Sarah, Hagar and the Golden Rule
by Patricia Backora
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In scripture Sarah is commended for her godliness and trust in the Lord (I Pet.3:5:6; Heb.11:11). Peter tells Christian women to follow her example in being obedient to their own husbands, and in doing good and living a courageous life. Through such conduct which becomes godly women we can demonstrate that we’re daughters of Sarah in imitating her example of faith in God. But we’re primarily to be followers of Christ. One of Jesus’ most important teachings is paraphrased as “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” (see Matt.7:12 and Luke 6:31).
It’s easy to focus only on the good righteous Bible characters did and neglect to learn from their failures. Sarah made some terrible mistakes which hurt others, mistakes no godly woman should ever imitate. Sarah was wealthy and very class-conscious. She and Abraham were slave-owners. I hate slavery with all my soul. Had I lived during the 1800’s I would have cheered on the abolitionists. I still seethe to recall how badly black people were treated in the deep South , back in the 50’s and early 60’s. Dirty restrooms with broken fixtures were reserved for “colored” of both sexes at filling stations. All except the seediest restaurants had “White Only” signs in the window. I remember watching news stories of cops hosing down demonstrators in civil rights marches and sicking their German shepherds on them. I was just a kid at the time and it left a lasting impression on me.
Funny how those poor black folks weren’t good enough to eat at the local lunch counter but they WERE good enough to risk their lives in World War 2 alongside the poor white guys who got drafted in a bloody fight rich politicians could keep their own sons out of. Many black servicemen died to keep America free (at least it was free for whites). Even in the service there was racial discrimination. On naval ships black sailors would be kept discreetly out of view down in the hold of the ship, away from the fresh air and exercise of the deck. As for black army heroes, what thanks did they get when the Red Cross provided donuts and coffee for the troops? NO COLORED, PLEASE.
During World War 2 blood donations were segregated by race. White racists didn’t want any blood transfusions from black people, but they were more than happy for black folks to donate their blood on the battlefield. To add insult to injury, these brave soldiers returned to a wonderful world which valued them only as janitors, shoe shine boys and house maids. African Americans could act in films, mostly in roles as household servants or Civil War slaves. But it was hard for blacks to get any intelligent, serious role. Blacks could perform jazz numbers, even sing and dance on stage. They could get roles as grinning goofy village idiots. It was okay to laugh. But blacks must never appear angry and frustrated at their plight. The ruling White Establishment might get mad.
Not to mention Native Americans, who lived jobless and hopeless on a few scraps of barren, arid land the white man didn’t want anyway. They, like the disgruntled blacks, had to “stay in their place” as second-and-third-class citizens.
So long as Hagar “stayed in her place” (as a useful appliance instead of a real human being with feelings) she did her bit fetching water, sewing, washing, grinding grain, possibly even minding little Isaac while Sarah rested her aging body. But once Hagar (and her own son) showed any human feelings and flaws they got disposed of in a hurry. Hagar and Ishmael got shipped out on a nature hike through the burning desert, probably barefoot since slaves didn’t usually wear shoes (ouch!). At least Genesis chapter 21 indicates that Abraham DID feel uneasy about sending his former concubine and firstborn son to die in the desert. What a convenient cop out for Sarah. Always third-party the blame. She didn’t kill Hagar, exactly…and if the desert did, she need never know about it and her conscience would be clear.
Contrast the shabby treatment faithful Hagar gets to the red carpet treatment New Kid on the Block Rebekah gets from Abraham & co. When Abraham seeks a bride for his son, the local girls won’t do. Isaac must take a bride from far-off Mesopotamia. Abraham doesn’t e-mail Rebecca and tell her to hitchhike to Hebron to rendezvous with his son Isaac. No, Abraham really splashes out for this girl. He sends his Cadillac camel caravan up north to escort her back to her bridegroom in style. Unlike poor Hagar, Rebecca has trained bodyguards to fend off possible attacks from banditos and mountain lions lurking in the hillsides.
