The message this week centers on Hagar (meaning “to flee”), Egyptian slave to Sarai (later God changed her name to Sarah), wife of Abram (God changed his name to Abraham), who Sarai gave to Abram in hopes of bearing a son/heir for Abram. Hagar then became pregnant, whereas Sarai became jealous and treated Hagar badly to the point that Hagar tried to escape into the wilderness, but an Angel of the Lord intervened and instructed Hagar to return to bear the child – Ishmael (meaning “God hears”). God tells Abram that Ishmael will have 12 sons/princes and they will become a great nation but then declares that Ishmael will not be allowed to inherit God’s covenant from Abram, but it should go to Abram’s future son from Sarai to be called Isaac. While Isaac and Ishmael (13 years older) were young Sarai became jealous again of Ishmael’s presence and banished he and Hagar from the family home allowing Isaac to smoothly inherit Abram’s covenant with God.
Wow, and some think soap operas are only a modern invention. The practice of having children with multiple wives/servants was acceptable in ancient times. Sarah had reached past the childbearing age and instead of asking God for help offered Hagar up as a surrogate. Hagar got pregnant with a son so up to that point things were going as planned. Hagar had done what she was instructed to do. Yet God had a different plan. He decided Sarah would bore the child Isaac to carry on the lineage of God’s Covenant. Isaac’s son Jacob would eventually father 12 sons who would create the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel.
Our initial impressions are that Hagar was used, abused, and ultimately discarded (banished) along with her child Ishmael. Yet there is more to the story.
- Hagar stands alone as the only woman in the Hebrew Bible to have a conversation with an Angel of God.
- She followed God’s instructions, was faithful, and returned to an abusive relationship with Sarah.
- Hagar is not mentioned by name in the Qu’ran but is blessed by God and honored as the matriarch of the Abrahamic descendants becoming nations of Islam. Islam honors Hagar as the “matriarch of monotheism” (noted Trible, “Unto the Thousandth”). Her son Ishmael was blessed by God and fathered the 12 tribes that became the tribes of the Arab nations.
- Hagar is last referenced in Paul’s letter to the Galatians 4:21-31 where he uses the Arab relationship of Hagar as the mother of the child of the flesh in contrast to Sarah as the mother of the promise – God’s covenant. This reference created tensions between the Arab and Jewish residences of Paul’s time.
- The Bible does reference Ishmael and Isaac gathering to bury Abraham upon his death. We also know that Isaac’s son Esau married Ishmael’s daughter Mahalath, so they must have had some family gatherings and relationships.
- We lose touch with Hagar and Ishmael in the Biblical text for the most part after they were banished. History tells us Hagar and Ishmael settled in Mecca and Hagar’s burial place is a sacred site in Mecca.
Parental and sibling rivalry were alive and well even 1800 years BCE. Imagine the last playoff youth soccer or baseball game you attended where the score was tight, and you would likely only need to substitute the parental blue jeans for robes and loin cloths to be back in Abraham’s time. Personally I can’t remember ever seeing my oldest brother (5 years older) cleaning out the calf pens on the farm growing up, so I must assume he never did – though I’m not sure who did clean them before I was old enough to handle the pitchfork. Hmm. Somehow families and siblings find a way to work out their differences even though the written or verbal versions may be a little one sided.
Questions For Reflection:
- God sometimes does not choose the strongest, oldest, or most qualified to be His messenger but instead He chooses the most faithful who believe that with God’s support anything is possible. Is God’s selection of the non-traditional leader an inspiration to you? Is there hope for you ?
- Is there a family member growing up that you had a difficult time with? Were they the older or younger “privileged one”? Or…were you the “one”?
- How can we be a better example to our parents, children, or siblings around family unity?
Most graceful and merciful God. Please be with us as we begin to again gather together as friends and family. Keep us safe in our travels and contacts. Help us to have patience and grace filled love to all we meet and the fortitude to seek out and find common ground in which to celebrate. In your blessed name. Amen.