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May 26, 2013

Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.”  Genesis 16:2

It’s important to remember what is at stake in this story.  God has promised to bless people from every nation on earth.  The blessing will come through an offspring of Abraham. So, in one sense, the blessing of God for the nations of the world hangs on the birth of a child.

Sarah is aging.  The way of women has ceased to be with her.  That means the child to be born can only come through a miracle of grace.  Years have passed and the miracle has not happened.  So, how will the blessing of God come to the world?

Genesis 16 begins by telling us: “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children.”

So the promise of God’s blessing has been given, but it has not been fulfilled, and the question remains: How will God’s blessing come to the world? 

Sarah takes matters into her own hands

She [Sarah] had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar…  Genesis 16:1

Why did Sarah have a female Egyptian servant?  The answer most likely lies back in chapter 12.  Abraham and Sarah had gone to Egypt because there was famine in Canaan.

They had practiced a deception saying that Sarah was Abraham’s sister.  It went terribly wrong, and Sarah was taken into Pharaoh’s palace as a candidate to become his wife.

Thinking that Abraham was Sarah’s brother, Pharaoh plied him with gifts, which included female servants (Genesis 12:16).  There’s good reason to think that Hagar became Sarah’s servant when she was given to Abraham by Pharaoh in Egypt.

Sarah said to Abram, “‘Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” (Genesis 16:1-2).

The outline of this story is simple: Sarah wants to have a child, and so she gives Hagar to Abraham.  Abraham agrees with the plan.  Hagar conceives, and this already fractured family is plunged into a web of conflicting loyalties and hidden resentments.

Today, I want to offer three sketches from Hagar’s life: Emotionally abandoned, and spiritually wounded, but deeply loved.

HAGAR: A SKETCH PORTRAIT

  1. Emotionally Abandoned

If Hagar was given to Abraham by Pharaoh, we may assume that Hagar had some position in the royal palace of Egypt.  Pharaoh was out to impress Abraham, so I don’t think Hagar was a low level servant.  We can assume that Hagar was an impressive lady.

But Pharaoh gave her up, and now she found herself with Abraham.  She came from Pharaoh’s palace and now she finds herself in Abraham’s tent.  People dream of moving from a tent to a palace.  But for Hagar it has been the other way round.

Hagar had served Sarah, and had presumably served her well, but now Sarah gave her up: “Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife” (Genesis 16:3).

This would not have been as surprising to Hagar as it is to us.  The laws in the ancient Near East give regulations for it.  But this was never the way for the people of God.  From the beginning, when God brought Eve to Adam, the purpose of God was that marriage should be between one man and one woman.

Here we have an example of well-meaning people moving away from the way of God, and finding that it did not work out as they had hoped.  Now, there are two women in Abraham’s life.  The man is torn between his love for his wife on the one hand and his desire for a son on the other.

Hagar resents Sarah: “When she saw that she had conceived, Hagar looked with contempt upon Sarah (Genesis 16:4).  And Sarah blames Abraham and wants him to suffer, “May the wrong done to me be on you” (16:5)!  Abraham just wants to wash his hands of the whole situation.  He takes no responsibility: “Behold your servant is in your power; do to her as you please” (16:6). 

So now Abraham gave her up!  He is the father of the child she is carrying.  He has responsibility for her.  But Abraham does not stand up for her.  He gives her up, just as Pharaoh and Sarah had done before.

Who cared about this woman?  Her whole life seemed to be a story of what other people want.  She was pushed from pillar to post, according to what was most convenient for others.

Then we read that Sarah dealt harshly with Hagar (16:6).  You can imagine the blame, the hurt, the jealously, and the resentment in this home.  Hagar’s work became impossible for her, and it is not surprising to read that Hagar fled from Sarah, (16:6).  So we find her alone, pregnant, and in the desert, which is like being alone, pregnant, and in the city today.

This is a story for the woman who feels that she has been like a pawn, moved around on the board of other people’s lives.  This is a story for the man who feels taken for granted. He feels that he is a meal ticket for an ungrateful family, who don’t know and don’t seem to care what it takes.  This is the story for the young person whose father or mother did not take an interest in you.  They gave you up, and left you feeling abandoned.

This is a story that comes right out of the Bible, and speaks right into the life of the person who has never felt deeply loved.  Hagar was never first in anyone’s life.  No one was close enough to Hagar to know who she really was and what she really felt.  There was no one she could count on—not even the father of the child she was carrying.

HAGAR: A SKETCH PORTRAIT

  1. Spiritually Wounded

I want to sketch Hagar’s life with regard to her spiritual experience.  Hagar would have grown up worshipping idols.  At this time, we only know of one family on the face of the earth to whom God had made himself known.  That family would became a great nation, but at this time it was Abraham and Sarah and their extended family.

