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Genesis 16:1-21:20 -- Close Encounters

Hagar is definitely not considered a heroine among the women of the Bible, nor is she revered as a biblical example for young women. In fact, I have never heard of another woman or young girl whose namesake was Hagar. The name just doesnít conjure up warm, fuzzy feelings, so itís likely Hagar will never make it on a list of the most popular female names. Yet, her experiences with God place her in a very unique and elite club for which few other Old Testament characters qualify.

We actually donít know a lot about Hagar. The two primary pieces of information available to us from scripture is about her heritage. She was a maidservant, and she was an Egyptian. When Abraham and Sarah ventured down into Egypt, it seems logical to assume that Hagar was acquired during their stay there. Genesis 12:16 mentions that Abram acquired menservants and maidservants while in Egypt. Perhaps Hagar was one of those.

Thereís also the possibility Hagar was assigned to serve Sarah as the soon-to-be-wife of Pharaoh. In the book of Esther, weíre given insight into a Gentile culture that pampered and prepared a woman before she was presented to the king. In Estherís case, she was assigned seven maids who attended to her every need. Perhaps that was similar to Hagarís role. By the time Pharaoh became wise as to Sarahís true relationship to Abram, Hagar may have been considered Sarahís property. Of course, this is only speculation, but it would provide the opportunity for Hagar and Sarah to spend a lot of time together and know each other intimately, while the line of who was boss and who was servant was clearly drawn.

This may be one reason why Hagar became so uppity once she became pregnant with Abrahamís child. Her role not only went from that of maidservant to surrogate mother, but it says in Genesis 16:3 that Sarah gave Hagar to her husband to be his wife. That now elevated Hagar to an equal status as Sarah. The respect and honor Hagar was supposed to exhibit toward her owner diminished when Hagar was able to accomplish what Sarah couldnít.

Of course, letís not forget that Sarah brought this situation on herself. She didnít trust Godís promises, or at least she didnít take them literally. As we do so often, she twisted Godís words and manipulated the circumstances to bring about Godís promises in her timetable and in the way she thought she heard them, not as God spoke them. She wasnít patient and took circumstances into her own hands. Little did she know the havoc her decision would bring to the world. We, too, tend to make decisions we think will only affect ourselves. We get wrapped up into our own little world and have no clue (and do we even care?) of the eternal affects our actions cause.

Interesting, too, is Sarahís lack of taking responsibility for the situation in which she found herself. First of all, in Genesis 16:2, Sarah blames God for withholding children from her, so she decides to fix that little matter through Hagar. Then, after Abraham goes along with Sarahís plan, she turns the tables on her husband by telling him, ďYou are responsible for the wrong I am sufferingĒ (16:5).

Needless to say, Sarah detested Hagarís change of attitude towards her, and she began mistreating Hagar. Having her fill of Sarahís abuse, Hagar decided she couldnít take it anymore and fled. Itís at this point that Hagar had her first encounter with the angel of the Lord, who was the pre-incarnate Son of God (Scofield note). He exhorts her to go back to Sarah and return to her subservient role. Next, the angel of the Lord informs Hagar that her son will become the father of descendents ďtoo numerous to count.Ē This encounter with the Lord is so profound that Hagar gives Him a personal name: ďYou are the God who sees me, I have now seen the One who sees meĒ (16:13).

Surely Hagar had heard references of the Lord in conversations between Abraham and Sarah. After all, their journey from their homeland, the place in which they settled, and the promise of a child was all connected to their God. But now instead of hearsay, she converses with their God directly. Perhaps for the first time in her entire life someone expresses personal interest in Hagar, and expresses understanding of her circumstances. And, not just anyone. The personal God of Abraham showed Himself as the personal God of Hagar. ďHe really sees me,Ē she may have thought to herself, thus her desire to personalize Him by giving Him a name representing her special encounter with Him.

More than thirteen years passed before Isaac was born, and there is no mention of further conflict between the two women. This shows that Hagar must have been obedient to Godís directive to be submissive to Sarah. Yet after Isaac was weaned, we are told that Ishmael began to mock Isaac (21:9). Sarah told Abraham to get rid of both ďthat slave woman and that slave womanís sonĒ because she didnít want Isaac to have to share his inheritance with Ishmael.  After being forced from their home, Hagarís supplies of food and water were soon depleted and she became depressed. She gave up on life, placed her son under a shaded bush and sat off away from him so that she couldnít watch him die. As she wept, the Lord came to her again, and He provided her and Ishmael drink and repeated the promise of Ishmael being made into a great nation.

The Lord appeared to Hagar twice, which is more than most Old Testament men can claim, let alone a woman. She was given a great opportunity to not just claim the God of Abraham and Sarah, but to claim Him as her own personal God. But thereís no mention that she ever did. Verse 20 of chapter 21 of Genesis says that she eventually sought a wife for Ishmael out of Egypt. After two significant and personal encounters with Abrahamís God, for some reason, this idol worshipper decided to return to her roots. Given the opportunity to serve a living God who sought her out and demonstrated how much He cared about her and her son, Hagar chose, instead, the dead gods of Egypt. After being saved and provided for by the Lord, she still elected not to embrace belief in the Lord of lords. How sad for her and what a tragedy it is when anyone comes face to face with the Son of God and walks away.

As a side note here, I canít help but question whether or not Hagar would have been more inclined to worship the God of Abraham if, indeed, she had really seen that worshipping the living God made a difference. Somehow the lives of Abraham and Sarah must not have had much impact on her in that regard. On two occasions, Sarahís vindictive spirit drove Hagar away from her home. How was Godís love demonstrated in that? It wasnít. There must not have been enough about these two God worshipers at that time in their lives to draw Hagar toward their God.  So in the end, she walked away.

In summary, Hagar represents two types of people. The first is the unbeliever who is not drawn to Christ (or maybe even turned off to Christianity) because of the testimony, or lack thereof, in Christians he/she observes or has as friends. Dear friend, is your life drawing people toward your God, or away from Him? This is certainly a worthy question and challenge on which to meditate.

Hagar had two unique encounters with the Lord which gives her membership in a very special club, yet her life remained virtually unaffected by those encounters. So, the second type of person she represents is the unbeliever who has been impacted by the love of Christ, and who has had ample opportunities to embrace and believe in Christ, yet for some reason he/she walks away. It is my heartís desire that if someone is reading this commentary and has not embraced the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I pray you donít walk away from His life-changing love as Hagar did. Youíll forever regret it if you do.


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