Now Hagar plays quite a significant role in the story of Abram and Sarai, because 10 years after they had moved into the land of Canaan, Hagar became a visual embodiment of the couple’s doubt and confusion in God’s covenant with them. God promised to make a great nation out of Abram and He also promised him a son of his own. But uh… Sarai can’t have kids and it has been quite awhile and frankly… there’s probably a bit doubting going on.
But hold up, what does Hagar have to do with any of this? Well, this woman is Sarai’s Egyptian maid and Sarai decides to use her in a strange way. She asks that Abram take Hagar as a wife and sleep with her. Hopefully Sarai would be able to have children through her maid since she can’t by herself.
I know this all sounds strange but apparently this was a custom back in the day. You should know that women who couldn’t reproduce were pretty much shamed by the rest of the world. After all, multiplying was such a huge deal back then and God did tell humans to multiply and fill the earth. And now here’s Sarai and she is unable to do so and it’s obviously quite devastating to her. On top of that, she’s getting old and soon enough (if not already) she will be unable to give Abram any children whatsoever. So basically what she does is give her husband a substitute wife, as is the custom of the time. Then whatever child was born to Hagar would be considered Sarai’s child.
Either way, apparently Abram’s doubt must be growing as well, because he agrees to go through with his wife’s idea. He has sex with Hagar and she gets pregnant. And along with this pregnancy, Hagar gives birth to a new attitude towards Sarai. Now she treats Sarai with a sense of superiority in herself because Sarai has pretty much become a small threat to her. This frustrates Sarai and she decides to take it out on her husband.
“This is all your fault! I put my servant into your arms, but now that she’s pregnant and she treats me with contempt. The Lord will show you who is wrong—you or me!”
Uh lady… why couldn’t you just have trusted God?
We had just finished reading the past couple days about God’s glory and mystery working in Abram’s life. First He speaks audibly to Abram telling him to leave his hometown of “Ur of the Chaldeans.” Then the next thing you know, He “appears” to Abram telling him that He will hand over a decent chunk of land to his descendants. Then he gives Abram the power to wipe out 4 strong kingdoms of warriors with a little over 300 people. And then some mysterious firepot and flaming torch are moving between some carcasses as a sign of a covenant with Abram to assure him that his descendants would inherit the land He already promised them. God even goes into decent detail about when, where and how! He also tells Abram that he will have a son of his own so that his servant won’t inherit the land. Oh yeah, and the dude is crazy rich.
My, my Sarai. You should have just been patient.
Abram responded by saying, “She’s your servant, so deal with her as you see fit.” Of course, now there is a decent bit of anger behind Sarai and so she decides to rule over her maid with an iron fist. In fact, she ruled over Hagar so harshly that the maid ran away.
But God saw her. He knew her pain.
And God sent His angel (the angel of the Lord) to find Hagar, which he did. She was beside a spring of water in the wilderness along the road to a place called Shur.
The angel spoke to her. “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she answered.
“Return to your mistress,” said the angel. “Submit to her authority. I will give you more descendants than you can count. You are to name your son Ishmael, for God has heard your cry of distress. This son of yours will be wild, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.”
Hm… sounds like a good kid.
But something huge happens in this moment. Something that can be talked about, but not truly understood until you realize it for yourself. God has seen and heard Hagar. This is actually the reason Hagar’s son is to be named Ishmael because Ishmael means “God hears.” Now any Christian when told “God hears you” would probably not think twice about it. In fact they may not even think about it at all. I never gave it that much thought until I had a particular incident in my spiritual formation class one day.
We were supposed to meet up with someone else in the class we knew nothing about whatsoever and ask God to give us something to pray for them for. I had two things on my mind and I knew that if God was going to give this dude something to pray for me for, it would be one of the two. But I didn’t expect anything to really happen.
And I definitely did not expect my newly acquainted partner to pray for both the things I needed prayer for. Man he nailed it right on the dot. And for whatever reason, it became absolutely clear to me in that moment that even though there are a couple billion people on the face of the earth, God had heard me. God had seen me. And now He was speaking right to me through the heart of another believer.
God had heard my prayers. This was proof.
Hagar was so moved by this experience that after this time, she referred to God as El-roi, meaning “You are the God who sees me.” That’s how much this moment made an impact on her. Her name for her son is audible and her name for God is visual!
She also said “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” Because of this she named the spring of water (or well) the angel had met her at “Beer-lahai-roi. This means “Well of the Living One Who Sees Me.” This happened on the map between Kadesh and Bered.
So at the age of 86, Abram had his first son through Hagar who had named him Ishmael, just as the angel had told her.
Despite how many people there are in the world, God sees you.