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Jehovah, God of the Single Mother
Many times we look unfavorably on Hagar as the bondwoman who was cast out of Abraham's family - this is partly due to Paul's application of Hagar and Ishmael cast in the role of the fleshly. While that is a proper application of spiritual matters, the fact remains that the Genesis casts the whole experience of Hagar in a very poignant role - that of an impetuous, young concubine who was looked after by Jehovah, the God who saw the need of this single mother. Hagar, bondslave of Sarah and mistress of Abraham was all alone with no rights as a mother - indeed, was eventually cast out of the household of Abraham - Hagar's status was very tenuous as a single mother - being a single mother without any outward means of security or support.
But the LORD intervened and her life was forever changed. Jehovah is truly the God of the single mother.
|Psalm 68:4 Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds -- his name is the LORD-- and rejoice before him.  A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.  God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.|
The lesson aim this morning is to show how that, first of all, the LORD takes a special interest in the single mother and secondly, that He has the resources to protect, provide and to be the companion of the single mother. He can provide the much needed security and comfort to the single mother in spite of the fact that there will be times when she is faced with seemingly insurmountable difficulties. It's important to note the portion of our passage in Psalms that "...God sets the lonely in families,..." a fact that we can rely upon and also that we may be called upon to be that family - church family - who lends support to a single mother as God leads these needy folks onto our lives.
Hagar an Egyptian slave of Sarai had no rights as an individual. I think it's important to point this out because in our modern thinking this concept is foreign to us and there is a tendency to place much of the unpleasantness of this whole episode at Hagar's feet. No. It was first Sarai idea and Abram consent that initiated this event - I like to think that Hagar was the pawn in the whole narrative and that she behaved rather unwisely thereby bringing upon herself in some way her destitution as a homeless, single mother.
Abram, of course, was more than willing to accommodate Sarai's offer to father a child through Hagar, as was a custom of the day when a patriarchal family had no heir. Even in Roman times this practice was observed - even when there was a son who had lost the favor of his father, there was the practice of substituting the heir-apparent with another boy.
So Hagar became a mother-to-be and began to treat Sarai with contempt.
This was a big mistake on Hagar's part because Sarai went to Abram and complained about Hagar's attitude and was given permission to treat Hagar as she wished. At this point Sarai began to treat Hagar abusively and Hagar, rather than submit to Sarai's treatment ran away.
The LORD meets with Hagar.
Hagar had decided to take matters into her own hands and ran away from Sarai, but the LORD had other plans for her. At this point she hadn't quite run out of options but was close - she at least had water to drink. The original indicates that this was more of a small spring rather than an oasis as one might imagine. Hagar certainly was at the end of her circumstances and it wouldn't have taken long for to realize that she was in serious trouble.
At any rate, Jehovah "catches up with her," as it were. The original gives the impression that the LORD, in a Christophany came up to her and as though striking up a conversation asked her where she was from and where if she had any plans of where she was going. Of course, she didn't have any plans but she did know that she was running away from bad treatment and was running away from the big disappointment of losing out in the favor of Abram. I wonder if she thought she was going to replace Sarai in favor by her "husband" and realized that this was a serious misconception on her part.
Now comes the interesting part. The angel of the LORD abruptly told her to go back to Sarai. I wish I could have been there when she realized this was no ordinary man who was talking to her. I do not think it took too long for her to realize that this was God, Himself talking to her. She realized that she had seen the God (albeit in a Christophany) who watches her.
The interesting part is the apparent ease with which she accepted the command of the angel of the LORD and acceptance of His promise. It certainly smacks of a rudimentary level of belief in this God who was looking after her. Whether it was saving faith is not to be determined by the scope of this lesson. The point here is that Jehovah, in His Sovereignty sets the the times, originations and boundaries of nations and Hagar was to be favored by being the mother of Ishmael, who was to be the father of many descendents. This was, in effect, a guarantee of Hagar's safety, security through the promise of an extended family that she and Abram had started. True, she had lost Abram as a husband / concubine relationship but she was now aware that EL was now looking after her and had promised her everything that a family could provide her. We do not now anything of Hagar's life before she became a slave of Sarai. She probably was joined with the family while Abram was in Egypt. But truly, the LORD had set Hagar in a family. Yes, she had "blown" it with her youthful arrogance and as a result, found herself in in these dire circumstances. She was to return - not as the concubine of Abram, but as Sarai's slave and was to submit to "her hands." Anchor translates this "...submit to abuse at her hand..." Berkley translates this "...humble yourself under her authority..." The Psalmist was right "...God sets the lonely in families,..." Hagar was to return to the family that God had provided for her, in spite of her huge disappointment and fear of mistreatment, which she did in obedience to Him.
First, regarding Hagar's personal safety and security, The LORD acted out of compassion for Hagar misery, albeit some of which was self-induced. But, it was out of compassion for Hagar as a single mother that He acted, in spite of her mistakes in judgement out of arrogance. Second, Hagar was to eventually enjoy the ultimate safety and security by being the mother of a large tribe - the basis for this was the fact that Abram was the father of her child - this blessing introduces the concept of "blessing by association," a concept we must cover in detail later as the LORD permits.
Hagar's Response to the LORD's Meeting.
