How difficult it can be to trust in God and his timing! Though as we saw last week, God is completely trustworthy in keeping every promise he makes, as we also saw, he is in no hurry to keep those promises. For we learned with regard to the promised land that Abram would never see that promise fulfilled during his lifetime. What is more, neither would his son, Isaac, or grandson, Jacob. In fact, it would be hundreds of years before the promise of land was fulfilled.[1] But what about the promise of an heir? Despite the fact that this promise had been made when Abram was 75 years old,[2] the LORD had disclosed to him that his heir would be from his own flesh and blood, not that of his servant, Eliezer as Abram had presumed. He further disclosed that in time Abram’s offspring would be greater in number than the stars in the sky.[3] Yet when would this take place? Humanly speaking, time had already run out for Abram to give birth to an heir. As we read in verse 3 of our passage, Abram was now 85 years old for ten years had now passed since the original promise had been given. Therefore Sarai, his barren wife, would now have been 75 years old.[4] So when in the world would this promised heir be born? When in the world would the countless descendants begin to be begotten?

This is the dilemma with which our passage opens. And it begins with Sarai doing what we so often do when we don’t have an immediate answer to prayer—she took action. Unfortunately, as is also too often the case for us, the action Sarai took was precisely the wrong action. In her grief; in her anxiety; in her disappointment over not yet having a child, we’re told beginning with verse 1 that “1 …Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.’” Now given that Abram had acquired great wealth when he had gone down to Egypt during the time when there had been a drought in Canaan, it’s possible that Hagar was one of the slaves he had acquired. This Egyptian slave may have then been promoted to the role of serving as Sarai’s servant.[5] Whether or not this was the way Hagar was actually acquired by Sarai, we see here that as Abram had earlier wondered whether Eliezer, his servant, might be the heir through whom God would fulfill his promise,[6] so now Sarai took action under the incorrect assumption that perhaps her servant, Hagar, might be the one through whom God would fulfill his promise for an heir. For as Hagar’s mistress, Sarai would have had authority over any child that was born to her servant. [7] Again, this way of inheritance wouldn’t have been uncommon in the ancient Near Eastern world. Yet as is often the case, the practices and beliefs of one’s culture are not necessarily in sync with the ways of God for as we’ll see, this plan didn’t end well. Things never do when they go against God’s stated desires. Though the practice of producing an heir by way of someone working in one’s household may have been common at this time, this practice wasn’t in keeping with the one man-one woman ideal for marriage that the LORD had established when he first made Adam and Eve.[8]

As to Sarai, we needn’t assume that she was necessarily being rebellious in asking her husband to take this action. Notice how she told Abram that it was the LORD who had kept her from having children. This suggests that Sarai had a providential view of life and such a perspective is to be commended. Sarai understood that even something as easily taken for granted as being able to conceive wasn’t a given for whether or not a couple is able to have a child is a matter that is ever in the LORD’s hands. Therefore it may simply be that the more time that passed, the more Sarai wondered if this alternative culturally acceptable way of producing an heir might not be the way that the LORD intended to fulfill his promise to her husband. In other words, she may have been acting on a misinformed faith that was nonetheless in keeping with her limited understanding. Though we know that neither Eliezer, Abram’s servant, nor Hagar, Sarai’s servant, were intended by the LORD to be the means of fulfilling his promise, for ten years Sarai and Abram themselves had been in a state of hopeful expectation as they waited for this promise to be fulfilled.

To complicate matters further, we don’t know if the LORD had continued to communicate with Abram in the ten years that had passed since he first appeared to him. If the LORD hadn’t spoken to him during this interval of time, then it’s possible that Sarai’s suggestion to Abram would have seemed reasonable to him, again, given that this would have been in keeping with the customs of the day. In what follows we see that as Sarai had agreed to do Abram’s bidding when he had asked her to lie and say that she was his sister rather than his wife wherever they went,[9] so now he agreed to do her bidding. As stated beginning at the end of verse 2, “Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years”—again, he would have been 85 years old at this time and Sarai would have been 75—“Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.” Notice that in giving her servant to Abram, Sarai had further raised Hagar’s status from that of servant to wife—although it’s worth noting that she wouldn’t be a wife on a par with Sarai for Sarai would be the chief wife whereas Hagar would be the slave-wife. [10]

Well, regrettably, once Hagar conceived she didn’t behave in the best manner. As stated at the end of verse 4, “When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.” In the ancient world, as is still too often the case in our time, a woman’s worth was tied to whether or not she had children. Though Sarai may have been Hagar’s mistress and as such had far more authority and power than she, Hagar now had something Sarai had never had—a baby growing in her womb. And she cruelly flaunted this fact in her mistress’ face. But not only was this cruel, it also was not a smart thing to do.

