Friday, October 29, 2004

Understanding Hagar: Rediscovering Ourselves

(A Reflection on the Story of Hagar, Genesis 16: 1-15)

Hagar was an Egyptian woman, maid-servant of Sarai, Abram’s wife. The long wait to have a child led Sarai to give Hagar to Abram and have a child for her. When Hagar became pregnant the insecurity of Sarai had grown deeper that she accused Hagar of despising her and of being proud. Sarai persuaded Abram to take action against Hagar. Faced with a decision that would affect his marriage and the excitement of having a child, Abram let Sarai decide.

Sarai treated Hagar cruelly. Hagar was forced to leave. She is pregnant and she has no where to go. The angel of the Lord called her and advised her to return. There was a promise in the angel's words who said,

I will give you so many descendants that no one will be able to count them. You will be going to have a son, and you will name his Ishmael, because the Lord has heard your cry of distress.” --- Genesis 16: 10-11 (GNB)

Hagar bore Abram a son and named him Ishmael.

Treasures in Tears

Hagar was often dubbed as antagonistic in the story of Abram and Sarai. She is commonly regarded as an unclean woman. Yes, she slept with a man who is not her husband. Sarai planned the whole thing, Abram the actuator of the plan and Hagar the concubine. The Bible is silent on the reaction of Hagar about the plan. We can only surmise she accepted it without a word. We can feel the fear within her when Abram started to touch her body? We can imagine her confusion between loyalty to her mistress and her cry for justice. What if she’s a virgin, can you picture her flowing tears? Can you hear the beating of her heart, troubled!

When Sarai accused Hagar of despising her and of being too proud, it was Hagar’s way of letting them feel the maltreatment and abuse that they caused her. That was the moment when Hagar was starting to gain her senses little by little. She saw clearly whole scenario. The misfortune that she undergone has to be faced with courage, and she knew that. No more to silence, she manifested her anger through her actions. That was a clear manifestation that all along she did not agree to the plan of Sarai. She was forced into it. She was silenced. Now, she’s opening herself to them. Her anger was expressed.

Sarai in the midst of her growing insecurity washed hands and blamed Abram. she declared:

“It’s your fault that Hagar despises me. I myself gave her to you, and ever since she found out that she was pregnant, she has despised me. May the Lord judge which of us is right, you or me!” (Genesis 16: 5)

With the authority and power Sarai had, she treated Hagar cruelly. It could be both physical and emotional. Hagar has her limitations to endure pain and cruelty so she run away with no definite direction. The last decision she’ll ever make. For she knew very well that now that she’s pregnant of Abram’s son, she deserve to enjoy the benefit of a woman carrying the child of the master. Running away would not only caused the loss of these privileges but of endangering the child inside her womb also.

The living Lord who sees anyone, sent an angel to instruct Hagar to go back to her mistress with a promise for her son. She returned to be a servant girl of Abram and Sarai again.

Why did God permit this to happen to her for the second time? Why go back to her mistress? The Lord saw her needs and her misfortune in the hands of this couple. The living Lord can likewise fulfill the promise to Hagar and Ishmael somewhere else.

Truly, God works perfectly unpredictable. What did God teaching Hagar? Us? It takes a lot of courage and determination to go back to people whom you hate. It takes a lot of strength to walk the road you despise. It takes unmeasured bravery to face the place that brought memories of abuse you want to forget. It takes great faith, to trust in the words of the Lord.

Behind the reality that she will face again the unchanged scenario in the house of her mistress, that discomfort and suffering awaits her return. She did go back! Why? She knew very well that she cannot stay in the desert much longer she had someone, the child in her womb. You feel the dragging steps on the way back to the house of her mistress. They were heavy, yet hopeful. Her legs may be shaking, yet determined to walk the road. Her heart beating fast with anticipation, but now with direction.

Isn’t it amazing! By facing our fears we gain courage; we conquer our anger, we are given a sense of direction; by accepting our condition we find peace and comfort; by facing painful memories of the past we are empowered. Behind our tears are treasures, lessons that are molding us towards our maturity in faith and being. We are prepared to face new challenges along the way of a labyrinth journey we call life.

In times of trouble God is whispering softly to our ears, encouraging us to stand when we stumble. God is giving us a summon to go back and not run away in the midst of challenges. God is sending people to help us redirect our path. God sees us in our entanglements and problems. God can feel our suffering hearts, its desire and wants; God can read our thoughts and God has a plan for us, for God loves us. It’s up to us if we will listen! We are to decide. Hagar had made her decision, unselfishly, though painful. Are you willing to do the same? To leave your comfort zone and conquer yourself?

In the midst of our frustrations and painful memories of the past lies the “honey” of life, surrounded by thorns and packed unattractively. these are derived from our experiences that brought us fear, anxiety, discouragement and tears. Surrounded by faces of people and events we don’t want to see and remember. Carefully hidden and kept by ourselves. It is our possession undiscovered. To appreciate it, is for us to taste its sweetness fermented and mixed just fine! In order to do this, we have to rediscover ourselves and search our innermost self ("loob").

Weaknesses Disclosed, God’s Response
(Genesis 21: 9-20)

The selfishness of Sarah manifested again when she instructed Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away so the maid-servant’s son may not get any part of Abraham’s wealth.

As God has planned forHagar, Abraham gave some food and leather bag full of water to Hagar and sent them away. The food provided was just enough for several days. Hagar troubled with their condition, sat down about a hundred meters away from her son for her not to see him suffering starvation.

God heard the cry of her son and provided them water to sustain them for the travel. God stayed with them as the boy grew up. hagar found an Egyptian wife for Ishmael.

Hagar’s staying from a distance with her son was to avoid seeing him die in starvation . Like other parents deciding to pack their new born baby in an old bag or shoe box and choose to leave the baby in an underpass, market or throw it in garbage can or in a dumpsite. They do cry and wrestle with their emotion and conscience! Knowing the fact that the baby will die anyway, and they cannot provide the child's basic needs, for they themselves don’t know where to find some food to survive the day.

In darkness, where we cannot see any light to guide our steps, when life unbearable to us, how can we know and make the right decision? Hagar’s faith in God’s promises is being tested here. And she failed. She lost her hope and faith in the living God who sees and gave a promise for his son. She was overwhelmed by fear and hopelessness, of pity and distress.

Truly, through trials and test that God is glorified and God’s mercy and love is vividly manifested; that through this time in our life that we are confess our weaknesses to God. We fail God most of the time, yet God knows when to intervene and when to carry us.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar, the angel said “What are you troubled about, Hagar?” (Genesis 21:17). What an insult for a person who is desperate with her son about to die! And why troubled? Is it not troubling to know that they don’t have shelter, food and clothing to protect her and Ishmael? They’re no alternative.

Yes, we are troubled by a lot of things, things that secure us to live decently. We are worried of our future that we neglect today. We are anxious of what will happen to us tomorrow that we forget how to appreciate what we have. Why troubled, Hagar?

“Don’t be afraid”, the angel of the Lord said. (Genesis 21:17) God is in control if you let your life be controlled. Definitely, God don’t want innocent lives to suffer and die due to unfaithfulness and of letting oneself be defeated by problems and challenges. God prepared bright plans for each and everyone. God is keeping promises. We will be able to surpass obstacles that would surprise us along the way. We will be capable mothers and fathers to our children with God’s guidance. We will be good citizens with God’s wisdom and care. We will be victorious of this world with God’s love. That is by remaining faithful to God and letting God our partner in the journey.

by: Aileen dela Cruz Isidro
28 October 2004


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