Sunday, December 03, 2017

A child is born 3: Hagar bears Ishmael

“Abraham went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.”

God called Abraham to travel across the desert to a new land. God promised that he would be the father of a great nation through whom “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12. 1-3).  But he and his wife, Sarah, had no children. How could this be, if he had no children to carry on his line?

For years they travelled, but no child appeared. Sarah was well beyond child-bearing age. Eventually Sarah hit on the idea of giving Abraham her Egyptian slave, Hagar, so that Hagar could bear him a child which would then be counted as Sarah’s (after all, God had said that he would give descendants to Abraham – he hadn’t promised they would be Sarah’s.) Hagar conceived, but as soon as she did, she began to “look with contempt” on Sarah, rubbing salt into the wound of Sarah’s infertility. In response, Sarah treated her badly, and Hagar ran away into the desert. An angel met her at a spring and told her to return, promising that she would herself be the mother of a “multitude” of offspring. She recognised that, despite the terrible circumstances she had endured, she had met with God in the desert, and was amazed that she had survived the experience.  She went back to Sarah and her son, Ishmael, was born. Later on, she would be driven out again with her son. Once again, she and her child were saved by God, but on that occasion, she was not sent back. (Genesis 21.8-21) Tradition says that this ancient injustice was the root of the enmity between Israel and the Arab nations which continues to this day.  

Hagar’s story is a brutal one. She is treated callously by both Abraham and Sarah, as one who has no worth to them except as a fertile body. Yet God sees her, values her and protects her. Her child will be significant and remembered.

  • Imagine you could talk to Hagar. What would you want to ask her or say to her
  • Why do you think Sarah and Hagar behave as they do?
  • Pray for women living in cultures today which value them mainly for their ability to bear children.

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