Who was Hagar in the Bible?

Hagar was an Egyptian maidservant to Sarah, the wife of Abraham. When Sarah remained barren, she gave Hagar to Abraham as a concubine (Genesis 16). Thus, Hagar became a mother to Ishmael. However, Hagar is perhaps best known for naming God El Ro'i, "the God who sees me."

During a famine in Canaan, Sarah and Abraham (still called Sarai and Abram during that time) and their household fled to Egypt. Genesis 12:16 records that Abraham gained wealth including female servants while in Egypt. Perhaps Hagar joined their household during this time. In Genesis 15:4 God promised Abraham, "your very own son shall be your heir." However, Sarah remained barren and had borne him no children. "So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife" (Genesis 16:3). This practice of having a concubine bear children on behalf of a barren wife was commonly accepted during this time as evidenced by Old Assyrian marriage contracts, the Code of Hammurabi, and the Nuzi tablets. Sarah revealed her reasoning when she said, "Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her" (Genesis 16:2). Sarah did not believe that God would be faithful to His promise to Abraham so she took matters into her own hands to ensure this prophecy would be fulfilled. Sarah viewed Hagar simply as a useful pawn in her plans. Hagar conceived and Genesis 16:4 notes that "she looked with contempt on her mistress." This contempt led Sarah to mistreat and abuse Hagar, so Hagar fled to the wilderness.

In the wilderness, Hagar encountered God. The angel of the LORD appeared to her by a spring and instructed her to, "Return to your mistress and submit to her" (Genesis 16:9). However, He also gave her reassurance and a promise saying, "I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude… Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction" (Genesis 16:10–11). God had seen Hagar's situation and had heard her suffering and came to meet her despite the fact that she had no social standing, no political influence, nor religious authority. She was a foreigner, used as a tool in someone else's plans. She did not have claim to her children or really even herself, but God knew her situation and met personally with Hagar. This unexpected attention from God moved her to say, "You are a God of seeing [El Ro'i]… Truly here I have seen him who looks after me" (Genesis 16:13). Hagar returned to Sarah and gave birth to Ishmael.

Thirteen years later, God reiterated His promise to Abraham to give him a son through his wife Sarah. At this time, God also asked Abraham to institute circumcision as a sign of the covenant between the two of them. So, at the age of 99, Abraham circumcised himself and his 13-year-old son Ishmael as well as the rest of the men in his household (Genesis 17:23–25). One year later, Sarah gave birth to Isaac (Genesis 21:5). This change in status again brought strife to the relationship between Sarah and Hagar.

After Isaac was weaned, Sarah begged Abraham, "Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac" (Genesis 21:10). God told Abraham to let Hagar and Ishmael go, promising that through Isaac Abraham's offspring would be named but that He would also make a nation out of Ishmael because he was Abraham's son (Genesis 21:11ndash;13). Genesis 21:14–16 records that, after Abraham gave them some provisions, Hagar and Ishmael "departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba… [thinking her son would die Hagar] lifted up her voice and wept." Again, God met with Hagar in the wilderness in her distress. The angel of God called to Hagar, "Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation" (Genesis 21:17–18). Indeed, God did fulfill that promise as Genesis 25:16 concludes a list of Ishmael's descendants saying, "These are the sons of Ishmael… twelve princes according to their tribes." Ishmael "grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow… and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt" (Genesis 21:20–21).

Hagar's story shows that God sees each individual and knows the situations each person faces. He has compassion for those who suffer injustice and has the ability to provide and will be faithful to keep His promises. Although her society afforded Hagar no honor, God esteemed Hagar, blessing her with descendants who became a great nation as well as memorializing her in Scripture with the privilege of naming God as the God who sees and looks after me.

Related Truth:

Who was Ishmael in the Bible?

What is the biblical account of Abraham?

Who is Keturah in the Bible?

Why do women seem to have a small role in the Bible?

What are the names of God? What do the names of God mean?

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