What do William Shakespeare, Daniel Defoe, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Nathaniel Parker Willis, Salman Rushdie, and Margaret Atwood have in common? They and many other authors have featured Hagar in their writings.
So have many artists in their paintings and sculptures. David’s favorite is one of Edmonia Lewis’s most famous sculptures,Hagar.
That said, the spotlight on Hagar’s life first appears when Abraham and Sarah doubt God’s incredible promise that they will have a son. Tired of waiting, Sarah tries to hurry the process by seeking a surrogate son. All she got for her trouble is more sorrow, distress, and pain.
That’s what Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant, got, too. Hagar didn’t sign up for that suffering (Genesis 16:1-6). She didn’t sign up to have a son, Ishmael (Genesis 16:15-16; Genesis 25:12). And she certainly didn’t sign up to be a picture of God’s Law given through Moses (Galatians 4:24-25).
Yet, Hagar comes to know the Lord God intimately (Genesis 16:7-14) and is the first human to give Him a new name, “The Lord who sees me” (Genesis 16:13-14). In these ways and more, Hagar is a hero of the faith. We can’t wait to meet her in heaven!
Who Was Hagar in the Bible?
Your life is about more than just you. You are a small yet vital part of the grand masterpiece of God’s design. The color and hue you contribute truly matter within that glorious masterpiece.
Yet you must portray the particular shade of light or dark, pale or vibrant, that the Artist requires. You are not asked to choose your color, your texture, or your place in the picture. Instead, you are asked to willingly embrace your part within the as-yet-unseen whole.
Yet the Master, the Artist, truly cares about your tiny fragment on the canvas of His masterpiece. He sees you there — perhaps a splash of violet in the lower corner or the harsh gray of an angry thundercloud threatening the scene below. He sees you and He cherishes you.
What Happens to Hagar in the Bible?
Hagar was a woman who experienced being seen by God in all her hurt, all her bitterness, and all the unfairness of her life. Being met and seen by God, praying and crying out to Him, and then hearing from Him, changed her life. She knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God saw and loved her.
God saw Hagar in five ways. First, He saw her faults. Hagar had bitterness in her heart toward Sarah that seeped out through her looks and words.
Second, God saw Hagar’s frustrations — with being powerless, with being abused.
Third, He saw her fear — that drove her to run away. Fourth, God saw Hagar’s family — that she would have a son who would father a great nation. Finally, He saw her future — the honor in her godly legacy.
Yes, the Master Artist cherishes Hagar, and you, but how do you explain, how do you react, how do you accept when you’re handed a color, a texture, a place that repels you? When you must experience darkness in order to accentuate the luminous colors on His canvas?
God asked Hagar to do five things. First, to bear a child. Second, to be part of a bad plan that He would turn into great blessings. Third, to return to a formerly emotionally abusive situation. Fourth, to experience rejection. And finally, to trust Him for a much brighter future.
What Is God's Promise to Hagar?
Later, God saw and met with Hagar again. We read this in Genesis 21:1-21. This second time, the Lord God asked Hagar to be a vivid picture of sad slavery to the Law and therefore an essential picture of everyone’s need to reject futile ways to draw near to God.
This second encounter took place after Sarah had her own son. She saw the threat that Ishmael was to her child of promise, Isaac. Her protective mother’s heart — and probably her jealous woman’s heart — propelled her to beg Abraham, in essence, to “Do something about that woman and her son.”
Abraham was distressed. He was not an unkind man. Just the opposite. He greatly loved his son, Ishmael. Yet God told him to listen to Sarah and do what she requested. In obedience, Abraham sent away Hagar and Ishmael.
After Hagar was released from her slavery to Sarah and surrogate “marriage” to Abraham, she wandered and soon found herself lost within the vast wilderness. In her lostness, Hagar’s water ran out. Beyond exhausted, fiercely thirsty, and utterly hopeless, she wept.
She thought she (and her dear son) were going to die, but God willed her to live. He met Hagar again as He has met very few people down through the ages. For the second time in her life, God spoke audibly to her. He provided a way and a hope and so much more.
God was painting a picture of promise, of the Son of the Promise, of the way of living in the Promise. And that role was given to Isaac to portray. True, Abraham and Sarah had grabbed the brush to hurry the Artist, but their haste could not ruin the picture.
Hagar’s Part in God’s Masterpiece
While the Master took tender care of mother and son, He asked them to become a picture of the Law of Moses that cannot save us, as we see in Galatians 4:24-25. This was for God’s infinitely wise purposes and glory forever.
In his letter to the Galatian believers, Paul obliterates the Law as a way to salvation or holiness. He does this by holding up Sarah as the picture of freedom. Then Paul scorns the Law’s inabilities — the part played by Hagar, the slave.
No matter how our hearts grow tender toward Hagar, and stiffen toward Sarah, during this second episode, we don’t get to choose the picture or meaning God insists they each portray. It’s not about who is the “good girl” or the “bad girl.” Both are fallible yet dearly loved women.
God speaks tender words to Hagar and rebukes Sarah. Yet He blesses Sarah as the mother of the Promised One, the mother of the faithful. Hagar then must portray slavery to the Law, that is, something to be rejected.
Why Should Every Christian Know about Hagar in the Bible?
Yes, the Master, the Artist, cares deeply about your tiny fragment on the canvas of His masterpiece. He sees you and He cherishes you. This marvelous reality is true every moment and minute of our lives, not just sometimes.
And this reality is true whether or not we sense our Master’s deep love and care. Sometimes we feel it, but most of the time we don’t. Still, it’s always vibrantly real.
A child doesn’t always feel loved by her mom and dad, but she is. In a much greater way, you are loved by your Master Artist. Take the time right now to pray:
Lord God, creator and maker of heaven and earth, who formed me and breathed Your life into me, I thank and praise You today.
Thank You for Your infinitely wise purposes and eternal glory. Thank You for placing me within Your great masterpiece. I can’t wait to enjoy it and You for all eternity!
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Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/PORNCHAI SODA
David Sanford’s book and Bible projects have been published by Zondervan, Tyndale, Thomas Nelson, Doubleday, Barbour, and Amazon. His newest book is Life Map Devotional for Men published concurrently with his wife Renee’s new book, Life Map Devotional for Women.