Hope Chapel - Sunday Notes February 21
Teaching Series - “Our Family Tree–Through the Bible in 2021"
Weekly Topic - “Hagar – Caught in the Middle”
Text – Genesis16, 21
Our knowledge of Hagar is often based around Abraham and Sarah and God’s promise of a vast family. Hagar herself has been given far less attention. But Hagar’s story holds some incredible truths and encouragement for anyone who has found themselves misused, abused and/or generally taken for granted.
While generally treated poorly by people, there is no doubt as to God’s care for Hagar. Of all the characters of the Bible, she is one of the handful that are granted a theophany, a visible manifestation of God—she was one to whom God spoke with and revealed Himself to. And not just once did God come to her direct aid, but twice!
But to Sarah and Abraham, Hagar was nothing more than a slave. As her masters, she was simply expected to obey whatever they commanded. Her feelings or what she might think, never entered into the equation of Sarah’s proposal and Abraham’s agreement. To this great patriarchal couple’s way of thinking—as well as the society of the day—they were entirely within their right to treat her as a ‘walking womb’ rather than an individual with any sort of rights.
NOTHING MORE THAN AN INCUBATOR – Genesis 16:1-6
“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not been able to bear children for him. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar. 2 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. 3 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.)
4 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. 5 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!’
6 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.”
Hagar had probably come into Abraham and Sarah’s household during the time that Sarah had found herself given away and married to the Egyptian pharaoh about ten years earlier. We don’t know how old Hagar was when she came to be Sarah’s slave but at this point in the story she is of marriageable age. There is the very real possibility that she was in her teens or early twenties and she was being forced to allow the 85-year-old Abram to impregnate her so that she could bear a child for her barren mistress. I can’t help but think that the idea may have been repulsive to Hagar who had no choice but to obey.
If she had had any earlier sympathy for Sarai’s situation it soon vanishes. Once pregnant, she may have had hopes of seeing her situation elevated to that of concubine or even second wife. She may have resented the fact that she was being forced to carry a baby that would not be considered hers and that she would have to watch be given away. She began to ‘despise’ her mistress and who can blame her?
Sarai, as the mistress of this ‘ungrateful’ slave, is angered by Hagar’s contempt. Who does she think she is? Sarai goes to Abram and accuses him of being the cause of this unacceptable treatment. Abram’s response? She’s your slave, do whatever you see fit. Dangerous advice to give to a woman who feels like she’s been insulted by an inferior. She sets about putting Hagar back into her rightful place. Sarai begins to abuse Hagar so harshly, despite or maybe in spite of her pregnant condition, that Hagar runs away.
The prospects of a pregnant runaway slave were not good, but staying to be abused by her mistress had become intolerable. It’s at this point, that the angel of God shows Himself to Hagar.
INCLUSION IN THE PROMISE – Genesis 16:7-16
“7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. 8 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.
9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.’ 10 Then he added, ‘I will give you more descendants than you can count.’
11 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. 12 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.’
13 Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her—El-roi. She said, ‘You are the God who sees me.’ She also said, ‘Have I truly seen the One who sees me?’ 14 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.
15 So Hagar gave Abram a son, and Abram named him Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born.”
The angel of the Lord begins a conversation with Hagar that starts with a question. He makes it clear He already knows who she is, but wants her to acknowledge her lack of options. He asks, ‘where have you come from and where are you going?’ She can only answer the first, ‘I’m running away.’ But it is obvious she has no plan and no real prospects. God’s next advice may have felt like a bit of a slap to Hagar’s face, ‘Go back to Sarah and submit to her authority.’ For her own well-being and for the well-being of the child she now carries, God’s advice to her is to go back to a place of safety with Abraham and Sarah, continue to submit to her mistress and wait.
Yes, wait. But then comes the incredible part; He includes Hagar, a slave, in the Abrahamic blessing, ‘I will give you more descendants than you can count.’ God tells Hagar to call her son ‘Ishmael’ (which means ‘God hears’) as a constant reminder that God has indeed heard her cries and will reward her as promised with many descendants. Then, he proceeds to tell her what she can expect of this son of hers…for the baby she is carrying is a boy—no ultrasound required! Ishmael will be no one’s servant, but will be like a ‘wild ass’ known for their untamable nature. He would take orders from no man and would even live in opposition to his family—Hagar’s current masters.
Could it be that she herself would someday be free of her forced servitude? It certainly appears that is one of the things the angel of God is alluding to. But now is not the time. She must be patient. She must wait. She must cooperate with the larger plan that God is working out. For now, she must go back and submit; but it will not be forever.
She believes God and this meeting leads her to return to Sarah with a new hope, purpose and resolve. She is one who has not simply heard of Abraham’s God, she has now herself met with Him. El-roi has seen her, acknowledging her worth in His sight, despite her societal position as a slave.
Hagar gives birth to a boy and Abraham names the baby Ishmael, obviously aware of Hagar’s encounter with the angel of God. And Ishmael would have grown up as the ‘heir apparent’ until God shows up again and confirms to Abraham that he will have a son in a year’s time through Sarah. So, at the age of 13, Ishmael, along with his 99-year-old father, are circumcised as a sign of God’s covenant blessing on Abraham and his descendants. But what happens next in the story, turns both Ishmael and Hagar’s worlds upside down.
