Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not been able to bear children for him. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” And Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal. So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian servant and gave her to Abram as a wife. (This happened ten years after Abram had settled in the land of Canaan.) So Abram had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant. But when Hagar knew she was pregnant, she began to treat her mistress, Sarai, with contempt. Then Sarai said to Abram, “This is all your fault! I put my servant into your arms, but now that she’s pregnant she treats me with contempt. The Lord will show who’s wrong—you or me!” Abram replied, “Look, she is your servant, so deal with her as you see fit.” Then Sarai treated Hagar so harshly that she finally ran away. The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she replied. The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.” Then he added, “I will give you more descendants than you can count.” And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress. This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.” Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered. So Hagar gave Abram a son, and Abram named him Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born. So Abraham said to God, “May Ishmael live under your special blessing!” But God replied, “No—Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac, and I will confirm my covenant with him and his descendants as an everlasting covenant. As for Ishmael, I will bless him also, just as you have asked. I will make him extremely fruitful and multiply his descendants. He will become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will be confirmed with Isaac, who will be born to you and Sarah about this time next year.” When God had finished speaking, he left Abraham. On that very day Abraham took his son, Ishmael, and every male in his household, including those born there and those he had bought. Then he circumcised them, cutting off their foreskins, just as God had told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, and Ishmael, his son, was thirteen. Both Abraham and his son, Ishmael, were circumcised on that same day, along with all the other men and boys of the household, whether they were born there or bought as servants. All were circumcised with him. When Isaac grew up and was about to be weaned, Abraham prepared a huge feast to celebrate the occasion. But Sarah saw Ishmael—the son of Abraham and her Egyptian servant Hagar—making fun of her son, Isaac. So she turned to Abraham and demanded, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son. He is not going to share the inheritance with my son, Isaac. I won’t have it!” This upset Abraham very much because Ishmael was his son. But God told Abraham, “Do not be upset over the boy and your servant. Do whatever Sarah tells you, for Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted. But I will also make a nation of the descendants of Hagar’s son because he is your son, too.” So Abraham got up early the next morning, prepared food and a container of water, and strapped them on Hagar’s shoulders. Then he sent her away with their son, and she wandered aimlessly in the wilderness of Beersheba. When the water was gone, she put the boy in the shade of a bush. Then she went and sat down by herself about a hundred yards away. “I don’t want to watch the boy die,” she said, as she burst into tears. But God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, “Hagar, what’s wrong? Do not be afraid! God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Go to him and comfort him, for I will make a great nation from his descendants.” Then God opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well full of water. She quickly filled her water container and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy as he grew up in the wilderness. He became a skillful archer, and he settled in the wilderness of Paran. His mother arranged for him to marry a woman from the land of Egypt.
Dear God, this was such a difficult situation, and I can’t help but think that Hagar was set up for failure in some ways. Was she mean to Sarai? Maybe. But was she basically trafficked when she was given to Abram as his “wife.” Yeah, maybe. And since I’m looking at parents of the Bible, and, specifically, Hagar, right now, I’ll skip the whole discussion of what a mess Abram created by not waiting on you to fulfill your promise. Right now I want to see what I notice about Hagar in all of this.
- She was a slave, which, in my mind, is abhorrent. I don’t know that she was given any kind of a choice when it came to having a child with Abram. Of course, in that culture, I don’t know what kind of choice any woman had, including Sarai. But I don’t know that she would have volunteered for this duty.
- I think she saw her opportunity for advancement when she got pregnant. This was her chance to be treated as more than a slave. This translation says that after Hagar became pregnant she began to treat Sarai with contempt. Well, yeah. And she probably didn’t feel like she should be at the servant level either. I’ve seen employees treat supervisors with contempt when they felt they were mistreated in the workplace. And I’ve see those supervisors get really mad about it. There were a lot of emotions happening here, and I think it’s probably been pretty easy for a lot of people to trash Hagar without maybe seeing this from her perspective.
- The conflict with Sarai gets to the point where Hagar runs away and it takes an angel visit to get her to go back. If she hadn’t gone back, she and Ishmael (who wasn’t yet born) would likely have died, and you obviously didn’t want Ishmael to die. It also appears that you wanted Hagar as well.
- She goes back and submits to Sarai (I’m sure that was awkward). Then she has the baby. He grows and then Isaac is born. As there is between any children, there is conflict between Ishmael and Isaac, with Ishmael teasing Isaac. This resulted in Hagar having water and food strapped to her shoulders and being sent away. Man, this seems brutal. As they were dying in the wilderness, Hagar was in despair. But you encouraged her with another angel visit, gave her access to water, and she pressed on in caring for her son.
- Ultimately, she raised him and arranged for him to marry a woman from the land of Egypt.
This slave girl/woman lived a difficult life and she really had the cards stacked against her, but she was actually very faithful, especially to her son. I think people have probably been unmerciful towards her over the last thousands of years because she was mean to Sarai at the beginning and because she and Ishmael got sent away. But as I read this story, I see a slave forced into pregnancy who loved her child and spent her life trying to provide for him.
Father, thank you for mothers. Thank you that you instituted something within most women that is innate in caring for and loving their children. Yes, sometimes it goes too far. Sometimes it is unhealthy. And sometimes they can’t let go when the time comes. But mothers are such a critical part of the provision you give to us, especially when we are young. Thank you for the instincts you give them to love us so well.
In Jesus’s name I pray,