Hagar – The Crying Mother

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Genesis 16:1-16, 21:8-21; Jeremiah 29:11

INTRODUCTION: We are continuing our series of messages on “Famous Mothers in the Bible” for Mother’s Day. The first mother we looked at was “Eve – The Mother of All the Living.” And then last time we looked at “Sarah – The Laughing Mother.” Today we will look at “Hagar – The Crying Mother.” Hagar and Sarah’s stories intertwine and overlap, but Hagar’s story is especially touching as it reminds us how God comforts mothers in their times of sorrow.

There are a number of verses in Proverbs that speak about the wise child bringing joy to the father but the foolish child bringing grief to the mother. And it’s always put that way, not the other way around. (Proverbs 10:1; 15:20) And you might wonder why God emphasizes grief for the mother? I believe it’s because God puts a special love in a mother’s heart for her children. It’s not that fathers don’t grieve also (see Proverbs 17:21,25), but I believe God has a special heart of compassion for mothers who grieve.

My prayer for this message is that you will gain a greater appreciation and empathy for mothers and the sorrows they bear; that you will be drawn to praise God for his great compassion and care, and that as mothers you will learn to trust God with your children and with your future. (Read Genesis 16:13-16 and pray.)

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The newspaper columnist Erma Bombeck wrote a famous Mother’s Day column back in 1974 called “When God Created Mothers.” God is putting the finishing touches on the first mother while an angel marvels at all the detail and work that God has put into this amazing new creation. Despite the six pairs of hands and the three pairs of eyes that every mother needs, the angel thinks she has discovered a flaw.

“There’s a leak,” the angel pronounced.

“It’s not a leak,” said the Lord. “It’s a tear.”

“What’s it for?”

“It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness and pride.”

“You’re a genius,” said the angel.

The Lord looked somber. “I didn’t put it there.”

For as long as there have been mothers, there have been tears. Mothers carry a special burden for their children. We love our children, and they bring us a lot of joy, but they can also bring us a lot of pain. And that was the case for Hagar here in our text in Genesis.

There are three truths about God I’d like us to learn from Hagar’s life this morning: 1) God sees you in your pain. 2) God hears you in your distress. 3) God loves you and has a plan for you. And even though we will be talking specifically about mothers, of course these three things are true no matter who you are. And so there is something in this message for everyone here today. So let’s take a look at all three of these truths together.

I. God sees you in your pain (Genesis 16:1-16)

First of all, God sees you in your pain. God is not a God who is distant from this world and its people. He is not a God who wound up this world like a clock and then walked away. He is intimately involved in all the details of life, and God sees you in your pain.

   A. When you feel like you have no control over your life (1-3)

He sees you in your pain when you feel like you have no control over your life. Have you ever felt like that? Whether you feel stuck in a rut or things are spinning wildly out of control around you, it often feels like you have no control over your life. Hagar certainly felt that way. Look at verses 1-3:

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. (Genesis 16:1-3)

This is the first time we meet Hagar in Scripture. She is an Egyptian maidservant which means she is far from home. She has been uprooted from her land, separated from her family and forced to do the bidding of another. Talk about having no control over your life.

But then it gets worse. When Sarai can’t have children of her own, she brings Hagar to Abram with the intent of building a family for herself through Hagar. Now that seems shocking to us today, and it should, but this was a common practice in Old Testament times. God never condoned it, he never suggested or approved it, but he did regulate it. God’s design for marriage has always been one man with one woman for life. There are spiritual reasons for this but practical reasons as well. Multiple wives led to multiple problems, and Sarai and Hagar are no exception. God sees you in your pain when you feel like you have no control over your life.

   B. When others mistreat you (4-6)

God also sees you in your pain when others mistreat you. Look at verses 4-6 now:

Abram slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.” 6 “Your servant is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her. (Genesis 16:4-6)

When Hagar becomes pregnant, she doesn’t handle things well and she despises Sarai, her mistress. Sarai doesn’t handle things well either, and she blames Abram. Abram doesn’t handle things well either, and gives Sarai permission to deal with Hagar however she likes. So Sarai mistreats Hagar, and Hagar runs away while she is still an expectant mother. Hagar’s name actually means “flight” or “wanderer” and here she takes flight from Sarai.

