If you were to Google “15 Most Amazing Women in the Bible” or accessed a contemporary listing you will find a similar cast of characters: Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Miriam, Deborah, Ruth, Naomi, Esther, Hannah, and the numerous Mary’s of the New Testament.
What’s astounding to me about these compilations is they almost universally overlook a women who has one of the most radicle testimonies in the entire Bible — a women in which no bad thing is ever recorded, becomes the mother of a nation, and who finds herself in an exclusive list of characters who’ve spoken face-to-face with Jesus — Hagar. Hagar’s story is presented to us in two different places in the Genesis narrative: Chapter 16 and 21.
Genesis 16:1-6, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, ‘See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai.
Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. So Abram went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when Sarai saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.
Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The Lord judge between you and me.’ So Abram said to Sarai, ‘Your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.’ When Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence.”
“Hagar” is introduced as the “Egyptian maidservant” of Abram’s wife Sarai. Back in Genesis 12:16 we’re told how Pharaoh had gifted to Abram “male and female servants” in an attempt to win the hand of his wife — he operated under the presence Sarai was actually Abram’s sister. We can assume Hagar was included in this transaction. While impossible to say for sure, Rabbinical tradition claims Hagar was actually the daughter of Pharaoh.
Ethnically, Abram and Sarah had been born in Ur of the Chaldeans, while Hagar was an Egyptian. With the thousand mile divide between the two regions Hagar has very little in common culturally with her new masters. Against her will, she’s ripped from her family and community, given to this wealthy nomad, now living miles away in Canaan.
In verse 3 we’re told this plan to have Hagar serve as a surrogate for Abram and Sarai to have a child and therefore heir occurred “after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan.” These two had been promised years ago that God would provide a son. Now that Abram is 86 and Sarai a spry 77 they decided to take matters into their own hands.
Though we aren’t given Hagar’s specific age, she’d likely been enslaved as a child or early teenager. By the time we get to this particular story, what we can say is that she old enough to get pregnant. I figure Hagar is likely in her early 20’s. In the course of time Hagar had become family. As her “maid” there’s no question she was close to Sarai and trusted.
While Hagar has no say in the matter, she loving submits to the will of her master seeing it as an honor to be picked for such an important task. In many ways providing Abram an heir would dramatically change her position in the home. In the end Hagar sleeps with old bones and ends up pregnant just as they intended. Tragically, what happens next is a shame.
Struggling under the reality Hagar’s fertility now proved she had been the cause for their inability to have a child, Sarai immediately regrets her decision. Not only does she blame Abram but she takes out her own emotional distress on poor Hagar. We read, “And when Sarai saw that Hagar had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.” This word “despised” lends to the idea she’s basically giving Hagar the cold shoulder.
Sadly, instead of standing up to his wife on Hagar’s behalf — she is pregnant with his child, Abram compounds things by capitulating to Sarai, “Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.” We then read, “Sarai dealt harshly with her.” This Hebrew word indicates Sarai goes from ignoring Hagar to now becoming vindictive towards her. Sarai literally was occupied or busied with making this young, pregnant maiden’s life miserable.
You have to feel for Hagar. She’s done nothing wrong. Submitted to every wish. Served admirably. But in turn she’s received nothing but grief from Sarai and no defense from Abram the father of her unborn child. Her treatment was nothing shy of unwarranted abuse! As such, we read “Hagar fled from Sarai’s presence.” Can you blame her?
Genesis 16:7-16, “Now the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. And He said, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?’ (The 1994 Rednex translation of this verse reads, “Where did you come from, where did you go? Where did you come from? Cotton-Eye Joe.” Many people don’t know Hagar translates into Hebrew as Cotton-Eye.) Hagar’s answer, ‘I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.’ The Angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.’
Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, ‘I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.’ And the Angel of the Lord said to her: ‘Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has heard your affliction. He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.’
Then 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; observe, it is between Kadesh and Bered. So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.”
