Sometimes in the Bible you get these icky stories of supposedly good and holy people (people handpicked by God) who just make the worst decisions.
There was this elderly couple, you see, and one day they decided to explore surrogacy with a dash of sexual exploitation to see if that was the answer to their problems. The story is quite problematic, especially when seen through the modern lens.
But even in this problematic setting we learn a bit about God, and get another glimpse of his loving character in how he dealt with what was at the time considered to be the lowest of the low: a runaway female slave, who had been abused by those that should have cared for her.
How God deals with Hagar is how he deals with us too.
The essential oil of the week is Peppermint.
— [THEME MUSIC] —
Hi, Welcome to Feels and Flowers, Your antidote to toxic Christianity where we seek to discover the character of God through our chapter-by-chapter exploration of the Bible. I am your host, Paula Perez.
This is the second and final part of Genesis chapter 16. Last week we focused more on the motivations behind Sarai’s decision to give her Egyptian maid to Abram. This week we are going to talk a little about that maid.
But before that let’s talk about our Featured Flower, Peppermint.
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Peppermint is a hybrid, or a cross, between watermint and spearmint. It grows abundantly in Europe, Asia, and North America. It has square purple-ish stems, dark green leaves that are slightly fuzzy, dark veins, and produces light purple flowers. Peppermint is very aromatic, and a very high menthol content.
Because Peppermint is a hybrid, it is sterile and produces no seeds. However it can spread quite easily either through cuttings from a parent plant or, in the vast majority of cases, through stolons, or runners, which grow at the soil surface or just below the ground from the parent plant and allow the plant to produce more of itself.
Peppermint is so good at spreading that it can easily become invasive in a home garden. In fact, in some areas of the world (such as the Galapagos, Australia, and New Zealand) it has spread so much that it is considered an invasive species, competing for resources endemic flora.
Humans have reached for the healing powers of peppermint for a very long time. It has been used in traditional medicine as an aromatic, antimicrobial, antifungal, analgesic, antispasmodic and antiseptic in treating indigestion, nausea, sore throat, colds, toothaches, cramps and cancers. Peppermint is used in numerous forms such as oil, leaf, leaf extract, and teas. The essential oil is thought to have the greatest use.
Learn my favorite ways of using Peppermint essential oil at the end of the episode. But now let’s go back to Genesis 16 and Hagar.
— [END FLOWER MUSIC] —
Well here we are at last, we are at the threshold of December of 2020.
This wild year saw us go from joyfully ringing in the new decade a la Roaring 20s style to slipping into an unprecedented existence defined by the isolation and anxiety induced by the COVID pandemic. This year has seen us adopt a new normal in which we have learned to deal with economic disruption, mass cancellations and postponements of events, worldwide lockdowns, and the largest economic recession since the Great Depression.
And that was only March.
By Mid-may protests caused by the killing of George Floyd broke out across hundreds of cities in the U.S. and extended all around the world. During that time in the U.S. a number of monuments and memorials associated with the Confederacy and its leaders were destroyed or removed.
And then…. the scope of the protests broadened to include symbols and figures which had ties to other forms of systemic racism.
Christianity was not spared in the fray.
I remember a viral tweet calling for the tearing down of religious statues, and especially those of white Jesus. The argument was basically that White Jesus is a symbol of Christinity’s problematic past, and how a Christianity that teaches the superiority of the white race has done untold damage to thousands upon thousands of people throughout history.
See the thing is, political and capitalist powers have used Christianity to achieve their own purposes since… I don’t know… I guess since Constantine issued the Edict of Milan back in 313. When the church and state join forces they become one of the greatest terrors the world has seen. And while I could go on and on about the crusades and the terrorism, wars, genocide, colonialism, and all that stuff, I think we are aware of it, and we can all agree that Christians should have done better and can do better. And need to do better because of it.
God intended that wherever the message of Christ spread it would elevate humanity, and it does, but in some cases we actually got the enslavement of people, the subjugation of entire races and groups of people who were stripped of their homes, their rights, and their heritage in the name of God and for the sake of progress.
