Summary: This sermon focuses of Hagar's wilderness experience
The God Who Sees
We’ve been looking at people in the Old Testament who passed through the wilderness, some literally and physically and others spiritually and emotionally. The Judean wilderness was a barren, harsh, bleak place and became a Jewish metaphor for the painful and difficult times in life filled with despair and hopelessness. We’re looking at these stories to learn how we might make it through our own wilderness experiences which we all will have at some time in our lives. What we find is that wilderness experiences, as painful as they can be, can also become a time of great growth in our understanding of ourselves and of God as well as our faith.
In our Scripture today, Abraham is 85 years old and his wife Sarah is 76. They’ve been unable to have children so Sarah has an idea to allow Abraham to marry her slave girl Hagar who was Egyptian and then try to get her pregnant. She would become a secondary wife with no rights, no voice and no opportunity. Yes they practiced slavery. Some people would buy others for service and others would sell themselves to satisfy their debt. This was a part of the ancient world. Hagar is probably 18 or 19 years old. She is meant to be a surrogate mother for Sarah who would take the child as her own. This was not good news for Hagar. She did not want to sleep with an 85 year old man. She had no choice. She had to do it. She also would have been the wet nurse for the child but the child was no longer her own. Hagar as she becomes pregnant begins to look at contempt toward Sarah because she has forced her to marry an 85 year old man, sleep with him and then become pregnant. On top of all this, she is going to be forced to give up her child whom she has carried for nine months. And Sarah begins to have all the insecurities of an elderly woman who has a younger woman sleep with her husband and been unable to do what she could, have a baby. So Sarah begins to treat Hagar harshly. And finally she goes to Abraham and tells him that Hagar is treating her badly and he slept with her and it was a horrible idea and he needed to do something to fix it. And yet, it was Sarah’s idea all along. Jealousy can jade our view of things. Abraham is passive and says, “You just do what you want with her.” Sarah continues to treat her harshly. Now the Hebrew word harshly is the very same word used 100’s of years later to describe how the Egyptians treated the Hebrews when they were slaves. So she doesn’t just treat her harshly, she oppresses her just as the Hebrews were oppressed.
Hagar can’t handle it anymore and though she is pregnant, she wants to run away. But where is she going to go? Back to Egypt? A journey there would take her through 200 miles of desert. She finds herself at the last spring of water in the desert. Now there will be another oasis but she does not know where it is, how far away it is or even if she will make it. She stops here and feels absolutely hopeless. We find her afraid and wondering if she and her baby will survive and perhaps even wondering why God would allow her to be treated so harshly and where God was in all of this. The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert “And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” The angel already knows the answer to these questions but through this is trying to encourage Hagar to share her pain and suffering with God. She answers, “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered. Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
There are several things we learn from this. First, we’re not lost, God finds us in the wilderness. The angel of the Lord came to Hagar in the wilderness. She is not alone but rather God is constantly looking for us in the wilderness. When we feel like running away, God is searching for us. This is what Jesus comes for, to search for the lost. It’s why he told the three parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost or Prodigal Son. So God sends this angel, which literally means messenger, to express his love and concern for Hagar and God’s will for her. The angel comes to Hagar at the well. There is a corollary in the Gospel of John where Jesus comes to a Samaritan woman standing at the well. She has been married five times and is an outcast. In both cases, there is a promise and a gift of hope and strength. What the angel said to Hagar is not what she wanted to hear. She wants to hear that she can run away or if she is going to return, God will fix Sarah’s heart toward her. But God doesn’t promise that at all.