Here you have this young, pregnant slave girl fleeing an out of control, vindictive, abusive Sarai. No doubt Hagar is struggling with the raw emotions of why this was happening? What had she done wrong. She fears for the life of herself and her unborn child. Hagar is the quintessential victim. She’s been unfairly treated and abandoned by those she trusted. And what’s worse still — the perpetrators claim to walk with God!
Hagar is on the run and presently finds herself in an area near “Kadesh” at “a spring of water in the wilderness on the way to Shur.” The reason these details are significant is “the to way of Shur” was an ancient trade route that connected Canaan with Egypt. Basically, Hagar is heading south trying to make her way back home to Egypt.
While Hagar’s life has been flipped upside down, it’s also important to point out our text has no record of her crying out to God. She’s not praying, seeking diving revelation, nor is she pleading for God’s intervention. And yet, we read, “The Angel of the Lord found her.”
This word translated “Angel” means messenger or representative. The use of the definite article “the” tells us this particular representative was unique to all others. Look again at verse 10… We read, “The Angel of the Lord said to her, ‘I will…’” before later justifying his intervention by adding in verse 11, “The Lord has heard your affliction.” What we have here is “the Angel of the Lord” speaking to Hagar as the Lord — not necessarily for the Lord.
Realize this is not just a physical representative coming from the Lord, but instead the physical representation of the Lord. As with so many others in Scripture “the Angel of the Lord” is what we call a Christophany or pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.
In addition to Jesus coming down to find Hagar, it becomes immediately evident He also knew her and was aware of her situation. Jesus calls to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid” before then posing two simple questions: “where have you come from and where are you going?”
You see Jesus wants Hagar to retrace the journey of her life. In the original Hebrew this question is more loaded than the way it translates into English. The Lord isn’t asking Hagar where she’s going; rather, He’s asking where she WANTS to go. It’s as though the Lord is asking, “Hagar, where do you think you’re going to end up?” The Lord wanted her to consider her past journey, but also her future destiny — the direction her life was heading.
Ultimately, Jesus instructed Hagar to “return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.” Though a conflict had arisen between she and Sarai, the best place for her and her son for the time being was the home of Abram! Running to Egypt would only compound her problems, not solve them. In the end, God invites her to do something bold with her life… Trust Him with her circumstances by “returning and submitting” to Sarai.
Once again it’s obvious Hagar recognizes “the Angel” was no angel at all! As she reflects on this exchange, she makes this amazing statement, “I have seen Him who sees me!” The implication is that she’s just had a face-to-face conversation with God and lived!
After Jesus departs, “Hagar called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees.” The Hebrew construct of this name for God can be translated as, “He is the God who sees me and attends to me.” The name communicates more than God being cognitively aware of her, but that He actively cared for her. Hagar also names “the well Beer Lahai Roi” or literally “the well of Him that lives and sees me!”
The first takeaway I want you to have from the life of Hagar is how Jesus used a terrible situation to reveal Himself to her in the most profound way possible! I don’t mean this as a slight against Hagar, but let’s be real — Hagar was a nobody! She’s not important to the overarching story of redemption and really doesn’t do anything of note.
The only reason we even know her name is because Abram made a foolish decision to leave the land of promise and go down to Egypt in the first place — apart from that she would have never been Sarai’s handmaiden. Once more… Of all Abram’s servants, the only reason we know of Hagar is because she was selected by Sarai to sleep with Abram. The case can be made Hagar exists only because of the mistakes of Abram!
Aside from this… Hagar wasn’t even doing anything to appeal to God’s intervention in her life. She’s a pagan heading back to Egypt. And yet, Hagar’s life is recorded in Scripture because, while she was insignificant to everyone else, Jesus sought her out!
Please don’t miss this… From the worldly perspective Hagar was a nobody — to everyone but Jesus! You see Jesus loved her and had a plan for her life and the life of her unborn son. Even though Hagar wasn’t seeking the Lord or requesting His help, in an act of God’s amazing grace, Jesus sought her out and responds to her deepest need!
“Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God. Oh, it chases me down, fights 'til I'm found, leaves the ninety-nine. I couldn't earn it, and I don't deserve it, still, You give Yourself away. Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God!”
