Christians don’t usually think of Hagar as a Bible person to emulate. She became arrogant and antagonistic to Sarai, whom she was supposed to serve. Rather than submit, she ran away like a rebellious teen—a pregnant one. She is viewed as the antagonist to Abram and Sarai, who used her as a surrogate mother, thus showing their gross lack of faith (at best) and at worst, a sin of willful disobedience. However, Tony Maalouf presents a different perspective in his book, Arabs in the Shadow of Israel (2003, Kregel, pp. 49-106).
Yes, Hagar brought some of her suffering on herself, but consider that she had been exiled from her people and her homeland of Egypt. As a slave she had no privileges; as a woman, she had no rights. She was not a Hebrew, and thus had no status. As a servant, her owners used her. That was her life. But she had obviously become a believer in the God of Abram, and so God took good care of her. Hagar has a place in God’s Holy Word, and her life story is an example for us.
First, it must be noted that God had promised Abram a son, but God never said Sarai would be the son’s mother until Ishmael was 13 years old (Genesis 17:25). Thus God’s plans were not thwarted by Ishmael’s birth. In fact, God blessed Ishmael and kept His promise that he would beget 12 princes and become a great nation (Genesis 17:20, 21:18, 25:16). Second, Sarai gave Hagar to Abram as his wife—yes, the text says wife. This may have been bigamy, but it was not adultery. Third, God did special things for Hagar.
In the wilderness both in Genesis 16 and 21, Hagar conversed with God. In fact, Hagar is the first Bible person God favored with His appearance as “The Angel of the Lord” (Genesis 16:7). He called her by name, recognizing her personhood—she was not merely "the maid." God told her what to do about her problems with Sarai. Amazingly, He sent her back to the place of conflict and told her to submit to the source of her suffering. What enabled her to do this?
God’s promises: 1 – Her son Ishmael would be like a wild donkey. Donkeys were prized in that culture; this would compare to being given a Toyota Tundra today. God was saying that Ishmael would live free and independent, not be a slave like herself. 2 – Ishmael would be strong and prevail, not need to run away from conflict like she did. And 3 – Ishmael would have a place of his own in the presence of his brethren, not be exiled from his family like Hagar was.
These promises were so wonderful, Hagar did something no one else in all of Scripture had the privilege of doing—she gave God a new name. He is the “God who sees.” Her son’s name will remind her that “God hears.” With these assurances, Hagar returned to Abram and Sarai and put up with undesirable circumstances for the next 16-18 years.
Hagar had a problem, and God met her needs. Thus she learned things about God that she didn’t know before. “Wilderness experiences” are like that. They help people see God in a new way. God sees our needs and hears our pleas. We may bear a yoke, but God is in that yoke with us. When we remember this, we can respond like Hagar did—surrender to God and submit to suffering if that is what God wants.
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