Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife.
He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her. The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. Genesis 16:1-7
And now we come to this text. This is one of the stories of Abraham and Sarah that has lurked back in my mind, knowing it was coming around the bend, and not knowing what I could say about it. I hear this text at too many levels.
Growing up in a border town meant that I felt an innate animosity toward those kids who grew up “over there.” Since my own mother grew up “over there”, and my grandmother and a few other relatives lived “over there”, I somehow exempted them from my distaste. To this day I refuse to wear green (their high school color). It runs deep. So I know that issues of future tribal animosities run through this story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael.
The text tells us that Hagar was an Egyptian and, by the end of this passage, was cast away into the wilderness by Sarah’s cruelty. Now it is Sarah’s turn to invite us to look poorly upon her – just as we lost respect for Abraham when he handed Sarah to the Egyptians.
We worry again about the promise to Abraham but then remember that God didn’t say anything thus far about the maternity side of the promise of a great nation.
We feel for Abraham and Sarah, still barren after all these years. And yet how painful for Sarah to share her husband with her slave girl. Even though it is painful for me to type the words “slave girl” as it reminds me of our capacity to dehumanize and exploit other people. While we frown upon polygamy, exploitation of other people still happens today, around the world and in our own backyards.
And then I think of this child. An innocent child. Carried in his mother’s womb as she runs from the cruelty of Sarah, the sexual entitlement of Abraham, the oppression of slavery, into an equally cruel wilderness. What are his prospects going to be? Before he was even born his destiny was shaped by the circumstances of his birth.
So this whole story is painful for me. It is confusing, disheartening. Frankly, I wish it hadn’t been told. But then I realize that it isn’t a story about the broken characters in it – it is a story about the God who brings healing and hope. And thus this story is interrupted… The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur.
Let us pray: Dear Lord, find us in the brokenness of our lives. Find us in our pain, in our limitations, in our regrets, in our failures, in our cruelties. Find us when we’ve been cast into the wilderness or when we’ve simply wandered and gotten lost. Find us and lead us home. In Jesus’ name. Amen.