Sunday’s sermon: Hagar: Woman of Unexpected Promise

Text used – Genesis 16; Genesis 21:8-21

  • “What are little boys made of? / Snips and snails, and puppy dog tails / That’s what little boys are made of! / What are little girls made of? / Sugar and spice and everything nice / That’s what little girls are made of!” … Or so the classic nursery rhyme goes, right? “Sugar and spice and everything nice … that’s what little girls are made of.” But what about when those little girls grow up? Well, we’re going to spend the summer exploring that idea a little more – what some of the women of the Bible are made of.
    • More women in the Bible than you might even be aware of → I mean, most of the Biblical “heavy hitters” that we learn about in Sunday school are men: Abraham, Noah, Jacob, the 12 disciples, Paul. But just because many of the women have been neglected throughout Christianity’s history doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It doesn’t mean their stories aren’t important. It doesn’t mean that their stories don’t need to be told. Or retold.
      • Going to spend the summer with some of the women of the bible – more specifically: the most obscure and misunderstood women → Some of them will be names you’ve heard before, names like Bathsheba and Mary Magdalene – women whose stories and reputations have been twisted throughout Church history to downplay and denigrate the role of women in the life of the Church. And some will probably be names you may not have heard before, names like Huldah and Phoebe – women whose stories are rarely read and retold. A few of the women we’ll walk with this summer don’t even have names recorded in the Bible. Their names have been lost to history, but their stories still matter. Their stories still have plenty to teach us about God and faith and the movement of the Holy Spirit in people of all sorts.
        • Hear their stories → which in some cases (like today) means that we’ll be reading larger portions of Scripture than we usually do – so we can get as much of the story as possible.
        • Think about and explore their contributions to this Grand Story of Faith that we all share
    • So today, we’re going to start with one of my favorite women in Scripture: Hagar.
      • A number of reasons that I love Hagar’s story
        • 1) she’s an underdog
        • 2) she’s a woman in a difficult circumstance
        • 3) she’s unexpected
  • Okay, let’s dig into those a little more.
    • Hagar, the underdog → Hagar’s story is an uphill battle from day one.
      • Begins with something as simple as her name → meaning of “Hagar” = forsaken → A lot of the times nowadays, I don’t think we put a lot of stock into what names mean. More people pick names for their kids based on the way it sounds or perhaps a connection to a relative or dear friend. But the weight of the meaning of a name bears heavy in Scripture.
        • Two parts of our text this morning are perfect e.g.
          • First part of our reading – Gen 16 – speaks of “Abram and Sarai”
          • Second pat of our reading – Gen 21:8-21 – speaks of “Abraham and Sarah”
          • The first part of our story takes place before God makes an everlasting covenant with Abram and his household. When God makes that covenant, God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, changing the meaning from “exalted father” to “ancestor of a multitude.” And God changes Sarai’s name to Sarah, changing the meaning from “princess” to “exalted woman of joy.”[1]
        • So God has changed Abraham’s name and Sarah’s name to bring them more honor, more blessing, more joy, more promise. But what about Hagar? Hagar remains Hagar. Hagar remains forsaken, in name and in story.
    • Clearly, Hagar is a woman trapped in difficult circumstances.
      • Role in Abraham’s household = “servant” → Heb. “servant” = interchangeable with “slave” → This was someone tasked with domestic work within the household, and it’s clear from the context we’re given at the beginning of our Scripture reading this morning that Hagar’s life and choices were not her own. – text: After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took her Egyptian servant Hagar and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife.[2]
      • Desperation and hardship of Hagar’s circumstance continues as the story goes on
        • Hagar becomes pregnant with Abraham’s child → Willingly? Unwillingly? It didn’t really matter in that time, place, and culture. When Sarah made the decision to “give” Hagar to Abraham just so he could have an heir of his own lineage, Hagar’s fate was sealed. Even if she hadn’t gotten pregnant and born Abraham a son, her fate would have been sealed. If she, like Sarah, had had trouble conceiving, she surely would have been thrown out, left to beg on the streets … or worse.
          • Given the circumstances, we can hardly begrudge Hagar her response – text: When [Hagar] realized she was pregnant, she no longer respected her mistress.[3] → Now, this is a challenging translation here. Our English text (and many other contemporary translations) make it sound like Hagar was being disobedient, unruly, intentionally rude and contemptuous. But the Hebrew itself is more complex. → Heb. word = connotations of self-loathing, self-demeaning, and being “declared cursed” – more like Hagar is overwhelmed by the pain, the unfairness, the injustice of her situation
      • Goes from bad to worse: Sarah treats Hagar poorly because she is jealous of Hagar’s pregnancy → Hagar decides to run away → messenger of the Lord finds Hagar in the wilderness and convinces her to return to Abraham’s household → Hagar returns and gives birth to a son, Ishmael → Sarah becomes pregnant with Abraham’s son, Isaac, in her old age → Sarah forces Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael so her own son, Isaac, doesn’t have to share his inheritance with Abraham’s firstborn son → And Abraham … does it! He takes some bread and water, gives them to Hagar, and says, “See ya later!”