Rebecca is just the type of girl Isaac needs: well-bred, considerate, courteous and hardworking. She showed hospitality not only to Abraham’s servant, but she went the extra mile and watered ten huge, thirsty camels. I read that those beasts can drink umpteen gallons apiece. Rebecca must have felt exhausted when she finished. Abraham’s servant rewarded her with some nice gold jewelry and chose her to be the bride of Isaac.
What about poor Hagar? As a slave, Hagar must have watered her master’s camels hundreds, if not thousands of times. Not to mention the other endless daily chores. Or the time SARAH decided to USE Hagar as a surrogate womb to bear an heir for Abraham. Hagar had no say in whether she wanted to endure a nine-month pregnancy under primitive conditions and risk her life in childbirth, only to lose her motherhood rights after the baby popped out. It ended up that Sarah didn’t want to keep the kid anyway. Sort of like when a spoiled little girl whines for a puppy then decides keeping the little critter is way more trouble than it’s worth.
After the puppy wets on her doll the little girl realizes it’s not just a cute fuzzy toy which exists for her personal enjoyment but a living creature which sometimes makes a mess just from the business of BEING a living creature.
Furious, the little girl scolds her daddy for giving her such a rotten present and yells for him to take it back to the store.
“But honey,” her dad protests. “It’s a USED puppy now, and they won’t give us a refund!”
So the little girl says: “Then take it to the dog pound! I don’t want it no more! He’s too dirty to keep in our clean, pretty home!”
“But precious, they’ll put the puppy to sleep if they can’t find him a home in three days!”
“I don’t CARE!”
“Don’t you LOVE Fluffy?”
“Cause YOU picked the wrong puppy out and that’s why he made such a mess!”
Poor Abraham. He does what Sarah wants and gets her a baby, but only lands in a big mess. Sarah’s still unhappy. Once Ishmael’s cuteness wears off and he does what most siblings do: tease his brother, Sarah wants to send him back to Babies R Us. Might as well kill two birds with one stone and send the mother packing too. So Hagar and her son are banished with NO rewards for faithful service. No retirement fund. No severance pay. No bodyguard, no red carpet to soothe the heat of the burning sands under their bare, blistered feet.
Sarah grew hostile toward Hagar after the girl gloated over her pregnancy. After a lifetime of owning nothing and being at the beck and call of other people, Hagar gave in to the temptation to be proud. Hagar was no perfect saint, but then, who is? Hagar just couldn’t hide the fact that at last she felt like someone of importance instead of being a thing for others to use.
Instead of GENTLY admonishing Hagar and remembering that she too was vulnerable to the pitfalls of fallen humanity (see Gal.6:1) Sarah determined to get revenge to soothe her offended slave owner feelings. Jesus said “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt.5:7). Many Christian parents forget to be merciful when disciplining their own children. They expect absolute perfection of their little ones ALL the time, and get the switch out as soon as the child whines a little, spills milk, etc. Such parents forget that their own Father in heaven sees their hardheartedness and will dole out to them the same measly share of mercy they show their own children. In her eagerness to protect her own power and position, Sarah forgot she too had a Master in heaven (Col.4:1). Those who refuse to show mercy will find mercy in short supply when they need it themselves. Jesus’ parable of the Unmerciful servant illustrates this (Matt.:18:21-35).
Despite her childlessness Sarah had much to be thankful for. Unlike poor Hagar, Sarah was above and not beneath, the head and not the tail in society (Deut.28:13). In a world of brutal hardship and gross spiritual darkness Sarah enjoyed a privileged position as the wife of a man whose God communicated with personally, as with a friend. Few men in Old Testament history besides Abraham ever attained to that degree of intimacy with God. Sarah herself would later be blessed with a miracle unheard of in history, at least before modern science invented egg transplants: An elderly woman past childbearing years would give birth to a healthy son.
Sarah lost sight of all God had done for her because her picture of happiness was not yet complete. Instead of sharing His love and compassion toward a young, lonely Egyptian girl, Sarah went to Abraham to gripe about how it was HIS fault “that slave girl” (Sarah never spoke Hagar’s name) had been disrespectful and forgotten her place. After the way she’d nagged Abraham to hop into the sack with Hagar, bewildered Abraham wonders why Sarah is angry now that she’s gotten the desired product: a surrogate son.
