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Help for a helpless Egyptian slave

November 27, 2023

Daily Scripture

Genesis 16:1-13, Genesis 21:6-20

Genesis 16
1 Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not been able to have children. Since she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar, 2 Sarai said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from giving birth, so go to my servant. Maybe she will provide me with children.” Abram did just as Sarai said. 3 After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took her Egyptian servant Hagar and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she became pregnant. But when she realized that she was pregnant, she no longer respected her mistress. 5 Sarai said to Abram, “This harassment is your fault. I allowed you to embrace my servant, but when she realized she was pregnant, I lost her respect. Let the LORD decide who is right, you or me.”
6 Abram said to Sarai, “Since she’s your servant, do whatever you wish to her.” So Sarai treated her harshly, and she ran away from Sarai.
7 The LORD’s messenger found Hagar at a spring in the desert, the spring on the road to Shur, 8 and said, “Hagar! Sarai’s servant! Where did you come from and where are you going?”
She said, “From Sarai my mistress. I’m running away.”
9 The LORD’s messenger said to her, “Go back to your mistress. Put up with her harsh treatment of you.” 10 The LORD’s messenger also said to her,
“I will give you many children,
        so many they can’t be counted!”
11 The LORD’s messenger said to her,
“You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son.
        You will name him Ishmael [Or God hears]
        because the LORD has heard about your harsh treatment.
12 He will be a wild mule of a man;
        he will fight everyone, and they will fight him.
        He will live at odds with all his relatives” [Or He will reside near all his relatives].
13 Hagar named the LORD who spoke to her, “You are El Roi” [Or God who sees] because she said, “Can I still see after he saw me?”

Genesis 21
6 Sarah said, “God has given me laughter. Everyone who hears about it will laugh with me.” 7 She said, “Who could have told Abraham that Sarah would nurse sons? But now I’ve given birth to a son when he was old!”
8 The boy grew and stopped nursing. On the day he stopped nursing, Abraham prepared a huge banquet. 9 Sarah saw Hagar’s son laughing, the one Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham. 10 So she said to Abraham, “Send this servant away with her son! This servant’s son won’t share the inheritance with my son Isaac.”
11 This upset Abraham terribly because the boy was his son. 12 God said to Abraham, “Don’t be upset about the boy and your servant. Do everything Sarah tells you to do because your descendants will be traced through Isaac. 13 But I will make of your servant’s son a great nation too, because he is also your descendant.” 14 Abraham got up early in the morning, took some bread and a flask of water, and gave it to Hagar. He put the boy in her shoulder sling and sent her away.
She left and wandered through the desert near Beer-sheba. 15 Finally the water in the flask ran out, and she put the boy down under one of the desert shrubs. 16 She walked away from him about as far as a bow shot and sat down, telling herself, I can’t bear to see the boy die. She sat at a distance, cried out in grief, and wept.
17 God heard the boy’s cries, and God’s messenger called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “Hagar! What’s wrong? Don’t be afraid. God has heard the boy’s cries over there. 18 Get up, pick up the boy, and take him by the hand because I will make of him a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well. She went over, filled the water flask, and gave the boy a drink. 20 God remained with the boy; he grew up, lived in the desert, and became an expert archer.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

Introductory Note: “A biblical angel (Heb. mal’āḵ, Gk. angelos) is, by derivation and function, a messenger of God, familiar with him face to face, therefore of an order of being higher than that of man. He is a creature certainly, holy and uncorrupted spirit in original essence, yet endowed with free will, therefore not necessarily impervious to temptation and sin…. Both Testaments use the selfsame word for mortal and for quite mundane messengers.” *

Sarai/Sarah’s culture saw it as okay to have her Egyptian servant bear a child for her. Sadly, it also saw the choices she and Abram made to discard Hagar as okay. Hagar learned that even if Abram and Sarah saw her as disposable chattel, Abram’s God did not. God saw and valued her as a person. The next story said Abraham was upset for his son Ishmael, but there was no mention of concern for Hagar. God’s messenger (or God) did care and showed her a life-sustaining well in the desert.

  • We wouldn’t quote 16:9 to a woman fleeing an abusive situation. In that different world, it at least offered Hagar a place where she and her son could survive. It said God cared whether she lived or died and wanted her to press on even in her tough situation. Have you ever felt the urge to “just give up”? How can God’s caring presence (directly, or through a heavenly or human messenger) give you strength, even when things are tough?
  • With the water gone, the boy crumpled to the dry desert floor. His mother wept in despair. The situation looked hopeless—but “God’s messenger” was still there. Are you able to trust in God’s presence and care, often through “messengers,” for help when you may feel helpless? Psalm 34:18 said, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted.” When has a messenger reminded you of God’s healing presence, even been that presence, when you are brokenhearted for any reason?

God of Abraham, you cared even when your earthly servants didn’t seem to. Thank you for the ways you send help and hope into my life when I need it most. Amen.

GPS Insights

Valerie Nagel

Valerie Nagel

Valerie Nagel was born, raised, and attended college in California. Her Master of Divinity degree is from Duke Divinity School. She was ordained in the Rio Texas Conference, serving as an associate pastor in the Austin area and San Antonio. From congregational care and welcoming guests to leading in worship, Valerie loves the ministry of the local church. She feels blessed to have served as a pastor since 2011. She juggles ministry with being a mom to Caleb (born 2012) and Jacob (born 2015), friend, avid reader, lover of the outdoors, beginner to the world of CrossFit, and foodie.

This GPS has become a place where I share my honest confessions with you. I was overwhelmed when I read the passages I was invited to respond to because I have been a part of Christian communities where sexism caused harm to others and to me. While we’re all human and can say and do things that hurt others (I’ve learned a lot about confession, apologies, and repairing mistakes over the years), there can be ways of reading the Bible that deeply wound and diminish the worth of individuals and groups of people. What has helped me to engage passages that feel especially messy and complex has been to listen to the wisdom of “feminist” and “womanist” theologians. *

When I read Hagar’s story, I give myself the space and time I need to feel how difficult it must have been for her. She was an outsider because she was Egyptian and seen as someone with little value because she was a slave and a woman. She would have had little agency in her own life. Her relationship with Abram and Sarai was complicated. And while there are so many layers to unpack in this story, where I find myself when I read these passages is with Hagar in the wilderness. The Lord’s messenger found her after she had run away and again when she was sent away. God sees her and gives her the name for her unborn son, Ishmael–“God hears.” God makes promises to Hagar and Ishmael. Hagar has met God and she becomes the first person to give God a name–El Roi–the “God who sees.”

As Pastor Adam shared in his sermon on Sunday, Hagar’s story reminds us that God will meet us in the most difficult moments. We are not alone. Like Hagar, a messenger or messengers may come to us in unexpected ways–a gentle nurse in the hospital, a teacher who encourages us, a friend who calls just because they were thinking of us, a therapist who offers words of encouragement, a friend from small group who brings us a meal. And we have the opportunity to be messengers of hope and good news to others. Life can be messy and complicated and difficult. But we are never alone. God is with us, and God’s people are here, too.

* These are technical terms for basic approaches to applying the Bible to today’s world. “Feminist theology” aims to reexamine scriptural passages with patriarchal perspectives about women and women’s roles from a woman’s perspective. “Womanist theology” similarly looks at passages with the religious and moral experiences of Black women specifically in focus.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* R. A. Stewart, article “Angel” in The New Bible Dictionary, Third Edition. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, USA, 1996, p. 36.