In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ll be diving into discussions about just a few of the incredible women we encounter in scripture. To kick off this series, we’re talking about Hagar; the seemingly side-character in the story of Abraham and Sarah, Hagar is often seen as the victim of Abraham and Sarah’s lack of faith in bearing a child. However, there is so much more to her story.
In our 21st century eyes, we view this story through shock when we hear that Sarah told Abraham to get her servant, Hagar, pregnant since she didn’t believe she could conceive, herself.
A common practice in the Ancient Near Eastern times, in the case of barrenness, however, was that if a wife was barren after a certain amount of time, she would give her husband her slave to act as surrogate. When this happens, the slave takes on the role of slave-wife, no longer acting as slave.
Because of this, there is a shifting “power dynamic” in the family and Sarah becomes angry and feels threatened, knowing that her ability to bear children has surpassed her own status as a wife, in some respects. She wants her authority over Hagar again, which Abraham grants, saying “your slave woman is in your hands.”
Hagar experiences this constant movement of status and abuse from both Abraham and Sarah. She has no real identity, no control over her life or her destiny.
Hagar flees and is met by an angel in the wilderness…
She becomes one of only a few in scripture to have a divine proclamation of her coming birth when the angel says “Greatly I will multiply your seed…you are going to give birth to a son and you will call his name Ishmael (God hears), for God has heard your oppression…”
What’s even more incredible is that God is the first one to call Hagar by her name. Every time Hagar is referenced before this point, it is as “slave woman.” God, however, has heard her oppression, but above that he has seen her.
Hagar becomes one of the first theologians by naming God: El Roi, which can mean both “the God I have seen” and “the God who sees me.” She is freed and given the role of head of her lineage as a single mother, and her story foreshadows Israel’s.
Hagar, who has been overlooked and abused her entire life, is seen and heard by the one true God.
Main source: Frymer-Kensky, “Reading the women of the Bible”