with God, played out in overheard conversations, attempts to influence him from afar, and doubt about his power. I think we have to observe here that God is involved with different people in different ways, even when each is one of his own people, one of his own women.

Hagar does return, in obedience and in faith in the promise she has received from the Lord, but we hear nothing of her relationship with Sarai until there is more trouble 14 years later. The reconciliation at the end of chapter 16 is recorded that she "gave Abram a son." No information is given about how she or Sarai felt about being back together at that point.

The second exile
After Sarai's relationship with the Lord is resolved in gratitude and laughter, at Isaac's birth, Hagar comes back into the action. She is having a similar problem to what happened in the earlier episode. But instead of Hagar being contemptuous to Sarah, now it is Ishmael making fun of Isaac. Again, Sarah's anger flares, and Abraham allows her to send them away.

The first time God came to Hagar and Ishmael in their difficulty, they were on a road, near a spring of water. This time they are wandering aimlessly in the desert, and their water has just run out. Hagar is desperate now, crying alone, unable to bear watching her son die. She has earlier been promised that God will make a great nation out of Ishmael, which would be precluded by his death. So her faith has to be shaking at this point. Also she is faced with the immediate dire problem of their physical needs. But God "hears" again and comes to her, repeating the promise about Ishmael. He also shows her a well that saves them, and the crisis is apparently solved at that point. Ishmael grows up in the wilderness as a skillful archer an ultimately marries someone from Egypt, where his mother is from.

Perhaps this is a very happy ending for Hagar, to return to her homeland with a son she is proud of who is blessed by God, and to settle there and integrate him back into her people. Though Hagar and Ishmael's story is a bit of a sideline from the story of God's people in the Bible, God does indeed see and hear them, and my heart is warmed at his compassion for them in the midst of his greater plan.


  • In contrast with God's distant relationship with Sarah, he interacts intimately with Hagar in her time of need.
  • God is extremely compassionate with Hagar in the context of her motherhood, rescuing her in the midst of a troubled pregnancy, and then later, when she is unable to provide for her son. This, despite the fact that their own provocation seems to have brought the trouble upon them.

  • Why did God seek out Hagar to help and bless her? Could it have been because of her relationship with God's chosen man, Abraham, and his son?
  • What was the relationship between Abraham, Sarai and Hagar like in between her two departures?