God heard her cry: God and Hagar in Genesis 16

God uses weak and fallible people—the only kind of people there are. Both Sarah, from the Middle East, and Hagar, from Egypt, were attached in special ways to Abraham, who had obeyed God’s call in faith. Each of them also believed in the same God that Abraham did. (At the very least, Hagar knows about God and when she hears from him she fully obeys him, 16:13.) They were each very much a part of their culture and the respective roles in which they found themselves, but God had a plan for both of them, as he does for each of us who look to him.

Yet even though Sarah was going to be blessed as a mother of the promised line, she resented Hagar’s arrogance against her (16:4) and she “afflicted” her even while she was pregnant (16:6). The affliction is so serious that Hagar seems willing to risk birthing by herself in the wilderness, undoubtedly with less means of subsequent sustenance than she envisioned (cf. 21:14-15; though she found a spring, 16:7).

More to the point of my narration, however, God heard her affliction (as the angel of the Lord indicates to her in 16:11, using the same Hebrew term as in 16:6). This is the same language used centuries later for God’s enslaved people in Egypt (Hagar’s country), when God saw their affliction and heard their cries (Exod 3:7; 4:31; Deut 26:7; cf. Neh 9:9). God hears when slaves and other oppressed people cry to him (cf. Exod 22:22-23, 26-27; Jms 5:4).

The Lord would bless her in part “because” of her affliction (Gen 16:11). In contrast to Israel, however Hagar is addressed as “Sarai’s maidservant” (16:8) and is sent back (Gen 16:9). Later she and her son will be sent into the wilderness again (21:14), but first her son would grow up in Abraham’s household and consequently with more blessings from Abraham than he likely would have had otherwise (17:20; 21:13).

Interestingly, Hagar receives a revelation from the Lord just as Abraham does; no such revelation is reported of Sarah until the messengers come in Gen 18:9-13 (cf. 17:15, 19, 21), and even then she is addressed only through Abraham. God has a special plan for Sarah, but we should not forget his care for Hagar as well. Indeed, as one of my former students, Sandra Randall, taught me, Hagar is the first person for whom Scripture mentions an explicit revelation of the angel of the LORD (16:7). The next time the angel of the Lord is mentioned by this title (he is probably implied in Gen 18), he is again appearing to Hagar in the wilderness, this time thirteen years later (21:17). (Of course the angel of the Lord also works behind the scenes, as implied in 24:7 and 48:16, but it seems no coincidence that the narrator mentions him where he does.) Moreover, this angel calls to her from heaven (21:17), as he will call to Abraham from heaven in the next chapter (22:11, 15, the first explicit mention of the angel of the Lord speaking to Abraham).

God heard her affliction, and she acknowledges him as “the God who sees,” marveling also that she has remained alive after seeing him (16:13). She seems already aware that no one can fully see God and live (Exod 33:20), but she is the first to discover that she could see some of the glory of the angel of the Lord, in whom God was revealed, and live (Judg 6:22-23; 13:22-23; cf. Exod 24:10-11).

It encourages me to see that even when we are enduring hardship—and sometimes are called to keep enduring it for a time—God does hear us, and has something better for us. The present is not all there is. Indeed, even when our role in God’s purposes may seem small to us, we may not imagine how much God is really with us and has plans for us. Granted, Hagar probably had some special favor with God because of her relationship with Abraham. But God has given us who trust him special favor with himself because of our relationship with Jesus Christ, his own Son.

(This is part of a series of studies on Genesis; see e.g., Sodom; floodcreation; fall; God’s favor.)


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