Vindicating Hagar

Of all the studies on Bible women I’ve ever done, only one included a look at Hagar. I imagine that’s because romance-driven Hollywood influences us to see Hagar as an “extra” in the Sarah-and-Abraham love story. If we even study Hagar, we tend to view her as Sarah’s failure in the baby department. And in viewing Hagar this way we miss a lot.

As Sarah’s Egyptian slave, Hagar started out with both race and class against her. Yet once she conceived her master’s child, Hagar’s status changed. That led her to despise Sarah—or perhaps gave her freedom to express what she already felt. (If someone forced me to bear a child for her, I’d dislike her too.)

Sarah felt the shift. And instead of recognizing her own agency, she blamed Abraham. No doubt to keep the peace, he told Sarah to handle it however she wanted. Big mistake. Sarah treated Hagar so harshly that she fled toward Egypt (Gen. 16:6). Hagar considered it safer to be pregnant and alone in the desert.

Next, the text tells us that the angel of the Lord “found” Hagar by a well. He didn’t rebuke her for leaving. And while the Lord sent her back to Sarah (Gen.16:7–9), He also made Hagar some amazing promises (Gen.16:10–12).

First, He promised to multiply Hagar’s offspring (Gen. 16:10). She’s the only woman in all of Scripture to receive such a promise. Second, He told her to name her baby Ishmael, meaning “God listens.” Then God promised that her child would be “a wild donkey of a man.” Now, today when we call someone a wild donkey, we insult them. But what animal did Jesus—like Solomon—ride during his Triumphal Entry (Matt. 21:7)? In the ancient Near East, rulers and rich people rode donkeys (Zech. 9:9). And to be “wild” was not to be crazy but free, as opposed to being a slave. Imagine our equivalent: “Hagar, you’ll return to slavery, but your offspring will be a free white stallion.” (He kept His promise: For centuries Arab Bedouins have lived in freedom.)

God promised another blessing: that Hagar’s son would “dwell in the presence of his brothers” (Gen. 16:12). By their proximity to Israel, Arabs are in a unique position to witness God’s unfolding plan. Among them have been Job, Agur, Lemuel and probably “the magi.” Since these, we’ve also seen thousands of Arabs in church history, and many are still coming to Christ today. The same texts promising restoration to a Jewish remnant (Isa. 60:1–5) predict the restoration of a greater remnant among Abraham’s Arabian descendants (Isa. 60:6–7).

After receiving these lavish promises, Hagar gave God a name. She named Him! Hagar called Yahweh, “The God who sees.” 

So what do we learn from Hagar? That God is sovereign over wombs and nations; that He has a plan for both Jew and Arab; that He is a husband to the husbandless; that he hears the cries of the mistreated; and that He is El Roi, the God who sees.

{For a great in-depth look at this story, including its complex translation options, read Arabs in the Shadow of Israel by Dr. Tony Maalouf.)

Sandra Glahn, who holds a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and a PhD in The Humanities—Aesthetic Studies from the University of Texas/Dallas, is a professor at DTS. This creator of the Coffee Cup Bible Series (AMG) based on the NET Bible is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books. She's the wife of one husband, mother of one daughter, and owner of two cats. Chocolate and travel make her smile. You can follow her on Twitter @sandraglahn ; on FB /Aspire2 ; and find her at her web site: aspire2.com.


  • Gwynne Johnson

    Abraham’s doubt?
    It has been interesting to me that Hagar came back to the Land with Sarah and Abraham. Somewhat of a consequence of a lapse in Abraham’s faith perhaps?

  • Shawna R. B. Atteberry

    Thank you
    Thank you for this wonderful article on Hagar. I think she’s overlooked far too much. She is the first and only person in the OT who named God. Not to mention she raised her son on her own after Abraham and Sarah sent them off. She was a strong woman of faith, and I think we should be hearing much more about her.

  • Visitor Dino R. Tobias

    additonal insights on Hagar

    When Hagar ran away – God met her.  She was asked  "where have you come from?"  Reminds us not to forget our humble beginnings.  "Where are you going?"  Directs us to towards God's purpose.  These questions invites us to reconsider our initial reactions.  The command to go back teaches us that it is wrong to evade responsibility.  The emphatic phrase "you are now pregnant" leads us to think about survival.  The innocent child should be spared from tensions of parents.  It is good to recall that at first it was Hagar's cry of distress that God heard.   When they were sent away, it was the child's cry that moved God.   Let us continue to cry in prayer because the God who sees is the same God who hears.


  • Hagar


    Remember.  I cry out.  He Hears.  He Comes.  He Saves.  When your heart feels like it's about to break.  Shout Out Long and Loud.  Say to him.  Hagar loves you!  Hagar misses you.  Hagar say, I AM HERE!  He will understand!


    Hagar of Egypt

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