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“Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me. Have I truly seen the One who sees me?”” Genesis 16:13
Hagar is sometimes vilified as the woman who came between Abraham and Sarah. The Egyptian temptress, if you will. But if we look closer, the Bible is quite clear that Hagar was the victim of power #rape.
She’s a slave.
She has no autonomy.
And one day her mistress says, “Go sexually service the master.”
But let’s back up a bit.
Sarah is the power player in this whole story. She’s the master’s wife. Not just his first wife, but his ONLY wife… in a culture where many wives didn’t make anyone blink. The problem? She’s never borne a child.
Being childless in this culture was a humiliating reality. Women got thrown away for not bearing children. Tossed out with the trash. Abraham wasn’t like that, but Sarah lived with this constant feeling of “less than” hanging over here. How can she be so beautiful she turns Pharoah’s head, and yet so sterile? So here’s Sarah, desperately and selfishly seeking to alleviate her own pain of barrenness by substituting an immoral human solution for a divine promise. She’s not trusting God, she’s not thinking ahead, and she’s definitely not looking out for the protection of the slave woman entrusted to her care.
Then you have Abraham. He could have said No, but he selfishly and weakly goes along with it. He’s not trusting God to provide a son WITHIN his marriage, and also not willing to take a moral stand in faithfulness to Sarah and reject the idea of sexual involvement with another woman.
In fact, the entire outline of the story implies that this may have been the first time (possibly the only time?) Abraham broke his vows to Sarah sexually. It doesn’t seem to be a habit she was used to dealing with. He certainly wasn’t sleeping with all the handmaids and offering up illegitimate sons to God from them. The implication is that HE was without an heir precisely because SARAH was childless. He wasn’t a cheater. And clearly, Sarah wasn’t prepared for the heartbreak of knowing her husband had taken another woman. Theirs was a loyal and committed marriage, likely with deep love and bonding, based on other segments of their story.
Not thinking this through very far, she says “Here, take my loyal slave woman. She’s faithful, she’s quiet, she makes no trouble. Make a baby in her, and the baby will be ours and fulfill your need for an heir.” And I can hold my head high for once in my life. Sarah is trying to make her OWN feeling of inadequacy to go away. She’s not acting in the best interest of Hagar, nor of Abraham, nor honestly even of herself. She’s just trying to make the pain stop.
As Sarah’s personal slave it’s entirely possible that the she and Hagar had become somewhat close, by proximity if not relationship. Hagar has likely been an intimate part of every aspect of Sarah’s personal life, dressing her, fixing her hair, caring for her. She knows Sarah’s likes and dislikes, puts energy into making Sarah pleased and comfortable. Her entire existence is wrapped up in being a physical, practical, perhaps even emotional support to her mistress.
If Hagar had always been troublesome Sarah would never have suggested this. It’s precisely because Sarah believed she could maintain control over the situation, the slave, and the outcomes — that she suggested her husband commit adultery.
Hagar can’t say no, she can’t protect herself, she has no option but to obey. She might even have seen it as an honor at first… her body being traded in a marital conversation between her owners. Maybe she hopes that her situation will improve if she cooperates without making a fuss. Maybe she feels “chosen”, since everyone in camp would have known Abraham slept only with his wife. Maybe, given her pagan background, she doesn’t even realize she should morally protest. This is just what happens to women like me, right? Maybe she even felt lucky that the master hadn’t taken sexual privileges from her sooner.
“Polygamy [much like pornography, today] had become so widespread that it had ceased to be regarded as a sin, but it was no less a violation of the law of God, and was fatal to the sacredness and peace of the family relation. Abraham’s marriage with Hagar resulted in evil, not only to his own household, but to future generations.” (PP, 145)
Yet Hagar is disposable.
Barely considered human.
After the fact, though, she realizes that now she has not only been violated against her will, but her daily situation has significantly deteriorated. The same mistress who pimped her out, now holds her in contempt precisely for obeying orders. Sarah doesn’t see Hagar as a person, a woman… she sees her as a thing.
As soon as it’s done, Hagar thinks she’s Sarah’s equal. She’s risen from slave to “wife”. And she doesn’t want to wait hand and foot on Sarah anymore.
Suddenly she’s got rights.
How often do sexual abuse victims get labeled “ornery, or unpredictable, or troublesome” because they are seeking justice? Or because they’ve experienced trauma?
Maybe it merely awakened a carnal longing for selfish power in Hagar’s own heart. If so, then, we now have three intensely selfish people, two of them cowardly on top of it all.
Sarah blames Abraham, even though it was HER idea. “You should have said No! You should have known better! You should have stopped me!” In a way, it’s almost the reverse of Adam’s domestic abuse of Eve, with a few details changed.
Adding insult to injury, the master decides he’s going to just stay out of it. Abraham refuses to take responsibility, and says “This is a woman’s problem, I’m not getting involved. I’m not going to protect the woman I sexually used. And I’m not going to accept my own role in saying Yes to an adulterous act. Deal with your slave however you like,” Abraham tells Sarah.
In essence, “I may have willingly used her for sexual pleasure, but I’m not going to protect or defend her. Her heart is irrelevant to my reality. I feel no obligation to see her as anything but property, and she’s not even my property, at that. She is Sarah’s.”
Secondary abuse kicks in, and like in every other generation, it cuts worse than the primary trauma.
Now Hagar has not only been sexually abused, she’s being emotionally discarded. Effectively invisible. Clearly, Abraham felt no love for her. No tenderness. No sense of husbandly protection or defending her honor. The one man who could have made her life bearable, turns a blind eye to her ongoing abuse and ignores his own part in increasing it. He does not see her.
Sometimes influential women help powerful men cover up sexual sin…
Not only does Abraham refuse to treat her as a human with intrinsic value, but the woman in power over her drives the injustice as well. Not once does scripture imply that Sarah feels the smallest shred of remorse for her callous and self-driven misappropriation of Hagar’s sexual identity, nor of her own emotional abuse after the fact. What’s more, Sarah is the one directly perpetrating Hagar’s daily hell.
Hagar feels the injustice keenly. She fights back. She argues with her mistress. She feels that sexually acting as a “wife” should somehow bring equal treatment. Sarah expected Hagar to stay persona non grata, and wasn’t prepared for this rebellious attitude.
It gets so bad, Hagar decides she would rather brave an escape across the desert and possibly the death sentence if caught, than live one more day under the shame and abuse.
So what does God do?
Does He condemn her for being a victim of sexual abuse? No. He helps her to see that her rebellion isn’t getting her anywhere, and that she had a duty to act with honor in her situation.
He tells her to stop acting prideful, and to go back and let her son be born in safety. In sending her back, God makes sure Abraham and Sarah cannot escape the consequences of their own sin in using Hagar for their own selfish, untrusting gain. They must face her daily. They cannot pretend it never happened.
But that wasn’t all the angel said.
In addition, He gives her a promise to cling to.
He takes the time to see her heart.
He shows her compassion.
God rescues her from certain death in the desert and urges her to go back to civilization — where her child can be born and live…
Where her very existence is a pointed reminder to Sarah and Abraham that they acted woefully outside of God’s principles.
Where she must face the perpetrators of her sexual abuse, and overcome it.
Where she will find healing instead of hiding and running away.
What does Hagar take away from this?
For the first time, someone can see her.
And that someone was God Himself.
You see me.
He SAW HER.
Her heart, her brokenness, her desire to be loved, her unrecognized need for emotional healing, her longing to protect her child…
God could see her in ways no human ever had.
God let Hagar name Him.
The pregnant sex slave.
The discarded one.
The woman longing for love and hope and for someone to see her under the surface.