Monday, March 5, 2012

A Woman named Hagar

I just read a book called “Hagar” by Lois T. Henderson.  Although the book is written as a novel, I became very intrigued by the life of Hagar.  Hagar was a woman during the biblical age of Abraham, some 4,000 years ago.  Ms. Henderson portrays her life from childhood to the time where she is given to Abram (who later became Abraham) to bear the promised son and finally is cast out from the tribe.  Based on my reading the novel I was motivated to look up the story in the bible and learn more about this fascinating woman who some say became the mother of the Islamic world.

The whole story is recorded in Genesis 16.   Genesis 16:3 notes that Hagar became Abram’s wife.  In biblical history it was common that when a woman could not bear children within the first 10 years of marriage that a slave or servant could be used as a surrogate mother.

While many of the accounts I have read about talk about the difficulties of a blended family views of Abraham being pushed around by his wife’s decision, or even Hagar’s feelings of inferiority, nobody mentioned that the whole story is an attempt to restore the original family of God.

That’s why I like to introduce here the view Reverend Sun Myung Moon has given us in his teachings of the Divine Principle.

Rev. Moon teaches extensively about “History of Restoration” of the human family.

He teaches from a biblical point of view with a new insight he received through nine years of studying and praying.  His emphasis is on Abraham who became the “father of faith.”

The Importance of Lineage and Monotheistic Faith

Abraham was the first ancestor who believed in ONE GOD.  The monotheistic approach to believe was an important step to restore the lineage of God. 

"And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered"
~ Genesis 13:16

 “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,… ”
~ Genesis 22:17

In the 12th Message of Peace, Rev. Moon emphasizes the Importance of Lineage.  He said: “Do you know what has pained God’s heart the most, causing him the greatest grief over the long history since the Fall of Adam and Eve?  God lost his lineage, and with that God lost the basis of human brotherhood and even His ownership over the creation.  God’s lineage is more precious than life itself.” 

From that standpoint we can see the importance of the role of Hagar.   Even though, God had promised Abram a son, he loved Sarai who was barren (couldn’t bear children); to choose Hagar as surrogate mother was a natural solution.  The way Ms. Henderson suggested, Hagar may have been of great status in her homeland of Egypt.  Hagar was already living in the household of Abram.  She was only 12 yrs. old when she became Sarai’s handmaiden.  Ms. Henderson portrays Hagar as an obedient servant and Sarai raised her like a daughter.

After she conceived the promised baby, Hagar became arrogant and showed off her big belly to Sarai.  That made Sarai angry and she hit her.  Ashamed, Hagar left and had an experience in the desert (Gen.16:7) where she met an angel of God; he spoke to her and promised her: “I will so greatly multiply your descendants that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” (Gen. 16:10)  Wasn’t this the same promise God gave Abraham? 

Abram left his home in Haran and left behind idols and multi-god worship.  When they lived in the desert, Abram taught his whole household about his living God.  Through her personal encounter, Hagar, also became a believer and discarded her idols.  The fact that Hagar became a believer and shared her faith with Abraham may have been a comfort to him, but it was not enough for him to avoid Sarah’s suggestion to send Hagar away.  After the birth of Isaac, Sarah could not stand to have Hagar around.  (Gen. 21:14)  Rev. Moon teaches that it was a historical mistake that Sarah expelled Hagar from their family.  The two boys, Ishmael and Isaac, should have grown up together and restore the mistake of Cain and Abel which was later accomplished through Isaac’s sons Esau and Jacob.

We have to give a lot of credit to Hagar.  She raised Ishmael by herself (Ms. Henderson suggests that she married Simeon but that is only in the novel) to still love and respect his father Abraham.  Later on, Ishmael’s daughter, Mahalath, becomes the wife of Esau, Gen.8:9 one of Abraham's grandsons by Rebekah.  When Abraham dies Gen 25:7-10 at the age of 175, both Ishmael and Isaac bury their father.  And by some account, Hagar still loved Abraham and became his wife, now called Keturah (Gen. 25:1-2).

Abraham’s life-timeline

75 yrs. – Abram leaves Haran (Gen. 12:1-3)

85 yrs. – Sarai gives Hagar to Abraham to conceive her heir (Gen. 16)

86 yrs. – Ishmael is born

99 yrs. – Covenant of circumcision

100 yrs. – birth of Isaac

137 yrs. – Sarah, his first wife dies; he possibly marries Hagar who is now called Keturah (Gen. 25:1-2)

175 yrs. – Abraham dies (Gen.25:7-11)

The Importance of the Role of Women in the History of Restoration

Even though biblical history focuses on the role of men and often mentions only their genealogy, we learn through the family of Abraham what influences women really had.  Abraham was the lord over his household, but when Sarah was having difficulties with Hagar, Abraham told her that she could do with her what she wanted.  Also it was the role of the mother to find a wife for the son.  We see through all this the importance of having children.  To preserve the lineage was the responsibility of the women.  As we learn from Sarah, she took that obligation very serious, to the point that she offered her servant Hagar to her husband.  She was only human when she felt jealous of Hagar after she gave birth to Ishmael.  Before, she had great faith in Abraham, when they went down into Egypt (Gen. 12:10)  and told the Pharaoh that she was Abram’s sister.  Unfortunately, her faith was not strong enough to get her through her attitude toward Hagar.