Genesis 16 closes with Hagar returning. She bears Abram a son God named Ishmael and proceeds to live in harmony with Sarai for the next 13 or so years. That said… Sarah finally becomes pregnant with the son of promise and friction in the home rears back up.
Genesis 21:8-13, “So Isaac grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the same day that Isaac was weaned. And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing (Ishmael). Therefore she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac.’
The matter was very displeasing in Abraham’s sight because of his son (Ishmael). But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed.’
Genesis 21:14-16, “So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then Hagar departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba (she got lost). And the water in the skin was used up, and she placed Ishmael under one of the shrubs. Then Hagar went and sat down across from him at a distance of about a bowshot; for she said to herself, ‘Let me not see the death of the boy.’ So she sat opposite him, and lifted her voice and wept.”
Hagar and Ishmael have been forced to leave the protection of Abraham’s home. Since the “Wilderness of Beersheba” is mostly desert and they’re lost, it’s not long for their ration of “bread and water” to run out leaving both Hagar and her son Ishmael in a terrible situation.
Things seem foreboding. “In the bleak midwinter” Hagar has resigned herself to the reality both she and her son were going to die. It’s hard to paint a more heart-wrenching situation. Unable to watch Ishmael’s suffering from dehydration, our text says Hagar “placed him under a shrub, sat opposite him,” and in desperation “lifted up her voice and wept.”
Don’t forget this was not the first time Hagar has found herself in a dicy situation with a few notable differences. The first time she fled — this time she’s being sent away. The first time she was an unbeliever uninterested in the things of God — this time she cried out for His help. Unique to so many, Hagar had literally spoken with Jesus face-to-face!
As an anguished and helpless Hagar “lifted up her voice and wept” on account of everything that had transpired, I can imagine her cries were directed towards heaven. In this moment of fear and vulnerability she’s making her personal appeal to “The-God-Who-Sees.” “God do you still see me? Do you know what’s happening? If so, where are you?”
For the second time Hagar finds herself in a tough spot and she’s done nothing to deserve it. She’s committed no crime — no sin. As a matter of fact, for the last 13 years she’s actually been obedient to God’s command to submit herself under Sarah’s authority.
Hagar is again a victim who’s been caught up in a situation she didn’t cause and has no control over. Not only has Sarah gotten her pound of flesh, but it was Abraham who “cast” both she and Ishmael away! I’m sure Hagar was flabbergasted when Abraham, this great man of faith, turned his back on his own son! “How could he do such a thing?”
To make matters worse… How did Abraham justify his decision? While he’d been torn on what to do because of his love for Ishmael, it wasn’t until God instructed him to listen to Sarah that Hagar and Ishmael were sent away. Consider this moment when Abraham tells Hagar God confirmed that she and Ishmael had to go! Not only has she been betrayed by Abraham and Sarah, but it would also appear God had abandoned her.
There is no way around the fact God sanctioned the entire situation facing Hagar and Ishmael. While personally torn up by his options, Abraham acted out of obedience to God’s Word — meaning this dire situation facing Hagar was the center of God’s will for her life.
I don’t think it’s farfetched to imagine that as Hagar sat under the desert sun weeping she’s crying out, “Why God? What did I do wrong? For the last 13 years I’ve obeyed your command. I submitted myself under the hand of Sarah? What about all those promises You gave me about my son? I trusted You? Are You really going to let me down?”
Hagar’s situation appeared hopeless. She’s in the desert without water. It’s only a matter of time until she and Ishmael would be dead. At this point nothing could be done. All of her energies had been exhausted. Hagar is literally at the end of her rope. She’s beyond despair. She’s reached the point where she can go no farther or do anything.
Hagar knew Jesus, but you can imagine her present situation filled her heart with doubt. She was afraid. Had God really led them into the wilderness to perish? Was God going to fail them in their time of need? Was God going to renege on His promises? At this point of complete and total despondency all Hagar can do is “lift her voice and weep.”
