16 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”
6 “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.
9 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
11 The angel of the Lord also said to her:
“You are now pregnant
and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
for the Lord has heard of your misery.
12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward all his brothers.”
13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.
(Genesis 16:1-16 NIV)
In Chapter 15, we saw God make His covenant, His promise to make Abram a great nation and to give them land, a place to call home and become a nation.
As we begin Chapter 16, we fast forward a bit – Abram and Sarai have been in Canaan for a total of ten years. God has promised Abram and Sarai a family, with descendants too numerous to count. And yet, they are still without children.
Sarai and Abram grow tired of waiting and decide to rely on cultural norms to have a family rather than trust the Lord for the seemingly impossible. In Abram and Sarai’s ancient culture, it was perfectly legal to have children by concubines if the wife was barren for whatever reason.
Remember the problems with Abram going to Egypt? Well, the problems from that ill-advised trip all those years ago resurface again in today’s story.
The narrator (Moses) fills us in on the details of the story – the slave girl under Sarai’s control is Egyptian, and she has a name: Hagar.
Let’s observe as the drama unfolds:
- Wife (Sarai) wants a child, so she tells her husband (Abram) to sleep with her slave girl (Hagar) in order to fulfill her (Sarai’s) desire to be a mother
- Husband goes along with the plan – seems like a common-sense thing to do
- Slave girl becomes pregnant; wife does not find fulfillment in slave girl’s pregnancy
- Wife take her frustration out on husband and berates him – tells him this is all his fault
- Husband caves in – washes his hands of the whole mess – tells his wife to deal with it however she sees fit
- Wife takes her anger and frustration out on slave girl – mistreats her (most likely verbally)
- Slave girl is hurt and confused and runs away from the family to die in the desert
And so the dysfunction relationships continue.
Abram had mistreated his wife back in Egypt, sacrificing her to save his neck. She ended up having to sleep with the Pharaoh, then bear the indignity of being kicked out of Egypt.
Now the roles were reversed, and Abram has to bear the unfair accusations of his unhappy wife. Rather than have a talk with Hagar and Sarai and work things out, Abram caves in and tells Sarai to deal with the problem. Abram does not take responsibility for the child or the mother and does not support or help his wife during her meltdown. Abram’s unwillingness to step up and help resolve the situation only adds gas to the emotional fire.
Sarai seeks fulfillment by less than God’s best, and is disappointed, angry, still shamed, frustrated, and is unable to process her feelings when her dreams don’t come true.
Hagar has her part in the drama as well. She rubs the fact of her pregnancy in Sarai’s face, rather than humbly accepting the role of surrogate mother to Sarai and Abram.
Thankfully, God intervenes in the situation. God chooses life over death, love over hate, faith over fear, hope over despondency, humility over arrogance.
The first thing to notice is that God shows Himself (via an angel) to Hagar, a privilege that even Sarai had not had in her life.
Second, the angel calls Hagar by name. Go back up and read the dialogue that Moses recorded. Sarai and Abram refer to Hagar as “slave girl” (no name). God shows mercy and gives Hagar dignity and value as a person by calling her by name.
Third, God offers a Hagar hope, promising life, blessing, descendants, and a future. The angel gave Hagar instructions to return to Sarai and submit herself to her even though Sarai would continue to verbally abuse her. Hagar’s future would be painful, and her son would be hard to live with, but God said she had a future – she did not need to die in the desert.
What was Hagar’s response? She worshipped the Lord, and named the place of her encounter “The-God-Who-Sees-Me”. Hagar obeyed the Lord, returned to Sarai, gave birth to her baby boy, and named him as God had instructed.
In this passage, I am moved by seeing God’s heart toward the mistreated and downtrodden, represented by Hagar. Truly God sees the pain and brokenness of this world and hears the cries of those who have given up on life and feel they have no hope.
I am also reminded to be very careful in how I treat others that are of no consequence to me in my daily routines. Hos do I interact with the supermarket person ringing up my groceries, the convenience store clerk when I purchase a bottle of water, or the wait staff at the local restaurant?
Do I treat them like nameless servants, or do I see them as image-bearers of their Creator, worthy of dignity, honor, and Christ’s love?
May we reflect God’s love toward others that cross our paths today – with something as simple as a smile, a kind word, calling them by name – to reflect God’s glory and show them He loves them just as He loves us.
May we rejoice with others in their successes without petty jealousy and anger when the Lord blesses others and not us.
May we humbly bear the blessings of the Lord and not become prideful, arrogant, or rub others’ faces in what the Lord has done for us.