For Sarai, in turn, didn’t react appropriately. Though having her husband go to her servant had been her idea, even so when Hagar despised her, we read in verse 5 how “…Sarai said to Abram, ‘You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.’” This last statement, per one scholar, was “an expression of hostility or suspicion.”[11] Poor Abram was stuck in the middle. Though Sarai was technically correct that impregnating Hagar had been his doing, the original plan had been Sarai’s idea, not his. We read Abram’s solution to this dilemma in verse 6, “Your slave is in your hands…. Do with her whatever you think best.” As one commentator notes, though “the despised mistress in this situation could not sell her maidservant,…she could mark her with the slave mark and count her among the slaves.”[12] In other words, Sarai had the authority and power to demote Hagar from slave-wife back to slave. Well, wrong continued to be piled up upon wrong for as we’re told at the end of this verse, “Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.”

Now in many ways Hagar is an innocent victim here. For starters, she had been taken from her home in Egypt to serve as Sarai’s servant. What is more, it’s unlikely that she would have had any say in the initial decision of having Abram impregnate her and thereby become his wife under Sarai, his chief wife’s, authority. And although Hagar was certainly wrong to despise Sarai upon learning she was pregnant, once she began receiving abuse at her mistress’ hand Hagar would have been left with few options. There would have been no servants’ labor union to which she could turn and appeal for help. For keep in mind that in the ancient world as is still tragically true today, people’s worth was often tied to their social status. By the standards of the day, Hagar was nothing. She was a slave, a possession much like any other possession—again, recall how while in Egypt Abram had acquired “sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.”[13] In other words, the possession of male and female humans is listed along with the possession of sheep, cattle, camels, and male and female donkeys. So what was pregnant Hagar to do in light of her mistress’ abuse? No doubt in her mind, the best possible course of action for escaping such abuse was to run away. And so she did.

All of this makes what follows all the more remarkable for the angel of the LORD—possibly a manifestation of the LORD himself, although scholars are divided on this[14]—appeared to Hagar the slave just as he had to Abram whom he promised to bless and make great. As stated beginning with verse 7, “The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, ‘Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?’” Now make no mistake. The angel knew where Hagar had come from and why. Yet he chose to engage this hurting slave by asking her a question. Hagar responded truthfully though not completely. In essence she only ended up telling the angel her side of the story. As stated at the end of verse 8, she said “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai.” Notice that she didn’t mention the reason for running away—her mistress’ abuse after Hagar had despised her. And notice as well that Hagar only answered the first part of the angel’s question concerning where she had come from. Yet given that the spring where the angel appeared to her was “beside the road to Shur,” it’s likely that Hagar had decided to flee back to original home, Shur being located just east of lower Egypt.[15] Surely back home she would be able to find those who could help take care of her and the child she was now carrying in her womb.

Well next, as we read in verse 9, “the angel of the Lord told her, ‘Go back to your mistress and submit to her.’” But the LORD’s messenger didn’t stop there. To simply have Hagar return to her abusive mistress would have been unbearable. Instead the angel went on to make the same promise to Hagar that the LORD had made to Abram. As stated in verse 10, “The angel added, ‘I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.’” Hagar, a mistreated slave from Egypt, was now given the same promise of numerous descendants that the LORD had given to Abram, her mistress’ husband. This promise of descendants from Ishmael would later be affirmed to Abram as well.[16]