Have you ever been in such a situation that challenges what you know about Jesus — His promises? Like Hagar, you’ve done nothing to bring your pressing difficulties upon yourself. Instead, you simply find yourself caught up in events you have no control over. Have you ever reached a moment where all you can do is cry out and weep before the Lord?
Genesis 21:17-21, “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. And she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink. So God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. He dwelt in the Wilderness of Paran (northwestern Saudi Arabia along the eastern shore of the Red Sea); and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.”
It really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that in the very place when all hope was lost and Hagar is desperately “lifting her voice” to the Lord that “God called to her out of heaven.” As it pertains to the tough situations God’s might lead you into, please know Jesus is not only aware, He hears your cries, but He will respond in your time of need.
Look again at what “the angel of God” asks Hagar from the throne room of heaven… “What ails you, Hagar?” Sadly, this English translation of the ancient Hebrew fails to convey what God is articulating. In the original language only one word is recorded — “Hagar!”
In connecting her ailment to her name the translators believe God was doing more than simply identifying Hagar — He was saying her name in a tone that acknowledged how this situation was effecting her and in a voice she’d immediately recognize. Consider the first word Jesus “the Angel of the Lord” spoke to her back in Genesis 16:8 was “Hagar.” I can imagine when she heard her name she instantly recognized the voice that was speaking.
Now that He has her attention Jesus gives her a simple instruction, but one that challenged the reality of her predicament. Jesus says, “Hagar, fear not!” In saying this Jesus was seeking to turn Hagar’s attention off of her present situation and onto the One in control of her present situation. It’s as though Jesus is saying, “Hagar, if I see you and I love you, even though things appear hopeless, what do you really have to fear?”
Also notice why she didn’t need to fear… Jesus says, “I’ve heard the voice of the lad where he is.” Though much of the scene has centered upon the anguish of Hagar, just off screen — under that shrub — we have Ishmael. And note Ishmael is a teenager fully aware of what’s happening. He knows their situation is desperate — if not hopeless.
Aside from this, as Abraham’s son, Ishmael possessed an incredible spiritual heritage. As just one of what could be many examples Ishmael is one of only a few people in all of Scripture that God names! And yet, while Ishmael knew of God, it’s not until this very passage that we have any evidence of him actually knowing God for himself.
Ishmael is under that shrub listening to the cries of his mother. He can hear through her tears an appeal for God to help. He knew they’d been given a raw deal. He knew their situation didn’t look promising. And yet, upon hearing his mom crying out and weeping before the Lord, something stirred within him. What he heard was real and genuine. His mom was making a true and honest appeal to the God she’d told him so much about.
Inspired by her faith, Ishmael begins to pray for himself! Parents, one of the mistakes I think we often make is trying to shield our trials from our children. The truth is your kids know what’s going on. Even if it’s not on an intellectual basis they can sense something is off. Here’s why your attitude is important… They’re watching you! Hagar’s prayers to God — overheard by her teenage son — proved to be a powerful influence in his life!
How interesting that God responded to Hagar’s cries WHEN He “heard the voice of the lad!” Why would the knowledge that Ishmael had been praying serve to calm Hagar’s fears? Hagar now knows her son had decided to have a personal relationship with God for himself.
It’s not an accident following this particular incident we’re told, “So God was with the lad!” The implication is that a change had occurred in Ishmael through this event. No longer was Jesus the God of Abraham or his mother, from this point moving forward Jesus would also be the God Ishmael would serve. In a profound way this is a conversion story. May I ask, if you knew your trial would lead to your child’s profession of faith, would you resist it?
This explains why Jesus then instructs her to “arise, life up the lad and hold him with your hand” before He once again reiterates the promise that He’d “make him a great nation.” Before God could fulfill this promise two things had to occur: (1) Ishmael had to separate from Isaac, and (2) Ishmael had to have a personal relationship with God. In order for God to accomplish His will in Ishmael’s life everything that happened had been necessary.