NO SPARE REQUIRED – Genesis 21:1-13
“The Lord kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised. 2 She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would. 3 And Abraham named their son Isaac. 4 Eight days after Isaac was born, Abraham circumcised him as God had commanded. 5 Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born.
6 And Sarah declared, “God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me. 7 Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age!”
8 When Isaac grew up and was about to be weaned, Abraham prepared a huge feast to celebrate the occasion. 9 But Sarah saw Ishmael—the son of Abraham and her Egyptian servant Hagar—making fun of her son, Isaac. 10 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!
11 This upset Abraham very much because Ishmael was his son. 12 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. 13 But I will also make a nation of the descendants of Hagar’s son because he is your son, too.’”
We don’t know the exact age of when Isaac was weaned, but even if we put him at an age of two or three, Ismael would have been sixteen or seventeen. He had lived long enough in his father Abraham’s house to be able to assume some security and may have wondered why so much fuss was being made about his little brother, Isaac. He may have even been a little jealous of this toddler who was taking up so much of his father’s time and attention and of his position as the ‘true heir.’
Sarah catches an unguarded moment when Ishmael makes fun of Isaac (no one knows exactly what he may have done); but this first son of Abraham finds himself caught in the sight line of Isaac’s mother, Sarah, who will tolerate no insolence or threat to her son’s inheritance. In Sarah’s mind, Ishmael may be Abraham’s son, but he is still just the son of a slave. He is simply the product of one of her most regretted life choices. Sarah chooses this moment to wipe her slate clear of the both of them. She has now provided Abraham with his promised son; there is no longer any need to tolerate either of them.
Sarah tells Abraham in no uncertain terms to get rid of them, both their slave Hagar and Abraham’s son, Ishmael. Understandably, Abraham is upset, but God appears to side with Sarah. He promises to make a great nation from both of Abraham’s sons, but Abraham must leave the future well-being of his son Ishmael and his mother to God’s care. I personally don’t think that God is siding with Sarah because He agrees with her, but because it is necessary to the next stage of His plans for both Abraham and Hagar.
But, before we read our last section of scripture this morning, I want us to put ourselves in Hagar’s sandals. She is about to be evicted from the only ‘family’ she has known for more than a quarter of a century…with nothing more than a small amount of water and enough food for a couple of days, for both herself and her teenaged son. How do you process this? What goes through your mind? Her slavery was not ideal, but she had been protected. Now she finds herself thrust out into the wilderness—no plan, no protection, no anything.
BLESSING OUT OF HARDSHIP – Genesis 21:14-21
14 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.
15 When the water was gone, she put the boy in the shade of a bush. 16 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.
17 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. 18 Go to him and comfort him, for I will make a great nation from his descendants.’
19 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.
20 And God was with the boy as he grew up in the wilderness. He became a skillful archer, 21 and he settled in the wilderness of Paran. His mother arranged for him to marry a woman from the land of Egypt.”
All of Hagar’s hopes were gone. She had wandered aimlessly in the wilderness. Had she hoped that Sarah would relent and Abraham would send for them to come back? If that was what she waited for, she waited in vain. Both their food and water ran out; she was at a complete loss. There was nothing left for her to do.
She resigned herself to the fact that both she and her son would die in the wilderness. Without water, at the very minimum, they had no hope for survival. She leaves Ishmael under the shade of a bush, and goes off by herself; she cannot bear to watch her son die. It is at this point of utter hopelessness that God steps in. El-roi has come to remind Hagar of His promise to her and to rescue them both. He tells her to go to Ishmael to comfort him and while doing so, Hagar spies a well full of water. Had she simply missed it earlier in her distress, or had God caused a miracle to occur on her behalf? We don’t know, but either way, God provides the water they so desperately need.
Many years earlier, God had told her to wait, but now her waiting was over. The event that had led to their current hardships, their eviction from Abraham’s camp, was also the very same event that had given her freedom. Now here in the wilderness, they were free to begin a new life under the watchful eye of the One who had met Hagar in the wilderness, the One who heard her and cared for her—cared enough to act on her behalf. Ishmael grew to be a skilled archer, a necessity for one living in the wilderness and when he was old enough, Hagar arranged for Ishmael to marry an Egyptian woman. She may have experienced God first hand and may have even enjoyed a relationship with El-roi, but I imagine she had had her fill of Abraham and the rest of his family.
What are our takeaways from today’s lesson?
· Can you relate to Hagar? What hope does the story of Hagar contain for people who are abused and/or deemed of less worth by others?
· Contrast Abraham and Sarah’s attitude and actions toward Hagar, to God’s. How should we respond to this?
· Have you ever found yourself at the proverbial end of your rope? How can Hagar’s story encourage us?
For further study:
“Who Is the Angel of the Lord” by Carissa Quinn (retrieved February 18, 2021 from https://bibleproject.com/blog/who-is-the-angel-of-the-lord/)
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!