February 14, 2010

Re-evaluation, Hagar Returns

Happy Valentine's Day!

Hagar encounters God. She is changed and no longer the victim. Because of what the angelic messenger tells her, the slave woman decides to return to her mistress. She re-evaluates her choices and decisions in light of her experience with God.

Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael. Gen. 16:15-16

We do not know how Sarai reacted when Hagar returned. Perhaps Hagar changed her attitude and the women got along better. As I mentioned in the first of this series, it was apparently a fairly common practice for concubines to be used as surrogate mothers. During the actual birth, the wife held the surrogate in her arms. In this way the infant was counted as coming from the wife.

Two generations later, Rachel offers her maid Bilhah to Jacob, “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, that she may bear upon my knees and that I too may have children through her.” (Gen. 30:3) After the baby is born, Rachel claims, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son’; therefore she named him Dan.” (Gen. 30:6)

It seems that, unlike Bilhah, Hagar had some input in the naming of the child. The infant is given the name Ishmael as the angel said.
Hagar, Abram, and Sarai all had a series of decisions to make on their journey through life. They each react differently to the same stimuli—the need for an heir for Abram. Like them, some of our decisions will result in growth and others leave dead wood like this tree split by a storm.

In her attempt to provide an heir of his seed to Abram, Sarai set in motion a series of events that echo through the centuries. She despairs of ever giving birth herself because she is too old and offers her maid to her husband, rather than waiting for God to act.

Hagar starts as a victim of the needs and desires of her master and mistress. Then she makes the decision to run away and her life is changed forever. She discovers that the God of Abram also cares for her. The Living Lord has a plan for her life and for her yet unborn son, but she has to return and be obedient to God’s whole plan.

Abram has received assurance from God “your very own issue shall be your heir.”… “And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:4-6). Perhaps he thought Sarai’s offer of Hagar was the way to accomplish this promise.

I think it is interesting that Ishmael is born 13 years before Abram is visited by a trio of angels and learns that Sarai will personally bear him a son. God does accomplish what was promised, but in God's time, not through the mechanisms of Sarai, Hagar, and Abram. During that time Ishmael is the heir apparent. It is no wonder that when Sarah (her name and Abram’s are changed when the angels visit) bears a son, Hagar is cast out of the camp. That is the story for another meditation, perhaps. (See Gen. 21:8-21)
When Ishmael is born, each member of this triangle has to re-evaluate their positions. Sarai and Hagar can learn to share the mothering of Ishmael, while Abram finally has a son to be his heir. Like this family, we each have daily opportunities to make decisions based on our best interpretation of events. The good news is, God is in the outcome!

Today is our last look at Hagar. Her decisions led her closer to the One God of her master, even though at first it looked like she was acting foolishly. Her journey of self discovery led her to God. It is part of God’s amazing love for us that God will meet us even (perhaps especially) when we are lost.

If you are feeling lost, and even if you think you are on the right path, take time to be still and evaluate where you are. When we have journeyed along a certain path for a while, it is important to stop and look at our progress. Some questions to ask include:

Are you still heading in the direction you planned?
Did you take advantage of the advice you received?
Have you started to see results?
What else are you called to do?
Is there a new path to take?
Lent starts on Wednesday. Next Sunday, this blog will begin to look at ways to “Simplify with Women of the Bible” during Lent. Often people give up something for Lent, like candy or cigarettes, or lattes. This is not a bad thing, but the purpose of Lent is a time for self-reflection. We will take brief looks at several of the women in the Bible and see how their lives benefited from simplifying and evaluating their journeys. See you then.

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