If one were to ask which woman in the Bible had the most words spoken to her by an angel, Hagar may not even be considered yet she is at the top of the list! So we may ask why would this be? Why should an Egyptian woman receive such favour of Yahweh? Let us see what the record has to tell us.
We first read of Hagar in Genesis 12:16, assuming this is when she commenced service in Abram’s household as a maidservant, given to him by Pharoah. Then again in Genesis 13:1, being included in the phrase “and all that he had” when Abram and Sarai went up out of Egypt. From this we conclude, out of no choice of her own nor possibly any choice on Abram’s part, she entered his household, his community, his ecclesia.
Adoption into a faithful household
Her new home was to be Canaan. God was working to bring her into this faithful household, and to the land which her lord and master had been promised. Once in the land she remained a faithful servant, and became the handmaid of her master’s wife – a very privileged position. She would have been part of the inner circle of the family, aware of the rivalry that developed between Lot and Abram’s herdsmen, and the considerate way that Abram ultimately solved the problem by giving his nephew the choice of where to dwell. She was there and aware of the concern Abram had when Lot, his nephew was taken captive by Chedorlaomer. She saw Abram hastily gather his 318 trained men so that they might go and recover Lot from the hands of his captors. She was aware of Abram and Sarai’s concern for their family members. She had experienced and become accustomed to the godly spirit of Abram.
Planned happiness brings misery
She may well have known that God had promised the land of Canaan to Abram, as well as a great family, as many as the stars of heaven. She also knew of the sadness of heart of both Abram and Sarai in that they remained childless – a great challenge to them both in their aging years. Hagar may well have pondered why Abram and Sarai remained faithful to the hope of the promise being fulfilled. Then, an unexpected opportunity came her way – she was Sarai’s handmaid, but now she was called upon to become Abram’s wife and produce the child her mistress had desired for many years. As handmaid she was required to be obedient to her mistress, so she accepted the new role, even as the laws of the day required of her. But with this elevation of her position, pride stepped right in. She was able to quickly conceive, something her mistress had spent many years anguishing over and desiring. She despised and belittled her mistress to the point where Sarai demanded of Abram that something be done, and he allowed Sarai to deal with Hagar as she saw fit. Bitterness between two women over such an event is not unexpected, but it is not pleasing in the sight of Yahweh (Prov 30:22-23).
Miserably she fled the family home in which she had played an active part for the last ten years, and was found in the desert, sad and bewildered. Yahweh was aware of her plight because she was carrying his faithful friend’s child (James 2:23). An angel was sent and she was found by a fountain of water in the wilderness. A wonderful, caring dialogue then takes place between an angel of the heavenly host, and Hagar, an Egyptian, handmaid to Sarai – wife of the heir of the whole earth.
Conversing with an angel in the desert
Four times in five verses (Gen 16:8-12) the angel questions and advises Hagar as to her future and that of the son she was to bear. Hagar is encouraged to return to her mistress and submit herself under her hands. She was then given an unconditional promise not dissimilar to that given to her master, “I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.” What an unbelievable message direct from Yahweh’s angel, to an Egyptian slave in the wilderness! But there was more – she was assured of God’s presence because she was told that Yahweh had heard about her affliction and she would have a son to be named Ishmael, “God shall hear”. But it doesn’t stop there; the angel went further in dialogue and told this expectant mother what type of a man (and nation) her son would develop into (v12). All those years of experience in Abram’s house were not lost on Hagar because she knew she was in the presence of an angel and therefore called the well, Beerlahai- roi, meaning, “The well of Him that liveth and seeth me”(v14). After this amazing interaction, Hagar did as the angel requested of her (v9), and returned to her mistress. In due time Hagar bare Abram a son just as the angel had told her. Abram named him Ishmael, as Hagar had reiterated to him. Abram loved this first son, but he was not to be the heir.
More than 14 years pass before anything more is recorded of Hagar. Isaac was born and Sarah as an aged and doting mother observed Ishmael mocking her son. It appears that this was the climax of tensions developing beforehand. Sarah determined to cast out the bond woman and her son from the family home, “for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son,” she said (Gen 21:10; Gal 4:30). Although Abraham was greatly saddened by this event, he was reassured by Yahweh that Sarah’s decision was right, and he was not to fear as Yahweh would care for this son and a great nation would come from him. Abraham provided Hagar and his son, “the lad”, now about 17 years of age, with a bottle of water and sent them away from Abraham’s household. Hagar is next mentioned as sitting apart from her son in the wilderness of Beersheba. They now have no water and she did not want to see her son die. She had lifted up her voice and was weeping. We note that God heard the voice of the lad, but the angel spoke to his mother Hagar, out of heaven this time, giving her full assurance that they will not die. Her eyes were ‘opened’ and she saw a well of water; she filled the bottle and gave the lad drink. She was encouraged with the repetition of the promise given in excess of 17 years earlier that a great nation would develop from her one son. We find that God continued to be with the lad in the wilderness and in due time Hagar returned to Egypt to take a wife for her son. This is the last recorded event in Hagar’s life – a sad ending.
Initially we may get the impression that Hagar had a hard life – taken out of Egypt from her own family, a servant in a strange land, and then twice sent out into the harsh wilderness almost at the point of death. She was given the opportunity to provide a child for her barren mistress, and then the child was put in second place when Isaac, the heir, was born. It may all seem rather unfair.
A resume of Hagar’s life
However, when we take another look, we see that Hagar was privileged to be taken as a servant into a wealthy family (Gen 13:2); she was surrounded with the principles of godliness as displayed by her master and mistress. She was part of a household, an ecclesia, of whom it was said, God knew Abraham, “that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of Yahweh, to do justice and judgment” (18:19). She was aware of the promises the God of heaven had made to Abraham and then, at the top of the list she had experienced something very few people in the past 6000 years have ever experienced – personal, interactive conversations with an angel of the Almighty God on a number of occasions. She was given a wonderful promise for her son’s seed by this angel; water was provided for her and her son miraculously on two occasions; both she and her son were saved from death in the wilderness. But, these amazing events in her life do not appear to have developed faith, the looking to a better future, as in the case of Abraham, who “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb11:10).
She represents natural Israel as Galatians 4 would teach us. She lived in the environs of the ecclesia of God in Abraham’s home for at least 28 years, but this privilege seemed to have little impact on her conscience toward God (Eliezer, Abraham’s servant being a contrast). Hagar was concerned with the here and now; she continued an Egyptian in thought and intent, and in due time taking her son with her to Egypt that he may find a wife. The biblical story of Hagar ends here. We can only ponder as to whether she remained in the darkness of Egypt, or came to appreciate the faith of Abraham and take it to herself.
What about us?
We are all as Hagar by birth and have been given opportunity to become one of the seed of Abraham by faith. God can take us (like Hagar) out of Egypt, but we must take ‘Egypt’ out of our hearts. Let us personally look for our angel’s influence in our lives, not just to see the event, but focusing on the ways of Yahweh working out His purpose in our lives that we may attain to the reward: “if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”.