The story of Hagar in the Bible provides many powerful lessons that are still relevant today. As an Egyptian servant of Sarai, later called Sarah, Hagar found herself caught in a painful love triangle between Sarah, Abraham, and herself.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Hagar’s story teaches us about the dangers of jealousy and mistreatment, the humanity of the oppressed, and the power of God’s love for the downtrodden.
In this in-depth article, we will explore Hagar’s backstory, analyze her relationships with Sarah and Abraham, examine the hardships she endured, and discuss the valuable lessons her narrative provides us even now in the 21st century.
Hagar’s Background and Servitude
Hagar’s origins as an Egyptian servant
Hagar was an Egyptian slave who was given to Sarah, Abraham’s wife, while they were living in Canaan (Genesis 16:1). As an Egyptian, Hagar was considered a foreigner and an outsider in Abraham’s camp. She likely came from a pagan background and belief system.
Her status as a slave meant she had little power or standing within the household.
Her low status in Abraham’s camp
As Abraham’s camp grew large with many servants and herds, Hagar occupied the low position of female slave (Genesis 24:35). She was procured for Sarah when it seemed that Sarah would not bear a child for Abraham. This further established Hagar as subordinate to Sarah and simply a means to an end.
Even after bearing Abraham’s son, Ishmael, Hagar was still a slave with few rights.
Hagar’s duties and role in the household
As Sarah’s personal servant, Hagar likely performed domestic duties such as cooking, cleaning, serving meals, and caring for Sarah’s personal needs (Genesis 18:6). In addition, she was expected to be obedient, loyal, and submit to harsh treatment at times (Genesis 16:6).
After Hagar conceived Ishmael, tension arose between her and Sarah resulting in Hagar temporarily fleeing the camp.
Hagar’s Complex Relationship with Sarah
Sarah’s jealousy and mistreatment of Hagar
When Sarah remained unable to conceive a child even in her old age, she persuaded Abraham to take her Egyptian slave Hagar as a second wife to bear him an heir (Genesis 16:1-3). However, after Hagar became pregnant, Sarah grew jealous and dealt harshly with her (Genesis 16:4-6).
Sarah likely felt threatened that Hagar’s son would displace her own position and inheritance. Her mistreatment caused the pregnant Hagar to flee into the wilderness, though she later returned at God’s command.
Sarah’s plan for Hagar to bear a child with Abraham
Sarah originally devised the plan for Abraham to have a child with Hagar, likely to protect her own social status and inheritance rights (Genesis 16:2). As a childless widow in ancient Near Eastern culture, Sarah would have faced a precarious social and economic position.
By providing Abraham an heir through Hagar, Sarah hoped to secure her place in the household. However, she did not anticipate the bitter jealousy she would feel once Hagar became pregnant.
The strained ties between the two women
The relationship between Sarah and Hagar was characterized by tension, jealousy, and mistreatment. As the two women vying to produce an heir for Abraham in the same household, rivalry was perhaps inevitable.
Hagar attempted to assert her new status once she became pregnant, which incited Sarah’s harsh retaliation (Genesis 16:4-6). Even after the miraculous birth of Isaac to Sarah in her old age, conflict persisted regarding the inheritance rights of Hagar’s son Ishmael (Genesis 21:9-14).
The complex ties between the two women were instrumental in shaping the destinies of their respective sons, Isaac and Ishmael.
Hagar’s Encounter with God in the Wilderness
Hagar’s flight into the wilderness
After Sarah mistreated her, Hagar fled into the wilderness to escape the abuse. As an Egyptian slave and foreigner in Abram’s household, Hagar likely felt isolated and alone. Running away into the unknown desert demonstrated tremendous courage and desperation on her part.
Alone and pregnant, Hagar surely wondered how she would survive. Yet in the midst of her despair, God saw her affliction and intervened.
The angel of the Lord’s message to Hagar
In the wilderness near a spring, the angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar and instructed her to return to Sarah and submit. He also promised to greatly multiply her descendants through the son in her womb.
The angel told Hagar to name her son Ishmael, meaning “God hears,” for the Lord had heard her affliction. This encounter demonstrates God’s care for marginalized people like Hagar. Despite her status as a slave and a foreigner, God saw her, spoke to her, and comforted her with the promise of a future for herself and her son.
What an incredible display of compassion!
God’s care and concern for the downtrodden
Hagar’s story highlights how God cares for and hears oppressed people like her. As an Egyptian slave, she was undoubtedly mistreated and looked down upon in Abraham’s household. Yet God did not ignore her suffering.
He directly intervened to comfort Hagar and provide hope during her desperate flight into the wilderness. As God later declares about Himself, “I am the Lord who exercises loving devotion, justice and righteousness on the earth, for I delight in these things” (Jeremiah 9:24).
The Lord’s loving care for marginalized people like Hagar reveals His character.
Throughout Scripture, God demonstrates special concern for oppressed groups like foreigners, orphans, widows, and the poor. His law provided protections for them and condemnation for those who exploit them. God called His people to uphold justice and show compassion to vulnerable groups.
When God’s people failed to do so, the prophets boldly rebuked them for oppressing the marginalized. God cares deeply about protecting and providing for outcasts, strangers, and the oppressed. Hagar’s encounter with God in the wilderness powerfully illustrates His heart for people in desperate need.
Lessons from Hagar’s Story
The dangers of jealousy and mistreatment of others
Hagar’s story illustrates the dangers that can arise when people mistreat others out of jealousy or a sense of superiority. When Sarai struggled with infertility, she convinced Abram to have a child with her Egyptian servant Hagar.
But after Hagar conceived, Sarai became jealous and mistreated her so badly that Hagar fled into the wilderness (Genesis 16:1-6). This reminds us of the importance of treating others, regardless of status, with dignity and compassion.
Mistreating people who we perceive as “less than” often stems from our own insecurities and can have devastating consequences.
God cares for the oppressed and downtrodden
Though Hagar was mistreated and marginalized, God saw her suffering and sent an angel to care for her and her unborn son Ishmael, promising to make Ishmael into a great nation (Genesis 16:7-12). This demonstrates God’s heart for those who are oppressed, abused, or living on the fringes of society.
Hagar’s story gives hope that even when people mistreat us, God sees us and will sustain us in our distress. As the Bible says in Psalm 9:9, “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.”
The humanity and dignity of all people
Hagar’s story also reminds us that every human being has inherent worth and dignity, regardless of background, social status, ethnicity, or gender. Though Hagar was an Egyptian slave and a woman, God still saw her, spoke to her, and made great promises about her future progeny.
This challenges notions that some people or groups are less important than others. Hagar’s story compels us to see the humanity in every person and treat all with respect.
Thousands of years later, Hagar’s story still resonates. Her experiences as an Egyptian slave and concubine vulnerable to abuse provide timeless warnings about jealousy and oppression. Yet her encounter with God also reveals His compassion and care for all people, regardless of status or gender.
As we strive to live justly and love mercy, Hagar’s narrative provides an insightful model of where we can fail, and how God redeems.