Hagar’s value lay only in her usefulness to the woman who owned her.
A foreigner, serving far from home… A mere pawn to be moved around and forced to submit always to the will and whim of another… poor Hagar…
Or so it seemed.
Within the dramatic story of Abraham several subplots carry the narrative in different directions. Sarai, his elderly wife was unable to conceive a child. Yet God had given her husband a promise—
the promise of a country (Genesis 12),
descendants as numerous as the stars,
and a heritage of faith to be passed on to future generations.
God’s prophetic promise and its fulfillment became intertwined with the daring rescue of Abram’s nephew Lot, who had been captured by five kings on the warpath (Genesis 14),
with the union of Abram and Hagar, resulting in a child (Genesis 16),
Abram’s conversations with God, and entertaining angels for dinner,
the unexpected and strange request to offer the long-awaited (and miraculous) child on an altar as a human sacrifice,
and with the voice from Heaven that stopped the knife from plunging into Isaac’s chest, directing Abraham to a bush where a ram was caught, waiting to become the sacrificial substitute.
While the main drama took place on the stage of ancient Middle Eastern nomadic life, days went by, becoming weeks, months and years, as Abram and Sarai just got older. It seemed their chances of God’s promise being fulfilled in them diminished with each passing year.
But God had not forgotten. He repeated the promise, assuring Abram of His intentions (Genesis 15).
So… the couple waited… and waited… but ten years passed… with no sign of fertility…
Even as human nature’s impatient hand manipulated events, hoping to make the promise come true, God still worked behind the scenes.
The least noticed and most overlooked character of Sarai’s Egyptian handmaid could have slipped quietly off stage, vanishing completely from history’s record, had it not been for the incredible goodness and Providential mercy of God.
Carrying the master’s child elevated the maidservant’s standing in the family. Hagar’s contempt for her mistress became obvious, and Sarai would not have it. After a harsh reprimand, Hagar ran away… poor Hagar…
With no one to love her or provide for her, she was utterly destitute, without hope for the future.
Now the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness… – Genesis 16:7
The God of Abram had not been so unkind as to overlook the handmaid. And in speaking with her in her hour of desperation, He extended a promise.
Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude… Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has heard your affliction. – Genesis 16:10-11
In the future each time her son’s name would be spoken or thought of, Hagar would be reminded not only of God’s promise, but of the very real fact that God hears.
At this moment though, as the recipient of Divine attention and His gracious gift of life, she discovered a new name for God:
The she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, Have I also here seen Him who sees me? Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi… – Genesis 16:13-14
Hagar was no longer overlooked, uncared for, a mere pawn in a greater drama. God saw, God heard, and God knew. And God had a plan—even in the messiness of human frailty.
Beer Lahai Roi means, a well of the Living One Who sees me.
Hagar’s future and her son’s future would forever become part of Abram and Sarai’s future and their son’s future. Although He waited, God was not unaware.
After 25 years God’s promise to Abraham was fulfilled. In the birth of Isaac deep heartache of barrenness was replaced by unbridled laughter, unspeakable joy! With this son also, the very mention of his name would serve as a reminder of God’s promised gift of life, of His answer to the fervent prayers of a husband and wife who had almost given up hope.
Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me. – Genesis 21:6
But it wasn’t long before sibling rivalry displayed itself. Ishmael knew of his rights and privileges as the firstborn. He mocked the younger boy, not realizing God’s original promise took precedence.
This time Sarah sent Hagar and Ishmael away—for good… poor Hagar…
A second time Hagar wandered into the wilderness, unwanted, cast out, with no hope for the future… only the lingering death of her son and herself to look forward to.
But in this hour of despair, as his mother wept, Ishmael cried out to the God of his father.
The little water they had brought was now gone, and no spring could be found to quench their thirst and sustain their lives.
But once again, God heard… with a repeat of His promise to the woman. A promise of life, of a future, and of a great nation of descendants spanning many generations to come. Poor Hagar became blessed Hagar.
And God heard the voice of the lad. Then the Angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her, What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad and hold him with your hand, for I will make him a great nation. Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water… so God was with the lad… – Genesis 21:17-20
Hagar was no longer an outcast. Although circumstances surrounding her were not of her own choosing, God’s gracious care and provision were granted to this mistreated one, giving to her more than she could have ever imagined, as she submitted to His plan and allowed His purposes to be accomplished through her.
(Photo of starry sky courtesy of Michael J. Bennet; photo of Israeli desert and stream courtesy of Ester Inbar with Wikimedia Commons; photo of nomadic tents courtesy of High Contrast of Germany)