Over the course of the summer, we are going to take a look at several bible characters instead of opening up a single book. I hope you enjoy these stand-alone studies!
Genesis 16:1 – Now Sari, Abram’s wife had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar.
Abram and Sarai had lived in Egypt for a short time, during a period of famine in Canaan. The scripture tells us that while they were there, Pharaoh gave them many gifts, including male and female servants/slaves (Genesis 12:16). It is entirely possible that Hagar was one of these servants. This may also help explain how she came to be the specific property of Sarai as opposed to an ordinary household slave.
What do you suppose life was like for Hagar? The scripture says nothing about it, but I think we could make some general assumptions.
From a religious standpoint, we know that all Egyptians were polytheistic. This means that they believed in and worshipped multiple gods. This would have been Hagar’s belief as well.
Given that she was a slave, I doubt Hagar had the fun, idyllic childhood that we strive to give our children. It appears that she had some tough breaks. Perhaps her parents or grandparents were also slaves; perhaps she was an orphan or a spoil of war.
Regardless of how it occurred, her situation is permanent. She has no hope of escaping her slave status. She will never be a princess or a lady of the court or the wife of a noble. She will never learn to read or write. She will never be wearing the latest fashions. She has no chance to earn her freedom. In fact, she is nothing more than chattel (personal property). A person in this situation likely has a low level of self esteem. Did she have any adults in her life speaking words of encouragement and hope into her life? We will never know, but overall, this was probably NOT the life that most little girls dream of living!
On the other hand, there was also some stability and goodness in Hagar’s life. She was in a situation where she was not being abused. Abram and Sarai were very wealthy, so Hagar probably never went hungry or thirsty and she always had shelter and clothing. Abram served the one true God Yahweh, and he made sure that his whole household served him too. Therefore, Hagar would have been instructed in the ways of God.
And so, for a time, life was uneventful for Hagar. That is, until Sarai got an idea to help God produce children for her husband.
Genesis 16:2 – And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
So, Hagar the slave becomes the concubine of a very wealthy, free man. It was a position of prestige that was far beyond anything she could ever have hoped for. Then things get ever better – she becomes pregnant!
Unfortunately, Hagar does not handle her good fortune very well. She oversteps her bounds and begins to treat Sarai with contempt. Sarai responds by using her authority to treat Hagar ‘harshly’.
Can you imagine the family dynamic in that house? We have two women, in the same house, both of whom made some very bad decisions and as a result, all peace is gone. It is now a place of jealousy and strife. There is palpable tension (perhaps even loathing) between the two.
For Hagar, what seemed to be a blessing quickly turned into an unbearable situation. Things were so bad, she fled, intending to return to Egypt. She was willing to face life as a single mom at a time when that status left her very few choices in life.
On the way there, she stops at a spring of water, where she is confronted by an ‘angel of the Lord’, or as we know him, Jesus. The Lord asks her a very thought provoking question:
Genesis 16:8 – And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”
The Lord then tells her to return to Sarai and submit to her. He also reveals to her that she will bear a son, who will be the father of a mighty nation. Wow! What a privilege for a slave girl! What a miracle! Her offspring will not follow in her footsteps. He will be a free man, with many descendants – a free man who can choose his own future!
At that place, Hagar acknowledges the true God by saying this:
Genesis 16:13 – So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing”, for she said, “truly here I have seen him who looks after me”.
So Hagar returns to Sarai and bears a son for Abram. He is named Ishmael.
This is a very interesting narrative, don’t you think? Hagar is a very strong character. Let’s look at her life again, and draw some parallels with our own lives.
Hagar had a rough childhood. Either she was an orphan or she was taken from her parents at a very young age and given to a foreigner as a slave. How was your childhood? Maybe you can sympathize with her. Maybe your parents were either not around or maybe they did not care for you as parents should. Maybe they did not speak words of encouragement and affirmation to you. Even worse, perhaps they abused you.
Know this – God was well able to overcome the difficult childhood that Hagar experienced and he is able to do the same for you! Don’t let Satan whisper in your ear that you cannot be an active, successful part of God’s kingdom because of your past. Don’t let him deceive you into believing that you have done things that cannot be forgiven. That is a lie! God awaits you with open arms; he has big plans for you. Hagar never imagined that her son would grow up to be the father of a vast nation. What does God have in store for you that you have not imagined?
Despite her rough upbringing, Hagar was important to God. She may have been considered just ‘property’ to everyone else, but not to God! He loved her so much that he appeared to her in person, to give her direction and guidance. He spoke words of affirmation to her, assuring her that she would bear a son who would be a free man and a father of descendants.
God loves and cherishes you just as much! Psalms 139 tells us that God knows when we sit down and when we stand up. He knows our thoughts and is acquainted with all our ways. Know this – YOU are very, very important to Him!
You may have noticed as you read this scripture that Hagar didn’t always make right choices. Some of the problems she experienced (like her friction with Sarai) were of her own making.
I think all of us, at times, have done the same thing. We have all made decisions we regretted. Here is the interesting part. Notice how God handled this situation. He does not deliver her from the situation, rather, he tells her to go back and submit (wow – that sounds difficult)! Rather than delivering her, He walks with her through the difficulties.
God often answers us in the same way. He always forgives us when we sin, but most of the time we must walk through the consequences of that sin. For instance, if we made the decision to steal from a local store and we got caught, we would receive punishment through the court system. God will forgive us, but it is unlikely that he would ‘magically’ make our sentence go away. Rather, he will walk with us through the situation, using our mistake to shape our spiritual character and make us into a better Christian.
If you are in the midst of a trying or difficult circumstance that you are at least partially responsible for, take heart! Be encouraged in the midst of that thing, because God is using it for your good! He is right there beside you, and he will see you through until the end.
As you recall, God asked Hagar two things: where she had been and where she was going. Her reply was that she was running away from Sarai. She did not seem to know exactly where she was going, did she? But there is good news – God knew exactly where she was going! He already knew that he would use this opportunity to reveal to her the amazing, rewarding, unique plan he had in store for her life.
So, where are you coming from? A place of regret or heartache, like Hagar? Where are you going in life? Do you know? God does. He is willing to do the same thing for you as he did for Hagar. He is just waiting for you to turn towards him and seek his face. Don’t delay! Do it now.
I hope you found encouragement and strength from this lesson about Hagar. Please feel free to write in and share your experiences with us. Also, if you have a favorite bible character you would like to study, let me know!