In Genesis 16 we read the story of Hagar, a slave, who Abraham bought and brought from Egypt. Over a decade after leaving Egypt, Sarai and Abraham still had no children. So, Sarai decided that Abraham should give her children through Hagar, a pagan custom that was acceptable in society at that time. Hagar then slept with Abraham and Hagar became pregnant. Most English translations then say that Hagar “despised” or “had contempt” for Sarai. The assumption being that Hagar felt more important in that she could get pregnant and the ‘boss’ Sarai could not. However, I question if Hagar or Sarai was the root of their problems for three reasons:
- One, Hagar must have had a glow in her being, as many pregnant women do. As a slave she’d little hope of having children, so you can imagine the joy she felt in carrying a child. Seeing that glow, that joy; it would be natural for Sarai to be jealous and thus “feel” despised by Hagar.
- Two, being a slave and having no rights, I doubt that Hagar would put her life in jeopardy by openly boasting about being pregnant or despising Sarai. I think that Hagar’s natural motherly joy led to Sarai becoming jealous. In her jealousy Sarai became abusive and belittled Hagar. My point being, Hagar did not bring Sarai’s ill will upon her, but it was the result of Saria’s jealousy or misinterpretation of Hagar’s joy.
- And lastly, the Hebrew word translated “despise” has as its root qaqal. This word is used 83 times in the Old Testament yet it is translated into English 32 different ways! Meanings vary from “accursed” to “lightly esteemed.” It’s clearly an emotional word, but would a slave openly despise the one who she depends on for life and limb?
Hagar, I believe, was misunderstood. As a slave she was unloved, unappreciated. She had served Abraham’s family faithfully for many years. She was devoted to them; her life was totally dependent upon them. Hagar had no home and no property. She had no people, no family and no rights. She did what she was told by her owners and as a result of her obedience she was abused. She was alone. No one was looking out for Hagar. She felt invisible to those around her as if her body and the functions it performed was all that mattered; no one cared for her heart—herself—as a person.
Hagar’s story highlights the messiness of our broken world. Hagar reminds me of two things: some people are born into more mess than others, and my decisions can increase the mess for the lives and work of others around me.
Abraham and Sarah made a mistake and forced Hagar to be a part of it. Hagar was vulnerable, unprotected, without guidance. She was forced to submit and then was unjustly criticized. Then she was separated from the family to face the consequences forced upon her. You can imagine how desperate she felt, desperate enough to flee into the desert, a place where there’s no help, no water, and life-threatening heat. Hagar is pregnant and has nothing with her. Her desperation explains her desire to escape and why her plan was ill-conceived.
Seen and Known
Yet here comes God. When He meets Hagar in the desert, He doesn’t treat her like a mistake. He doesn’t criticize her or lecture her. Rather He honors her by seeking to understand. He asks about her. The impression God left on Hagar is unmistakable, a woman and a slave without people and home, became the only person in the entire Bible to give God a new name: El Roi—the God who sees.
The world cries out for One Who Sees—a Messiah who sits with us, cares for us, and seeks to understand and love us—by seeing us.
Jesus says, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Slavery comes in many forms. True freedom is found in relationship with God. As “little Christs” we too are to be setting people free. Look around today. Who are you seeing? What are you seeing in these people around you?
PATRICK LAI and his family have worked in SE Asia for other 37 years. His experience in doing business with Jesus has brought him to understand the meaning of work and worship in the marketplace. He started 14 businesses in four countries, six of which are still operating. Patrick and his wife, May, mentor and coach businesspeople working where there are few or no Christians. Check out Patrick’s latest book, Workship, now available in paperback and e-book.