Abram and Sarai have grown impatient with waiting for God to fulfill the promise of a child for them so Sarai and Abram take control of their future and form their own plans. Sarai has a slave named Hagar and, at Sarai's urging, Hagar conceives a child with Abram. Sarai and Abram had hoped that by taking control and no longer waiting for God to provide they would achieve blessing sooner. According to the narrative, according to Sarai's version of events, Hagar shows contempt for Sarai once she becomes pregnant. But I want to interrogate this representation. Can we take Sarai's word for it? It could be that Hagar is treated with honor and afforded status as the mother of Abram's child. Hagar is a slave, so her dignity and honor are diminished by her status. She has gained back, through carrying Abram's child, what was taken from her. It doesn't seem to me that Hagar is in the wrong. It does seem that Sarai is threatened and offended because she perceives that her status is jeopardized because Hagar's status is elevated. She is threatened because the system that she has enjoyed the benefit of has suddenly, for a limited time, returned to Hagar the dignity taken from her, the dignity due her as a human being.
I would suggest that the story of Abram and Sarai illustrates the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit from a few weeks ago. God provided an abundant blessing to Adam and Eve, yet they desire more, the one thing they were warned to avoid. Sarai has been promised abundant blessing from God but treats this potential blessing as a limited commodity. Adam and Eve and Sarai all treat God's abundant gift as if it were not abundant. Adam and Eve grasp for more, Sarai cannot, will not live generously. The sin that is revealed is the sin of dehumanizing and degrading. Hagar is valuable only for her labor (quite literally). She provides for benefit of Abram and Sarai with no thought to what was demanded of her or its cost or the sin of demanding. And in this sense, Hagar, who is Egyptian, plays the role of the Hebrew, the devalued outsider the expendable.
Hagar's indignity reveals what makes the Bible unique, beyond our belief that it is the inspired word of God, is the fact that it contains history from the underside. Unlike other literature from like times and places, the Bible contains the story of the poor, the defeated, the oppressed and dispossessed and from their perspective. This story, as the others we will read this week shape us as they teach us to listen carefully to the underside of the history that unfolds around us. It shows us how to critically listen to those who control the way events are presented to us. It urges us to listen not only to the perspective of the powerful, the successful or the victorious but also to the story of the powerless, the defeated and the oppressed. The fact that the Hagar story ends with God listening to Hagar's version of events, God acting compassionately in response to Ishmael's cries and powerfully in expanding the blessing to include Ishmael and Hagar, shows us that to God, Hagar's life matters.