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It was a big mess that’s what it was. But God does some of his most saving work through lives in chaos. Here’s the background of the story: Sarai and Abram, although the ages of a great-grandma and great-grandpa, had no children. Most people long for an heir, and this old couple were no different. According to their customs, a barren wife could “allow” her husband to sleep with a designated servant in hopes of bringing an heir into the family.
The custom may as well have sent an engraved invitation for Jealousy and Envy to strut right on into a household. Sarai gave her Egyptian servant, Hagar, to her husband Abram in hopes she would bear a child, and Hagar did become pregnant, and along with the blossoming she grew a haughty spirit, too. Sarai blamed Abram for the whole situation saying, “You are responsible for the wrong I’m suffering.”
She went on to say, “I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she’s pregnant, she despises me.” Fingers began pointing in every direction. God doesn’t plaster prettiness over the mistakes and sins of Bible characters’ lives, so in Genesis chapter 16, there’s even more about the wrongs done in this household.
Abram, apparently not wanting to get involved in the outcome of this dispute between two women, told Sarai, “Your servant is in your hands, do whatever you think best.” Sarai didn’t exactly follow Abram’s advice about doing what was best because “Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her” (vs.6).
This riff between the two women widened and could not be leaped by etiquette or fairness. God knew Hagar planned to tuck up her robe and run away from this ugly situation, one over which, as a servant, she had no control. After she left, the angel of the Lord found her resting near a desert oasis. The message sent from God is intriguing, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” (Genesis16:8).
Hagar replied, “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai.” The angel told Hagar to go back to her mistress and submit to her, but he gave her a pocket of promises to think on as she walked back toward the feudal minefield. God’s sonogram allowed Hagar to know she’d bear a son, to be named Ishmael (God hears), and while he would be a warrior, his descendents would be innumerable.
At that desert place, that pivotal time in Hagar’s life, “She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me’” (vs.13).
Genesis chapter 16 has given me several “aha” moments, those insights that reveal a bit more about God, about life. One is this question that keeps arising throughout different Bible stories: Where have you come from? Where are you going? I’m amazed at how often that theme arises in Bible text – questions to be answered by everyone.
A comfort also revealed: God is intimately involved in lives. Hagar is addressed by her given name, her situation fully known, from her status in life to the gender of her unborn child. Another message is that sometimes the lessons God wants us to learn are in the middle of the muddle. Go back, Hagar. Did she really want to hear that?
Difficult times furnish teachings where softer moments may lack muscle. It started out as a big mess. That’s what it was, and to this day, there’s still messiness between the descendents of Isaac and Ishmael.
Even though situations may seem hopeless, when God sums up scenes, they do not look so barren, so much like a fruitless place. He often seats us by an oasis and gives us hope. Or as psalmist David later restated about God--He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.