Disparate Housewives in Genesis, Part One: HAGAR

As I've read through Genesis this last month or so, I've been struck by some interesting observations about the women of Genesis. (Perhaps I owe much of that to the insights gained from my recent reading of "Her Name is Woman" , books 1 & 2, by Gien Karssen- an amazing pair of books!)

First up, we'll take a look HAGAR: a rejected heathen servant used and abused by man, but protected and guided by God.

A PAGAN SERVANT BECOMES A WIFE & MOTHER
Hagar is first introduced to us as Sarah's "female Egyptian servant" (Gen. 16:1). It soon becomes clear that she will be used for the purposes of man. God had promised a son to Abram, but he was convinced by his wife to take a servant for a wife and impregnate her, because she (Sarai) was so old. So this poor servant woman gets pulled into a sexual relationship with her master, all because of other people's lack of faith in God. WHAT A WAY to start a marriage!

We aren't told how she felt about the arrangement. We're just told that Abram "went in to Hagar, and she conceived." (16:4) She began to look contemptuously at Sarai because she conceived- and we aren't told the motivation for that either. It could be that she looked down on Sarai's barrenness, but it is just as possible that she resented having to carry a child she never asked for or had any decision about creating. (How often are we told by our society that such a situation merits abortion!) A used, penniless woman, forced to be intimate with a man, turns up with child. And yet...

GOD SEES AND SPEAKS TO THIS HEATHEN WOMAN
After Sarai deals with her harshly (which is generally interpreted as Hagar being beaten), she flees the home of Abram & Sarai and goes out into the wilderness. And YET, God meets her there, at the place of what was likely the greatest distress and need of her life. He makes a promise to this used, heathen, slave woman... that her descendants would be innumerable... and even speaks a prophecy to her about what her son will be like and what his name should be. And then, something totally new happens...

SHE IS THE FIRST HUMAN TO CALL GOD BY A NEW NAME
Genesis 16:13~
So she called the name of the LORD Who spoke to her, "YOU ARE A GOD OF SEEING" (El Roi) for she said, "Truly here I have seen Him Who looks after me."
Though she had a master (Sarai) and a husband (Abram), she recognized that it was GOD, El Roi, the God Who Sees, that looked after her. She was aware that though she had not called out to Him, He was taking care of her- that He saw her in her distress and took her under His wings.

Because of her encounter with the true and living God, she obeyed God, going back to the very situation she had fled from: an unprotective husband and an abusive master. She gave her son the name God had given to her, and we don't hear any more about her for over fourteen years of her life. Five chapters later, we find that the old tensions between Sarai and Hagar have been revived when Sarai herself has a son, so...

HAGAR GOES AWAY, AGAIN, & GOD MEETS HER THERE, AGAIN
This time, her exit was not at her own desire to flee, but because she was sent away by Abraham (who had been so led by God). Abraham sent her away with bread and one animal skin filled with water, and gave her "the child" (who at this point, must've been very nearly a man... an older teenager at least). So again, she flees to the wilderness (21:12-14).

What must have been going through her mind? Somewhere in the back of her mind must've lurked that nearly 20-year-old promise given to her in the desert... did she cling to that, trusting God to protect her? Did she run away in fear? We aren't told, but we are told this much:
When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off... [saying], "let me not look on the death of the child." And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard... Lift up the boy, and hold him fast... I will make him into a great nation."

Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness... and his mother took a wife for him from Egypt."
WHAT ABOUT HAGAR'S CHILDREN & GRANDCHILDREN?
This is the last substantive thing we hear about Hagar... that she chose a pagan wife for the son of Abraham. Did she truly have faith in God? And if so, did she pass her faith down to Ishmael and his family? Perhaps. He, too, had heard the voice of the Lord-- once in utero, and once as a young man. And it says that God was with him. But clearly, the living "testimony" of Abraham and Sarai was enough for her to not desire to have anything to do with their relatives or kinsman. She took a bride for Ishmael from among her own people, the Egyptians.

The amazing thing, to me, is this: though she had an encounter with the true and living God, the unkindness of God's people was enough to drive her and her children possibly away from God forever. Nevertheless, Hagar is a remarkable woman, in that she has direct encounters with God... she recognizes God as an all-seeing God... and she names Him "El Roi".


SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR EACH OF US?
Just as Hagar was seen by God, He SEES each of us. He sees you as a woman with the needs that you have. He sees your marriage, and all of its defects. He sees your mistreatment by others. He sees the needs of your children. He sees that you haven't been given enough to live on. He sees you in the wilderness, disheartened, frightened, alone, rejected, beaten, and in despair.

HE SEES.

And just as He ACTED to meet Hagar's needs and care for her, He will meet your needs and care for you if you will look to Him and listen to His counsel in your life. I am so encouraged by the story of a woman who was used, abused, and rejected by men... but who God saw and reached out to, with love, with provision, and with grace. He offers the same to each of us today!

8 comments:

Anna S said...

A very interesting post. I have read the most interesting discussions about the Hagar-Abraham-Sarah triangle. God *did* bless Ishmael by saving him and making his seed numerous.

Terry said...

I am so glad that God sees. He sees, knows, cares, and understands. Amen.

Erin said...

I was struck by the quote about how even though she saw God, the unkindness of God's people were enough to drive her away.

Just another reminder that as Christians we should be reaching out to everyone with Christ's love and in doing so draw people closer to God, not push them away.

sharyn said...

So I would be interested to hear more on why others think Hagar did not seek a Christian spouse for her son. Why would she reject a faith whose God had been there for her when no one else had?

A thought-provoking post! It is a blessing and a salve to remember that God sees when you think no one else does.

Jeannine said...

Ishmael, Hagar's son, is said to be the "father" of the Muslims. This is how they are tracing their faith back to Abraham.
Isn't it interesting that after his life-saving encounter with God, Ishmael lost sight of who God really is, although we don't know exactly how it happened. Maybe because he and his mother were driven away and treated harshly by God's people?

Btw I also started a series on the women of the Bible on my blog (so far only a post on Eve, but hopefully more to come).

shannon said...

I read this post earlier today and was talking about it with my husband this evening. I was "struck", like Erin, by the fact that "though [Hagar] had an encounter with the true and living God, the unkindness of God's people was enough to drive her and her children possibly away from God forever." What serious implications this has! This strikes a deep chord in my heart as I think about the implications of my own behavior. The people around me should see my good deeds so they may glorify God. Too often do I miss the opportunity to do good deeds to those around me. Thanks for this reminder, Jess.

LisaM said...

Some very good thoughts about a sort of "obscure" character - at least she is often overlooked as having something to teach besides just being "the slave woman" as opposed to the free. We need to take all the scriptures for our learning.

Buffy said...

I hope you don't mind but I have linked to this post from my website as I am talking about the meaning behind the Genesis stories.