For me, Hagar has always been a sort of peripheral character in the drama of Abraham and Sarah and their long wait for their son, Isaac, but a few years ago, I was reading through the Bible, and Hagar’s story stuck out to me in a way it never had before.
Just to give you a little background. God had told Abraham that he would have a son, through whom God would build a great nation. The only problem with this was that Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren.
God made Abraham this promise while also telling Abraham to go to a country that God would show him. So, Abraham and Sarah pulled up stakes in what was then, a center of civilization, to start travelling around.
Years passed, and though God continued to promise that Abraham would have a son through whom God would grow a great nation, Sarah remained barren.
In Genesis 16:1, we are introduced to Hagar with these words, “Now Sarah, Abraham’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar.”
Sarah often gets a lot of flack for not having enough faith, but according to many commentaries, Sarah, at this point, had probably gone through menopause. She was physically unable to have children, so she decided to come up with her own solution and that solution involved Hagar getting pregnant by Abraham. In this culture, a woman could substitute her slave to serve as a surrogate. The child was then considered hers, not the slaves. So, basically, Hagar was just viewed as a convenient womb.
Hagar as one of Sarah’s slaves, was not considered a person. She was considered property, and Sarah was free to use her however she wished. So, here was Hagar, far away from home. Not only was she a slave, but she was a woman – both were enough to make her basically invisible. When Sarah came up with her idea, Hagar didn’t have any choice about the matter.
Sarah pitched the idea to her husband, and Abraham listened to his wife’s idea. He let her persuade him that it was the only way for God’s promise to come true. Ever notice that things never seem to go very well when we try to “help” God?
In fact, have you ever noticed that when you manipulate circumstances to get what you want, when you finally get it, suddenly it doesn’t seem that great?
This is what happened here. Hagar did conceive and suddenly her view of Sarah changed. Hagar’s being pregnant gave her some status she hadn’t had before. I don’t know gave Hagar this bad attitude – her slight upgrade in status or if it was the fact that in ancient times, a woman’s ability to bear children gave her worth. Whatever the reason, in Genesis 16:4 it says that Sarah was despised in Hagar’s sight.
The two women were probably often in each other’s company, and even though it had been Sarah’s idea to begin with, now her maid was pregnant. Not only was Hagar pregnant, but she now thought she was better than her mistress. Talk about a tense atmosphere.
Maybe Hagar thought her pregnant state meant that Abraham would stick up for her, but when Sarah complained to him, he basically said she’s your slave and you are her mistress, so figure out how to control her.
Sarah’s solution was to treat Hagar harshly. I don’t know how old Hagar was, but she realized that despite her pregnancy with the long-awaited heir, she really had no better status than before. She was still invisible and had no worth, and now her mistress was making her life a misery – not fun at any time, but certainly not when you are pregnant.
So in Genesis 16:6 it says, “Hagar fled from the presence of her mistress.”
She didn’t go too far before she found a spring in the wilderness. Hagar’s position was precarious. She was alone in the wilderness and pregnant to boot. She had nowhere really to go. She just knew she had to get away from Sarah.
While she is sitting at the spring, the angel of the Lord appears to her. I find it really interesting that so many times when the angel of the Lord appears to someone, the first thing He says is, “Don’t be afraid.” That’s not the case here. He first calls her by name and then just asks Hagar where she had come from and where she was going.
Hagar tells Him she is running away from her mistress. The angel of the Lord tells her to return to her mistress and submit herself to Sarah’s authority. That must have seemed about as appealing to Hagar as eating a slug, but God knew what He was about.
First, Hagar was alone in the wilderness which would have been very dangerous for her. Second, if she was humble and submissive, Sarah would probably treat her better. It was Hagar’s superior attitude that had brought down Sarah’s wrath, after all.
Then the angel prophesies over her, telling her he will greatly multiply her descendants, that she will have a son, his name will be Ishmael, and he will be the father of a great nation. He tells her this is “because the Lord has taken heed of your affliction.”
So, here is little Hagar. She is a slave. In the eyes of the culture she lived in, she wasn’t even a person. She was property with no say over what happened to her. Her wants, her wishes, her dreams simply didn’t matter to anyone.
Yet, here was the God of Abraham talking to her and promising He would give her son many descendants – so many they would be uncountable.
In Genesis 16:13 it says, “Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You are a God who sees, for she said, Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him.”
She called God the name El Roi which means the God who sees me.
Have you ever felt like nobody really sees you? Have you felt invisible and not very worthwhile in the grand scheme of things?
The story of Hagar is such an encouragement to me. God cared enough about a little slave girl to really see her. He cared enough to appear to her and give her a promise.
In the eyes of the world, Hagar was just a possession to be used as her mistress saw fit, but God SAW Hagar. He called her by name. He gave her hope both for herself and for her unborn son.
The same God who really saw Hagar, sees you too. He knows your name. He knows your hurts and your hopes. And He cares.
El Roi is one of my favorite names of God because God is not just huge and majestic and all powerful. He is also a personal God – a God who sees me right where I am. He is a God who keeps the world spinning and yet, He knows the number of hairs on my head.