Her story allows me to understand more about today’s struggle in the Middle-East.  The political situation cannot be solved by politicians or from an external point of view.  Reverend Moon has made this very clear through the efforts of the Universal Peace Foundation.

Here is a quote by Rev. Michael W. Jenkins, Co-Chair, MEPI-USA  in regards to Reconciling People of the Abrahamic Faiths:

Christianity and Islam became like enemies. Ishmael was the Cain type offspring of Abraham. Who got the real victory in those areas of the Middle-East? - Islam. Abraham had two wives. Because Sarah could not bear children he took a second wife to have a son. When Sarah was 100 years of age, Isaac was born, but the second wife had a child too. Those two wives were supposed to be united together as one family of Abraham but that was not done.”

I like to conclude this portrait of Hagar with an essay by Dr. Thomas Ward:

Why God Loves Islam and the Arab People

“There is an unfortunate part of Genesis that we need to consider when studying Abraham’s family. Because Abraham’s wife Sarah was unable to give birth to a child, she offered him her female slave Hagar (Gen. 16:2). Hagar bore a son for Abraham who was named Ishmael. God, nevertheless, had promised that one day Sarah would also give birth to a son. Indeed, she did give birth to her son Isaac approximately thirteen biblical years after the birth of Ishmael.

Once Isaac was born, Genesis records that Sarah felt jealousy toward Hagar and, once Isaac was born (Gen. 21:1-7), she asked Abraham to send away Hagar and Ishmael (Gen. 21-8-11). Abraham was not pleased with Sarah’s insistence; however, God told Abraham to abide by Sarah’s request. (Gen. 21:14) He comforted Abraham by saying that a great nation would rise up from Ishmael’s lineage (Gen. 21:12-14).

While Ishmael certainly struggled because of this abandonment, he did not fully separate from Abraham and Isaac. According to Genesis, Ishmael and Isaac together prepared Abraham’s burial (Gen. 25:9). Later Ishmael betrothed his daughter Basemath in marriage to Isaac’s son Esau (Gen. 36:3). God must have been moved by Ishmael’s unswerving loyalty to his father and by his love for his favored brother Isaac. Ishmael is someone whom we all should be able to admire, as a victor over resentment.

However, what impact might the painful rejection that we have recounted have had upon Ishmael or upon his descendants? In her book “A History of God,” author and religious scholar Karen Armstrong argued that, until Mohammed, Arabia suffered from a sense of inferiority, from a lack of love because God had never blessed the children of Ishmael with a revelation until Mohammed appeared:

There was… a widespread feeling of spiritual inferiority. Those Jews and Christians with whom the Arabs came in contact used to taunt them for being a barbarous people who had received no revelation from God. The Arabs felt a mingled resentment and respect for these people who had knowledge that they did not. Judaism and Christianity had made little headway in the region, even though the Arabs acknowledged that this progressive form of religion was superior to their own traditional paganism.

In Unification Thought, Ishmael and Esau stand as Cain-side figures who could only receive God’s direct blessing through their younger brothers. Divine Principle teaches that this was finally achieved by the reconciliation of Esau and Jacob. This course of indemnity was prolonged from Ishmael and Isaac to Esau and Jacob, not because of Ishmael, but because of Sarah’s request that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away (Gen. 21:8-11). Unification Thought would argue that something needs to be indemnified by the physical and spiritual descendants of Sarah (that is, Jews and Christians).

Hagar must have been a great spouse and a great mother. Due to her mistreatment at the hands of Sarah (Gen. 21:6) and her abandonment by Abraham, she stood in the position to hate Ishmael’s father and his brother Isaac. To some extent, Ishmael's’ loving heart towards Isaac and towards Isaac’s sons must be due to the fact that Hagar taught her son to love his father Abraham even though he had abandoned them. If that is God’s memory of Hagar and Ishmael, the ancestors of the Arabs and of Islam, it would seem that it should also be a most cherished memory that members of the U.N. Peace Council would want to harbor as they pondered the future of the Middle East.”

I am glad that I learned about Hagar. She certainly had a very sympathetic and intriguing character. Ms. Henderson's rendition of Hagar's life opened for me a tremendous interest of this special woman.  History can be dry and lifeless, Lois Henderson created a story with characters that spoke to me and made history come alive.

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