She didn't have a very well-developed concept of the LORD which is understandable considering her Egyptian background. However, as with other biblical characters whose lives were touched by Jehovah in a special way, she did name the place The God who sees (El-roi) - by implication "the God who sees me." The Hebrew el was a name for God who portrayed many things and was used not so much for personal relationship qualities so much as One who was strong, a hero, who could do mighty things in behalf of the recipient. The Hebrew roi depicted Hagar's impression of the LORD's Christophany - roi depicts a remarkable appearance - one from which Hagar survived - it reflects one of today's popular commentaries that God is an Awesome God." This is borne out of a possible translation for the phrase, "... I have seen the back of the One who sees me." a phrase very familiar with the experience that Moses had with Jehovah (Ex. 33:20 - 23). The word (heb ra-ah) used in this phrase was also used in Genesis 17:1; 18:1. It means to gaze - to stare - to consider. It is a common word used in conjunction with times when the someone is receiving a true message from the LORD. This was a strong indication that the LORD'S appearance to Hagar was very striking and life-changing. We sometimes minimize this encounter between the LORD and Hagar because of the analogy used by Paul, and perhaps others to depict Hagar as a picture of the legalism of Paul's day. Please remember that all three parties in this narrative at one time or other meant for Ishmael, the son of Hagar to take the place of Isaac, the son of promise. This in no way should take away from the Christophany between the LORD and Hagar as He showed Hager His plan for her as a single mother and His plan of blessing on her son Ishmael.
Her response was that God (El-roi) had looked after her in her need. She really didn't know Him but she knew that He was going to provide for her as a single mother and that she should obey Him in order to receive these blessings.
Hagar's final Separation from the family.
Biblical custom of the day had the mother nursing a child for the first 3 years. Isaac was roughly 3 years old here and Ishmael was about 17 - a late teen.
This is especially poignant because Abram truly loved Ishmael. Custom of the day had a child weaned after 3 years and turned over to the father for training. Abraham had already had this wonderful bonding experience with Ishmael. The reference to "mocking" with the piel stem - an intensive, active voice, is the same word used elsewhere for genuine laughter. But in this intensive stem - it comes to mean to laugh at. Please let us not be too harsh with Ishmael. Ishmael was an intelligent, albeit rash young boy. I'm sure that there was a certain amount of "normal" rivalry beginning to grow from him toward Isaac. Normally, Ishmael would have received the double portion of blessing from the patriarch of the family, but he knew that Isaac was going to receive this so it was quite natural that Ishmael would have some resentment toward Ishmael, his half-brother.
Abraham was truly distressed - not only because of his love for the boy, but because he was worried about his safety - this was a heart-rending moment. Ishmael was 17 years old at this time - years of fellowship between dad and son were going to come to an abrupt end.
|Genesis 21:14-20 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba.  When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes.  Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, "I cannot watch the boy die." And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.  God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.  Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation."  Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.  God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.|
This is a remarkable passage. Again, we should not be too harsh on Hagar. Both Sarai and Abram showed some vacillation in their application of God's promises to their lives. Though they rested in His promises - there were times when doubt assailed them - and so it was with Hagar. The narrative indicates that Hagar expected to find refuge at this location in the desert - and indeed there was but for the moment of her crises, she could not see it for she was completely overcome by her circumstances of being finally separated from Abraham and facing the thought that her believed son was going to die of exposure. What Hager did was out of desperation - normally a mother would not abandon her son as it appears that she did here but it must have been apparent that Ishmael was about to die and she could not spare the sorrow of holding him, so she "threw" him under a bush. The original for threw doesn't have to mean an mean-spirited act of tossing something. It does mean that there was great trauma with Hager when she "put" (NIV) "placed" (NAS) Ishmael under the only shade that was available - this word (heb shalakh) depict more of a heart-rending separation between Hagar and Ishmael for she was convinced that she was no longer going to enjoy Ishmael's presence as her beloved son.
This is more than a generic use of a name of God. God's name, Eloheim, was used many time in conjunction with His dealings with the patriarchs. "Eloheim is identified as the God of the patriarchs (Exo. 3:6) or others (e.g. David, 2 Ki. 20:5). He is also identified as the God of Israel (Exo. 5:1) and of Jerusalem (2 Chr 32:19)." Hagar was, indeed, to be the matriarch of the Arab nation - it is fitting that the angel of Eloheim would have spoken to her in this manner. She could no longer resist the urge to help her son get up from his exhaustion - the act of obedience was further motivated by her love for him - she acted in faith in Eloheim and the hope in His promise that Ishmael would survive and become the father of a nation (vs. 18). At that moment, God opened her eyes that that which was already there - plenty of water and provisions for their new journey into God's sovereignty.
I want to repeat something I said before - that we need to shed ourselves of the application that was made of Hagar as the mother of Ishmael - who was cast out of the house of Abraham so that she / Ishmael would not become the progeny of God's promise to the Abrahamic covenant. Israel was to become the son of promise - the separation was necessary so that there would be two separate nations - the nation Israel and the nation of Ishmael. This is God's right as revealed in Acts 17 where He reserves the right to set up nations, tear them down - set their boundries - all of this is God's right to do. He controls history and the affairs of men and women. Accomplishment of this is always done in the context of His fairness and compassion. Countless of Ishmael's descendents have come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and will continue to do so even during the great tribulation.
The main thrust of this lesson is this:
1. Ishmael was to father a nation - Gen
2. See The Complete BIBLICAL LIBRARY, HEBREW-ENGLISH DICTIONARY, Pe - Resh, Pg. 483. See Isa. 6:1; Jer 1:11 ff.; Ezk 1:1, 4; 2:9; 8:2; 10:1; 11:1.
3. See The Complete BIBLICAL LIBRARY, HEBREW-ENGLISH DICTIONARY, Aleph - Beth, Pg. 245.