“And he (Abram) went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. And Sarai said unto Abram, ‘My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes:… and Sarai dealt hardly with her (Hagar).”
Genesis 16: 4-6
King James Version
“When Power Goes to Your Head”
Our God Is Compassionate
“By compassion we make others’ misery our own, and so, by relieving them, we relieve ourselves also.” - Thomas Browne
Is there someone in my life to whom I can show God’s compassionate heart to by my acts of kindness?
“But Thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion and gracious...”
Psalm 86: 15
King James Version
The morning sun was just beginning to touch the desert sand. The birds began to sing. The animals were restless, waiting to be fed. And through a small opening in her tent, Sarai watched Hagar leave the tent of her husband, Abram. She knew what had taken place between the two of them and even though it was Sarai’s idea to have her maidservant try to conceive a child on her behalf, being a woman myself, I can’t believe for a minute, Sarai found great joy having her husband become intimate with a servant girl living right under her roof.
In Genesis 16:3, the Bible says that Abram’s family had dwelt in Canaan for 10 years. That gave everyone plenty of time to get acquainted. By this time Hagar was part of the family. For all we know, Sarai loved her like a daughter, for up to the time of the “ill-conceived conception,” there is absolutely no mention in Scripture that Sarai and Hagar did not get along. Things were quiet for 10 years – except for one thing. Sarai didn’t have a baby. I just wonder if possibly she didn’t tell Hagar about her pain. And we know she told Abram about her pain. So when none other than Sarai herself came up with the idea to have a baby, Abram may have said to himself, “I’ll do this to make my wife happy.” And girls, I want to stop right here and share something with you. I can say this because I am a woman who on occasion has found herself putting my dear husband in what I call a no-win situation. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t asked Jim to do what Sarai asked, but we women have our ways – of getting our way.
Please let me explain. Sarai went to Abram and said, “Go to bed with my servant and make a baby!” At that moment, I’m going to give Abram a break for he may have agreed with Sarai’s idea because he wanted to please her. This is a possibility! We weren’t there so we don’t know for certain. But Abram obviously loved Sarai and I’m certain he wanted her to be happy. There’s more. Abram couldn’t read Sarai’s mind. I know my Jim has said on more than one occasion, “I don’t know what you’re thinking, Dorothy. You have to tell me. How do you really feel?” Finally we get to the real truth. So, I’m going to suggest a possible scenario. While Sarai wanted a baby, no question about it, what I think she wanted from Abram was something like this:
Sarai: “Abram, how about following common custom and having a baby with Hagar?”
Abram: “Absolutely not Sarai. God promised you and me a child. We are going to wait for His promise to be fulfilled in our lives, – yours and mine. Furthermore Sarai, I can’t imagine being with anyone but you for any reason. Even if we never had a child, you are enough for me. You are God’s gift to me.”
What Sarai needed from Abram was affirmation and security. Unfortunately, Abram agreeing to go and make a baby with another woman was exactly the opposite of what Sarai needed to build her self-worth.
I’m going to tell you why I think the above scenario rings with truth. In Genesis 16:5, as soon as Hagar finds out she is carrying Abram’s baby, her attitude toward Sarai takes a turn down. She is no longer just a servant, she is now a mother. This changes everything. For certain it changes the relationship between Sarai and Hagar and sad to say, it isn’t the first time that a man and his behavior has broken up the relationship of two of God’s daughters.
Hagar decides to let Sarai know that power has shifted. Hagar isn’t a slave girl who has to do what her mistress tells her, even if it means using her womb without her permission. No, she now has a promise inside her and she’s going to let Sarai know it. Sarai in return goes to Abram and complains that he has caused a big mess and orders him to fix things. Abram in turn, demotes Hagar from wife level back to slave level and tells Sarai, “Hagar is yours, do with her as you wish!”
And so the anger Sarai had at herself for suggesting such a stupid plan and the anger she had at Abram for not standing up and saying, “No,” is taken out on an innocent slave girl who was removed from Egypt without her permission and then used as a “womb-for-hire.”
This particular chapter in the sad story brings to mind two words that are on the opposite ends of the spectrum from one another.
The words are contempt and compassion. “Contempt” means to have bitter disdain for another. “Compassion” means to have concern for the suffering of another.
Neither Sarai or Abram had understanding or compassion for Hagar or they never would have taken her out of Egypt in the first place and they never would have suggested she be “used” to produce their promised child. Consequently, Hagar viewed these two “users” with contempt, and one can scarcely blame her.
Sadly all of us, in our lives can find examples when if compassion had been shown, contempt would not be the end product. I find the words of Christina Baldwin so instructive as we look at this sad story in Biblical history: “Spiritual energy brings compassion into the real world. With compassion, we see benevolently our own human condition and the condition of our fellow beings. We drop prejudice. We withhold judgment.” May the God of compassion light a fire of love within our hearts that opens us to the suffering of all we meet.
“The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say, “What are you going through.” - Simone Weil
“We give you thanks,
Gentle One who has touched our soul.
You have loved us from the moment of our first waking
and have held us in joy and in grief.
Stay with us, we pray.
Grace us with your presence
and with it, the fullness of our own humanity.
Help us claim our strength and need,
our awesomeness and fragile beauty,
that encouraged by the truth
we might work to restore
compassion to the human family
and renew the face of the earth.
Janet Schaffran and Pat Kozak
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