Abraham had also worshipped idols, until God appeared to him.  God swooped into this man’s life, laid hold of him and said, “I will bless you, and I will make you a blessing;

through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”  Now God brings Hagar, a woman from Egypt, into this believing family.

Hagar would have learned about God from Abraham and Sarah.  They’d have told her about the Lord who made heaven and earth, the God who loves undeserving people, the God who choose to bless a rebel world through a Son in whom his blessing would be found.  In the kindness of God, Hagar finds herself in the family God has chosen to bless.

Picture Hagar sitting by the camp fire in the evening as Abraham prays.  Sarah sings a song of praise, and soon Hagar and the others join in.  She has been adopted like a daughter into the family of faith

Now think about what happens next: The people from whom she learned all that she knew about God turn out to be desperately flawed believers.  That must have been devastating for Hagar.  What good thoughts can she have of Abraham and Sarah’s God after this?

This is a story for the person who has learned about God, but now struggles with faith because of what you have seen in some who believe.  Children who grow up in a Christian home often go through this, usually in your teenage years.

When you were young your parents were your heroes.  You thought they could do no wrong.  Then as you grow, you began to see the cracks in their lives.  Your mother talks about faith but then seems fraught with worry.  Your father talks about how blessed it is to follow Christ, but you can see he isn’t happy.

Your parents are believers, but when you see the fractures in their lives you begin to say to yourself “Huh?”  Some of you know what this is like.  A Christian you looked up to, trusted, and they disappointed you.  Hagar’s story is for you

Try to imagine the impact on Hagar when the only believers she knew used her in the way that they did!  How can this woman ever come to believe?  All her thoughts about God are filtered through Abraham and Sarah, and now she has massive barriers to faith!

It’s not surprising that she ran from the family of faith.  She ran from Sarah and from Abraham, and she ran from the God that they had failed so badly.

HAGAR: A SKETCH PORTRAIT

  1. Deeply Loved

The last part of the story is full of hope for every person who feels emotionally abandoned or spiritually wounded.  Hagar discovers that she is deeply loved by God.

Here are three glimpses of the love of God.

God finds lost people

“The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur.”  Genesis 16:7

Again, we have God taking a visible form—not a human form in this case, but the form of a visible angel.  The angel of the Lord is God himself in a visible form.  This is another theophany.  God appeared to Hagar in visible form as he had done to Abraham and Sarah.

We know this because of verse 13 where we read: “She called the name of the LORD who spoke to her…”  It was Yahweh who spoke to her directly and personally: “The angel of the Lord found her” (Genesis 16:7).  Hagar would never have found her way to God, but God in his mercy, found his way to her.

If God waited for us to find him, none of us would get there.  Lost sheep don’t have the capacity to find the Good Shepherd.  It is the Good Shepherd who has the capacity to find lost sheep.

It is very striking to me that God steps into Hagar’s life at a time when you would least expect it.  She is running away from believers, and she is running away from God.  She is angry and resentful; she feels a sense of injustice.  There is a turmoil going on inside here

This hardly feels like a time when she can hear the voice of God.  And yet it proved to be the great turning point of Hagar’s life!  How did God turn her around?

GOD FINDS LOST PEOPLE

  1. The question

“Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”  Genesis 16:8

Where have you come from?

Hagar was running from faith.  She was leaving the people of God.  She was running from the place where God had set her down.

Listen to this question from God todayWhere have you come from?  You have learned about God, but now with turmoil in your life, you are leaving him.  Once you were serving God, now your heart is cold towards him.  Others don’t know it, but God does. 

Where are you going?

Where does the path you are beginning on now end?  I’m not talking about today or tomorrow.  It’s not really about 10 years or even when you die, I’m talking about beyond the resurrection, beyond the Day of Judgment.

Here you are moving away from the path of faith in Christ.  Gradually, you are pulling yourself away from believing people, linking up with another crowd.  Where does this path lead?  Where are you going?  The path you are choosing is not the path to heaven.

As God intercepts her life, God’s question awakens Hagar’s conscience.

GOD FINDS LOST PEOPLE

  1. The command

The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.”

Genesis 16:9

God calls you to do the one thing that you really want to avoid: “O Lord, anything but that!  Anywhere but there!  Anyone but her!”

Hagar, when you have taken a wrong path there is only one thing to do: Return to your mistress!  It’s a fractured home, but it is one place on earth where God is known, and that is where you need to be. 

