Hagar and Grace
Hagar was exhausted. The slave woman had run away from her mistress Sarai's harsh treatment, but she had no place to go. She rested beside the spring located by the road to Shur. Maybe a caravan would come through and stop for water. Maybe they would take her back to Egypt. She would be sold again, but Sarai was so angry that Hagar was afraid to go back. Pregnant, she wondered how she would manage.

Hagar hated Sarai for treating her like a female donkey—just livestock to breed to increase the herd. Princess indeed! All Sarai has to do is hint and Abraham will give her anything she wants. Why did Sarai have to take what little dignity was left to her? Being a slave was bad enough. Now the pregnancy. And homeless as well.

Hagar opened her eyes to see a stranger standing nearby. He said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

Since she didn't know where she would end up, she answered only the first question, “I'm running away from my mistress Sarai.” 

Then the stranger said the most amazing thing. He was the angel of the Lord. “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”

Before Hagar could object, he gave her a promise, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” He spoke as if he were God himself. He told her the child she carried would be a son. “You shall name him Ishmael (God Hears) for the Lord has heard of your misery.”

Hagar felt awed and encouraged. “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’ ”

Hagar returned to Sarai (now called Sarah). The two women maintained an uneasy truce. Hagar tried to accept her subordinate role and Sarah no longer mistreated her. But the hostilities only went underground while Ishmael grew from infancy into adolescence.

Nearly two decades later

Hagar chaffed at her servant status. She was the mother of Abraham's firstborn, Ishmael. Yet, she was still treated like a slave. She and Ishmael sat at the feast Abraham held to celebrate the weaning of Isaac. (Isaac was the son Sarah had borne at the incredible age of 90.) Ishmael reflected his mother's attitude as he made fun of young Isaac.

Isaac was miserable. This was supposed to be his party, but his big brother had taken all the fun out of it. *

When Sarah caught on to the situation, she took the matter to Abraham. (See the women in Christ commentary for May, 2003: Sarah and Grace.) Reluctantly, Abraham gave Hagar what food and water she could carry and sent her and Ishmael away from the camp. They got lost. Their provisions ran out. Ishmael grew weak from thirst, hunger, and the relentless heat.

Hagar helped Ishmael lie down in the shade of a bush; left him alone; and went off some distance away to cry. She didn't want to watch him die. Lonely and scared, Ishmael too began to cry out. (To God?) Both mother and son despaired of life and of any future hope.

Where was God?

God heard Ishmael and spoke to Hagar from heaven. He comforted Hagar and encouraged her to comfort Ishmael. He repeated his promise, “I will make him into a great nation.” Then he showed her a source for water. “God was with the boy as he grew up.” Ishmael learned to be a skillful archer and how to survive in the desert. 

Hagar arranged to bring him a bride from Egypt. Just as God promised Abraham, Ishmael became the father of twelve nations.

Even though Hagar and Ishmael could not substitute for Sarah and Isaac in God's plan of redemption, he did not throw them away as if they were mistakes that belonged in the garbage. God valued the lives of Hagar and Ishmael and looked after their physical and emotional needs. God did not judge them to be unworthy of the help they needed. His mercy overlooked their flaws just as his mercy overlooked the flaws of Abraham and Sarah.

God promised Abraham that people out of all nations would be blessed through him. All those who believe and depend on the Lord will receive the covenant blessings promised to Abraham. There is plenty of God's grace to go around.

*(Children were commonly nursed until they were three to six years old.) 

For the Scripture References and related Bible Study Guide, go to Bible Study Guide:  Hagar and Grace, Grace in Suffering

Scarlett Stough