“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” – Genesis 16:13
The story of Hagar is one that has become increasingly interesting to me. I find myself trying to wrap my mind around the significance of Hagar, the Egyptian slave woman, in the story of Sarai/Sarah and Abram/Abraham. Oftentimes the narrative of Hagar is one of a poor Egyptian slave that is impregnated by Abram and sent away by his wife Sarah after the birth of her own son Isaac. Too often in the narrative, Hagar plays a passive role and is deprived of her sense of agency. In only focusing on Hagar in the context of Sarah and in the context of her slavery, we fail to see the true story of Hagar. The true story of Hagar is not one of slavery but of liberation; a slave woman finds liberation in the promises of God, a Liberating God.
One of the more prevalent images of God in the Old Testament is the image of God as a liberator. This is most well-known and prominent in the story of Moses who, through the power of God, frees the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Thus God is a liberating God and in being a liberating God, He is a God with a heart for the marginalized. Even in the midst of Hagar’s situation, God is there for her. The angel of the Lord does not appear often in the Old Testament; however, the angel of the Lord appears twice to Hagar in Genesis 16 and Genesis 21. In both cases, God provides; He gives her a promise and He allows her to find water in the desert for her son Ishmael. In the midst of her seemingly illegitimate situation God turns it around for her good, and she trusts Him in the process. Although Hagar is seemingly just a slave woman, she plays a significant role in the Bible. We see her significance in the facts that an angel of the Lord appears to her twice, her narrative is included in the Bible, and unlike many other women in the Bible, she is named.
Much of her significance corresponds to the fact that God “sees” Hagar. In seeing her, God does not see a slave but a Child of God. He acknowledges her humanity and legitimates her feelings of despair, loneliness, and possibly abandonment. God is there for her at her worst moments even though she is a woman on the margins of society. The lesson in this is that like God, we should have a heart for the marginalized. We should “see” people that many in society may walk by, ignore, and even persecute, the homeless man on the corner, the immigrant next door…We have to open our eyes to see, truly “see,” people the way God sees them regardless of their marginalized identities and in the midst of their humanity.
Now that I’ve reflected on Hagar, I encourage you to do the same. Read the story and determine what you think Hagar stands for. Some of the images, themes, and motifs Hagar has grown to represent are surrogate mothers, slavery in a racial context, Palestine, and most recently, Syrian refugees.