It’s very unfair when a slave or work subordinate takes the rap for mistakes their boss made. It seems like the higher up the ladder you are, the less accountable you’re held for your actions. We hear of corporate execs getting million-dollar bonuses while their companies go bankrupt and shareholders get penalized and the “little people” who do the actual work get laid off. The bigger the failure and the more important you are, the greater your chance of getting off the hook. But if a burger flipper puts onions on the wrong sandwich he gets fired. My, what an unjust world this is!
Recently I watched one of my favorite shows: Upstairs, Downstairs, a British serial about relationships between household servants and their aristocratic employers. Edward the chauffeur, asleep with his wife in their room at 3 a.m., is awoken by Miss Georgina and her intoxicated high society pals, who barge into the bedroom in high party spirits. Miss Georgina asks the chauffeur for the keys to her uncle’s car. Edward protests that only he is allowed to drive the master’s car and he can’t hand her the keys. There are two dilemmas here: Miss Georgina outranks Edward in the household and he’s afraid of crossing her. Plus, the little crowd of men and women overpowers Edward and he must yield to Miss Georgina’s will.
The young society lady takes her partying friends out on a joyride. She runs over a man on a bicycle. The master is furious with Edward for letting Miss Georgina have the keys. Edward knows he was in a no-win situation and it wasn’t his fault. Edward tells Daisy, his wife, that in all the years he’s faithfully served in this household he’s never been treated with respect and this is the last straw. He packs his clothes to leave. Until the master calls him into the morning room to apologize for judging him too harshly. Feeling vindicated, Edward stays.
Hagar, favorite scapegoat of Zionist preachers and rapture authors, was overpowered by Sarah’s will. None of these fine Christians ever put themselves in Hagar’s shoes (or bare feet) and wonder if THEY could have done better in that no-win situation. Hagar didn’t seduce Abraham. She was FORCED to hand over the keys to her own body. The only alternative would have been to run away before Abraham visited her tent that fateful night.
This decision brought conflict and bitterness into Sarah’s life, even though it had all been Sarah’s idea. What woman wouldn’t be jealous if someone else, even a slave, slept with her husband? Sarah’s feelings of failure and inadequacy as a woman were exacerbated by Hagar’s proud boasting after she got pregnant. While even today it’s important to keep the birthrate up to prevent the extinction of the human race, back in Sarah’s day childbearing was THE main reason for a woman’s existence, and her only claim to fame. Sarah may never have felt she had the right to question whether the LORD agreed with her culture’s limited valuation of the worth of womanhood.
Have you ever wondered why of the few women who appear prominently in the Old Testament, most of them were honored for bearing famous sons (daughters didn’t count much back then)? In that patriarchal society Sarah couldn’t make her mark in history by any other achievement or skill. She couldn’t be a doctor or lawyer or even an author. She probably couldn’t even read or write. She couldn’t run for political office. Unless she bore at least one son she felt like nothing, despite being the beautiful wife of a rich, powerful chieftain.
That’s why Sarah went ballistic when Hagar acted uppity and rubbed salt in an old wound. But it doesn’t occur to many Christians that it takes two to tango. If Abraham had kept Hagar out of his bed, no pregnancy would have happened to make Hagar proud. In their eagerness to exonerate righteous Abraham of any blame, they pin all the blame on Hagar, as if she held the authority and Abraham wasn’t responsible for ruling over his own house. Scripture does say Sarah submitted to Abraham, and she did, even to the extent of being taken into Pharaoh’s harem through deceit to protect Abraham’s life. This sad incident repeated itself when Sarah lied to King Abimelech about being Abraham’s sister in order to protect her husband. Both times Sarah lied because Abraham asked her to.
