Family Album: Hagar

Pastor Craig Carter

In life, it’s just a fact that a lot of things just don’t make sense. Here are a few examples:

Why is a round pizza cut into triangular pieces then placed in a square box?

Why is the person who handles and invests all of your money called a broker?

Why do slim chance and fat chance mean the same thing?

02.16.2020 Worship

02.16.2020 Worship

Posted by Lynn Haven UMC on Sunday, February 16, 2020

Those sort of things may leave us perplexed, but there are times when life really doesn’t make sense and serious matters are involved, such as…

You’ve worked hard and spent lots of time and money to finish your college education, but then you can’t find a job because you’re told you have no experience.

After being loyal to your employer for years and passing up numerous other job opportunities, you’re the first person laid off when they decide to downsize.

You’ve tried to live by the Golden Rule and treat people kindly, but someone posts an untruth about you and now your reputation is ruined and you’re an outcast.

You’ve lived a good life and taken care of yourself, but then find out you have stage four cancer; all the while you see others abuse their bodies and live to be 100.

You’ve done your best to raise your children in a good and godly manner, but they reject your values and don’t even want to speak to you.

You’ve paid your premiums on time for decades, but then when you’re trying to rebuild your hurricane-damaged home, the insurance denies or delays your claim.

Life often just doesn’t make sense.

Sometimes the trials and tribulations we face are of our own doing, sometimes they are because of others’ poor choices, and sometimes they seem to be pure happenstance. In any case, when life doesn’t make sense, we are left reeling and in a quandary. What are we to do? Where are we to turn? How are we to respond?

That’s where a flip through our family album comes in handy…

We started the year with a congregation-wide study of Book of Genesis, and on Sunday mornings we’ve been looking closely at one or more characters to see what we can learn from them about how (and how not) to live a Christian life. What we’re discovering is that these folks are a lot like us and we’re a lot like them.

We’re also discovering that some of the characters in Genesis had life experiences that really didn’t make a lot of sense. Our study subject today, Hagar, is one such example. Her story is interwoven with that of Abraham and Sarah.

To bring you up to speed, recall that God had promised He was going to give Abraham (formerly called Abram) many descendants and make him the father of a great nation. This prediction came in spite of the fact Abraham was 75 years old and his wife Sarah (formerly Sarai) was 65, both well past normal child-bearing age and childless up to now

That brings us to Genesis chapter 16:

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not been able to bear children for him. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” And Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal. So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian servant and gave her to Abram as a wife. (This happened ten years after Abram had settled in the land of Canaan.) So Abram had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant. (Genesis 16:1-4a NLT)

When the promise was originally given it was inconceivable that people their age could have a child, but now 10 years later, it was even more unlikely. So Sarah decided to take matters into her own hands. She arranged for her husband to father a child with a servant girl named Hagar.

In the ancient world asking a handmaiden to serve as surrogate mother was actually a common practice. But remember, God had told Abraham to leave the old ways behind as the Lord was showing him and his people a better way to live.

While God’s law had not yet been given, polygamy or extramarital affairs have never been a part of God’s plan (see Genesis 2: marriage is one man + one woman, forever).

Sarah wanted the right thing, but she went about it in the wrong way. And what’s truly remarkable is that Abraham went along with the scheme! Being a slave, Hagar had no choice in the matter. However, she did have a choice in another matter – how to respond.  As Hagar’s belly grew, so did her attitude. She began treating Sarah with “contempt.”

Sarah’s patience wore thin and her anger and resentment became too much to contain. [She] said to Abram, “This is all your fault! I put my servant into your arms, but now that she’s pregnant she treats me with contempt. The Lord will show who’s wrong – you or me!” (Genesis 16:5 NLT). It’s clear of course that both were wrong!

Abraham refused to intervene and told his wife, “Do whatever you have to do.” That was the wrong thing to say, because “Sarah treated Hagar so harshly that she finally ran away” (Genesis 16:6b NLT). Hagar left the home that had been a place of safety and security and fled to the desert.

Alone, with no hope or help in sight, she found a spring alongside the road. She must have felt like life made absolutely no sense at all. I’m sure she resented Abraham and was angry with Sarah, but furious with herself: “How could I make such a mess of things? Why didn’t I keep my mouth shut?”

