The Chief End of Man (8)
In this passage we find Sarai taking her own initiative to see that some semblance of an heir is created. She has given up on the idea that her own body will be its source, and therefore decides to offer her maidservant, Hagar, as a surrogate. Abram agrees to this improvisation and takes Hagar as a wife. In due time Hagar conceives. But rather than bringing blessing, discord follows, for Hagar “began to despise her mistress.” In a fit of rage Sarai turns on Abram, blaming him for this humiliating situation. Abram responds by telling Sarai that she is free to dispose of Hagar as she sees fit. As a consequence, Sarai makes life so miserable for Hagar that she eventually decides to escape rather than continue to suffer such mistreatment.
This episode can be interpreted as a living parable on what happens when we take into our own hands that which God has reserved for His own action. Though Sarai and Abram didn’t know it, we who have read the whole account know that God intended to work a miracle by bringing Isaac into being through Sarai’s aged body. But, rather than wait in faith to see what the LORD would do, they took their own line to fulfill the promise. The results were tragic, with continuing impact echoing and amplifying down the eons of human history.
16 7The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8And he said, “Hagar, maid of Sar’ai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sar’ai.” 9The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.”
10The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your descendants that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” 11And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ish’mael; because the LORD has given heed to your affliction. 12He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”
It must be simply noted that it is here, with the birth of Ishmael that the peoples of Judaism and Islam first meet. The issues raised by these relations and controversies are much too delicate, too intricate for one such as myself to productively comment upon.
However, we can ask, are the dark, deadly seeds of tragedy being here seen planted? The LORD is intervening to sustain and bless both Hagar and Ishamel, and yet they are being sent back to a dysfunctional situation with the promise of continuous discord.
As we survey the continuing wreckage created by the consequences of these broken beginnings we can only shudder at the scope, depth and power inherent in God’s mighty, impenetrable works. May we pray without ceasing for a way for peace on earth to be attained that is not the peace of the grave.
13So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “Thou art a God of seeing”; for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?” 14Therefore the well was called Beer-la’hai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.
15And Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ish’mael. 16Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ish’mael to Abram.
Hagar’s encounter with the LORD is confirmed by the naming of the place as well as by Abram’s naming of the child. We moderns too often fail to appreciate the power to which the ancients attached naming. To them, to name a person or place was to in some deep sense define its essence, even its destiny. Though we may smile at their innocence, perhaps we should consider more seriously the power of words, including names, to harm and heal.
Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18, NIV)