Faith in the Valley: Hagar and the Desert

ValleyKateLast week rocked. Jeremy and I had the chance to go to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last weekend before our much delayed Faith in the Valley meeting on Tuesday, so let me tell you, I’m still all “Go, go, go Joseph!” (That’s one of the songs.)

Sitting down talking through the Joseph story was really amazing–even though I think we all agreed that it was hard to see Joseph down in that valley.   Seeing all the amazing results of coming out of the valley were TOTALLY worth it.  With that said, it definitely seemed like Joseph would have had a much easier time recognizing God’s Sovereignty once he’d become leader of Egypt.  In Gen 45:7-8, he says TWICE that it wasn’t his brothers, but God who sent him to Egypt.

But one girl in our group asked a really good question, which was, “Would Joseph have said that it was God who sent him to jail–when he was in the valley stage of his story? Or is it only once we are out of the valley that we can acknowledge God’s sovereignty.”

Remember my little two-step instructions for getting out of the valley?

1. Forgiveness

2. Recognition of God’s Sovereignty

Her question made me wonder if we are even capable of doing those two steps when we are IN the valley, or do they happen after we’ve clawed out or been carried out of it?  Yet, we can look at Job, Jonah, and Daniel and see that there are certainly people who show faith IN the VALLEY.  I’m starting to see that there might not be a recipe, or two-step process, or equation for ending valley life.  Maybe valley life just IS LIFE.  And what we are trying to figure out is how to have faith there whether we get out or not.

So forget the little two-step instructions because whenever you’ve numbered something spiritual, it is probably your rule-following good girl kicking in. Speaking of her, let’s do some homework! 🙂 This is super long and I should have given it to you Tuesday, but I just finished it, so have mercy. Just read/complete as you can before Tuesday, or we’ll cover it together.


For Hagar, I put the Scriptures in the text for your convenience, but that makes the post really long. Let me know what you prefer for the next week.

Genesis 16:1

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”

“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

11 The angel of the Lord also said to her:

“You are now pregnant  and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery. 12 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.”

13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

For Study:

1. Where is Hagar from?

2. What was her role in Abraham’s household?

3. Look at this passage from Genesis 12.

Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are.12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

17 But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” 20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

What circumstance enabled Abram to obtain Egyptian female servants in this passage?

3. In Genesis 15: 4, God makes a covenant with Abram. He specifically tells Abram that a son will come from WHOSE body?

4. God doesn’t mention a woman as part his covenant in chapter 15.  Because of this, Sarai comes to what conclusion about Abram’s descendants?

5. In Genesis 15:13, God tells Abram a bit of the future based on the Joseph story from last week. What does he tell them will happen to his promised descendants?

6. Since we talked last week about having a LONG VIEW of a situation, let’s just zoom out for a minute and peek ahead at last week’s story from Genesis 37: 20, 26-27  “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” . . . . . .Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed. 

Fill in the blanks. Joseph’s brothers planned to __________, but Judah convinced them to sell him to whom?______________.

So, just to clarify, in GEN 15:13, God has foreknowledge that Abram’s descendants will end up as slaves. And in 37: 27, we see Abram’s great-grandson’s selling their brother to Abram’s OTHER great-grandsons, the Ishmaelites, descendants of _____________, the son of HAGAR. 

So back to Hagar.

7. In 16:2, Sarah says to Abraham, “The Lord has kept me from having children.”  What does this imply about her belief in God’s promise from chapter 15? Do you think Abraham told Sarah about the covenant God had made with him?

8. Whose plan is it for Abram to sleep with Hagar? (16:2)

9. How old was Abram this time? (16:16)

10. How do you react to the Sarah’s “taking matters into her own hands”?

11. Giving them the benefit of the doubt (even though I want to kick their tent over right now), Gen 15: 4 DOES say that the child will be from Abraham’s body, not mentioning Sarah.  Have you ever “taken matters into your own hands” when interpreting God’s promises or will for you? How has that turned out?

Every commentary that I looked at, tried to explain the culture and time period so that Hagar, a slave, being given to an 85 year old Abraham as a concubine/surrogate, would seem less abhorrent.  Here’s one quote I found from To modern people, the idea of giving another woman to your husband to bear a child seems strange and brutal, but in ancient Near Eastern family law the practice was common and acceptable. 

12. If your culture and its law says that it is common and acceptable for a man to have sex with you when you are enslaved to him, does that make it not horrific?  Some translations even say that Hagar became Abraham’s wife.  So if Hagar consented, did that make this okay? Yick.  Thinking of Abraham as an 85 year old rapist is making me uncomfortable, but saying that culturally accepting those bad practices makes them not damaging or abusive is also really disturbing.  Does Hagar’s status as a victim depend on how she feels about her treatment or about what her culture says about it?

13. James 4:23 calls Abraham God’s friend.  This story, then, is about a friend of God, a person of power, hurting, damaging and rejecting an enslaved foreigner.  Do we still experience or do this? Does our strong Christian community wield power over others? Do we call cultural and normal practices that take advantage of the defenseless?

Maybe she was okay with the whole situation until the got pregnant.  (Insert facetious emoticon.)

