She would not tolerate the abuse any longer. After weeks of harsh treatment at the hands of Sarai, her owner, Hagar had finally devised a plan to run away.
Late at night, when most everyone in the camp was asleep, Hagar lay ready and waiting. She peeled herself up from a thin sleeping mat and slipped her tanned feet into a pair of walking sandals that stood beside the bed. Stretching her arm out to the left, she felt along the length of the blanket until her fingers eventually reached a heavy outer-garment coiled neatly at the foot of the bed. Standing, Hagar wrapped the thick fabric around her shoulders. She looked down to check if the over-sized cloak would disguise her growing abdomen. It was too dark to see.
Next, Hagar crept through the blackness of her tent toward the main exit. Silently, she stepped over the brushed dirt floor, being careful not to bump into anything. Across the room, she could just make out a faint line of moonlight peeking between the tent flaps. Her heart beat faster. She was almost there.
Upon reaching the exit, Hagar stopped to search for her favorite fringed shawl. She had left it hanging over a tall urn earlier in the day but now, in her nervousness, she couldn’t feel it anywhere. In addition, every shuffle of her feet and every breath she took sounded like thunder in her ears. Hagar’s movements became frantic.
Aha! There it is!
Her fumbling fingers grasped the silky shawl at the same moment that her knee inadvertently knocked over the urn. It landed with a dull thud. Hagar froze. Trembling, she listened for sounds of waking. When she concluded that no one had woken, Hagar draped the shawl over her head and pulled the tent flap aside.
The night was still.
Stealing between the tents, Hagar made her way as quickly as she could toward the edge of camp. When she reached the outer rim, she looked back at her home one last time. It was so dark. All she could see was a slight reflection of the moon at the tops of each tent. Her eyes narrowed contemptuously. She planned never to return.
As she took her first step beyond the camp border, a new and unexpected feeling fluttered inside of her. Hagar gasped. It was a sensation she had never experienced before. She instinctively placed the palm of her hand over her belly. Joyful tears rolled down her cheeks. A child! Her child, alive and moving. But the joy was quickly clouded by anger.
And what of the child’s father? How could she ever feel affection for a husband who’s loyalty would always and only be given to another – his first wife, Sarai?
And Sarai! This is what Sarai had wanted! Sarai had given Hagar to Abram as a second wife, hoping to build a family through her servant. But now that Hagar was pregnant, Sarai acted jealously – as if Hagar were a common prostitute. Hagar sneered. At least she could bear children, unlike her aging mistress.
Then, anger made way for sadness. Hagar thought of the friends she was leaving behind. Why was she abandoning her home? But this wasn’t her home. Home was in Egypt where she had lived long before becoming Sarai’s slave.
A rustle from a nearby tent made Hagar jump. She stubbornly wiped the tears from her face, kicked the dust beneath her feet, and staggered into the wilderness.
Travel was difficult. Hagar was dizzy and nauseous, and the desert, unforgiving. Night turned to day. Her lips became chapped, her legs ached and buckled beneath her, and her face was sunburned. When she felt she couldn't take another step, Hagar stumbled across a desert spring. Panting, she collapsed to her knees and drank greedily from the life-giving water at her feet. When her thirst had been fully quenched, she lay down on her side with her head cradled in her hands.
Hagar was almost home; yet, she felt utterly defeated. Even if she made it to Egypt, she questioned whether anything good could be waiting for her there. What would become of her and her child in the city? She cried. A river of salty tears rolled down the side of her face, dropping down to the dry, cracked ground.
And then she heard it. A voice. A soft voice calling her name.
Her crusted eyelashes blinked.
“Hagar, Sarai’s servant.”
A wave of nausea washed over Hagar and she groaned.
“Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
Was she dreaming? Hagar pushed herself up to a sitting position. She shielded her eyes from the blinding sun and searched for the source of the soothing voice. A man stood about ten feet away. He smiled kindly. Hagar knew it was dangerous to talk to a stranger, but she felt so alone. She hadn’t spoken to another human being for – well, she didn’t know how long. Her spirit responded.
“I am running away from my mistress,” Hagar rasped.
The man took a few steps toward her, bent down on one knee, and spoke in almost a whisper.
“Return to your mistress and submit to her authority.”
Hagar recoiled. Who was this man, and what did he know about her? Had Abram sent him? Never! She would never return! She’d rather die.
The stranger either didn’t recognize Hagar’s offense or he didn’t care. He continued to deliver his message to her, tenderly.
“I will give you more descendants than you can count.”
Hagar’s ears perked. That was unexpected. How could she be blessed in this way? She was destined for servant-hood. Her son, her only child, would become the child of Sarai. She assumed that the man hovering nearby must be mistaken, but she was too exhausted to argue.
“You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard about your misery. This son of yours will be a wild one – free and untamed as a wild donkey! He will be against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live at odds with the rest of his brothers.”
At his final words, Hagar’s heart filled with hope for the first time in weeks. Strength returned to her body. It must be true! Who, but the LORD, could know all these things? And free? Hagar understood that she may never be free, but if returning to Abram was the promise of freedom and a future for her son, then she knew she would go back.
Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the LORD, who had spoken to her.
She said, “You are the God who sees me.”
She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?”
(New Living Translation, Genesis 16:13)