        • To be fair, Scripture makes it clear that this was not an easy decision for Abraham – text: [Sarah] said to Abraham, “Send this servant away with her son! This servant’s son won’t share the inheritance with my son Isaac.” This upset Abraham terribly because the boy was his son. God said to Abraham, “Don’t be upset about the boy and your servant. Do everything Sarah tells you to do because your descendants will be traced through Isaac. But I will make your servant’s son a great nation too, because he is also your descendant.”[4] → I will admit that this is one of those uncomfortable moment in the Bible – one of those moments when we who are reading it can hardly believe God would do such a thing. It’s a hard and frankly ugly scene in an already hard story.
        • But still Abraham turns Hagar out into the wilderness with a child young enough to still be carried in a shoulder sling! And so Hagar wanders the wilderness “near Beer-sheba,” according to our text (modern day central Israel) until the water in the water skin runs out, and in a moment of abject desperation, she lays her beloved son down under a bush, walks “as far as a bow shot” away, sits down, and waits to die, listening and praying as Ishmael’s distressed cries mingled with her own weeping.
    • But then … then comes the unexpected. → God’s messenger calls out to Hagar a 2nd time and delivers not death but God’s promise – text: God’s messenger called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “Hagar! What’s wrong? Don’t be afraid. God has heard the boy’s cries over there. Get up, pick up the boy, and take him by the hand because I will make of him a great nation.”[5] → So Hagar goes over, picks up her son again, and God opens her eyes so that she sees a well for water. And she and her son continue to live in the wilderness until Ishmael grows up, marries, and indeed, becomes that great nation that God promised.
      • Ishmael = father of Islam → that’s why Islam is called one of the 3 Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam can all trace their spiritual lineage back to Abraham
      • So here we have this blessing – this blessing of continued life in the midst of desperate circumstances and a future great nation – coming from God and being bestowed on Hagar: Hagar, the Egyptian slave girl; Hagar, the unwilling and exiled mistress; Hagar, the first single-mother.
        • Searched for something this week that spoke to the immeasurable grit and grace of single mothers because I think we all know that that’s one of the hardest jobs in the whole world à came across this short poem that speaks to all the fierce and steadfast single mothers I know and love but also to Hagar’s situation [READ “Single and Struggling” by Ademola Adeyoju and Onashile Peace][6] ***When reading this poem, I omitted the 2nd stanza.***
  • You know, I think that’s why I like Hagar so much. She’s as real as many people we know in our day-to-day lives. She’s not some righteous and mighty matriarch. She’s not a character that has been placed on a pedestal and perfected throughout history. Hagar’s story is real and raw and vulnerable. She is a woman caught in a toxic, unhealthy relationship triangle that is not of her choosing, and in her darkest moment of desperation, she weeps. She wails. She is just as vulnerable and frail and broken as many of us have often felt in the midst of our most painful days and our longest, darkest nights. But God calls out to Hagar. God works through Hagar. God bestows unexpected blessing and promise through Hagar.
    • Glimpses of this promise earlier in the story
      • God’s first contact with Hagar (when she runs away from Sarai in the beginning) → God’s messenger find’s Hagar in the midst of her flight and tells her to return to Abraham’s house and “put up with [Sarah’s] harsh treatments of [her]”[7] → messenger reveals that Hagar will bear a son who will “live at odds with all his relatives”[8] – text: Hagar named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El Roi” because she said, “Can I still see after he saw me?” → “El Roi” means “The God Who Sees.”
        • Heb. roi/“sees” = word loaded with meaning → not only seeing with your eyes but understanding, comprehending, knowing → There is an intimacy and a completeness in this knowing. Hagar is saying that God not only sees where she is geographically but also sees who she is – sees her circumstances, sees her heart, sees her fears and her worries and her deepest wishes for the child she is already carrying.
        • And in recognizing that Abram’s God has seen her and naming that God as The One Who Sees, Hagar – this foreign slave woman – becomes the first person in Scripture to actually name God. How … unexpected.
      • Also see this promise in Hagar’s 2nd interaction with God’s messenger – messenger says to Hagar, “Don’t be afraid!” → “Don’t be afraid” is one of the most common phrases found throughout Scripture. Some form of this phrase – “Don’t be afraid,” “Fear not,” etc. – shows up 365 times in the Bible. The first time it’s uttered is between God and Abram when God appears to Abram in a vision and promises God’s own presence and protection for Abram and his household. But the second time? The second time that God says to someone reassuringly, “Don’t be afraid” is here. With Hagar – this foreign, homeless, single mother in the wilderness. A woman full of fear and fierceness; a woman who had escaped one trauma just to find herself face to face with another; a woman who’s grace and grit, who’s abundant love and devotion was so strong that God worked an incredible promise both in her and through her. How compelling. How blessed. How … unexpected. Amen.

[1] Gen 17.

[2] Gen 16:3.

[3] Gen 16:4.

[4] Gen 21:10-13.

[5] Gen 21:17-18.

[6] Ademola Adeyoju and Onashile Peace. “Single and Struggling – A poem to appreciate all single mothers.” Published at, 2017.

[7] Gen 16:9.

[8] Gen 16:12.

2 responses to “Sunday’s sermon: Hagar: Woman of Unexpected Promise

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Tamar: Woman of Misplaced Degradation | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  2. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Lydia: Woman of Means and Message | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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