Now a lot of this Hagar brought upon herself. If she hadn’t despised Sarai, maybe Sarai wouldn’t have mistreated her. But Sarai was still wrong in her actions, and Hagar still felt the pain of being mistreated by another. In some ways it’s good news for us that Hagar is partly to blame, because that means even when we have contributed to our own pain, God still sees us and cares for us.

   C. God sees your pain and intervenes (7-16)
      – Psalm 34:15,18

Which brings us to our third point in this section, that God sees your pain and intervenes. Look at verses 7-10:

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered. 9 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” (Genesis 16:7-10)

Here we are introduced to a new person in the narrative – the angel of the Lord. The angel of the Lord in the Old Testament is a messenger sent by God in special situations. But he is more than just a messenger – he is also spoken of as God himself in these passages. And so he is a representative of God who is in some ways God and in some ways a messenger for God. In many ways he foreshadows Christ in the New Testament.

The angel of the Lord finds Hagar near a spring in the desert beside the road to Shur. The road to Shur is a road heading west towards Egypt (Genesis 25:18). So now we understand Hagar’s plan here. She’s headed for home. She is trying to get back to Egypt. But she is pregnant and in the desert, and she is not going to make it. She is in great pain and in great need.

But God sees her in her pain and he intervenes. He sends the angel of the Lord to her in the desert and asks her: “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

Notice first of all here that God addresses her by name. It’s interesting – throughout this entire narrative Abram and Sarai never speak Hagar’s name. They always speak of her as just “the servant” or “the maidservant.” It’s as if Abram and Sarai never saw her as a person, but God does. God sees her in her pain and intervenes. And God’s first word to her is her own name: “Hagar.”

Isn’t it amazing when you consider that the God who created the universe knows you by name? He created you. He loves you. He knows you. He knows every detail of your life. He sees you in your pain, and he comes and intervenes.

Notice God also addresses her as the “servant of Sarai.” Whether Hagar likes it or not, whether it is right or not, that is her current situation, and God does not sugarcoat reality.

But what an interesting question God poses to Hagar: “Where have you come from, and where are you going?” Well, she is coming from pain, running from pain actually, and she is trying to get to Egypt. But she is not really running to something so much as running away from something. Isn’t that typical of how we often deal with problems in life? Some of us are always running away from something, but God want us to be moving towards something instead.

God asks you the same question he asked Hagar: “Where have you come from, and where are you going?” When you are in pain, you probably know the answer to the first question, but you have no idea of the second. That’s where God comes in. In this particular situation God tells her to go back and to work through the difficult situation. God tells her he has a plan for her and her son. In other words God answers the “where are you going” part for her.

Look at verses 11-14 now:

The angel of the Lord also said to her: “You are now with child and you will have 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. (Genesis 16:11-14)

God addressed Hagar by name, and now Hagar gives a name to the Lord. This speaks of personal relationship between God and Hagar. And what a beautiful name she gives him. It is a name that reflects her personal experience with him. “You are the God who sees me.” The well where God meets her even gets a new name: “Beer Lahai Roi,” which literally means “the well of the Living One who sees me.”

Hagar obeys God, and she returns to Abram and Sarai. We read in verses 15-16:

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.” (Genesis 16:15-16)

And so Hagar goes from expectant mother to a mother raising her child. There will be conflict between Hagar and Sarai. There will be conflict between Ishmael and Isaac. There will be conflict between their descendants. And yet in all this God’s plan continued to go forth.

Psalm 34 tells us: “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry … The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:15,18) That’s the first thing we learn from Hagar this morning. God sees you in your pain. When you feel like your life is out of control, when others mistreat you, God sees your pain and intervenes.

II. God hears you in your distress (Genesis 21:8-21)

Secondly, God hears you in your distress. When we jump forward to Genesis 21 we find a second incident recorded about Hagar. Now a lot has happened since Genesis 16. Fourteen years have passed. God has changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah (Genesis 17). But most important of all, Sarah has finally given birth to the promised child, Isaac. And in fact it is the birth of Isaac that triggers this next incident.

