Hagar: Forsaken No More

Posted on September 18, 2019


By David Ettinger

This is a fictional account of Hagar – the maid of Sarah and Abraham – based on Genesis 21:9-21.

Awaiting Death
Hagar had never felt so unwanted and cast off.

She could never imagine that such depths of loneliness, despair, and desolation could penetrate so deeply and painfully into the center of her soul as it did as this moment.

She felt she would die alone, her bones left to rot in the scorching heat of the vast desert of Beersheba. No one would know what ever became of her and, eventually, no one would remember that she had even existed.

And what of her son Ishmael, who lay under a tamarisk tree about a quarter-mile away, groaning as his body slowly wasted away from thirst and famine? Hagar could not endure his dying groans, opting to put space between herself and her 17-year-old only child.

Only one question remained: which of them would die first?

As Hagar wallowed in her misery, she leaned back against the acacia tree that proved her only comfort. She gathered her knees to her chest and folded her arms tightly around them. Her eyes had gone dry, her reservoir of tears had long ago evaporated.

As the sun mercilessly beat down, she could feel its rays creeping through the branches, trying to get at her. Though sparse, those branches were enough to keep the rays at bay.

How It Began
Hagar thought back more than two decades to her teenage years. She had been given to a Hebrew couple as a gift by Pharaoh, a recompense for a near-unpardonable wrong he had committed against this couple upon whom was God’s favor.

Her early years with master Abraham and mistress Sarah were good. This couple was generous, kind, considerate, and, as impossible as it was for a slave to imagine, affectionate! Though she missed her homeland and family, Abraham and Sarah’s goodness slowly won her over. She felt she was a part of their family.

During her first two years with them, she became aware of the heartbreaking trauma in their lives: her mistress’ inability to bear children. It stung the aging couple as they desperately sought a male heir to inherit the family’s fortunes. Then, one day, Hagar’s life changed forever.

“Hagar, I wish to speak with you.”

The girl had been washing the family’s clothes when Sarah, her face stern, her mood anxious, interrupted her.

“Yes, my mistress,” Hagar answered, bowing before her.

“Come with me, Hagar; I need to speak with you.”

Hagar felt a wave of excitement wash over her. When they reached her mistress’ chambers, Sarah closed the door.

“Hagar,” she said solemnly, “you will do something for me.”

“Anything my mistress.”

“Good. Now listen closely, Hagar. The God your master and I worship has promised to provide a male heir for us. That was ten years ago. As you can see, I have now surpassed the age of childbirth and can no longer can produce children …”

At this, Sarah turned her back on Hagar, composed herself, then faced her again.

“Therefore, Hagar, you will take my place. You are young, beautiful, and, I trust, fertile. Tonight, I will give you to my husband – your master – as his wife. You will lie with him and produce the male heir God has promised us.”

Hagar was speechless.

“Now, Hagar, wash yourself, make yourself attractive for your master, and when he summons you, go to him.”

A Change of Fortune
Hagar believed her slave days were over.

That night she fulfilled her mistress’ wishes and soon after became pregnant. Though still a slave legally, she was pampered the entire time of her pregnancy, her mistress and master taking painstaking precaution to assure that no harm would come to the child.

She had never been waited on hand and foot before, and loved it. She loved being catered to. She loved being coddled. But more than anything, she loved being honored. After all, she was carrying the heir to her master’s fortunes.

Hagar believed her privileged treatment was license to be demanding, and so she became. She believed her pregnancy made her superior to her mistress, who to the Egyptian’s eyes was but a mass of aging flesh who had failed as a woman. It was apparent to Hagar that Sarah’s God had blessed a lowly Egyptian and disdained the older Hebrew, and so Hagar grew to disdain her mistress as well.

She became obstinate, rude, disrespectful and disobedient, and Sarah would not tolerate it. The older woman began fiercely mistreating Hagar, making very clear to the pregnant beauty that she, Sarah, was the mistress, and that the fertile Egyptian was still but a slave.

And when the abuse became unbearable, Hagar fled to the desert. She eventually lost her way and was certain she would die.

Miraculous Encounter
Then, miraculously, the God of Abraham came to her: “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”[1]

Energized and encouraged, Hagar returned to her mistress a changed woman. She bowed low before her, confessed her sin, and vowed submission.

The next 16 years were wonderful as Hagar, though still a slave, was treated more like an honored matriarch, the belief being that she was mother to the heir of her master’s household.

But then something incomprehensible happened. Just as her God had promised, Sarah – well past the age of childbirth – miraculously became pregnant. When Isaac was born, Hagar knew her days of privilege were over, as were Ishmael’s days as the “child of promise.” She had returned to the status she began as: just another slave.

On the day 3-year-old Isaac was weaned, Ishmael, sensing his mother’s hostility, cruelly mocked and ridiculed his baby brother, his vitriol unbearable to Sarah.

“Abraham!” she howled in tones loud enough for Hagar to hear. “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”[2]

The Desert of Beersheba

Hagar’s days, she knew, were numbered. And how fast it all happened! By dawn the next morning, Abraham regretfully cast off the woman and his son with as much bread and water as they could carry. “May God be with you,” he whispered mournfully, on the verge of tears.

Hagar stared at him incredulously as if to say, So suddenly, my master? Could you not provide for us even a servant or a mule to help carry our burden?

But Abraham said nothing. And Hagar had never felt so forsaken in her life.

The mother and boy headed south toward Egypt. Neither had the slightest idea how to navigate the desert. By the end of the second day, the food and water were gone. By afternoon the third day, the sun was consuming them. They began wandering in circles. They had no idea where they were going. No hint of civilization. By the end of day four, they were weak and worn out.

They had not eaten for two days. By afternoon day five, Ishmael collapsed. Barely breathing. Body shutting down.

Hagar could not watch. She helped him to a tamarisk tree and told him to lay down. “I will find water and come back to you, my son,” she lied.

“Mother, please do not leave me,” he pleaded.

Hagar walked away as fast as her failing body could carry her. They were dying. She was alone. Hated. Scorned. Uncared for. Unloved. Unwanted. A terrible death awaited her and her son.

And then …

Just as 17 years ago, the God of her master had suddenly appeared.

“Hagar,” His voice triumphantly proclaimed. “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.”[3]

Her heart pounded in jubilation. And when she looked up, there, hidden among the brushwood, was a well of water. The most beautiful sight Hagar had ever seen. Reinvigorated, she ran and filled her skin with the glorious life-giving liquid, then ran back to Ishmael and nourished him.

Their lives saved, Hagar could not stand. She fell on her face and wept. Abraham’s God had saved her, loved her, and embraced her.

The God of creation had stooped down to save her. She was forsaken no more!

[1] Genesis 16:11-12

[2] Genesis 21:10

[3] Genesis 21:17-18