Who is Hagar? Her story is not well-known, even to people who have read the Bible all their lives.
Who is Hagar? A woman, first of all. And that immediately means, in the world in which she lives, that Hagar is one of the no-accounts, a person with little status, little power, little hope.
Who is Hagar? She is a foreigner, an Egyptian separated against her will from her homeland, her family.
Who is Hagar? She is a slave, maid to her mistress Sarah, who is the wife of Abraham. As a slave, Hagar cannot come or go as she chooses. Her needs, her wishes, are not given serious consideration. Hagar will do as she is told, like it or not.
Who is Hagar? An outsider in terms of social position, gender, race, and age. She is one of the oppressed. She is victim.
Hagar's story begins with a promise. Not a promise to her, because she is a woman, a slave, a foreigner. But a promise to a man named Abraham. God makes the promise to Abraham that he will be father of a great nation, with descendants as plentiful as the dust of the earth, as the stars in the heavens (cf. Genesis 12:2
, Genesis 13:16
, Genesis 15:5
). Yet, after the promise is made, time passes, and still Abraham and his wife Sarah have no child born to them. Here's what the Bible says happened next. (Genesis 16:1-6
You see how it is with Hagar, don't you? When the master and the mistress of the household decide that Hagar can be used to bear them an heir, Hagar is not consulted. She is simply told what her role will be.
We hear Hagar's story and we shake our heads. Yes, we think, she did not have an easy time of it, but things were different then. Maybe it wasn't all that rough on her because as a slave, she would have expected to do what she was told.
It is one thing to hear a story like Hagar's; it is a different thing to experience it ourselves. To that end, I ask you now not only to listen to Hagar's story but to imagine that you are Hagar. You are Hagar and this is your story.
Your mistress, Sarah, calls you into her room. "Hagar," she says to you, "the master and I have decided that he will father a child with you. When the child is born, the child will be our heir, Abraham's and mine." She pauses for a moment, and you wonder if she is waiting for you to make an answer. Does she expect you to protest that you are very young, little more than a girl, and your master is an old man, eighty-five years old, and that you had hoped to marry a young man? You want to object that you have never been with a man and that you surely aren't ready to be a mother. And you think what a heartache it will be to have the child of your body be treated by this old woman as her child.
But you say nothing because you know it will do no good. Your mistress isn't interested in your feelings. Nor will it do any good to appeal to her husband, your master. You know well enough that he has agreed to go along with his wife's decision. In such matters, she runs the show.