Hagar: genesis 16

16:1 Sarai as First Wife: “The inability bear children was a grave hardship for any woman in a patriarchal society, since the survival of the clan or tribe depended on the expansion of individual families. It was a particular affliction  or the wife of the patriarch , for it was her responsibility to provide the next leader of the group. Thus, Sarai’s barrenness was both a personal affliction and a condition that jeopardised the entire group. Dianne Bergant “Genesis: From the Beginning”

Sarai blames YHWH & looks to fix the situation  – surrogacy

16:1 Hagar: – alien – slave

“Female slaves were often given as marriage gifts by the family of the bride. Such slaves belonged to the wives and could not automatically be taken as concubines by the husbands.”

“As a slave, she has no power to make decisions about her own life. Without being asked she is given to the patriarch in order to produce a child that will not even be considered hers. the child will be adopted without her consent. She is raised in status from slave to concubine not because of any merit on her part, but because of the child whose she will bear.” Dianne Bergant “Genesis: From the Beginning”

16:3 This language promotes tension between Hagar as maid and Hagar as wife and between Sarai as wide and Hagar as second wife. The vocabulary also recalls the story of the garden. The primal woman “took” the forbidden fruit, ate it, and “gave” it to her man (Gen 3:6) Hagar becomes in effect the forbidden fruit. Like the primal man. Abram eats what is offered without question or objection.”  Phyliss Trible, “Hagar, Sarah & Their Children”

16:5 The pressures of polygamy

16:6 Hagar’s return to slavery – and then acts for herself. 

16:7 Hagar is named, recognised, spoken to directly

16:8 status is recognised – instructions given – a promise received

“Hagar is not frightened but enters immediately into a very candid conversation with this mysterious visitor. Previously, when God confronted Adamwith the question , “Where are you?” (3:9) and cain with the question “What have you done?” (4:10) both men tried to avoid a direct answer. when hagar is asked . “Where have you come from and where are you going?” she provided straightforward answers.” Dianne Bergant “Genesis: From the Beginning”

16:13 [Hagar] names the Lord who sees. “The narrator introduces her words with a striking expression that accords her a power attributed to no one else in the Bible. Hagar ‘calls the name of the Lord who spoke to her” She does not invoke the Lord, she names the Lord. She calls the name, she does not call upon the name. “You are El-roi” [God of seeing] she says. …. Hagar the theologian sees God and lives. Uniting the God who sees and the God who is seen. Hagar’s insights move from life under affliction to life after theophany. Finally they conclude the divine-human encounter in the wilderness.  Phyliss Trible, “Hagar, Sarah & Their Children”

From the beginning, Hagar is powerless because God supports Sarah. Kept in her place, the slave woman is the innocent victim of use, abuse and rejection. As a symbol of the oppressed, Hagar becomes many things to many people. Most especially, all sorts of rejected women find their stories in her. She is the faithful maid exploited, the black woman used by the male and abused by the female of the ruling class, the surrogate mother, the resident alien without legal recourse, the other woman, the runaway youth, the religious fleeing from affliction, the pregnant young woman alone, the expelled wife, the divorced mother with child, the shopping bag lady carrying bread and water, the homeless woman, the indigent relying upon handouts from the power structures, the welfare mother, and the self-effacing female whose own identity shrinks in service to other. Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror: Literary-feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984. p. 28

Hagar is a pivotal figure in biblical theology. She is the first person in scripture whom a divine messenger visits and the only person who dares to name the deity. Within the historical memories of Israel, she is the first woman to bear a child. This conception and birth make her an extraordinary figure in the story of faith: the first woman to hear an annunciation, the only one to receive a divine promise of descendants, and the first to weep for her dying child. Truly, Hagar the Egyptian is the prototype of not only special but all mothers in Israel. Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror: Literary-feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984. p. 28