Genesis 16:1-16; 21:9-17; 25:12
What Do We Know About Hagar?
Hagar (“a stranger”) was the handmaid of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and she was an Egyptian. It is possible that she was given to Sarah by Pharaoh when she and Abraham were sent out of the land after it was discovered that Sarah was Abraham’s wife (Gen. 12:10-20).
We know that God had promised Abraham a son, but He had not yet revealed that the son would come through Sarah. As her servant, Hagar was Sarah’s property, and Sarah could do as she pleased with her. Also, it was customary in that day for the slave to be given to the husband in order to produce offspring, and any children Hagar were to bear would also belong to Sarah. Some commentators suggest that Sarah did this out of humility and devotion to her husband, believing that perhaps God was not going to use her after all, but would use her handmaid instead. Abraham willingly consented. Perhaps he too believed that this was God’s plan. One way or another, neither Sarah nor Abraham consulted God in the matter.
Although it was Sarah’s prerogative, according to the culture of the day, to give her handmaid to Abraham, and although her motive may have been pure, we find that, as in all cases of polygamy, strife and contention ensued.
Unlike Sarah, Hagar had no trouble getting pregnant. And when she saw that she was in the family way, she developed a feeling of superiority over Sarah (16:4), despising her, just like Peninnah despised Hannah for her barrenness (1 Sam. 1:6). Although Hagar was given to Abraham as a wife, she was still Sarah’s servant. Her attitude here was way out of line. Sarah came down very hard on Hagar, perhaps only with words, but maybe also with unreasonable demands considering Hagar’s condition. Whatever the treatment, Hagar chose to run away rather than continue to endure Sarah’s punishment.
We may ascertain from the passage (16:7) that Hagar was trying to get back to Egypt, her homeland. She had stopped by a well, and the angel of the Lord appeared and spoke to her, asking her, “Where did you come from? And where are you going?” Whenever we see the phrase “the angel of the Lord” in the Bible, it is always an appearance of Christ in His preincarnate form. In other words, God Himself came down and spoke to Hagar. What a privilege and a comfort! He did not ask her these questions to find out the answers. He asked them to make her think about what she was doing and why. Notice that she answered the first question, but not the second. Perhaps she was no longer determined to keep running away, or perhaps she was afraid that she would not make it all the way to Egypt on her own.
The Lord told her to return and submit herself to Sarah, but He also gave her a promise that she would have a son, and his name would be Ishmael (“God that hears”) because God had heard her affliction (16:7-11). Hagar surely was encouraged by the Lord, for she called Him by a name that means, “God, You see me.” And she obeyed His word and went back and submitted herself to Sarah. That had to have been a difficult step of obedience and faith. Hagar could not expect Sarah to behave any differently than before, but she knew that God had His eyes and ears on her. Knowing this gave her the courage to do what was right. And I think her attitude toward Sarah was also greatly improved.
Okay. Things were better for a time, perhaps. But then Sarah herself had a son, Isaac, the son of promise, the son who would inherit all of Abraham’s wealth. This had to have been a bitter blow to Ishmael, who was fourteen at the time of Isaac’s birth, and perhaps also to Hagar. There is no indication of her opinion about the new baby, but it is quite obvious that Ishmael felt a surge of sibling rivalry (21:9). When Sarah saw the older boy mocking her son, she demanded that Abraham cast out both Ishmael and his mother (21:10). Abraham was grieved, but God told him to go ahead and do it, and He promised that He Himself would care for and bless Ishmael.
Once more Hagar found herself wandering in the wilderness. The bread and water that Abraham had given her was gone. Mother and son were both thirsty and hungry, and no doubt tired and hot. Hagar began to despair. Had she forgotten that God sees and hears her? I find it interesting that although Hagar cried out to the Lord, He responded by saying that He heard the cry of her son. Whether Ishmael was calling out in prayer or simply crying in despair, we do not know, but God heard and met his need regardless.
What the Lord said to Hagar is kind of funny, actually. “What’s ailing you, Hagar?” Perhaps it was a mild rebuke for her lack of faith in the God who sees and hears her. But He did not long reprove her, but opened her eyes and helped her to see that they were near a well. She quickly refilled the water bottle and gave her son a drink to soothe his parched mouth. They set up their tent there and made that their home. Hagar went back to her homeland of Egypt to find him a wife, and the rest of the story is history.
What Can We Learn from Hagar?
- Hagar was a servant. All of us are servants too, either servants of sin or servants of God.
Romans 6:16-18 Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness.
- Hagar was married to the prince. When we receive God’s gift of salvation, we become the bride of Christ.
Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.
- Hagar sinned against her mistress. All of us have sinned against God.
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.
- God saw and heard Hagar. He also sees and hears you and me.
Psalm 34:15 The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and His ears are open unto their cry.
- God sent Hagar back into a difficult situation, but He promised to be with her. Likewise, God does not always deliver us from hard times, but He never leaves us to face them alone.
Isaiah 43:2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you: when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame scorch you.
- Hagar was a stranger in the home of Abraham. We too are strangers, pilgrims, on this earth. This world is not our home.
Hebrews 11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
- Hagar’s faith wavered, but God gently rebuked her and then answered her prayer. He also answers our prayers, even though we so often forget His goodness to us.
Matthew 8:26 And He saith unto them, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” Then He arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.
I thank God for Hagar’s story, for I have come to see that I have so much more in common with Hagar than I had ever imagined before beginning this study. God sees me, hears me, forgives me, and answers my prayers. What a great God we serve!
Next week: Dorcas
Photo taken in Outer Banks, North Carolina, 2017