The angel of the LORD then went on to tell Hagar, as recorded in verse 11, “…You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery.” There would be no “reveal” party for Hagar to share with others what the biological sex of her child was! For the angel told her not only that she would give birth to a son, but he also told her what her son’s name would be. She was to name him Ishmael, a name meaning “God hears.” And what exactly did God hear? Negatively, God heard of her misery. The misery of a slave. The misery of one who was being abused. The misery of one who was alone and without recourse in the world. But positively, God heard of the misery of one who whom he had made in his image. God heard of the misery of one whom he had made for himself. What is more, God not only heard but he acted on her behalf. For God does not judge as humans judge. God is no respecter of persons.[17] He didn’t care that Hagar was an Egyptian. He didn’t care that she was a slave. He didn’t care that she was poor. No, he heard of her misery and he listened. He heard of her misery and he cared for her. He heard of her misery and acted on her behalf. Because that’s the kind of Person God is. He is a God who loves and cares for those whom he’s made in his image, no matter what their lot or station in life.

Now what the angel of the LORD went on to tell Hagar about the kind of person the yet unborn infant would grow up to be may not have been what she had hoped for. As stated in verse 12, he told her concerning Ishmael, “He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” This probably isn’t the vision most parents have of their yet to be born babies! But as we’ll see in the weeks to come, once Isaac, the child of promise, is finally born to Abram and Sarai, there will be hostility between him and Ishmael, even as there was hostility between Sarai and Hagar. Even so, Hagar was moved by this encounter. As stated in verse 13, “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.’”[18] Hagar who as a slave no doubt felt invisible; invisible like the other property Abram and Sarai possessed; invisible like the sheep and cattle and male and female donkeys and the camels; this very Hagar so lowly in the eyes of the world had nonetheless been seen by the LORD who has made everything that exists. This very Hagar had been heard by the LORD. This very Hagar had been spoken to by the LORD. This very Hagar has been ministered to by the LORD. And testifying to the historicity of this account we find verse 14 stating that the well where the angel of the LORD had appeared to Hagar “was called Beer Lahai Roi”—a fitting name meaning “well of the Living One who sees me”—which, at the time that this account was recorded, could still be found “between Kadesh and Bered.”

Appropriately enough, the chapter ends with the birth of Hagar’s son to whom “Abram gave the name Ishmael” even as the angel of the LORD had indicated to Hagar. In naming him, Abram was publicly acknowledging Ishmael as his son.[19] Lastly, we’re told that at the time Ishmael was born, verse 16, “Abram was eighty-six years old” which means that Sarai would have been 76.

This account of the angel of the LORD appearing to Hagar is a wonderful and powerful reminder of God’s nature. For God doesn’t judge as we judge. Whereas we might look down upon someone like Hagar who is of humble origins and not even notice or care about her suffering, God did take notice. He heard of her misery. He saw her. He promised that her descendants would one day be “too numerous to count” even as he had promised to wealthy Abram. For in short, this account about Hagar teaches us about God’s deep compassion for us.

As I was considering what New Testament passage might also disclose this particular quality about God, I came upon the one read earlier from Matthew 20:29–34. As we know, Scripture reveals that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah, the eternal God who has ever existed who took on human form. And as God, Jesus displayed toward the “two blind men…sitting by the roadside” and shouting out to him, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” in verse 30 the very same compassion Hagar had received from the LORD. How well these blind men knew the character of God! They had no doubt heard of many other times that Jesus, who shockingly spent time with “tax collectors and sinners,”[20] had displayed mercy to others.[21] For as recorded in verse 31, though “the crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet… they shouted all the louder, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!’” They seemed to know that God was not a respecter of persons. They seemed to know that though the crowd didn’t care about their suffering, Jesus, who is God, did. These two blind men sought to be seen, as Hagar noted, by the God who sees us.

And as the angel of the LORD engaged Hagar by posing a question to her, so we see in verse 32 how Jesus similarly, “stopped and called [the two blind men]. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’” As was true of the angel of the LORD, Jesus knew what these men wanted but he was displaying how God ever desires for us to talk with him and share with him what is on our hearts. For God ever wants us to grow in our knowledge of him. The two blind men answered with the obvious. As stated in verse 33, they simply said, “Lord, we want our sight.” And in verse 34 we’re reminded of God’s unchanging nature from Old Testament times to New Testament as we read how “Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.”

