Thursday, 30 August 2012

An Introduction to Hagar

This blog is going to be exploring an ancient text which has a very contemporary ring to it.
It is going to be looking at various biblical figures to see what we can learn from them. The first character I am going to be looking at is Hagar one of the worlds earliest recorded single mothers.
The Christian version of her story can be found in the Old Testament book of Genesis, a book which scholars agree was probably written around the 5th or 6th century BC. The key parts of the story are found in  Genesis 16 verses 1 - 15 and Genesis 21  verses 8-21.
Today I'm going to summarise the story before going on in future posts to explore what we can learn from it.
Hagar was an Egyptian slave girl whose owner, Sarah, was a childless woman married to Abraham and desperate for a family. Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to be another wife and to give them a child. When Hagar became pregnant with Abraham's baby she became contemptuous of Sarah and Sarah went to Abraham to complain. Abraham decided the best course of action was to absolve himself of responsibility and so told Sarah, "Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please."[1] Sarah's response was to become abusive towards Hagar and at this point the pregnant Hagar runs away.
So Hagar returns and has her baby, Ishmael. A few years later, despite everybody thinking that it's impossible, Abraham has another son who is born to Sarah and they call him Isaac. As Isaac grows up Sarah catches Ishmael playing with him and is reminded of the reality - that Ishmael as well as Isaac will get part of his father's inheritance when Abraham dies. Sarah then goes to her husband and tells him that she wants Hagar and Ishmael out of their home and out of their lives.
Abraham feels he is in an impossible situation and very distressed, he doesn't know what to do. At this point God pops up again and tells the man to do as Sarah says but not to be upset because he is going to make a great nation out of Ishmael. Abraham then does what Sarah has requested. He gets up early in the morning, gives Hagar some bread and water and sends her away into the wilderness.

Hagar is then left in the desert, homeless, with limited resources to provide for herself and her son. It seems like all hope is gone when the bread and water run out and Hagar reaches a point of absolute despair and depression. She lays Ishmael, her son, down to die and walks away....unable to watch the death she now sees as inevitable. In this broken state she sits and weeps - totally distraught and apparently without hope.
At this point she hears the voice an angel again, asking her what's going on and telling her not to be afraid. She is told to go over, lift up the boy and hold his hand. The story says God opens her eyes and she sees a well of water, enabling to fill her water container and give Ishmael a drink.
Hagar's life changes at this point and we find out that Ishmael grows up to become a skilled archer. The boy also goes on to become married to a wife who comes from Egypt.......a wife who is found and paid for, (because they had a dowry system going on then), by his mother.

[1] Gen 16 v 6, Holy Bible NRSV