It’s heartbreaking to read and hear about self-avowed Christians who did or do heinous things all for the sake of bringing “the light” to others, when in reality that is far far from the case.
Before we go on to talk about Hagar, I want to make it CRYSTAL CLEAR: The corruptness of our human nature has been a part of our world and culture since the beginning of time. There are things that happen in our world that God did not condone, originate, support, or endorse. Bible history is full of human folly, and it is important that when we read it we see the big picture, and not lose sight of the fact that God in spite of that and even within that will work out his supreme purpose.
With that said, let’s talk about Hagar.
Genesis 16 says,
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
Let me tell you a little about Hagar’s world.
In this early, violent, patriarchal world, your tribe or clan and your place in that clan was above everything simply because it meant survival. You see, in that day if your clan wasn’t large or strong enough to defend itself from bandits or rival clans you and your wife and your children could end up dead or enslaved.
Much like Hagar, at the whim of an elderly mistress.
Hagar’s world was small and rigidly ruled by the clan’s customs and by the rule of the patriarch, in this case Abram.
Being a slave sucked, and it sucked that she lived far away from her homeland of Egypt, but all in all, she had gotten lucky, and her master and mistress were good people, and dealt with their servants and slaves fairly. She had a place in the clan–a menial place, true–but the alternative was being alone, without a clan, in danger of becoming food of wild beasts or being captured again and sold to crueler masters.
All is as well as can be in Hagar’s world until the issue of surrogacy comes up. In a world where the values of the patriarchy placed the survival of the clan above everything, surrogacy (like poligamy) was seen as necessary, even vital, for the continuation of the line when the head of the clan had no heir and had no apparent hope of getting an heir through his wife.
But notice that Hagar is always an object to her master and mistress. They never even call her by name, and under the circumstances, that was probably best. It says that Sarai gave her to Abram to be his wife. That is, to lay with him as a wife would. If we go by anecdotes of the time of how surrogacy worked, all three members were present at that bed, and the act was an awkward, uncomfortable, and impersonal one that stripped all participants of their person-hood.
Hagar is not a wife in the true sense, not like Sarai. How can she? She’s only a slave and can bring nothing like a dowry to this union. She has no father to settle 100 goats and 20 pieces of gold on her in case she marries. She has absolutely nothing except her body, and that body doesn’t even belong to her.
Once the deed is done, she goes back to scrubbing and cleaning, and washing, and cooking, and fetching things for her mistress, and carrying up water from the well.
BUT it turns out that being pregnant with Abram’s child does give her some distinction.
When it is clear that she’s pregnant it suddenly becomes imperative that her baby be born healthy. as such she no longer has to get up at the crack of dawn to do all the things she used to do in her time as a mere slave girl. And how nice it was to be taken care of for once.
How very, very, nice.
“Oh, the old lady wants me to bring her her shawl? Tell her my feet are so swollen because I’m soooo pregnant with her husband’s baby that I just can’t stir under this heat. Tell her that being pregnant with a baby is just sooooooo exhausting. I’m so sorry. But if she’d ever been pregnant she would know how it feels, and show a little sympathy.”
In short, Hagar couldn’t resist displaying an inappropriate haughtiness, thinking her pregnancy somehow showed her to be better than Sarai. But she really wasn’t. Sarai had the power to make her life a living hell.
Genesis 16 continues saying
When Hagar knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “It’s all your fault that I’m suffering this abuse. I put my maid in bed with you and the minute she knows she’s pregnant, she treats me like I’m nothing. May God decide which of us is right.”
“You decide,” said Abram. “Your maid is your business.”
Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
I don’t know what abuse Hagar endured before deciding that it was best to live life outside of the clan and risk death rather than putting up with Sarai’s treatment of her. All we know is that Hagar decided one day that enough was enough, and she ran away from her mistress putting between them many miles of wilderness until she reached a spring in the desert.
An angel of God found her beside a spring in the desert; it was the spring on the road to Shur. He said, “Hagar, maid of Sarai, what are you doing here?”
She said, “I’m running away from Sarai my mistress.”
