Our story starts out sounding like the plot of the movie Mean Girls, circa 1900 B.C. But get ready for a surprisingly happy ending.
Before we meet Hagar, let's touch base with her aging, barren mistress, Sarai, who was desperate for a child. How desperate? She told her husband, Abram, "Go, sleep with my maidservant" (). Gulp.
However common that custom was in ancient Canaan, Sarai should have trusted God to bless her womb. Instead she took matters into her own hands and forced Hagar to take her place in Abram's bed.
Turnabout Is (Un)fair Play
Hagar soon took her revenge. "When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress" (Genesis 16:4). An insolent tone, an exaggerated shrug, a dismissive hand gesture; honey, we've seen that movie.
Abram refused to get involved and told his wife, "Do with her whatever you think best" (Genesis 16:6).
Unfortunately, Sarai did her worst: She "mistreated Hagar" (). The Message puts it more bluntly: "Sarai was abusive to Hagar." The Hebrew text makes it clear violence was involved. To think one of our matriarchs had such a dark side. Poor, pregnant Hagar!
Hagar's name means "flight," and sure enough, this Egyptian slave took off running, breaking the law of the land by doing so. Woefully unprepared, Hagar collapsed in the desert. But you'll never guess who came looking for her
Lost and Found
The same One who "watches over you" () had his eye on our runaway slave and sent an ambassador on his behalf: "The angel of the Lord found Hagar" ().
Since this angel looked humanno wings, no halo Hagar didn't hide her face in fear, even though he knew her name. When Hagar admitted fleeing from home, the angel gave her the worst news in town: "Go back to your mistress and submit to her" ().
A harsh command? No, a loving one. The wilderness was no place for an expectant mother. At home Hagar would at least be fed, clothed, and sheltered. In the months to come, her child would be cared for.
But she'd also have to face her mean-spirited mistress.
God knew he was asking a great deal of Hagar, so he showered her with promises: Her descendants would be "too numerous to count" (), and she would give birth to a son, guaranteeing her Abram's protection.
Now Hear This
Then came some truly good news: "The Lord has heard of your misery" (). How like God to ease our pain by listening. And by whispering to our heart, I hear you, dear one. I know this will be hard. But have no fear. You won't be alone.
In response, Hagar did something no one else in the Bible dared to do: She named God. Yes, she did! Hagar boldly gave him the name "God who sees me" (). A personal relationship indeed.
Hagar was found by God, seen by God, and heard by God, even though she was a slave, not a master; an Egyptian, not a Hebrew; a woman, not a man. How's that for justice?
Whenever you feel unnoticed, remember our ancient sister Hagar and take heart: We're loved by a God who listens.
Liz Curtis Higgs is the author of 26 books, including Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible (WaterBrook Press). She lives with her husband and their two teenagers in Kentucky. Visit her website: www.LizCurtisHiggs.com.
Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
Click here for reprint information on Today's Christian Woman.