At the depths of her despair, an angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar. The angel told Hagar to return to home, submit to Sarah’s authority, and made a promise: “I will give you more descendants than you can count.” (Genesis 16:10)

He also said to give the baby the name, Ishmael, which means “God hears.”

It didn’t make much sense to do so, but Hagar obeyed the Lord’s directions, returned to Abraham’s household, and gave birth to a son. When Ishmael was born Abraham was 86 years old. For the next 13 years, Ishmael was raised as Abraham’s only child.

That must have been an odd and awkward situation but things were about to get a whole lot stranger. With Abraham 100 and Sarah 90, Sarah got pregnant and gave birth to a son, Isaac. Talk about life making no sense!

After Isaac was born, Hagar and Ishmael became dispensable and were a constant reminder of Abraham’s and Sarah’s lack of faith. Resentment built once again and boiled over when one day Sarah saw teenaged Ishmael making fun of his little brother, toddler Isaac.  

She didn’t like Ishmael laughing at Isaac, even though Isaac’s name means “He laughs, or laughter.” (Remember that Sarah and Abraham laughed at being pregnant.)

Sarah told Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son. He is not going to share the inheritance with my son, Isaac. I won’t have it!” (Genesis 21:10 NLT) Notice how she depersonalized them by not even calling them by their names.

This was a “Mama bear” in action and she gave Abraham little or no leeway. Again, remarkably, Abraham obeyed his wife’s directive (after consulting with God), but it pained him greatly because he loved Ishmael. After all, for 14 years Ishmael had been his only son.

It just didn’t make any sense.

Abraham packed them a lunch and sent mom and son off into a desert. It was basically a death sentence for them. Their provisions soon ran out and Hagar had Ishmael lay down in the shade of a bush. She positioned herself a distance away, not wanting to have to watch her son die.

Just then God dispatched an angel who appeared to Hagar. He told her the Lord had heard her son’s cries and instructed her to comfort him. Just then, her eyes were opened and Hagar noticed a nearby well full of water. She filled a container and Ishmael and Hagar were spared from certain death.

We don’t know exactly what happened next, but we do know they survived and settled in the region near Egypt. The next time we hear from either of them is when Ishmael returns to bury his father, Abraham, 75 years later. We’re also told that Ishmael did, in fact, have many offspring and he lived to the age of 137.

Can we all agree that life didn’t make a whole lot of sense for Hagar? Yet, she is a part of our history and an actor in God’s plan of salvation. There are several truths we learn from this person whose portrait we find in our family album…

When life doesn’t make sense:

1) Remember God’s Promises

When Hagar ran away the first time, an angel appeared to her and gave her this promise: “I will give you more descendants than you can count…You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’).” (Genesis 16:10-11 NLT)

That promise was enough to get Hagar through a terrible time in her life. And it probably sustained her in many tough times that followed. She didn’t fully understand the promise at the time – she probably thought Ishmael was going to be the only heir of Abraham. And it probably didn’t make any sense when Isaac was born, but still, she held on to the promise.

I mentioned in a recent sermon that by one count there are 7,000 promises in the Bible. I encouraged you to become familiar with them by studying Scripture. But I also want to encourage you to stand on those promises – especially in tough times. Promises such as “I will never leave you or forsake you….Don’t be afraid, I am with you…I will send a Comforter/Counselor/Advocate…God will supply all of your needs…”

When things don’t make sense, lay claim to God’s promises and hold on to them. That’s certainly what Hagar did.

Why? Because He is the ultimate Promise Keeper and always comes through.

It’s worth noting that later God made a further promise to Abraham about Ishmael: “As for Ishmael, I [God] will bless him also…I will make him extremely fruitful and multiply his descendants. He will become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.” (Genesis 17:20 NLT)

That promise, with which Hagar was undoubtedly familiar, was ultimately fulfilled. Abraham became the father of a great nation through the 12 sons/tribes of Isaac’s son, Jacob. Jesus Christ was later born as a direct descendant of that line. Abraham was also the father of another great nation through 12 princes, the sons of Ishmael. A descendent from that line is Muhammed. Therefore, Abraham is considered the father of three great world religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

That shows us that God always keeps His promises and we can stand on each and every one of them.

