This is our second week focusing on Hagar, the slave-girl who Sarai gave to Abram, in order that she would bear him a child. Last week, Rachel, in a fascinating post, wrote about how Hagar would have considered it an honour to become a surrogate mother for Sarah and Abraham.
This week, we looked at what happened when Hagar, as planned, got pregnant. The NIV version tells us that Hagar ‘despised her mistress’ in verse 4. The Amplified version tells us she “looked with contempt on her mistress [regarding Sarai as insignificant because of her infertility].” At this point, things do not go to plan. Sarah, certainly feeling sensitive and insecure due to her infertility, complains to Abraham, who tells her,
‘Your slave is in your hands,’ Abram said. ‘Do with her whatever you think best.’ Then Sarai ill-treated Hagar; so she fled from her.
Abram really emphasises Hagar’s position here. She has gone from being his second wife to being, yet again, Sarah’s slave. As Jewish historians agree that Hagar was originally a princess in the Egyptian court, this is a reminder of how far she has fallen.
I’m sure Hagar was incredibly hurt here. She’s proved her devotion to Abraham and Sarah by agreeing to bear Abraham’s child. Perhaps, like Rachel suggested last week, she has become close to Sarah, and sees God’s favour on them. Perhaps she had underestimated Abraham’s devotion to Sarah – perhaps Hagar assumed that she would be the favoured wife once she conceived. Whatever combination, and whatever her actions towards Sarah, we can understand how Hagar feels let down.
Slaves were the wife’s responsibility, so here, Hagar is Sarai’s responsibility. She was Sarai’s slave originally, so this does make sense. It seems curious that Abram gives Sarai complete responsibility – perhaps he realises that he should not have slept with Hagar at all? Perhaps he wants to rid himself of the responsibility. Certainly, the Bible seems to portray Sarai and Hagar as the villains of these few verses.
The Bible doesn’t specify how exactly Sarai ill-treated Hagar, but we can assume it was a harsh punishment. Even relegating her to the former status of a slave after she had been elevated to the status of a second wife would have been punishment. The amplified version of the Bible uses the words ‘harshly’ and ‘humiliated.’ Despite her vulnerable situation, Hagar decides to leave.
A crisis of faith?
Rachel has an interesting interpretation here: Hagar had chosen to live with Abraham and Sarah, and had believed in their anointing from God. She has been obedient to them, even agreeing to bear Abraham’s child. And yet, Sarai treats her so harshly.
Does Hagar leave because she felt let down by them? Because she felt abused by them? It is certainly possible.
Both women are surely at fault here, but it is Hagar who suffers most.
Whatever the real cause, there is no doubt that Hagar’s reaction is extreme. She was pregnant, alone and an escaped slave. She was heading back to Egypt after being away for 10 years. Had she really thought through the consequences of her actions? Or had her pride caused her to take flight?
I think there are so many lessons to be learned from Hagar’s story. Warnings of pride, of taking matters into our own hands and of the importance of caring for those we are responsible for. The understanding that even those who will be so blessed by God (Hagar will become the first woman that God speaks to directly since Eve) can make huge mistakes. And much more simply: that God understands the woman who can’t have children, the surrogate mother and the single mother. They are all there in this story.
Next week, we look at the amazing moment God does speak to Hagar, in Genesis 16:13 – “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’”