"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Relating Hagar to Jesus' Birth

The last two days I've written excerpts from The Woman Who Named God by Charlotte Gordon, and have greatly enjoyed the comments left on yesterday's post about "Rape In The Palace."

First let me say that I did not realize Hagar "has come to be seen as a sort of guardian angel for African American women." (pg. 122) I reckon that shows how out of touch I am with black culture. Hmmm. Did you know this?

Finally I got to the chapter that explains the title of the book. I could have figured it out sooner if I'd just reread the Biblical account of Hagar in Genesis chapter 16. Hagar had been given to Abraham so that he could have an heir, she'd become pregnant and Sarah started mistreating Hagar. So Hagar fled into the desert. And an angel of the Lord spoke to her there by a spring.

The author writes that when Hagar named God El-roi (according to Hebrew scholar Reuven Hammer it could mean, "God of seeing, that is, the all-seeing God. Also, God of my seeing, that is, whom I have seen; and God who sees me"), she did something "unique." Although we are familiar with a God who sees and hears all and is involved in our lives, "in ancient times, that God could "see" Hagar -- take note of her -- was a revolutionary idea, as it demonstrated that He was unlike the other deities of the ancient world, who routinely ignored their followers unless they were coaxed and fed expensive delicacies by specially trained priests. [Elijah vs. the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel anyone?] Hagar's God...was actually concerned about a poor woman."

Remember also that Ishmael means "God hears." Contrast these names El-roi and Ishmael and their meanings to "other deities 'with [their] mouths that cannot speak and eyes that cannot see.' (Psalms 115:6)." (pg. 140)

The author concludes this chapter by saying,

Hagar's relationship with God is one Abram and, for that matter, any of God's chosen might well envy. With her, God was direct, clear and highly detailed, and most of what He foretold happened without delay. He even gave a specific reason for His actions: He had seen her suffering and was now comforting her. With Abram, God had offered no such guidance. His chosen man would never know why God selected Him, nor could he predict when God would finally enact His promises.

Indeed it would be much later that angels would announce to Abram the imminent birth of another child - information Abram could have used much earlier on. Hagar, not Abram, receives the first divine annunciation of a son's birth. Conventional hierarchies are overturned. The slave woman gets to hear the news her master has been waiting for all of his adult life. (pg. 143)

When I read this last line I couldn't help but think of this time of year and how when Jesus came to earth, the Bible records that lowly shepherds in the field were contacted. His birth wasn't announced to the important government officials or the Head of the Religious Establishment for all to celebrate. Instead the angels told shepherds, the common, blue-collar workers of that era. Makes me think of Paul's words where he declares there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, men and women, those who are slaves and those who are free. (Galatians 3:28). The same Lord is rich to all who call upon His name (Romans 10:12).

Your thoughts?


Amber said...

Again, I have issues with this woman elevating Hagar above Abraham. The fact of the matter is that we *don't* know everything that transpired between God and Abraham. He was, in fact, visited by God and spoke with him, several of those times being recorded in Genesis. But Genesis is not a moment by moment account of the peoples lives. What was passed down to us is what we needed. So, to say that Hagar had a unique relationship to God is just incorrect.

Abraham spoke with God, and was promised a son of his own body in Genesis 15. Which, as you can see, comes before Genesis 16. Also, go back and read Genesis 16. Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham, and once Hagar knew that she was pregnant, she '*despised* her mistress'. It's not spelled out, but I'm going to assume that Hagar got a little arrogant, taking liberties, and mistreating Sarah, perhaps assuming that her place would become that of first wife, since she was the one giving Abraham children. *Then*, Sarah complained to Abraham, and Abraham basically said, 'Look, she belongs to you. You deal with it." So Sarah got her back. *shrug* Look, we're women, you know who vicious we can be - imagine that when you're actually fighting over what, at the time, was your purpose for existing. I imagine it also hurt Sarah to have tried for so long to have children, and then have Hagar jump in and do it in short order. A little *jab*, the realization that the problem really was with her.

Hagar was given to Abraham, by Sarah, because of her lack of faith. Ishmael existed because of the lack of faith of Abraham and Sarah. God saved Hagar and Ishmael because they should not have to suffer the consequences of Abraham and Sarah's lack of faith.

I do appreciate the line you've drawn between God interacting with Hagar and the announcement of Christ's birth to the shepherds, though. :)

Achelois said...

What an interesting relationship you have drawn!

And I couldn't help but notice how when Muslims claim that only Islam equals elite with slaves by making them stand together in mosques, the equality actually pre-existed in the Bible.

BTW, the elite don't stand with the slaves in the mosques :D

Susanne said...

Amber, I understand your issues with this woman. I do. Should I write a disclaimer that just because I share things from certain books doesn't mean I totally agree with them? Sometimes I like to put the ideas out there for others to read and reply to...such as you've done. I enjoy reading your's and others' thoughts on these things. Sometimes I read things and am like, "Hmm, I don't know about that. I wonder how Amber or Achelois or Carmen or Laila or MuSe would respond to this" so I share.

And I totally agree that we don't know what all Abraham and God talked about. I have also wondered why Ms. Gordon thinks that only what was recorded in the Bible was the extent of the talking relationship. Thanks for bringing up that point as it has crossed my mind several times as I've read this book. The more I read, the more I think this is a feminist version of the story. :-) I'll keep reading to see how she continues to portray the characters in this story.

Oh, I'm sorry for not including more background. In fact the author does mention Hagar's thoughts and actions/attitude towards Sarah when Hagar became pregnant. In fact she told how wrong this was in ancient culture because Sarah was well within her rights as owner of slave Hagar to make Hagar have children for her (Sarah.) Even the Code of Hammurabi speaks of such situations and Hagar was "guilty."

Thank you for all you shared. You always add interesting things. It seems my sharing about this book has made you do what it made me do -- go back and reread some of Abraham's story in Genesis! :-)

The thing I did like about this section is that the author points out God is involved unlike the ancient gods who didn't seem to care much for the people. And I do like the parallel I made simply because I am grateful God talks to people of all stripes and not just the men and masters.

Achelois, it's always good to hear from you! Thanks for sharing what you did about Islam and the servants standing with the elites. I wonder if the Muslims would be surprised to know that dear ol' *Paul* was the one who wrote about such things in his letters to the churches at Rome and Galatia. :-)

Thanks for adding to the discussion by sharing about that. Enjoyed it!

Amber said...

No, of course you don't need a disclaimer. I phrased the beginning of my post badly - I really meant to say that all the snippets you shared are just reinforcing my issues with this woman. I sort of work under the assumption that unless you say, specifically, that you agree with a quote, that you're putting it out there for general interest/discussion. :)

Oh, okay. I'm glad she does include that in the book. I just read it like she was blaming Sarah for everything, skipping over the fact that, uh, not to get too playground here, but Hagar started it. :)

'It seems my sharing about this book has made you do what it made me do -- go back and reread some of Abraham's story in Genesis! :-)'

Go back, don't be silly! I did this all from memory! You forget my excellent geniusness! *lightning strikes* *eyes sky warily* Oh, fine, I looked it up.

Well, to be fair, the ancient gods couldn't really be involved because...uh...they didn't exist... :) (And/Or they were demons. Depends which ones we're talking about...)

Susanne said...

No worries, I didn't forget your brilliance. You mentioned looking it up that's why I said that. :)

Thanks for the good discussion.