Hagar: the woman who is seen

Genesis 16 and 21

Note: this series of posts about women of the Old Testament were originally written for a Lent Blog in 2020. They have been updated. Many of the images are original pieces of art produced by Micah Hayns. Please only use them with permission. You can get in touch with him for originals or high res. images for promotions via http://www.micahhayns.com

We begin with Hagar.

Hagar was the very first person to dare to give God a name. She wasn’t a person of any authority or particular merit, she wasn’t a prophet or a priestess: she was an Egyptian slave-girl owned by Abram’s wife, Sarai.

Sarai hadn’t been able to have children and so had hatched the kind of plan that we might recognise from the Handmaid’s Tale: she would have a child with Abram via the means of her slave, Hagar. Abram willingly went along with the plan and Hagar, clearly having no choice in the matter, became pregnant. The two women began to hate each other but Sarai of course, had the upper hand and Abram gave his wife authority to do as she pleased. Sarai’s anger deepened as time went on and she became violent and eventually the pregnant Hagar, fearful for the safety of her unborn child, fled to into the wilderness.  

It was as she was hiding near a well that Hagar heard the voice of an angel:

Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?’

Genesis 16.7

She was promised her son would be a ‘wild donkey of a man’, and told to return.

Hagar was so overwhelmed by having been seen and heard, perhaps for the first time in her life, that she gave the Lord a name,

You are El-roi”; (God who Sees), for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?”

Genesis 16.13
The Dismissal of Hagar by Giuseppe Nicola Nasini, between 1657 and 1736, (image from Wikimedia Commons)

She bravely returns to Sarai, gives birth to Ishmael, and brings him up in Sarai’s household until Sarah (given a new name) had herself produced a child of her own, Isaac. Now with a son of her own Sarah didn’t want them around anymore and they were once again banished.

Ishmael was an adult by this time (around 15 years old). The banished pair wandered in the desert until their food and water had dried up and all hope of survival had gone. In the first description of a death ritual in scripture, Hagar put her child under a bush, sat at a distance, and waited for him to die.

Their tears were heard by the angel of God who, like the angel that appeared to Mary centuries later, said to them: ‘do not be afraid’, a well of water appeared and they survived.

Hagar became a Grandmother to many, and Ishmael’s descendants, the Ishmaelites, populated the land and grew powerful.

Hagar, enslaved, abused, and mistreated, was seen and heard by God.


Sadly slavery isn’t in the past and although it’s hard to find accurate statistics it is estimated that over 40 million people are held against their will and that 71% of overall victims of modern day slavery are believed to be women – this is nearly 30million people! https://www.antislavery.org/slavery-today/modern-slavery/

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, 
there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3.17


Loving God, who sees and hears all those who cry out in need, bring comfort and freedom to all your children, to those who are kept against their will, those who live in fear of violence, and those who are forced to run away to protect their family, in the name of El-Roi, The God Who Sees.

Author: clarehayns

College Chaplain and Welfare Coordinator of Christ Church, Oxford | Mum of three boys | wife of a juggler and magician | Council of Reference of ZANE - http://www.zane-zimbabweanationalemergency.com | enjoys board games, dog walking, films, eating out.

22 thoughts on “Hagar: the woman who is seen”

  1. Very interesting, thanks. The Handmaid’s Tale reference is spot on. Margaret Atwood has said that she didn’t invent anything in the book. Everything that she describes has been done to women in reality in some place at some point in history.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much Clare for this very moving reflection, and for Micah’s evocative drawing. I once had a dream in which I had to give a lecture on “the daughter of Hagar”, and this left me with a fantasy that perhaps this daughter existed even though she wasn’t written about. It’s wonderful that there are so many amazing women in the Old Testament and I look forward to reading more about them through this blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I so enjoyed this, Clare , and can’t wait for the next story! Perfect with a cup of tea and toast As the daylight fades…
    Love Katja


  4. In a culture where so many people are invisible to others because of different reasons, this account of Hagar is encouraging. To not only know that we personally are seen by God, but also to like God, notice and really see people, especially those who are on the fringes of society. To take the time to let them know they are seen and reach out in compassion in a tangible way. This Lenten season, I want to see others, really see them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you, this is really good. through Lent, I’m going to be speaking about “who are you?” and drawing close to God who see us as we really are. as someone who longs to be seen and known but also wants to hide, that’s challenging to me.


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