God turns “what if” into “so what”: Hagar, every woman (part 3)

el-roi-cloud

The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. (Genesis 16:7)

The angel meets Hagar near a spring of water in the desert. It is an exceptional meeting in a coveted location (water in the desert). The angel meets Hagar with words of encouragement that quench Hagar’s thirst. God is the water of life.

“…but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

The angel’s annunciation to Hagar is similar to announcements to Hannah, to the mother of Samson, and to Mary the mother of Jesus: all would have children with special destinies, and all are addressed personally, not through their husbands. God’s request that Hagar become a slave again and return to be degraded by Sarai seems strange: why should God respect property rights over the freedom of persons? This is particularly odd, considering the legal code of Israel, which, alone among ancient law systems, specified that runaway slaves should not be returned to their masters (Deut 23:16). But the angel’s speech here parallels God’s speech to Abram in Gen 15:13, which states that his children would be enslaved and degraded before their redemption. Both passages use the key terms that Israel uses to describe the Egypt experience. Hagar, the slave from Egypt, foreshadows Israel, the future slaves in Egypt. Her very name, Hagar, could be heard as hagger, meaning “the alien”; Hagar is an alien in Abram’s household as Israel will be aliens, gerim, in a foreign land. Hagar is to be degraded as Abram’s descendants will be degraded, and YHWH has “given heed to affliction” as God will hear the affliction of Abram’s descendants. (Tikva Frymer-Kensky)

Hagar is Abram’s counterpart. God speaks directly to her, forging a relationship independent of God’s relationship with Abram, and she responds in that way. She names God (“You are El-roi,” meaning “the one who sees me”; Gen 16:13) and the place (Beer-lahai-roi, “the well of the Living One who sees”; Gen 16:14) and then goes back to Abram’s household and bears a son, whom Abram (not Sarai) names Ishmael. (Tikva Frymer-Kensky)

Hagar’s time in the desert isn’t over, her trials and struggles continue, and she is visited by an angel again.

In the loneliest places
When I can’t remember what grace is
Tell me, once again who I am to You, who I am to You. -Lyrics from Remind My Who I Am

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