Hagar is the Egyptian slave of Sarah. She is likely acquired during Abraham and Sarah’s trip to Egypt during a famine. They could have avoided so much pain had they not bought her—or used better judgment afterward. Here’s her story.
Sarah has no children, which she blames on God. She’s well past her childbearing years. Sarah thinks she can vicariously have a family through Hagar, so Sarah offers her slave to Abraham to make a baby. This is a bad idea on Sarah’s part, yet Abraham accepts it.
Hagar does become pregnant by Abraham. Though they never marry, the Bible later refers to Hagar as Abraham’s wife. Being able to give Abraham what Sarah could not, Hagar looks down on Sarah, who blames Abraham for the whole mess.
Wanting to avoid conflict, Abraham tells Sarah to handle it.
Sarah mistreats Hagar, who runs away. Alone in the desert, God’s angel sends Hagar back, promising that her descendants will be too numerous to count. Hagar obeys God and soon Ishmael is born.
For about fourteen years things are okay for Hagar and Ishmael, but then Sarah becomes pregnant in her old age and gives birth to Isaac. Now Abraham has two sons, from two women.
Ishmael taunts the younger Isaac. Again, Sarah demands that Abraham fix the problem. This troubles Abraham, but God tells him to follow Sarah’s wishes, for Abraham’s legacy will come through Isaac, not Ishmael.
Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael off into the desert with some food and water. When their supplies are gone, they sit down in the wilderness to die.
But God does not abandon them, promising Hagar that her son will become a great nation. Then God shows her water. While this is the last we hear about Hagar, we know Ishmael lives to be 137, and he and Isaac eventually reconnect.
Hagar is a powerless victim who has no say over what Abraham and Sarah do to her. Nonetheless, God protects her. He cares for her, and her descendants are numerous, like a great nation.
God cares for the powerless. How can we help?
[Discover more about Hagar in Genesis 16 and Genesis 21.]
Learn about other biblical women in Women of the Bible, available in audiobook, e-book, paperback, and hardcover.
A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 1,000-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.