The Lesson of Hagar In the desert, desperate and abandoned, she found deliverance from heaven…By Ric
The Lesson of Hagar
In the desert, desperate and
abandoned, she found deliverance from heaven…
By Rick: Hamlin, Senior Contributing Editor Sept/October 2016
I WAS THUMBING through Genesis, looking to see when angels first appear in the Bible. In chapter three the Cherubim guard the tree of life after Adam and Eve are expulsed from the Garden of Eden---------“winged creatures” they’re called in one translation, apparently a group of angels.
We don’t meet a solo angel who engages in the narrative for a dozen chapters, and then in the most unexpected circumstances.
Abraham has been called by GOD to found a new nation, and he and his wife Sarah, have reached the promise land of Canaan. There he is supposed to have countless descendants, as numerous as the stars in the sky.
But Abraham, well into his eighties, still hasn’t had any of those promised children. What to do? Sarah takes matters into her own hands and urges him to sleep with her Egyptian servant Hagar. Not surprisingly, Hagar becomes pregnant.
Also not surprisingly, Sarah becomes intensely jealous. (To anyone who suggests that the bible isn’t very life like, look again.) How could her husband have done such a thing? The mere sight of the fertile and presumably lovely Hagar in their midst seems a daily insult. Sarah can’t stand it. She must have made quite a scene, because rather than sheepishly Abraham tells his wife to do whatever she wishes, that is, be as mean as she wants. Things become so miserable for the pregnant Hagar that she runs away to the desert.
This is when the angel of the Lord first appears, to a devastated Hagar. “Where are you going?” he asks. (Angels seem to ask these obvious questions fully knowing the answers, because they want us humans to declare our intentions.) “Running away from my mistress”, Hagar says.
“Go back”, GOD’s messenger says, Then he gives her a solemn promise, something she will be able to treasure on her own. By GOD’s word she will have countless descendants. Her first born will be named “Ishmael” which means “GOD hears”, because the lord knows of her harsh treatment.
Hagar returns to Canaan, gives birth to Ishmael, and all must have calm enough for a dozen years in this household of husband, wife, child and concubine. We don’t hear another word of Hagar until Abraham asks GOD to make Ishmael his heir. God has other plans.
On a warm day, three men------GOD’s emissaries, if not a sort of prefiguration of the Triune GOD—appear at the entrance to Abraham’s tent with seemingly impossible news for him. “your wife Sara will have a son!” they say. Overhearing this, Sarah bursts into laughter. As the Hebrew Bible puts it, in language that is rarely explicitly translated, Sarah has stopped menstruating.
“Why did Sarah laugh?” GOD asks Abraham, apparently not all assumed. “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?”
Sarah who knows better than to displease GOD, lies and claims she didn’t laugh at all. “No you laughed”, GOD said, accustomed to getting the last word. He expects the truth. The three leave, off on a journey to destroy the sinning cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Sure enough within the year, Sarah does give birth to a son. He is named Isaac. Which means “he laughs”, a happy pun on GOD’s jealous ways.
It is only when the young Isaac stops nursing that Sarah’s jealousy gets reignited and she insists that Hagar and Ishmael to be banished for good. She wants no competition for her son, no one else to claim this new nation for himself.
Abraham is devastated to part with his first born, but GOD tells him that Ishmael and his mother will be looked after. “I will make of your servant’s son a great nation too”, GOD says. Abraham gets up very early in the morning, gives Hagar some bread and a flask of water, and sends her and the boy away.
The bread and water didn’t last long in the wilderness. Hagar puts her son down under a shrub and walks away. She can’t bear to see him die of thirst and she wept in grief. Just then the angel of GOD speaks to her again, this time from the heavens. “Hagar!” he says. “Don’t be afraid. GOD has heard the boy’s cries. Pick up the boy and take him by the hand because I will make him a great nation.”
At that moment the angel opens her eyes and Hagar sees a well, where she can fill up the flask and give her son a drink. The well seems to have been there all along; it just needs to be pointed out to Hagar, who is blind with grief. As promised, Ishmael grows up to become a great warrior, his 12 sons become leaders.
But back to Hagar, An often over biblical character, she seems the central figure of this story. Abraham founded a new faith, established a people in a new land and so naturally we remember the role GOD played in his life. But it’s worth remembering that GOD also sent his angel to the outcast, the rejected one, a servant in the wilderness, showing her what she couldn’t see on her own, bringing her hope and comfort. GOD cares about all ill-treated servants as much as he cares about the rich scion of a new nation. He cares for all of us.