“God wants you to be delivered from what you have done and from what has been done to you – Both are equally important to Him.”
― Joyce Meyer
(Hagar and Ishmael – painted by Alan Jones)
Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here
In Part 2, we began to look beyond the drama between Sarah and Hagar, and instead, to focus on the trauma. It is so natural for us to focus on the men in a Biblical story, but it can be powerful to read from the perspective of the women. Honestly, when was the last time you heard a sermon on Sarah or Hagar? Sarah’s story is a rough one and, as we’ll see in Hagar’s story, hurt people…hurt people. In Sarah’s story, we get to the point where she is so devastated from an inability to get pregnant, that she tells her husband to sleep with someone else. This is the first time in the story that we meet this someone else.
Genesis 16: 1-2 – 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.”
If you weren’t quite sure of Hagar’s status, notice Sarah’s words. She doesn’t even use Hagar’s name. She simply says “go sleep with my slave.”
And Abraham agrees.
There are no justifications for Sarah’s actions here, but is it possible her trauma influences this? Does she so willingly give her slave as a sexual object to Abraham because she was so willingly given as a sex object by her husband to the Pharaoh? But this story is about Hagar.
The story does not try to flower up the language here. We read that Sarah TOOK Hagar, GAVE her to Abraham, he WENT IN TO HER, and she conceived.
Let’s call this what it is. This is a rape. There is no consent. There is no love. There is no dignity or value of humanity. TOOK…GAVE…WENT IN.
It crushes me to know that so many women have had a similar experience.
How was Hagar taken? Did she try to fight it? At what point was she forced to accept the inevitable? Was she terrified? Did she shut down? How many times did this have to happen to her before she finally conceived? What could she possibly do? She was a slave. Completely powerless, even over her own body.
It’s no surprise that this story takes us right back to the very beginning. When was the last time we heard that someone TOOK and GAVE to her husband? Human brokenness is on full display here.
If it isn’t bad enough that Hagar is impregnated by her rape, Sarah decides that, now that Hagar is pregnant, (something Sarah has not been able to do for her husband) she wants the slave gone.
Surely Abraham will step in. We have to believe that Abraham will be a man and protect this pregnant woman (pregnant with his child by the way), who has no status as a slave, and no ability to make it on her own.
Genesis 16:6 – “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.”
Abraham is completely passive. It’s like we’ve heard this story before. When was the last time a man had the ability to step up and protect, yet stood by and said/did nothing? Oh yeah…Adam.
So Sarah lets loose on Hagar. The story simply says “Sarah mistreated her.” That is a gross underrepresentation of what that Hebrew word means. The Hebrew word used here implies physical and psychological abuse. It’s so bad, that Hagar runs away. She would rather be on her own in the desert, than to stay in her current situation.
At this point, Hagar has been enslaved, raped, abused, and is now on her own. What must she have been feeling? While she is in the desert, the angel of the Lord appears to her and says, “Hagar…
Did you catch that? If you read through chapter 16, the narrator uses Hagar’s name, but Sarah and Abraham never do. They only call her slave. But in her trauma, brokenness, and loneliness, God moves toward Hagar and speaks her name out loud for the first time. How must that have felt? Not only that, but this is the first time in the Bible that God sends his angel to someone. At her lowest point, which is by no fault of her own by the way, God moves toward Hagar and comforts her. God then gives her strength and tells her what I imagine must have been really hard to hear.
Genesis 16: 9 – “Go back to your mistress”
Hagar must face her trauma head on…and she does. This is a brave woman! She returns, and gives birth to a son, Ishmael.
We don’t hear of Hagar again until Genesis 21. Sarah has finally given birth in her old age. Now that she has a child of her own, she wants nothing to do with Hagar and her son.
There are no justifications for Sarah’s actions here, but is it possible her trauma influences this? Maybe she is desperate for Abraham to show her the love and attention she needs. Maybe she secretly hoped he would never have agreed to her proposal to sleep with Hagar in the first place. Whatever the reason, she approaches Abraham and says,
Genesis 21:10 – “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”
Notice, she still won’t say Hagar’s name.
This time we read that Abraham is concerned about Sarah’s request but, in a strange turn of events, God tells Abraham to do what she says. Why? The story doesn’t say but, maybe God wanted Hagar to get out of this traumatic relationship.
So we read that Abraham TOOK some bread and water, GAVE them to Hagar, and sent Hagar and Ishmael off. There are those words again.
Hagar and Ishmael are completely alone, traveling through the desert, and the little bit of food and water Abraham sends them with run out. She puts her child under a bush so she doesn’t have to watch him die.
Then the most heartbreaking verse …
Genesis 21: 16 – And as she sat there, she began to sob.
What was running through her mind? Had she completely given up? And then…
Genesis 21: 17 – God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar?
Her name is spoken again.
God promises to be with Hagar and her child. God says that Ishmael will be blessed and would become a great nation. Then Hagar opens her eyes and sees a well in front of her. God provides. As Hagar’s story ends, we read that God remained with them as the boy grew up.
There are many women in my life who have experienced some severe trauma. I don’t know why this happens. I wish it didn’t. Like Hagar and Sarah, much of it happens at the hands of men. Most do not choose their trauma. Here’s what I do know. God moves toward you in your trauma and sits with you in the desert. God calls you by name. You may have to face your trauma head on in order to heal. You may have to remove yourself to heal. Throughout Scripture, water is a symbol of life. Hagar opens her eyes to see a well of water provided for her. I don’t know what your experience is, or where you may be in the healing process, but God promises to be with you and I know that in any situation, He can give life.