But Abraham also knows how to submit. Abraham, lord of all the eye can see, relinquishes his authority to a strong-willed woman. Instead of firmly insisting that God must be consulted about how to obtain a baby, he gives his meek consent when Sarah demands that he sleep with her slave girl. Not one word of argument from Abraham against this arrangement is recorded in Scripture. Some Christians deny that Abraham took Hagar as a wife when he slept with her. But far from sanitizing the situation, denying the surrogate mother marital status only makes Abraham look worse. Sex without marriage is a modern sin Christians rail against today. In OT times God tolerated polygamy (multiple wives) even if He didn’t exactly approve. If Abraham had sex with Hagar without making her a secondary wife, what he did wouldn’t be much different from Sarah putting one of their best bulls out to stud with a dairy cow, or ordering Abraham to commit forcible rape (similar to the way many Southern plantation owners “enjoyed the comforts of slave row”). But Genesis 16:3 clearly states that Sarah GAVE Hagar to Abraham to be his wife, rather than Abraham taking her by force. Yet the fact remains that Hagar had no voice in her fate.
When Hagar gets proud Sarah vents her rage on her. Most likely it took the form of beating or other physical abuse, such as hard labor. This was irresponsible on Sarah’s part because it could have caused Hagar to miscarry. Hagar didn’t even get the gentle, considerate treatment all expectant mothers deserve. I wonder if even once Sarah showed any concern for Hagar’s health and well-being, or worried that Hagar might die in childbirth (it happened frequently back then). Or did Sarah only happily anticipate the day HER bun would pop out of her Egyptian baby oven, Hagar? When I bake a pie, I don’t hug my stove or even thank it for doing a great job. Why? Because it would look downright nutty to communicate with a metal contraption, and it would be weird to call it by name. Hagar, was dehumanized in the same way. It is a serious sin in the sight of God to deny that a person of lower social status has a soul made in His image. Hagar’s soul didn’t belong to Sarah. All the souls of humanity belong to God only (Ezek.18:4).
The cruelest of Southern slave owners worked their slaves hard like machine, denying them adequate rest time and decent food. These inconsiderate masters treated their slaves worse than their hunting dogs. If the slaves got sick they didn’t bother to waste doctor money on them, just let them die and went out to buy another slave. Did Sarah feel that since she had plenty of other slaves to take Hagar’s place, it wasn’t such a big deal to banish her into the desert to die?
Terrified of Sarah’s wrath, Hagar ran for her life, preferring to take her chances out into the hot desert, where she might have died of heat, thirst or other dangers. I lived in Phoenix awhile and being unused to the heat, I could barely walk across the road without feeling faint. Hagar braved heat, scorpions, snakes and desert bandits to make her way back toward Egypt. She had gone a long way and was resting beside a spring when an angel of the Lord appeared and ordered her to go back and submit to Sarah once again. The angel let Hagar know God had heard her cries of affliction. Hagar would give birth to Ishamel, who would sire a mighty nation. “Ishmael” means “the God who sees me”. Those who deny that Hagar had any relationship with God had better read their Bible more carefully. Hagar didn’t do like most of us and tell the angel “No way, Jose, I’d rather take my chances in the desert than take Sarah’s cruelty anymore.” Instead, Hagar had enough faith in God’s promise to make a U-turn in the desert and go back to the lion’s den.
Years later Sarah had a son of her own, Isaac, through God’s miraculous intervention. If Sarah already disliked and mistrusted Hagar, she hated her even more when she saw the two boys horsing around one day (some translations render “playing with” as “mocking” or teasing”). Sarah demanded that Abraham get rid of “that slave woman” (no mention of Hagar’s name) once and for all. Sarah salved her own conscience by denying Hagar’s humanity. Soldiers are trained to dehumanize their enemy by seeing their target as an “it” rather than a real live person created in God’s own image. That way it doesn’t bother their conscience so much to pull the trigger. But Abraham felt disturbed by Sarah’s suggestion so he sought God’s counsel. God knew the two women could never peacefully coexist. So He told Abraham to do as Sarah said, and to have no fear for Ishmael, because He would make him into a great nation.