I gotta say, apart from whatever you suspect about the behind the scenes with Abram, I cannot imagine having surrogacy FORCED upon me: to conceive and know that your child would be taken from you, to have no choice in the matter, that’s unthinkable!  That Hagar began to despise Sarai, her mistress, does not come as a huge shock.

That Sarai brilliant plan unraveled into a stupid mess . . .also not surprising.

14. Sarai’s reaction in v. 5 is to say that WHO is responsible? ________________________  And then she names who as judge?____________.

I find this whole naming of a judge thing interesting.  Even though she has just blamed Abram, I think she is catching onto to what a bad idea this whole business was and maybe even seeing her own culpability. She puts it off on God to decide who screwed it up–as if it takes a divine being to sort this out.

15. Brave Abram, God’s friend, steps in and handles the situation by saying in v.6 “Your servant is in your hands. Do with her whatever you think is best.”  This ticks me off.  Even though Abram is notoriously bad at plans (his typically involve pretending his wife is his sister), I cannot believe he dumps of his pregnant concubine-wife into the handles of his furious first-wife. Why do you think Abram doesn’t react protectively toward Hagar?

16. When Sarai started mistreating her and Abram, her baby-daddy dismissed her, she ran away. Whatever culture tries to tell her about how common and acceptable her situation was, she felt bad about it. She didn’t like it; she ran away.  Isn’t mistreated a nicer word than abuse? Can we say Sarai abused Hagar? Can we say Abram abandoned Hagar?  How do you react to her fleeing from them?

Pregnant Hagar ran away. She was Egyptian and her trajectory lands her east of Egypt in the Desert of Shur, so maybe she thought she’d get back home.  We never find out where she’s going. But as you may know, the road between Egypt and Canaan is not known for being particularly short or easy to cross.  An angel of the Lord found her there. He asked her where she’d come from and where she was going.  She only seems to know the answer to the first part.  She says that she’s running away from her mistress Sarai.

17. Is “running away” a destination? Did you ever flee from something and have only escape as your goal?

18. The angel of the Lord, who some scholars believe is God in flesh, Jesus, tells her to go back.

I DO NOT LIKE THIS. I do not like the abused person being told to return to abusive people, whatever cultural standards they lived by. However, I have to assume that God, in his love, knew she would be better back in Canaan than dead in the desert. God’s plan for Ishmael, for the Ishmaelites, for all those who would encounter the Ishmaelites, that plan would be jeopardized by Hagar’s death and her baby Ishmael’s death. God’s loving intention to redeem ALL his people relied upon Hagar living, bearing her son, and eventually being freed from slavery.  As far as we know, Hagar is beside a spring, so NOT at the point of death, but this is the moment when God intervenes in this story, interacts with the person, and turns someone around. How do you feel about this? Would you have wished God had “stepped in” sooner?

19.  The angel’s next speech tells her about her condition, what she will name her son, and a very bleak prophesy about her son.  Putting yourself in Hagar’s position, as much as you can imagine, how would you react to this information?

20. How DOES Hagar react to the prophesy about Ishmael?  What does her reaction reveal about the way that she may be feeling?

21. Part of the reason some scholars think this angel of the Lord might actually be THE LORD Jesus, is in v. 13. Write down what Hagar says in 13.  _______________________________________________________________ So why do they think that it is Jesus?  In Exodus 33:23, Moses goes up on Mt. Sinai to talk with God and then he asks (demands) to see God’s face. God says “You will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” So the thinking is that, if Hagar SAW the Lord, it must have been a person of God that we humans can SEE. And that is Jesus.

Jesus goes down to Earth tell Hagar to go back to slavery. Because he loves her and wants her to live and have a story, even if it is a hard, hard story.

Are you getting why there isn’t a musical about Hagar?  Unless there are lyrics for, “Your son will be a jackass, rejected and reviled.” (I am pretty sure jackass is a safe translation of “wild donkey.”) This is just a hard, hard story.

BUT HERE IS THE FAITH IN THE VALLEY. She is beside a spring in Shur even though she is in the desert, but she goes back to Canaan. She obeys.  She goes BACK. She doesn’t get a mention in Hebrews 11 for it and Gal 4 persists in making her an enduring metaphor as the slave woman, but y’all, she obeyed God. She went back.

**************************************Okay, take a breath.

Before we get back to Hagar, we need to note two things. About 14 years pass between chapters 16 and 17.  In Chapter 17, God comes to clarify his covenant with Abram, changing his name to Abraham, explaining the importance of circumcision, and mentioning the somewhat important detail that SARAI (now Sarah), will be the mother of the great nation. I’ll be honest, I feel like this information would have been more helpful 14 years previous.

22. Can you think of a time where you questioned God’s timing? (Or just try to think of only ONE time.)

Let’s check 17:17-18 for some juicy tidbits from the reaction to this info.  17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

It’s interesting that he will doubt God to himself, but outloud, he wants to see if maybe God could just work with the mess they made.  Could you just let this be true for Ishmael because he’s already real!  It’s like he wants to make sure that the deal will still work without a miracle.

