ANOTHER BACKWARD STEP
Amazing God, You are rich in mercy and lavish in Your care of me. I lift my whole being in praise to Your great name.
Read GENESIS 16
Hagar and Ishmael
16 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”
6 “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.
9 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
11 The angel of the Lord also said to her:
“You are now pregnant
and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,[a]
for the Lord has heard of your misery.
12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward[b] all his brothers.”
13 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[c] the One who sees me.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi[d]; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Whoops! Great blessings can be followed by sudden downturns. May God help us to find a steady rhythm in our spiritual lives.
What a roller-coaster ride this is! We rose to the highest point in the previous chapter, only to find ourselves hurtling downward as the result of yet another attempt to do God’s work for him. This time it is Sarai who takes the initiative in a desperate attempt to overcome the problem of childlessness. The text passes no moral judgment on her action, since what she proposes was culturally acceptable at the time, but the consequences are disastrous for all concerned – especially for the Egyptian slave girl, Hagar, whose tragic plight is central to the story.
We have said that families, while foundational to human society, are not romanticized in the Bible – and that is very evident here. Sarai’s proposal, to which Abram meekly agrees (in complete contrast to his bold questioning of God), unleashes unexpected emotions, jealousies, and ten-sions, resulting in the expulsion of Hagar and her son. There is a kind of restoration, but it is desperately one-sided, and the tensions in this extended family will bubble away before breaking out again following the birth of Isaac.1
The story of Hagar is full of ironies because her weeping is heard by God who rescues her from death, anticipating the plight to befall Abram’s descendants by Sarai, when they later cry out in distress as slaves in Egypt. The tragedy of Hagar reminds us of the desperate struggle of so many women today in a world that can be harsh and cruel to people on the margins.
Pray for women whose lives have been blighted by Hagar-like tragedies today and ask for a world in which prejudice and slavery of all kinds are eliminated.
Loving Heavenly Father, life in our world can be so complicated. We remember women who are in distressing situations like Hagar. We pray for Your intervention in their lives, either directly or through the love and care of Your servants. Thank You, Lord.
1 See Gen 21:8–21
Click here to sign up to receive the EXTRAs via email each quarter.
© 2024 Scripture Union U.S.A. All rights reserved. Reproduction of the whole or any part of the contents without written permission is prohibited.
Encounter with God is published in the USA under license from Scripture Union England and Wales, Trinity House, Opal Court, Opal Drive, Fox Milne, Milton Keynes, MK15 0DF.