Authored by T.M.
I had a basic knowledge of who Hagar was through the various illustrated Bibles I had read as a child. But this year, after deciding to read through the Bible cover to cover, I came away from her story with new perspectives on God’s individual love for each of us.
Hagar was an Egyptian servant to Sarah, Abraham’s wife.(1) She first appears as somewhat of a secondary character in the story of Abraham and the covenants God makes with him. God had promised Abraham offspring as countless as the stars, but Sarah—still not pregnant, and growing impatient at the lack of fulfillment of God’s promise—asks Abraham to sleep with Hagar, her servant.(2)
Abraham agrees, and Hagar soon finds herself expecting a child.(3) This is where things begin to get dicey. Jewish and Muslim traditions say that Hagar was the daughter of a pharaoh and had been given to Abraham as a gift during one of his sojourns in Egypt. Whether this is factual or not is hard to determine. Genesis 16:2 calls her a “maid” or a “servant.” Regardless of status, I began to imagine how isolated this Egyptian girl must have felt amidst a people and culture completely different from her own. So when she finds herself pregnant by Abraham, perhaps she begins to feel that things are looking up for her. Perhaps she hopes that here is a way to define herself amidst a strange people. Perhaps she begins to gloat. Whatever the case, after she gets pregnant with Abraham’s baby, the Bible tells us that she then “began to despise her mistress.”(4)
Sarah complains to Abraham, and Abraham tells Sarah that Hagar is her business, and that Sarah can do as she sees fit. Whatever Sarah decided to do was enough to cause pregnant Hagar to run away into the desert, where we next find her sitting by a spring, slaking her thirst.(5)
Here is the part of the story that I love: God sends an angel to find this runaway girl and talk her into returning home to Abraham’s camp.(6) This was a girl who probably felt like she was no one in anyone’s eyes, who probably felt unwanted and unloved; this girl with her ego and her faults and her failings; this girl who was Egyptian instead of Hebrew, who perhaps still held on to her previous traditions and believed in the Egyptian gods; this girl who had despised her mistress and who was undeserving of mercy; this girl who will doubtless go on to screw up more times in the future.
It’s here in the desert—in the midst of her sin and despair—that God appears to Hagar, because underneath the layers of circumstance and choice and faults and failing beats the heart of the creation that God had breathed life into. And that’s what God sees and is out to rescue when He sends an angel to find this girl whose existence began in His imagination and whose life’s story He had recorded in His book.
That one encounter with an angel in that desert place is enough to encourage Hagar to return home. But before returning home she gives a name to this God who searched her out and spoke to her. She called Him “the God who sees me.”(7)
You know those days when you’re not looking or feeling your best? Mine are generally marked by bad hair, a ratty sweater that’s as comfortable as it is ugly, mismatched clothing, and an intense desire to not be seen by anyone. Well, there’s a spiritual equivalent to this state too. I have times when my spiritual lacks make me feel like taking cover, such as when I have questions about how much I love God, or attitudes that need tossing, or prayers I’m neglecting to pray, or things that I haven’t done that I need to tackle. These are things that make me feel quite unworthy of being seen by God.
But it’s when you feel most unworthy of love, and yet God does something for you and says you are still worthy, that changes you. And that’s what God did for Hagar that day. He showed her that He cared for her, He was watching out for her, and that He had her life charted out. That’s the power of being seen by God. It was that power that gave Hagar inner strength to turn around and return to a situation that she had felt was intolerable just days before.
There is so much I like about this story, but here are three main points:
First, there are no secondary characters to God. Perhaps biblical narrative has pushed Hagar’s story into what can be told in one or two chapters, and addresses her mainly as a supporting role to the main story of Abraham and Sarah’s life. But God had a book with her name on it, and which she starred in—the story of her life. And that is true for everyone who feels like a secondary character in someone else’s story.
Second, God is aware of the ugliest, lowest moments of your life, yet He still believes in you. This knowledge gave Hagar enough strength to return to that difficult situation that God had placed her in. Wherever you’re at right now, whatever your spiritual or physical state, you have a God who sees you and believes in you.
Third, I love that God went and found Hagar when she ran away. There are so many times in my life when I have run away from situations. Perhaps not physically, but when I have emotionally hightailed it from a situation, or have closed myself off when feeling overwhelmed. I know I’ve done this to God as well. But God sees just where you’re at emotionally and physically—geographically, too—and there’s nothing that can separate you from His love. It will chase you down and find you and set you back on your feet.
I feel that Hagar’s story is relevant for us today. Wherever you’re at in life, whatever your upbringing, social status, skills (or lack of skills), and regardless of how you feel, you have a God who sees you, and nothing on this earth—not even your failings—can separate you from this kind of God. Paul put it this way: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(8)
1 Genesis 16:1.
2 Genesis 16:2.
3 Genesis 16:3–4.
4 Genesis 16:4 NIV.
5 Genesis 16:5–7.
6 Genesis 16:7–9.
7 Genesis 16:13 NIV.
8 Romans 8:38–39 NIV.
Read by Stephen Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright © 2011 by The Family International