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  • Jennifer Kelly

Voices That Testify: Hagar



I love to run my fingers through the pages of my Bible and revisit stories of brave men and women who have encountered God in unimaginable ways. One of the more difficult ones for me to contemplate is a complicated story found in Genesis.


In-between Abraham and Sarah’s account, lies one of the most important characteristics of God revealed in all of Scripture through a woman named Hagar.[1]


Before God changed their names, Sarai was married to the patriarch Abram (the man God chose to reveal himself to) and make a covenant with. God had promised Abram would be the father of many nations and have more descendants than the stars in the sky[2]. Ultimately, God's unique plan of redemption lied within their lineage.


But Sarah was hopelessly infertile.

This special promise made from the Giver of Life overtime proved to be quite problematic. How can nations arise from a lifeless womb?


So, Sarah through a very human moment provides her husband Abraham with a solution. A child born to a slave-girl could be regarded as her mistress' own child. Although this might seem outrageous to us in modern times, this was an acceptable practice in ancient, biblical times. But Sarah's plan to use Hagar as a surrogate was very different from the original promise God had in mind.


Scripture gives us insight into what Sarah was thinking while she crafted a plan to ensure her legacy. We are told that she literally thought God had prohibited her from bearing a child even though God promised to give them a child. Don't miss this: Sarah's thoughts about God were in direct opposition from what God had promised.


Whenever our thoughts about God are in direct opposition to who He is and what He has promised, we will make bad decisions with our lives.

Anyhow, Sarah suggests that Abram sleep with their maidservant, Hagar, and use her as a surrogate.[4]


Hagar has no voice here. She must obey Abram and Sarai's plan. Hagar sleeps with Abraham and conceives. And the moment she becomes pregnant = problems arise between all of them.


Quickly we find out that Hagar is not innocent in the situation as well. She becomes conceited and starts to despise Sarai. This in turn outrages Sarai and she becomes fueled with anger and jealousy.


Everything that Sarah thought was going to happen to her is now birthed inside Hagar.


Sarah can no longer stand to be in Hagar’s presence. She regrets handing over her maid to her husband’s embrace and the child that now lives inside her. So badly does disdain fester inside her heart, that she mistreats Hagar in complete contempt and rage.


We learn that Hagar can no longer handle the mistreatment by her headmistress. So harsh is the cruelty she experiences from Sarah that she runs away … to a desert place.


“The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”


“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered”.[5]


Hagar’s story is not so different from so many of us when faced with unmanageable situations. We will run to the desert when our back is up against a wall. Figuratively and literally.


“Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” The angel of the Lord also said to her: “You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord, has heard of your misery”.[6]


God gently reminds Hagar of two truths by naming her position and extending a promise: 1) Sarah was Hagar's mistress, Hagar should not have acted with contempt toward Sarah. 2) This does not excuse Sarah's behavior. We know that God looked upon Hagar and saw her misery.


Yahweh's divine intervention provides mercy where human sin has brought devastation.

God will deal with Sarah. He never would place His children back in harmful situations. God ultimately ushers in healing and restoration to complex catastrophes. He ends up telling Hagar to go back to the place where she came from.


This is the crazy thing, “Shur, the locale where the encounter takes place, is on the northeastern border of Egypt. In other words, Hagar, the Egyptian, is close to home”.[7] Her old home that is. Many biblical scholars think Hagar was headed back to Egypt. And yet, God intervenes and Hagar chooses to listen.


Hagar recognizes something about God’s character in the midst of her terrible circumstances. She realizes that God sees her. Hagar chooses to trust God in the desert place and leaves with an encounter, a directive, and a promise.


But, before Hagar goes back to Abraham and Sarah, she gives God a name. Yep. The very first name given by a human being, recorded in all of Scripture, is from Hagar. A foreigner. A servant. A woman bound to the limitations of her culture and context. She was used as a concubine, mistreated, and neglected. Not only did Hagar name God, but she was also the only woman in Scripture given a promise of a vast number of descendants.


Interestingly, the Lord instructs Hagar to name her son Ishmael, which means, “God has heard.[8] So, God doesn’t just see her, Yahweh hears her too.


God is intimately aware of Hagar’s situation. When God gave a directive and a promise to Hagar, what does Hagar do in return? Scripture gives us one of my favorite names for God in all of Scripture, named by a woman on the desert floor.


Hagar calls God “El Roi”, meaning that Yahweh is the God who sees.


“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”.[9]


Ladies, God sees you.
Don’t miss this.

God sees you right where you are at.

In your current situation and circumstance.

He knows you.

He loves you.

He can use any blemish and change it for good.

His love is dependable.

He keeps all his promises.

God never needs to escape.

He doesn’t need to hide from you.

He can heal anything that has been done to you.

He knows it all.

He can redeem it all.

There is nothing our great God cannot do or change or fix or redeem.


I wish I could say see your face and say that God is “El Roi” to you. He cups your face and sees you with all the love and wonder and awe that a good Father extends to their children.


If we were together right now, I would show you my own scars and tell you about some real scary moments I’ve faced on the desert floor of my life. More than that, I’d tell you about the times God intervened and I listened and chose to believe in the trustworthiness of the God who sees me.


Naked trust comes from those on the desert floor who have heard the voice of God and decide to follow despite their circumstances. To believe and have faith when everything around you is telling you the exact opposite.


Henri Nouwen speaks to the fact of two realities in our lives, “First, God has promised that you will receive the love you have been searching for. And second, God is faithful to the promise. So stop wandering around. Instead, come home and trust that God will bring you what you need.”[10]


If we could trade stories and I could tell you how much God loves you and longs to fulfill that promise in your life. He is Immanuel. God with us. All around us and in us. He is for us. He will never leave you or forsake you. He meets us on the ground of the desert floor each and every time and calls you by name. In Hagar’s story, we find a God that sees us, meets us where we're at, and provides a directive.


Ladies, God has a plan for you.


God has given us a way to encounter Him through Jesus. He extends a directive and promise if we surrender our lives to Him through faith. Trusting God when we're in the desert places of our lives is sometimes the bravest thing we could ever do.


I wonder though, in your desert moments, what would your response be?

[1] Genesis 16:1-16; 21:8-21 [3] Genesis 12:2-3; Genesis 17:1-8 [4]Genesis 16:3-4 [5] Genesis 16:7-8. [6] Genesis 16:9-11. [7] Dianne Bergant. Genesis: In the Beginning. (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2013). p 49. [8] Ibid., p 50. [9] Genesis 16:13. [10] Nouwen, Henri J. M. The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey through Anguish to Freedom. 1st ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1996.) p 12.

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