2) Rely on God’s Plan

When Hagar found herself pregnant with her master’s child, then rejected and abandoned, life didn’t make much sense to her. God’s answer didn’t make much sense either: The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.” (Genesis 16:9 NLT)

I doubt that this was the answer Hagar wanted. But as we learn elsewhere in Scripture, God’s ways are not necessarily our ways.

We oftentimes think that escaping from our problems is the answer, but God usually thwarts our escape plans and makes us confront the problem.

God sent Hagar back to the bad situation she had just left, and remarkably she trusted and obeyed. The Lord didn’t tell her how it was all going to turn out, He just gave her one instruction.

My guess is that after she followed his first directive, He gave her another and another and another. It’s like entering a dark room with only a flashlight. The light source only shows us the next step to take, not the entire room. It’s a good illustration that, ultimately, God’s plan will get us where we need to be … one step at a time.

Hagar realized what God later spoke through the prophet, Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT)

Do you believe that? Are you convinced God’s way is the best way?

Rely on God’s plan when life doesn’t make sense and even if His plan doesn’t make sense to you.

3) Recognize God’s Provision

Then God opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well full of water. She quickly filled her water container and gave the boy a drink.” (Genesis 21:19 NLT)

God provided exactly what she needed, precisely when she needed it. As Abraham later found it, our God is Jehovah-Jireh, our great Provider.

It’s worth noting that God’s provision extends to those we love. Hagar couldn’t provide for her son, Ishmael, but the Lord did. It shows us that as much as we love our kids/family, God loves them more. He is much better equipped to care for them and give them what they need than we could ever be.

So when life doesn’t make sense, we can be confident that, as Paul later found out, “[God] will supply all of our needs out of His glorious riches” (Philippians 4:19)

4) Rest in God’s Presence

Both times Hagar fled to the desert she felt all alone … but she wasn’t, God was there.

[After her first encounter with God] Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” (Genesis 16:13 NLT)

Hagar realized that she had both seen the Lord and been seen by Him. As a result, she gave God a name – El Roi, which means “the God who sees.”

And while God saw her the first time in the wilderness, the second time He heard…

But God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven. “Hagar, what’s wrong? Do not be afraid! God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.” (Genesis 21:17 NLT)

She should have known because, remember, she named her son, “God hears.”

Hagar’s two most vivid encounters with God came in her two most desperate hours. The lesson for us: God always shows up when we need Him most. He sees us in our need, He hears our cries for help, and He responds with loving care. Sometimes it’s through divine intervention and sometimes it’s through people or circumstances.

Like Hagar, I’ve found that when life doesn’t make sense, God is still with me … and that’s enough.

And don’t ever forget: just because life doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t mean it’s senseless. Even when we hurt, even when we’re confused, even when we don’t know what to do, God can and will use us and our circumstances to bring about His divine will.

As I read in a devotional this week: “Not everything that happens is God’s will, but God has a will in everything that happens.” I say, “Amen to that” and I believe Hagar would chime in with an “Amen” of her own.

Later in Genesis we read about Joseph and his brothers (direct descendants of Abraham and Isaac, through Jacob). You may recall that Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him and decided to kill him. They threw him in a pit and planned to leave him there to die. But then some nomadic traders passed by and rather than leaving him in the pit, the brothers sold Joseph to the traders. The traders then sold him as a slave in Egypt.

From that lowly position, Joseph ascended to second in command in Egypt. When a famine came, he was able to save the nation and save his family who had come to Egypt for relief. That was a significant event in the history of the nation of Israel because it preserved the blood line from which the Messiah, Jesus, ultimately came.

Here’s an interesting fact: the nomadic traders were Ishmaelites. That means Hagar’s son and his descendants played a role in God’s plan of salvation.

Do you see how God has used and still uses a whole lot of things that don’t make sense to bring about His ultimate will – salvation for everyone through belief and trust in His son, Jesus Christ? Life didn’t make sense to Hagar, but that certainly didn’t mean it was senseless!