After revealing to Hagar His ultimate purpose behind their turn of unfortunate events, God still has one more powerful lesson He needed to communicate. We read that after these things, “God opened Hagar’s eyes and she saw a well of water.” Not only had God worked through this situation to accomplish His will, but this well would quench their thirst!
Understand, the Hebrew language doesn’t imply that God placed “a well of water” along her path that wasn’t previously there. Instead, the miracle seems to be that Hagar was unable to see “the well” right in front of her until God “opened her eyes.” The irony was that Hagar and her son were dying of thirst when “a well” was within reach. The remedy to her affliction was right in front of her, but she couldn’t see it.
I don’t think it’s an accident that in Hagar’s first interaction with Jesus she’s also found by “a well” and gives Him the name “You-Are-The-God-Who-Sees” — only for in this second interaction to now have God give her sight so that she could see “a well” right before her!
There is no doubt by employing these two things (the ability to see and a well) God is seeking to remind Hagar of an important reality… She’d grown afraid because she’d lost sight of the fact Jesus is the “God-Who-Sees!” Though she didn’t know why any of this was happening, the truth is that there was no reason to fear since Jesus was in control.
And yet, what is so profound about this exchange and the point we should pay careful attention too is that God wasn’t providing a solution to Hagar’s problem. On the contrary, God wanted Hagar to see the solution had always been right in front of her!
I’m convinced, beyond remembering that God knew what she was going through, when the Lord “opened her eyes” it wasn’t to simply see a well… Jesus wanted Hagar to remember what the well represented — the moment she’d seen God and her life changed forever!
Hagar had been overtaken with both fear and doubt for a simple reason… She allowed her circumstances to take her eyes off of Jesus! While the well was right in front of her, Hagar allowed her situation to blind her from seeing the ultimate solution. Friend, how easy it is to grow so consumed with our current trial we fail to see our present Savior!
In closing… If you’re hurting, lost, or unsure where your life might be heading because of the difficulties you’re facing… If you’re sitting there with zero expectations of encountering the God of the universe… I hope you know “the Lord has not only heard of your affliction,” but Jesus has left His throne in heaven in order to find you, reveal Himself to you in the most relevant of ways, and minister to your heart by His grace!
Jesus is more than “the God who sees” — He is the God who cares! This morning, as you consider what’s next, Jesus is asking you the same two questions He posed to Hagar… “Where have you come from and where are you going?” Understand… It is the very fact that God can use your darkest moments and your most daunting situations to reveal Himself in the most personal of ways that makes His grace so amazing!
Christian, when God’s will leads you down a difficult road — when you find yourself in a desert that causes your heart to flood with fear and doubt, like Hagar may I exhort you to cry out to the Lord! It’s ok to be real and raw. It’s ok to weep and even question. The truth is that you may never know who’s listening and the impact your faith may be having.
And here’s why it’s ok to cry out to God in such a place… You not only serve a God-Who-Sees and a God-Who-Cares, but Jesus is a God-Who-Speaks! While His will may lead you into difficult situations that are both trying and will stretch your faith in Him to the max — circumstances that will bring you to the breaking point, it’s His Word that speaks through the void reminding you He has a reason behind whatever it is you’re facing!
It’s true Jesus may not reveal the purpose for your trial like He did with Hagar, but there is one thing He will always open your eyes to see… There is a Well who’s spring runs eternal… A Well right in front of you that will never cease to supply all that you need.
John 7:37-39, “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Hagar and Jesus — what an incredible story and testimony of His grace! If you don’t know Jesus, He knows you! In fact, He’s speaking to you! If you’ll consider where you’ve been and where you’re life is heading, I think you’ll conclude following Him makes sense! He cares for you and has a plan He wants to accomplish through your life if you’ll let Him.
And Christian, if you’re struggling under the weight of a trial your facing… May I exhort you to shift your gaze from of these in front of you and onto Jesus. You may be in a desert, but you don’t have to thirst! “Spring up Oh Well. Within my soul. Spring up Oh Well. And make me whole. Spring up Oh Well. And give to me… That life — abundantly.” This morning may we all come again to the Well and drink of the living water He so willingly provides!
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