   A. When your children cause you distress (8-13)

We mentioned earlier that being a mother brings both joys and sorrows. Well, now we come to one of Hagar’s sorrows as a mother. And that is when your children cause you distress. Look at verses 8-13:

The day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. 9 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 slave 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 maidservant. 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 maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” (Genesis 21:8-13)

Isaac grew and was weaned, and on the day he was weaned Abraham holds a feast. But Hagar’s son, Ishmael, mocks Isaac at the feast, which prompts Sarah to tell Abraham: “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” This greatly distresses Abraham. But notice that he is more concerned for his son, Ishmael, than for Hagar. However God assures him of his plan in all this and tells Abraham to listen to his wife Sarah.

Driving them out of the house meant they would be disinherited from Abraham’s estate. Hagar and Ishmael had a legal right to stay, and so Abraham and Sarah are really doing both of them wrong here. But poor Hagar. This one’s not her fault. Her son brings this distress upon her, even as our own children often cause us distress as parents.

   B. When your distress brings you to tears (14-16)

God hears you when your children cause you distress, and he hears you when your distress brings you to tears. Look at verses 14-16:

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 nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob. (Genesis 21:14-16)

It’s a heartbreaking picture. Alone in the desert with minimal supplies. Wandering around with no where to go. Remember the name Hagar can mean either “flight” or “wanderer.” Out of water, out of options, out of hope, Hagar puts her boy under one of the bushes, sits at a distance, and waits for him to die. She breaks down and begins to sob. She is in the desert crying, and her tears are the only water around.

   C. God hears your crying and intervenes (17-21)
      – Psalm 116:1-2

When you are in distress, and your distress brings you to tears, God hears your crying, and he intervenes. Look at verses 17-19:

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. (Genesis 21:17-19)

God hears both Hagar crying and the boy crying, and he intervenes once again. He assures her, he reaffirms his promise to her, and he provides water for them in the desert.

We read in verses 20-21:

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. (Genesis 21:20-21)

God fulfilled his promises to Hagar. He was with Ishmael as he grew up. Ishmael married and had children. God took the boy who was dying under a bush in the desert and made him into a great nation. All because he heard Hagar’s crying in the desert.

Psalm 116:1-2 says: “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. 2 Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.” (Psalm 116:1-2) God hears you in your distress. When your children cause you distress, when your distress brings you to tears, God hears your crying and intervenes.

III. God loves you and has a plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11)

The bottom line in all this is that God loves you, and he has a plan for you. We read in Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) This verse tells us two beautiful truths.

   A. God knows the plans he has for you
      – Proverbs 3:5-6

First of all, God knows the plans he has for you. When God asks you the same question he asked Hagar, “Where have you come from, and where are you going?” you may not know the answer but God does. Your job is to trust him – to trust the God who sees you in your pain and hears you in your distress. Proverbs 3:5-6 says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

   B. God will give you hope and a future
      – Romans 8:28

God knows the plans he has for you, and secondly, God will give you hope and a future. God has already intervened. He sent his only Son, Jesus, into the world to be our Savior. Jesus died on the cross for your sins so that you could be forgiven and restored to relationship with God. And when you put your faith in Christ, then the promise God gives in Romans 8:28 becomes your promise as well: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

CONCLUSION: Motherhood involves many sacrifices. Every mother hurts when she sees her children hurt. We make mistakes, our children make mistakes, and those mistakes often lead to even greater sorrows.

But through it all, God is there. You are not alone. God sees you in your pain; he hears you in your distress; he loves you, and he has a plan for you and for your children. You can bring your sorrows to him. You can pray for your children. God will give you hope and a future.

I’m guessing there has never been a mother on earth who has not shed tears. But the Bible says one day God himself will wipe the tears from your eyes. We read in Revelation 21: “God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

A beautiful future awaits those who trust in Christ. Every wound will be healed. Every pain will be removed. Every tear will be dried. And crying mothers will cry no more.
 
© Ray Fowler

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