Are you disappointed in the church, and on your way out of the body of Christ?  Maybe you feel like Hagar, with Abraham and Sarah.  You are on the edge of quitting the people of God.  The enemy tells you that you can have a private faith, but God says “Return to your mistress and submit to her.”

You are right to say that the church in this world is always fractured.  That is why the church can never be the hope of the world, only Christ is.  But on the last day, you do not want to be separated from the church.

GOD FINDS LOST PEOPLE

iii. The promise

The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.”  Genesis 16:10

Hagar, walk with God in faith and obedience, and however hard your life may be, good will come of it.  Blessing will follow it.  You, if you walk with Christ, will also be able to say, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

DEEPLY LOVED

God hears suffering people

The angel of the Lord said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has listened to your affliction.  Genesis 16:11

It does not say “the Lord has listened to your prayer.”  Up to this point, there is no suggestion that Hagar prayed.  Why would you pray to God when you are you running from him?  But God has listened to your affliction.

God hears tears as well as prayers.  God has heard your suffering—the exhausted sighs, the unanswered questions.  “You have kept count of my tossings; Put my tears in your bottle.  Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8).

God told her that she was to give her son the name “Ishmael.”  Ishmael means, “God has heard.”  Since he turned out to be a difficult boy, this must have been a blessing to his mother.  Every time she called out his name, she would be reminded that God hears: “Ishmael! Ishmael! God hears! God has heard!”

There must have been times when Hagar said to herself: “Pharaoh didn’t look after me.  Abraham didn’t look after me.  Sarah didn’t look after me.  Now I have found the One who looks after me!”

DEEPLY LOVED

God sees all people

She called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”  Genesis 16:13

Spurgeon has some wonderful words on this that I have paraphrased here:

God sees you as much as if there was nobody else in the world for him to look at. The infinite mind of God is able to grasp a million objects at once, and yet to set itself as much upon one as if there were nothing else but that one. You are looked at by God as much as if throughout space there were not another creature but yourself.

Can you conceive that?

Suppose the stars blotted out in darkness, suppose the angels dead; imagine the glorified spirits in heaven are all gone, and you are left alone, the last person, and there is God looking at you. God looks at you as if you were the only being his hands had ever made.

You are the particular object of his attention at this and every moment. [1]

God sees and knows you better than you see and know yourself.  It is fascinating to me that Hagar says this immediately after the prophecy made about Ishmael: “He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him” (Genesis 16:12).

Parents know what it is to see a reflection of ourselves in the struggles of our children.

I suspect Hagar saw a reflection of herself in the description of Ishmael: “A wild donkey of a man: his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him.”  And Hagar says, “Truly you are the God who sees me!”  You know me as no one ever has!

The amazing thing about God’s seeing is that he sees, not with the eyes of condemnation, but with the eyes of love.  This, for a woman who was running from God, in order to lay hold of her, and in loving kindness to bring her back. 

His grace is sufficient for you

Hagar did what the Lord commanded.  She went back to Abraham and Sarah, back to the fractured household of faith.  Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael (Genesis 16:15).

Obedience to God meant living with continued difficulty.  When Hagar went back, there were more problems with Sarah.  The two women never really got along.  When Ishmael was born, Hagar faced the daunting challenge of raising a son with the temperament of a wild donkey, and in the end, she was left to do it alone.

This is not a story that ends with “And they all lived happily ever after.”  They didn’t!

The “happily ever after” stuff belongs to fairy tales and Hollywood movies from the 1930s!  Even Hollywood doesn’t make movies like that today, because the world doesn’t work like that.

The Bible speaks to the real world—to the ongoing difficulties faced by single mothers, and perplexed wives and flawed fathers and troubled sons.  The message is not “Come to Jesus and you will live happily ever after.”  The message is “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

If you come to the Lord Jesus Christ today, you will find that his grace is sufficient for you.  Living in the tension of a home where there is little peace, the grace of the Lord Jesus is sufficient for you.  Living with the emotional abandonment and the spiritual wounding you may have experienced, the grace of the Lord Jesus is sufficient for you.

To live with and to master the wild impulses that sometimes rage in your heart and your soul—it won’t be easy.  It will be a struggle.  But you will find that his grace is sufficient for you.

I know that I am speaking today to some who feel emotionally abandoned, and to others who have been spiritually wounded.  I am saying to you today from the Scriptures that you are deeply loved by God.  He sees you.  He knows you.  He hears your affliction.

He sent his Son to seek and to save you.

By God’s grace, and through his Word, he draws near to you today with the command to repent, and with a promise of blessing.  And his grace is sufficient for you.

 

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, “Omniscience,” Sermon #85, June 15, 1856.

 

© Colin S. Smith

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