I want us to take a journey together. It’s a journey into the lives and stories of some of the women we find in the Bible. Though they lived in different times and cultures than we do today, their lives still speak to us. Their stories are sometimes beautiful, sometimes devastating, but always show us something about who God is and who we are in light of that.
As we look at their lives and dig into these stories, remember that we are approaching this through the lens and perspectives of the empowered women of the 21st century. It was a different world they lived in. Some of these stories will be troubling. We might read them and think, “Lord, what about your daughters? Do we not matter to you as much as your sons?” I think if we are honest, as women, we’ve all been there while reading through the Old Testament. My challenge to you, if you choose to take this journey with me, is to remember this phrase: descriptive versus prescriptive. Sometimes the Word is telling us how things ought to be. Sometimes it is simply describing how things were. There is an enormous difference. I hope that you will see, through all of our women’s stories, that God cherishes His daughters. He loves His girls every bit as much as He loves His sons, and that there is a purpose in our stories. I hope that you will see that no matter how hard or bleak things were for some of these girls, their lives were a brush stroke on a much bigger canvas than they understood. They were part of a larger narrative than they could have imagined. And so are we.
The first of our invisible women is Hagar. We have already touched on her story a bit in the previous post, but we will take a closer look at her today.
Hagar was an Egyptian slave. The Bible does not tell us exactly how she came to be a slave to Sarah, but we do know that she was originally from Egypt. From Genesis 12 we know that Abraham and Sarah spent some time in Egypt. It was there that Pharaoh took the beautiful Sarah into his harem for a while and gave Abraham many gifts, including male and female servants. My guess is that this is how Hagar ends up in Abraham’s home. This is where we first meet her. We find her in slavery. She is a possession, like a mule or an apple cart. Her name comes up in Genesis 16 when, some time after leaving Egypt, Sarah asks Abraham to take Hagar as a concubine and impregnate her so that she can have a child through her. Let’s pause here and step into Hagar’s shoes for a minute. She lives in a home where she serves foreigners who are desert nomads and live in tents. She is separated from any family she might have known in Egypt. Her mistress is possibly the most physically desirable and beautiful woman alive, though she’s barren. Now, Sarah is asking Abraham if he will sleep with Hagar, essentially making her a concubine, so that she can bear a child who will never be hers. In their culture, the child of a concubine was considered the child of the mistress, not the concubine. Hagar is not asked her opinion on this. Her feelings and desires are completely irrelevant. She has no say in the matter. In becoming a surrogate, Hagar would be losing the hope of ever marrying and bearing a child with anyone other than Abraham, a man who was already married to the most beautiful woman on earth, and was probably old enough to be her grandfather. In doing this, Hagar would lose everything, including the child, and she didn’t have much to begin with. Abraham and Sarah decide to go ahead and try this plan. They don’t believe that God can fulfill his promise through Sarah, who is past menopause and is barren. Not long after this decision is made, Hagar does end up pregnant with Abraham’s child. For the first time in her life, Hagar feels like she might have something of value to offer. She feels like she can hold her head high next to her mistress because though she is poor, though she is not free, though she is not beautiful, though she is not loved…she is with child. And for this brief moment, she lets herself feel a small victory over Sarah. The moment was to be short lived. Sarah won’t stand for it. She goes to Abraham and complains about Hagar. Did Hagar wonder if Abraham would defend her? If he cared for her at all? If she held any hope of him possibly caring for her now that she was carrying his child, that was soon crushed. He told Sarah to do whatever she wanted with Hagar. He wanted nothing to do with it. I can’t imagine how painful that must have been for her. This man who had invaded the most intimate part of her and had closed the door on her hopes of a family of her own had just thrown her under the bus.
Sarah began to make Hagar’s life so difficult through harsh treatment that Hagar ran away. Hagar’s name actually means “to flee.” It must have been some extremely harsh treatment for her to run away pregnant, penniless and “ruined.”
After she flees, we find her by a well. Actually, God finds her by a well. Can you see her there? She’s alone. Sitting on the ground, her back against the well, head on her knees, fighting the waves of nausea. Fighting back the tears. He speaks to her. In her despair she hears a voice. In her anguish this God appears and asks her to go home. He tells her she can go home because there is a plan for her. He promises her a son and descendants. With those words, God was essentially giving her back her child. Ishmael would be Hagar’s son, not Sarah’s. Can you feel her hope rising? She had run away and no one had pursued her. Not her “husband,” not her mistress. But God did. She ran away, and He followed her. Have you been there? Have you been the girl who ran away, thinking you were running from God, but really you were running from his people who have done hurtful things in His name? He will come for you. Even if you run. Even if you hide. Even if you give up and have no hope left. He comes. He speaks and he tells you who you are. He did not see a slave, or a possession. He saw Hagar. He saw who she was. He saw who she would be. He saw her as the mother of nations. He gave her hope. He gave her a future. He gave her Himself. Hagar was not alone. She had seen God. She called Him “El Roi- the God who sees me.” Knowing that He saw her changed Hagar. She was able to rise up and walk back into her difficult life knowing that she lived before His gaze. He did and always would see her.
So what was the purpose of Hagar’s life? Was it to be the mother of the Arab nations? Partly. Was it to show us that God sees us? Yes, but there is more. This is the part that Hagar never saw. Hagar comes up again in the New Testament. In Galatians 4 Paul shares an illustration of law versus grace using two women from Jewish history as examples. Guess what their names were? Hagar and Sarah. Rivals. Hagar represented human efforts to bring about the promise. Sarah represented faith and the impossible. Hagar was a picture of the law. Sarah was a picture of Grace. Hagar was our best attempt to bring about the promise, to bring about salvation. It did not work. Her offspring would never be the children of promise. Sarah’s would. Why? Because it was impossible for Sarah to conceive. It would require an act of God, and it would depend on faith, not works. Hagar was one half of a portrait of grace. Sarah was the other half. Together, these women’s lives painted a picture that would shake the world. It would shake the foundations of the religious system of Paul’s day. It would be preached and spoken for the rest of time and into eternity. She got to be a part of something so much bigger than just her little, hard life. Hagar, the slave girl, seen by God, was a striking brush stroke on the canvas of history that would later be held up for the world to see. And in this portrait, comprised of costly brush strokes, we would eventually see the outline of a figure, a silhouette, of something coming that would change everything forever.
*My blogs are written with the assumption that they are being read primarily by Christians. If you want to know more about what it means to be a Christian or about the gospel of Jesus Christ, click the link here:The Gospel