THE STORY OF HAGAR – Genesis 21:14–19 – So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, “Let me not look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, 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.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
For many of us, the biblical character of Hagar doesn’t ring any bells. We know about Adam and Eve. We know about Noah and his big boat. We know about Father Abraham and his “many sons.” Hagar? Not exactly a household name.
One of the reasons you probably haven’t heard of Hagar is that her story is messy. Or, rather, her story makes the Bible “heroes” we know look pretty messy.
Remember Abraham and Sarah? Pushing the century mark, this couple believed God for an impossible promise—a son! And God was faithful to his promise. But Abraham and Sarah didn’t believe God right away, all the way. They began by taking matters into their own hands.
That’s where Hagar comes in. Hagar was a servant of Sarah’s. When God first promised Abraham that he would have a miracle baby, Sarah—who wasn’t able to have children— suggested a compromise: Abraham could have a child with Hagar, instead. Abraham agreed, and the plan seemed to work. Hagar got pregnant with a baby boy.
Soon, however, all three of them realized the stark difference between making a plan “work” and receiving a fulfilled promise of God. Instead of helping, their plan created a spiral of dysfunction. Sarah became jealous of Hagar and began to abuse her. Together with Abraham, Sarah cast Hagar out into the desert twice—once just after Hagar conceived (Genesis 16), and then again not long after Hagar gave birth (Genesis 21).
On both occasions, as Hagar languished in the desert, she felt abandoned and hopeless. She assumed she would soon die. But on both occasions, God came to her, bringing her both water and hope.
Hagar was so impacted by God’s intervention that she gave God a name, the first time in Scripture this happens: “So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are a God of seeing,’ for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me’” (Genesis 16:13).
Hagar’s name may not be familiar to us, but the pattern of Hagar’s story absolutely is. Abused and abandoned— perhaps you can relate. Your story may not be as lifethreatening as Hagar’s. Then again, it very well could be. Regardless, we all know what it’s like to feel like she did— alone, unseen, hopeless.
Advent represents a longing and a promise. The longing is easy to identify: Like Hagar, we sometimes walk in the desert, in desperate need of a cup of cold water. But the promise is there, too: When we feel unseen, God sees us. When we feel unheard, God hears us. He comes near to us in our hour of need. He brings a cup of cold water and a thrill of hope.
And one day, thousands of years after Hagar, he would do it again. Except he would do more than merely come near to us with water and hope. He would come to live with us, experiencing all of our needs, joys, sorrows, and fears.
He would become Jesus Christ, bringing living water and an everlasting hope.
Think of a few people who were with you when you felt alone, unseen, or abandoned. Reach out to one or two of them to express your thankfulness for the ways God used them during that time.