Early next morning Hagar and Ishmael were led to the edge of the encampment. Abraham handed Hagar a bag of bread and a skin of water. Poor pickings for a man of Abraham’s vast wealth. After all Hagar’s faithful years of service and risking death to bring his child into the world, not so much as a donkey or a few extra donations to make their banishment easier to bear. I wonder if Sarah was snoozing in bed while all this was going on, blissfully oblivious to the fact that HER decision to exploit someone else’s body had caused so much suffering to others, even down to future generations. To this day the old grudge of Sarah’s rejection of Hagar is the root of the conflict between Arabs and Jews, and reconciliation can only come through the power of Christ, who has torn down the wall dividing Jews from Gentiles (Eph.2:14). Thank God for Sarah’s greatest Descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many Zionist sChristians insist that Ishmael was the biggest mistake of Abraham’s life (I personally think his sojourn in Egypt was his worst mistake). Christians are correct in saying that if Abraham had sought God about it first, he (probably) wouldn’t have slept with Hagar and Ishmael’s descendants wouldn’t be quarreling with Israelis in the Middle East today.
Yet God loves the Arabs just as much as He loves any nation of people on earth, including those who claim to be genetic Jews. Abraham didn’t resist temptation and wait longer for God’s miraculous solution to his problem of childlessness. So Ishmael was the result. But not everyone is born under ideal circumstances. I wasn’t. My dad’s first wife cheated on him and had a child by another man while he was shipped overseas during World War II. When Dad got back, it crushed him to learn what happened. He divorced his first wife and married my mom. If Dad’s first wife had remained faithful to him, he most likely would never have divorced and remarried and I would never have existed.
I kept one paperback novel (which I won’t name) in my personal library, obtained from a thrift shop and well-worn. Written many years ago, I got the impression it wasn’t all that well-known a book because I could find no information about it on the Internet. Impressed by its recurring theme of the deep faith and love Abraham and Sarah had for their God, I treasured that book. Until I wised up to the fact that it was deeply biased in the way it glorified Sarah as a gentle, sweet, golden-haired princess who never lost her temper with anyone. Ever notice how in novels and movies virtuous heroines are given golden hair (suggestive of an angel’s halo)? In the novel Hagar’s character of “Egyptian arrogance” and hidden hatred is contrasted with Sarah’s saintly, gracious, kindly temperament. Hagar is demonized as a lusty exotic dancer who gets Lot’s hormones raging. She is murderous, ungrateful, cunning and spiteful. Ever notice how Bible characters are often romanticized as the good guy and the bad guy, either extremely good or extremely evil? I believe the real truth is all people on earth are a mixed bag. NOBODY’S the “good guy” because ALL have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and are in need of redemption. Even the Virgin Mary needed a Savior (Luke 1:47).
In the book, Abraham reassures Sarah that even if he sleeps with Hagar to create a son, “she will in no sense be my wife”, contrary to Gen. 16:3 which clearly states otherwise. What really made red flags go up was a statement in the closing part of the book when Abraham is relieved that God doesn’t require him to sacrifice Isaac and he is so happy that God has made everything turn out okay. Abraham realizes that Isaac is his ONLY son because “in God’s eyes Ishmael didn’t even exist.” This is based on Gen.22: 2, where God commands Abraham to take his ONLY son Isaac to the altar of sacrifice. This incident happened after Hagar and Ishmael’s banishment, and Abraham seemed to have lost all contact with Ishmael. Before Ishmael was sent away God affirmed that Abraham’s Promised Seed would spring from Isaac. In the sense of being the Seed of Promise, Isaac WAS Abraham’s only son. But nowhere does God state that He ignores the existence of Hagar and Ishmael. I sensed a strong bias in the author. In Genesis 21:10 you can almost hear the shrill voice of meek, gentle Sarah ORDERING Abraham: “Cast out the bondwoman and HER son, for he shall not be heir with MY son, Isaac!”
In the novel, Sarah expresses concern that Hagar and Ishmael be punished as mercifully as possible for their enmity toward baby Isaac. Sarah magnanimously insists that Ishmael must have his portion too because he is Abraham’s son. Contrast this with the cold-hearted record of scripture just quoted. Instead of being put to death for plotting little Isaac’s death in various ways (based on extra-biblical legends), the novel depicts teenage terrorist Ishmael and his furious, unrepentant partner in crime, Hagar, being banished from the camp so Ishmael can go make his way in the world as a proper son of Abraham (do I sense any contradiction here)?