Dear sisters and brothers, be encouraged this morning in knowing that the God who made us is a God who hears us even as he heard Hagar; even as he heard the two blind men. God knows our pain. He knows our suffering. He knows when we are in misery;

Be encouraged in knowing that the God who made us is a God who sees us even as he saw Hagar; even as he saw the two blind men. Our all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present God sees us at all times and, more importantly, he sees our pain; he sees our suffering; he sees when we are in misery;

And be encouraged in knowing that the God who made us is a God who cares about us even as he cared for Hagar; even as he cared for the two blind men. Our gracious and compassionate Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cares about our pain; he cares about our suffering; he cares when we are in misery;

Therefore, let us this morning and always turn to him;

Let us share our lives with him;

Let us, as James exhorts, draw near to God so that he will draw near to us,[22] knowing how deeply he loves and cares for us.

And let us follow Paul’s exhortation from Colossians and seek to become like this awesome God and, “as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,

[Let us] clothe [ourselves] with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

13 [Let us] Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of [us] has a grievance against someone.

[Let us] Forgive as the Lord forgave [us].

14 And over all these virtues [Let us] put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”[23]

Let us pray.

 

[1] As the LORD revealed to Abram in Genesis 15:12–14: 12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.

[2] Genesis 11:4: “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.”

[3] Genesis 15:4–5:Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring[Or seed] be.”

[4] The respective ages of Abram and Sarai are deduced from other passages. When Isaac is born, Abram was 100 and Sarah was 90. See, respectively, Genesis 21:5: Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.; Genesis 17:17: Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”

[5] When Pharaoh had taken Sarai after Abram lied about her being his sister, we read in Genesis 12:16 that “He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.” Whereas the Zondevan NIV Study Bible note on Genesis 16:1 agrees with this possibility, the Reformation ESV Study Bible states that the word used here means more of a servant and differs from the usual word translated as slave.

[6] Genesis 15:2–3:But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

[7] As stated in the Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 16:2, “In this custom…the authority over the children resulting from this union belonged to the chief wife, not the slave-wife.”

[8] Genesis 2:18, 20–24: 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” 24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

[9] See Genesis 12:11–13 (11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”) and Genesis 20:11–13 (11 Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. 13 And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’). See also sermon preached on June 21, 2020, Trusting God’s Provident Protection on Genesis 12:10–13.

[10] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 16:2 (also noted above in footnote #7).

[11] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Genesis 16:5.

[12] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 16:6.

[13] Genesis 12:6.

[14] As stated in the Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 16:7, “The identity of the angel of the Lord is debated. According to some, although the ‘angel of the Lord’ sometimes may be distinguished from God (e.g., 21:17; 2 Sam. 24:16; 2 Kin. 19:35), in other instances the angel of the Lord appears to be a theophany, a visual manifestation of God Himself (e.g., 18:1–33; 22:11–18; 32:24–30; Ex. 3:2–6). Others, however, note that ‘angel’ means ‘messenger.’ They argue that as secular messengers are fully equated with their sender (Judg. 11:13); 2 Sam. 3:12, 13; 1 Kin. 20:2–4), so God’s angel is identified with Him (see also Gen. 21:17; 31:11; Ex. 14:9; 23:20; 32:34).”

[15] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Genesis 16:7.

[16] See Genesis 17:20: And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.” This promise was fulfilled in Genesis 25:12–18: 12 This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Ishmael, whom Sarah’s slave, Hagar the Egyptian, bore to Abraham. 13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. 16 These were the sons of Ishmael, and these are the names of the twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps. 17 Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people. 18 His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt, as you go toward Ashur. And they lived in hostility towardall the tribes related to them.

[17] Acts 10:34: Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.; Romans 2:9–11: There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

[18] This may also be translated as “I have seen the back of the One who sees me.” This translation brings to mind the LORD’s response to Moses when he asked to see the glory, i.e., the presence of, the LORD as recorded in Exodus 33:18–33: 18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” 19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

[19] As per Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 16:15.

[20] E.g., Mark 2:15–17: 15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”; Luke 15:1–2: 1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

[21] Mercy is central to Jesus’ teaching, e.g. Luke 6:35–36: 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.; Matthew 9:13: But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[Hosea 6:6] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”; Matthew 23:23:  23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

 

 

 

[22] James 4:8.

[23] Colossians 3:12–14.