Monday, November 12, 2012

Hagar



As if her given name wasn't bad enough, she was a slave, forced to have intercourse with her presumably much older master, have his child- be told that the child was actually going to be a bastard child and not the blessed child, abused by her mistress, to the point where she ran away, and then was sent away into the desert- which meant she was being left for dead.
I both hate and love this story.

Over the past year I don't know how many times I have returned to Genesis 16- but sometimes it was every day for multiple days. I read it and cried. I read it and got angry. It's so unfair; Hagar didn't do anything wrong, she was just abused and oppressed, with no one to protect her and speak for her. It's sad, and also infuriating.

This is before the entire people of Israel were oppressed, this is the beginning of it all, before Isaac was even born. One person was being mistreated, just one. And in this story God talks from heaven, steps out into the desert and tells this slave woman that he can see her. He knows her pain, he has heard her cries. Just this one woman, not thousands of his chosen people, not a person from his covenant with Abraham, but a random slave woman with no claim to fame or even having professed to serve this God of her master.
God can see.
God can see even one person.


Genesis 16:8 "Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?"

My favorite line. Again and again I would answer this question for myself.
Where have I come from? Geographically, Metaphorically, Familialy, Spiritually. It's a good question.
Where am I going? Is that where I should be going? Have I even considered where, or am I just living from day to day?
And I love that God calls Hagar first by her name. No wonder Hagar calls him the God Who Sees me, "El-roi".
I'm not crazy about God calling her by her title of the servant of Sarai, but then again, that was her title. And God directed her to go back to her mistress.
However, Hagar doesn't exactly answer the question, not directly. She has no real destination, she is just running away- from her mistress, from her situation. Just away. She doesn't say where she was from, except sort of that she came from her mistress. She makes her identity tied to Sarai, just as God does.

The next time we read of God speaking to Hagar (Genesis 21), she again is in the wilderness. However this time she is not pregnant; Ishmael is born and is a young boy. When God speaks to Hagar this time he again calls her by name, and only her name. He does not direct her back (she had been sent away instead of running away), but promises that He will make a great nation from her son.
This time when he speaks with Hagar, the conversation is different:


"Hagar, what is the matter? Do not be afraid! God has heard the boy crying. Go to him and comfort him, for I will make a great nation from his descendants." Then God opened Hagar's eyes, and she saw a well full of water.


God only commands Hagar three things- the first time, He says "Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority." during this same conversation Hagar is instructed to name her child Ishmael which means "God hears", because God wanted to make it clear that he could hear Hagar's distress. The third command is the second time Hagar is in the desert, "Do not be afraid" and "Go to your son and comfort him."
It's similar to the words God spoke to Abraham and to Joshua "Do not be afraid".
And, just as God promised to make a great nation from Abraham, God makes a similar promise to Hagar. "...I will make a great nation from his descendants." God told Abraham the same for both Isaac and Ishmael- both would become great nations.

I usually immediately see the story of Hagar as an abused slave who just gets the short end of the stick all around. BUT... there is this big but:
The first time in the desert: God hears Hagar. God sees Hagar.
The second time in the desert: God hears Hagar's son and God makes Hagar see.
Yes, she was mistreated- but God knew. And that has provided me with such comfort- El-Roi. God Who Sees. Ishmael. God Who Hears.

Hagar's struggles are only part of the story- the more obvious part of the story. But when we come to the end, God is with Hagar- he literally opens her eyes. They were provided for by God in the desert- he showed Hagar where there was water. She went from desperate to rich because God blessed her and revealed his provision to her. Her posture towards God changed- no longer was she asking God to see her distress, but God was showing her what He was going to do for her. God shifted it from salvation and survival to hope and opportunity. I just love how God does that!

The story doesn't end in distress. God promises Hagar that a great nation will come from her son. That's HUGE- it is part of the promise God made to Abraham; it's a major blessing. Genesis 21 tells us that God was with the boy as he grew up in the wilderness. Now, maybe growing up in the desert isn't my dream, but it meant that Hagar had a home, and almost surely that she was no longer anyone's servant. Ishmael developed a skill, married an Egyptian woman, had twelve sons (Genesis 25). Not only was their life good- but God made a great nation from Ishmael.

Just a plug for single mothers and empowerment of women in the Bible- the Bible doesn't mention that Abraham was part of Ishmael's life as he grew up, but it says that God was with Ishmael in the wilderness. This blessing was not passed on to a man, it was passed on to a woman and then continued through her son. Yay for women in the Bible!

For a while, all I could get to was that Hagar was in the wilderness, and even in the wilderness God could see her and hear her. That was really powerful.
But the full picture is important- God blessed Hagar, made a nation out of her family. What a story!
I love it a little more and hate it a little less.