The book laments the unreasonable, murderous hatred the Arab would always have for the Jew. Nothing is said about the hatred various Israelis have shown toward Gazans trapped on a tiny patch of land with nowhere to run. It’s taken TWO sides to fight this ancient feud, and like the Hatfields and the McCoys it will take a miracle to end it.
Shocked by viewing the suffering of Palestinians on TV, I threw that tattered old book away, determined never to be brainwashed again by prejudice from the pulpit.
In Romans 9 Paul tells us that the children of the promise, not the natural children, are counted for the seed. This can be seen from two different perspectives. Preachers point out that Hagar could NATURALLY bear Abraham a son while Sarah conceived hers by believing God’s promise. That’s true. But the flip side of the coin is this: ANYONE, of whatever nation, can become a spiritual child of Abraham and a child of the promise through FAITH, regardless of racial origin. Christians are biased by Zionist teachers who imply that Jews are more special to God on account of their race. So to stay on God’s good side they send money to fuel Israel’s war machine, allegedly to bless “God’s Chosen People”. But these same Christians who profess to follow the Jesus Who said “Love your enemy” turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed by Israelis against Palestinians, even CHRISTIAN Palestians. Did you know that some Israelis stood on a hillside and cheered while poor starving Gazans got burning phosphorous rained down on them, causing permanent burn injuries? What bravery, just like shooting a caged rabbit! This mean-spirited attitude violates Proverbs 24:17-18 which warns us not to rejoice when our enemy falls, or else God will be displeased. Why isn’t there more of an outcry among Christians about the malice these Israelis have shown toward besieged, hungry, sick Gazans?
It’s been just a few months since the Israelis bombarded poor Gaza with illegal phosphorous fumes and killed innocent civilians while continuing to cut off food and medical aid to Gazans. But you hardly hear a peep of protest out of Christians. You’d think that little baby in Gaza PLOTTED to be born on that tiny patch of dirt which is the most crowded place on earth, a hell hole denied access to adequate sanitation and nutrition. The evil little terrorist has sinned against “God’s chosen people” by being born in THEIR land and his very existence is an offense to the God Who made him. While Christians continue to pour money into a Zionist apartheid state which blasphemes Christ, Israelis waste water on swimming pools and lush landscaping while Gazans must line up at tanker trucks to collect contaminated drinking water.
Many Christians have a rose-colored romantic view of the Holy Land, blissfully ignorant or uncaring about the human rights violations going on there. They aren’t aware that it’s against the law to preach Christ in Israel and you can be deported for doing so. And the fact that Christian Israelis are persecuted and harassed every day. Any Arab who puts his/her trust in Christ as Savior is infinitely more righteous in the sight of God than a natural Jew who rejects Christ.
In the Old Testament racial origin counted for a lot! In Joshua’s time whole ethnic groups were wiped out on the basis of race. But this is the New Testament and things have dramatically changed, though some Christians try to mix the best of both covenants and keep those elements of the Old Testament which pander to their own prejudices. Whereas you once had to be a genetic Israelite or at least a proselyte to their religion, now Children of FAITH IN CHRIST are the children of the promise. Hagar’s descendants are just as eligible to hear the gospel, receive Christ and enter into the blessings of our New Covenant as any natural Jew. In I Cor.16:22 Paul disregards race and pronounces the strongest curse on anyone who doesn’t love Jesus (Gk. anathema). So why do Christians think God still runs His program on the basis of race, not grace?
Put the shoe on the other foot before you judge someone else as being unworthy of eternal life. How would YOU feel if you were imprisoned in a grotty ghetto blockaded by a mighty military power, unable to even earn a decent living for your family, and unable to go elsewhere to find a better life? What if YOUR child died of malnutrition or lost the will to live because there was no way up out of the hole of despair? It’s stretching it to expect a Spirit-filled Christian to easily forgive such atrocities committed against their own family. How much more difficult must it be for people who don’t even know Christ as Savior!
If I EVER again hear any preacher exalt all Jews as holy and demonize all Arabs on the basis of race, or if I hear them preach that “heathen” Hagar and Abraham’s son Ishmael and all the Arabs were a big mistake and never should have been born, I’m gonna get up and walk out in protest!
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