The angel of God said, “Go back to your mistress. Put up with her abuse.” He continued, “I’m going to give you a big family, children past counting. From this pregnancy, you’ll get a son: Name him Ishmael;
for God heard you, God answered you.
He’ll be a bucking bronco of a man,
a real fighter, fighting and being fought,
Always stirring up trouble,
always at odds with his family.”
She answered God by name, praying to the God who spoke to her, “You’re the God who sees me! Yes! He saw me; and then I saw him!”
That’s how that desert spring got named “God-Alive-Sees-Me Spring.” That spring is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
Hagar gave Abram a son. Abram named him Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar gave him his son, Ishmael.
Here are some things that I find amazing when I read this chapter.
- This is the first time we see the Angel of the Lord appear to someone in the Bible. We understand that when it says the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament, it actually is the physical manifestation of Jesus, God’s son. He could have physically appeared to Noah, or to Abram, but to them he spoke in dreams and visions, or veiled himself in such a way that they never saw his form. Yet he chose to show himself to a foreigner who on top of being a runaway slave was also a woman.
- Things would be so much easier for everyone if Hagar had disappeared entirely from the story. God could have let her wander around in the desert and maybe live maybe die. He didn’t have to promise her anything. But he did because to him no life is more valuable than another. She was valuable. In this ruthless era, this woman without a clan, without property, without anything, really, was valuable in the eyes of the almighty. He intervened to save her life and that of her child.
- God recognized Hagar when no one else recognized her personhood. She’d lived her life being ignored at best or at worst being used and abused by those in power. But when she met God, she received assurance that though she was a slave, her child would not share her same fate and was assured that the almighty would care for them too for he also had plans for them.
It’s important that we realize that this story is here for a purpose. Understanding Genesis helps us understand our own story so we can best understand where we are from and where we fit in God’s plan. When we realize that we are beautiful and that we are loved by our heavenly father, then whatever else the world may say or try to make us feel, we can always remember that we are made with purpose by a loving God who sees us and who has a plan for us.
This story is here to remind us that in the Bible story, and in OUR story, God sees the humanity of those that others seem to dehumanize. God sees and cares after those whom others would rather look away from and pretend don’t exist. God cares and God is with those who are suffering and who are deemed unworthy.
God sees you, God cares for you, God is with you.
I didn’t just start this story recounting 2020 just to take another stab at Chrisitinity. Actually, the biggest takeaway is that in this whole pandemic experience where they keep telling us that “We are all on the same boat” I honestly feel that we are not all on the same boat. Each one of us is in a tiny boat in a surging sea, and we are clinging on to our little boat as best as we can, and the feeling of isolation and anxiety is weathering at our very souls.
A report by the CDC shows that the prevalence of symptoms of anxiety disorder was approximately three times those reported in 2019 and the prevalence of depressive disorder was approximately four times that reported in 2019.
Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.
Worldwide, there has been a dramatic rise in domestic violence during lockdown, and many are barely making it. With our social media and our gadgets, were already an isolated society before the pandemic started. Now we are even lonelier.
That is why more than ever, you need to look up to the God who sees. He says, “I hear your cry. You are not alone.”
Our world is broken, but we have the promise that God will always, always, always, work out his supreme purpose within and in spite of our circumstances.
The good news for today isn’t just that God sees you.
The good news is that no matter where you are, how far you’ve strayed, and how dark your moment, if you cry out and lift your eyes to him, YOU will see God. And maybe you will say as Hagar did.
“You’re the God who sees me! Yes! You saw me; and now I see you!”
— [THEME MUSIC] —
Thank you for listening.
As promised, before leaving I’d love to tell you my favorite use of Peppermint Essential Oil. I like to use it in my shampoo, together with rosemary, lavender, and cedarwood, to stimulate my scalp and help my hair grow even longer. It is also really good for treating tense muscles which lead to headaches.
Find this blend at feels and flowers.com
You can find more about this essential oil and many others at feelsandflowers.com.
Send me flowers! If you’d like a shoutout or you just want to say hi, you can reach me at email@example.com
Until next time… please remember that you are beautiful, you are loved, and you were made with a purpose.