Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.
Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”
The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob. God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.
How convenient for God’s chosen family, eh? Yes they treated Hagar badly. But it all worked out, right? Ishmael gets married and will get his own nation too. No worries!
This story serves the patriarchy really well and aches with the cries of the oppressed. This story teaches men that they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions that harm women. God will fix their messes.
The sins of patriarchy, racism, slavery and colonialism (which still plague our world today) infect the relationships of Hagar, Abraham, and Sarah. Hagar had no power, but we have power to decide how we teach her story.
This story should not comfort relatively privileged folk like me. It should remind us that we cannot just do what we want to whomever we want and call it “God’s will”. Real people means real pain, real suffering. The pain of Christ on the cross was caused in part by people doing what they wanted to an innocent man and calling it “God’s will.” The Trail of Tears in America and Apartheid in South Africa were caused in part by people doing what they wanted and calling it “God’s will.” Political discourses today – in many nations around the world – centre on a dialogue of nationalism and oppressing people. Some leaders have the audacity to imprison asylum-seeking children, persecute people of different faith, and murder LGBT people and call it “God’s will.”
Teach the people that God sees Hagar! Teach that our just and righteous God sees the people who are oppressed by our unjust and unloving actions! Teach that God sees the oppressed and the oppressors! We’ve got to stop doing whatever we want, expecting God to clean up our messes. For Christ’s sake (and for the sake of all the Hagars).
God who sees the oppressed and the oppressors, We pray that your just ways of doing stuff be reality in our nations and in our communities. Help us to walk the Way that Jesus taught, together. Set us free. Amen.
The Rev’d Angela Rigby, Minister of Christ Church URC Tonbridge and St Johns Hill URC Sevenoaks
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