Leaf through the Bible and you’ll meet some amazing women of faith. Just think of one familiar Biblical name, Mary, and three examples of virtue, courage and faithfulness come to mind. But it’s one of the Old Testament’s less-venerated heroines – or possibly anti-heroines – who has been on my mind recently.
Hagar, the Egyptian slave girl, is an unlikely example of faith. But her story, her brokenness and her startling obedience make me consider my own faith journey.
It was never Hagar’s story. It was not meant to be. But who sees themselves as being a minor character in the drama of life?
If she ever hoped to be the protagonist, she was in for a rude shock – she is cast as the understudy for Sarai. She is given to her mistress’s husband Abram so she could conceive in her stead – so Sarai could continue her family through her. From what I’ve read, this was not unusual practice in the time period. But I doubt Hagar had much of a say in the matter.
She conceives and with that she also births an arrogant attitude toward Sarai. Hagar, like all of us, is not without fault.
She, in turn, is persecuted by her mistress, Sarai, and flees into the desert. Can you even begin to comprehend that? Alone, except for her thoughts. Alone, except for her fears. Alone, except for the new life that swells within her.
But in her loneliness, she meets God.
The angel of God engages her in a conversation. He lets her have her say. And then He lets her know that she is not overlooked, she didn’t have to live in the shadows. She is not a mere sub-plot.
I love the name she gives God. The One Who Sees.
Sometimes, we need those intense moments of aloneness, when everything else is stripped away, to fully grasp that we are not alone. We need those times when we feel invisible to know that we are seen.
He knit us together in that deep, dark place. His eyes saw our unformed body. His eyes see what human eyes can’t perceive.
When we divest ourselves of our own agendas, when we allow Him to swoop us up into His story, our stories gain true significance.
Hagar trusts God and returns to her mistress, to a place of persecution. Who does that?
Someone who knows that God keeps His Word.
Someone who knows that she is not ignored, even when she is cast to the sidelines.
Hagar’s obedience is astounding. She simply takes God at His word.
She gives birth to Ishmael. Fourteen years later Sarah gives birth to Issac. Rivalry is birthed too – Ishmael begins to taunt the baby.
This time, Hagar is thrown out. A desert wasteland, a mom and her son. Her skin of water runs dry. She puts her son under a bush and breaks down.
It’s a heart-wrenching picture. No mom should wait for her son to die.
But the One Who Sees hears Ishmael’s cries. Ishmael – meaning, God hears. Not eloquent words or a noteworthy sermon. But a mom’s heart and a child’s cries. And He answers.
He provides a stream in the desert.
Only when we are desperately thirsty can he fully reveal that He is the living water.
Jeremiah2:13 says that we dig up for ourselves broken cisterns that can’t hold water. But He is the life-giving, thirst-quenching stream that never runs dry.
God could have written His story without Hagar.
But using an unlikely example, He shows us how He works despite human frailty.
He sees our inmost places. He hears our heart’s cry. He quenches the world-weary and the soul-parched.