“. . . Sarah said, to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.'” Genesis 21:10 (NRSV)
The story of Abraham and Sarah is full of issues. They left Haran and traveled to what we know as “The Promised Land,” the land of Canaan. On the way, Abram – later changed to Abraham – (to protect himself) tries to pass Sarai – later changed to Sarah, as his sister. She is put into the Egyptian Pharaoh’s harem until it is discovered that she is actually Abram’s wife. Interestingly, Abram tries it again later on the journey to their new home.
Then, while they are camping in the wilderness, three strangers show up, and Abraham greets them with great hospitality, which was the custom in the nomadic societies. The three men bring the message that Abraham will be the father of many nations, and Sarah, who was cooking in the tent behind them, overhears their prediction and laughs. When they call her on it, she denies laughing, but these men – who were actually God’s representatives – knew better. I mean, really – I doubt that I would believe their prediction if I was in Sarah’s situation. She was past child bearing years, and even when she was younger, she never had a child. In that culture, it was common to believe that God had somehow overlooked her because for a woman the two most important roles they played were being a wife and being a mother.
As time goes along, Sarah still doesn’t conceive, so she devises a plan to move things along and guarantee that she will have a son. Sarah’s slave Hagar is Egyptian, and she has no voice, no say in what happens to her. As Sarah’s “property” Hagar is at her mistress’ command, so Sarah told Abraham to take Hagar and get her to conceive a child. Hagar would have been forced to have sex with her master. Obviously, this was not consensual sex, so in essence she was raped. However, she does conceive. When a slave (who is property) has a child, that child then becomes the property of the owner.
The problem is that by putting Hagar in that situation, Sarah has elevated her status to being a second wife to Abraham, and Hagar shows some spunk by flaunting her pregnancy in front of Sarah. Sarah abuses her, which causes Hagar to run away, but before she gets too far, God encounters her in the wilderness and sends her back with the promise that her son will also bring forth a great nation. Hagar returns, and she again submits to her mistress.
After Isaac (which means “laughter”) is born, Sarah again becomes jealous and wants “that slave woman’s son” gone. So, as painful as it is for Abraham, he sends Hagar and Ishmael away where they wander in the wilderness, sure that they will die. When they run out of water and what paltry amount of food Abraham gave them, Hagar is grieved beyond words and puts Ishmael under a tree with the hope of a little shade. Then she sinks into the sand not daring to watch her child die.
It is in that quiet despair that God speaks to her and opens her eyes to see a well nearby. God also gives Hagar the promise again that Ishmael will be the father of a great nation. Isaac pawned the Jewish nation, and Ishmael pawned the Muslim faith. There has been enmity between them even from the beginning.
Issues that present themselves are child abuse, domestic violence, racism, slavery, and a host of other issues that clearly show what a dysfunctional family this was. They all were outcasts in their travels at one point or another. They all experienced rejection, fear, loss, and devaluation. Yet, God brought forth multitudes of people from them. God blessed them and cared about them in spite of their misbehaving.
Would God do any less with us?