Actually, this is the first time in a while that I’ve actually liked Abraham because he is going to bat for Ishmael, begging God to bless him, which God promises in verse 20, that He will do. God says, “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.”

But suspiciously absent in any mention of Ishmael is the word COVENANT; that is for Sarai’s son, Isaac. Nonetheless, Abraham circumcises EVERYONE in his household, including 13 year old Ishmael, bringing them under covenant protection.  He is determined for Ishmael to be included.

And, somehow when I saw that 99 year old Abraham was getting 13 year old Ishmael circumcised, I could help but think of a few years later when that same dad traipsed up Mt. Moriah and tied Isaac to an altar.  FLAWED as he was, Abraham will really do anything to obey God and keep that COVENANT.

But before you get all misty-eyed and in love with Abraham, in Chapter 20 (not sure how chronological all this really is on a timeline), Abraham and Sarai pull off the sister-brother act again, pretending not to be married for their own safety, but cursing the household of Abimelech with infertility. Nice. Really nice covenant folks we’ve got here.


Back to Hagar. In Genesis 21, Sarai has finally had Isaac:

The child (Isaac) grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

14 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.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

17 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. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

19 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.

20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

23. Remember that the plan was for Hagar’s son to become Sarah’s. But once she has Isaac, or maybe even before, Sarah refers to Hagar and Ishmael how?

24.  What does Sarah want Abraham to do with Hagar and Ishmael?

25. How does Abraham feel about this?

26. What does God tell Abraham to do?

27. How does God refer to Hagar that is different from how Sarah refers to her? How would you describe the distinction?

28. The first time she goes to the desert, Hagar runs away. Why does she go this time?

29.  Okay, so it is hard to feel good about what is happening, but if you look at the difference in the two situations, you will see that when she ran away, she was a pregnant run-away slave. Now, she is leaving as a FREED WOMAN under blessing, however paltry that may seem. How do the two desert journeys seem to you?

30. Where her first journey took her to a spring, her second takes her to the desert of Beersheeba. (Random comment. For a nomad, she was bad at navigation.) She runs out of water and puts the boy (who I am estimating was 15 or 16 years old) under a bush and goes away so she doesn’t have to watch him die.  Hagar really believed Ishmael would die. I have to think that this is the LOWEST valley possible, genuinely seeing your child at the point of death. And then I look back to the previous desert journey with Hagar and think, WAS SHE ON THE POINT OF DEATH? Was Jesus arrival and instruction to return to Canaan actually a rescue?

31. But God HEARS Ishmael crying (which is strange because the passage says HAGAR is the one sobbing). Then an angel CALLS to Hagar and she OPENS HER EYES and sees water and drinks. In the first story, Hagar calls God, “The God Who Sees.” What do you think she would call the God of this passage?

32. How do you think Hagar would  have compared her life in slavery to her life after she was freed?  Do you see Hagar as coming out of the valley?

The outcome for Ishmael is that he lives FREE. His mother lives FREE. They lived in the desert. He was a half-Egyptian kid who married an Egyptian woman and their offspring became the Ishmaelites, a desert people who would have seemed pretty Egyptian. Gen 25:12-18 tells us they lived in hostility toward ALL THEIR BROTHERS.  Apart from being an archer, he was apparently also a wild donkey, which doesn’t sound like much of a good thing.  We don’t ever read about Ishmael circumcising any of his offspring, which I gotta say, is not all that surprising considering the impression he probably had of Abraham.  While we DO hear about the Ishmaelites carrying Joseph off and a few other escapades, there isn’t a lot more to know. But I did some digging because I just HAD TO KNOW WHAT THE WHOLE DURN POINT WAS.

The point of allowing bad things to happen, interceding too late, giving partial information, blessing mean people. Even knowing the Joseph part of the story, I want to make Hagar’s part matter. I want her to matter. God shows up for her on two specific occasions, so I know she DOES matter; I want proof!

Because I think that anyone who has been hurt or forgotten or felt UNSEEN, ABUSED, and REJECTED wants their story to matter. Hagar was given the assurance that her son would be great, and she believed that.  Do we believe that our stories matter? Do we believe that the long view will show a pattern of God’s faithfulness and love to us? Our stories matter to God, and our children’s stories, and their children’s stories too. We don’t see how our going back, our endurance, our faith, and our obedience play out for the next generations.

Genesis 25: 13 says These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel.

In Isaiah 60 where God is talking about the covenant and all nations being gathered to himself. He says in verse 7, “All Kedar’s flocks will be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth will serve you; they will be accepted as offerings on my altar, and I will adorn my glorious temple.”

In the end, at the end, God’s covenant will include Ishmael, even though he was born from a scheme, was a wild donkey, and generally seems forgotten. His mom’s descendants WILL BE ACCEPTED, not rejected; GATHERED, not dismissed; SERVANTS, not slaves; and temple-dwellers, not desert wanderers.

33. The nagging question is, was the suffering worth it? For her? For us? Does the promise of life in a heavenly kingdom temple outshine the glaring heat of the scorching desert? In our desert-valley places, do we really believe Romans 8:17-19 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.

Copy that passage and then journal a reflection to it.


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