Hagar is one of the most overlooked characters in the Old Testament. We usually only think of her in connection with key figures, such as Abraham and Sarah. You can read her full story in Genesis 16:1-16, 21:1-21, 25:12-18 and Galatians 4:22-31. Hagar’s life was full of unfairness and sadness. She was a slave, not a free woman – something the New Testament clearly reminds us of. When Sarah was unable to bear a son for her husband Abraham, she gave her maid-servant Hagar to Abraham so that she might become pregnant in her place, with the intent that Hagar’s child would be reckoned as belonging to Sarah. Nowhere do we read that Hagar was consulted about this. It appears that she was not given a choice in the matter. When Hagar knew she was expecting a child, she “began to despise” her mistress. This was wrong, but it was a very understandable human reaction. Sarah’s response was perhaps worse; she “mistreated Hagar” to such an extent that Hagar “fled from her” (Gen. 16:6 NIV).
Put yourself in Hagar’s shoes. How would you feel in her situation? She was a victim of circumstances beyond her control, a slave woman with no real say in her life decisions, a concubine to an 85-year-old man, and persecuted by her mistress. Perhaps you too are trapped in painful and unfair circumstances and are trying to flee from the pressures of an unfair work and family life.
This is where Hagar’s story becomes extraordinary: She is the first person in the whole Bible to whom the angel of the Lord appears! He asked her two questions that are still valid for your life and mine today: “Where have you come from, and where are you going?” (16:8). Take a minute to answer these questions to the Lord. Recognize your past without trying to hide anything from Him, and tell Him the desires of your heart. Remember, He already knows the answers, but wants you to open up your heart fully to Him, to stop running from Him.
Then God gave her an amazing promise, similar to the one Abraham had received: “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count” (16:10). God already knew the deepest desires of her heart, and promised her something that went way above her expectations. God also gave her a name for her child, “Ishmael” – which means “God hears”. Isn’t that an amazing name? As far as the meaning goes, it beats most names I know, including “Isaac” (meaning “laughter”) which God gave to the son of Sarah, years later. What an honor to have God tell her the name for her child! Very few mothers have ever had that happen!
Then she responded to the Lord, “You are the God who sees me” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me” (16:13). In a similar way, the God who sees you wants you to know that He sees you, and in the midst of your trials and sorrow wants you to see Him! Often it takes major problems in our lives to drive us to our knees, the place where God can finally break through to us and show Himself to us.
So Hagar obeyed the Lord and returned to Abraham and Sarah. She had her baby boy and accepted the hardship of life as a servant to Sarah and a secondary wife. Fourteen years later, Isaac was born to her mistress; and sometime after that, when a feast was being celebrated in honor of Isaac’s weaning, teenager Ishmael mocked toddler Isaac. Sarah saw this and asked Abraham to “get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac” (Gen. 21:10; Gal. 4:30). God actually told Abraham that Hagar and Ishmael had to go, but strangely Abraham sent her off with nothing but some food and a skin of water.
Later in life, Abraham had other concubines and sons by them, and we read that he also sent them to live far away so they would not become rivals to one another, but he gave them gifts when they left. Why did Abraham not give similar gifts to Ishmael and Hagar? One might argue that in sending her away, he was setting her free from the price of her slavery; but in any case the provisions soon ran out, and Hagar left her son under a bush and went away to cry in despair.
And once again, at the lowest point of her darkest hopelessness, God heard the boy crying and the angel of the Lord spoke to her. In the previous encounter, God taught her that He saw her every move. This time God taught her that he heard her every cry. Both are amazing revelations that God reserved for a poor mistreated slave woman! This is an incredible truth that is also valid for our lives: God sees us and hears us all the time! Whatever our circumstances, we too should take comfort and find strength in this fact
Next we read that “God opened her eyes” and showed her a well from which she could draw water to save her son’s life. Finally we read that “God was with the boy as he grew up” (21:19-20). God is also waiting for us to cry out to Him so that He can open our eyes and point us to the solutions we need but are unable to find by ourselves. He also wants to lead everyone to salvation in Jesus, the only one who can give us living water, without which we are all spiritually dead. And for those of us who are parents, what better assurance could we ask for than the one Hagar experienced – that the Lord be with our children as they grow?
God reserved these very special revelations of Himself and the amazing promises for the future, for a humanly insignificant woman who was caught up in a life of unfair circumstances and cruelty. He delights to do the same today. Whatever your situation, cry out to the Lord. He desires to reach your heart and touch your life and make your story a part of His perfect plan. God sees you and hears you. If God could work in Hagar’s life, He can also work in yours!
By Andrew Nunn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org