It is hard not to feel uncomfortable by the way women are spoken about and treated within this text. Sarai is reduced by Pharaoh to her beauty, she is used by Abram to gain power and security. Women are mentioned alongside property as the possessions returned to Lot after he is rescued, and Hagar is raped by Abram in order to secure a heir to succeed him.
Yet, even underneath the dominant patriarchal lens that Genesis holds, we see a glimpse of the Divines desire for women’s liberation.
Hager is at the bottom of the barrel in Abrams community, she is a woman in a male dominated, patriachal world. And she is a slave, without the security of a wealthy and powerful husband. Due to her low status within her society she is subject to abuse both by men, and by women who hold a higher status than herself. And in this story we see both Sarai and Abram use and abuse Hagar without any thought or concern for her humanity, she is property, and without remorse or conscious they “casually” exploit and sexually abuse her.
This is not a nice story, and to often it has been sanitized and the focus shifted to paint Hagar as the villian in the narrative.
But, an honest reading of the text reveals that Abram and Sarai abuse their status, power and privilege to exploit Hagar causing Hagar to flee for her life.
Yet, she flees from one danger to another. Running into the wilderness she is alone, and at risk of dying from exposure or multiplude of other risks that might come with a pregnant woman being alone in the wilderness.
And yet the Divine Mother comes looking for her. The Divine seeks her out, responding to her cry for help.
The story here is a mixed bag, for Hagar is told to return to Abram. Here we see an acknowledgment of the messed up world men have created. The Divine recognizes that their is no future, their is no life, for a pregnant woman alone in the wilderness. The oppressive and patriachal society men created means that Hagars chance of survival is dependant upon rejoining the community of her oppresor. We see in this Divine pragmatism, the Divine Mother knows how the world works, She is aware of how men have twisted and distorted Her creation. And yet, she kneels down beside Hagar, She dries her tears, and she sends Her back with Hope.
Patriachal oppression can not yet be other thrown, yet the Divine can use the very system of Hagars oppresion to birth the seeds of her Liberation.
Divine Mother grants Hagar a son, a son who can protect her, that can raise her status in the community, who can provide security for her in her future.
The mark of Abram and Sarai’s oppression becomes the tool for Hagars eventual Liberation.
There is something beautiful here. God is the God of the oppressed, She is with those who suffer, she is concerned for those that society have marginalized, neglected and abused.
When thinking about this today, I think about how often we assume that the Divine favors the powerful. We look to people who are successful, or who seem in control, to the dominant culture, to those who have the dominant voice, and we take it for granted that God is on their side.
Yet, God is not the God of the Powerful, the Privileged, or the Strong. She is the God of the poor and the oppressed.
And if any wish to serve this God, they must join Her where she is.
Alongside the Hagars of this world, fighting for Liberation and Justice.