God listens to the abused


Where is God in this (i)

A battered woman with bruised to her eyes mouth and neck.
Picture from Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil, free to use.

‘Where is God in this?’—I intend this to be an occasional series in my blogs, although only the first two are planned, about those really difficult, uncomfortable parts of the Bible, and where God is to be found in those stories. Among the worst of the stories in the Bible is that of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar. Warning: This is a particularly nasty story.

The Story of Hagar is not often preached about. It takes place over 6 chapters Genesis 15–21, so it is not easy to take a single verse to preach on, but also because it is such an ugly story.

In Genesis 15 Abram and Sarai have not yet changed their names to Abraham and Sarah, but I’m using Abraham and Sarah to avoid confusion. Abraham is told by God that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens.

That was all well and good, but Abraham and Sarah were childless, time had passed since God’s promise, and still no children. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, has a plan. She has an Egyptian slave, Hagar, if Abraham has sex with Hagar then as Hagar is Sarah’s slave, the child will belong to Abraham and Sarah. Abraham goes along with the plan. Hagar becomes pregnant, Abraham and Sarah start to despise her. Hagar runs away.

I want to stop the story here because Hagar’s viewpoint is being neglected. Hagar has not consented to this, as far as she is concerned she has been raped. Sex without consent is rape. Probably multiple times until she becomes pregnant, after that she is abused and runs away. But to where? Hagar is Egyptian and has no family in Canaan, there is nowhere to run to and little chance of survival. But things must be really bad if she would rather risk death by starvation and the loss of her unborn baby than continue to live with her rapist Abraham and his abusive wife Sarah, who is complicit in the rape.

So where is God in this story? God is not with Abraham, he is a rapist, nor with Sarah. They have tried to accelerate God’s plan rather than wait for it to happen in God’s time and their plan has backfired spectacularly. Where is God? Up to this point in the story of Hagar God is noticeable by his absence. But God is about to make an appearance.

God appears not to Abraham, it is easy to read through Abraham’s story and assume that he is always the good guy. Here that could not be further from the truth. God does not appear to abuser Abraham, to rapist Abraham: God appears to the victim Hagar.

God calls Hagar by name. God knows all about what has gone on. God knows how Hagar feels. But God’s words, are not easy, she is told to return to Sarah and Abrahan, her abuser and rapist, with the promise that she will be the ancestor of a great nation. Hagar will keep her son, who never becomes Sarah’s property. God’s promise to look after Hagar results in her praising God results in her naming God, no one had done that before, El Shadai, the God who sees. Later, when Abraham and Sarah had evicted Hagar and her young son Ishmael, God speaks to her again, the conclusion is that Ishmael thrives.

God is not always where you would expect him to be in the story. In this story, God is not with Abraham, God is with a woman, God is with a foreigner, God is with a rape victim, God is with the outsider: All of this goes against the culture of the time.

When we look at this story we see a God who sides with the abused over the abuser, a God who is aware of, sympathises with and helps the vulnerable. As Hagar said, God is a God who sees. He not only sees but acts.

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