WHEN GOD MAKES TROUBLE | The Hagar Experience

One of the many stories in the Bible that gets me very emotional is that of Hagar who served as the maid of Sarah and was made to sleep with Abraham so that she could have a child on behalf of Sarah who at that time was considered barren. It wasn’t something Hagar could protest, slaves or even servants are bound to obey their masters without question!

Before Hagar had a child, while she was still pregnant, Sarah started noticing pride and what she could interpret as signs of disloyalty from her maid. She started ill-treating Hagar. Hagar must have known the God of Abraham since she had followed them all through and must have eventually worshipped this same God. It would have also seemed so appalling that Sarah had the support of Abraham to maltreat her. She felt she couldn’t take it anymore and she resolved to run away from them!

On her way, God spoke to her by an Angel saying

Return to your mistress and submit to her authority. I will greatly multiply your offspring so that they will be too numerous to count…” after the revelations from the Angel, she named God according to her encounter saying “You are the God who sees me” (Genesis 16:9-13)

There is something uncommon here. Hagar was been ill-treated but God still asked her to go back and submit to Sarah. I was a bit nervous with this idea the first time I read it, I remember I talked back at God saying “are you this less concerned about people’s feelings?” I found out later how God used all these things for His purpose! By submitting to Sarah even with her harsh intolerable treatment, Hagar was submitting to God’s will.

Sometimes, God uses the very bad treatment meted out on you to fulfil his purpose! Some harsh treatments that people give to you are harmonised by God, not because He hates you but because He wants to use it for your good and His glory.

Hagar gave birth afterwards and named the child Ishmael as instructed by God through an Angel. Things didn’t get better for Hagar, it got worse. I like to think that Hagar may have never done anything wrong to Sarah; Sarah was simply seeing her negatively. When you hate people, you start seeing a lot of imperfections that you never noticed when you liked them. Sarah was the one who coaxed Abraham to sleep with Hagar; this same Sarah was the one who had become very jealous of Hagar. When Sarah finally gave birth to Isaac, she got fed up! Hagar was no longer of any use to her; she didn’t even put the little Ishmael into consideration and guess what? She was done with this Egyptian slave. She sent her packing!

If I was in Hagar’s shoes, I would be expecting God to do something; I would be expecting the good father Abraham to do something! Wasn’t this same God the one who asked her to go back and submit to Sarah? Was He not the same God who promised that her seed will be multiplied into numerous nations? Was Ishmael not the child everyone wanted? Why now? I would have been very disappointed in God, in Abraham and in that “wicked” Sarah! Wait a minute! Did God send her back to Sarah to give birth and still get thrown away with Ishmael just like that? Wouldn’t it have been okay if she was allowed to run away when she wanted to?

Abraham wanted to do something; Ishmael was his son too after all. But in the same demeanour, with which God had spoken to Hagar, God said to Abraham

“Do not be distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to everything that Sarah tells you, for through Isaac your offspring will be reckoned. But I will also make a nation of the slave woman’s son because he is your offspring.” (Genesis 21:12-13)

God was simply using Sarah’s insecurities to work out His desire. He had seen the start to the end. Abraham obeyed and sent Ishmael away. As much as Isaac was intended for a certain purpose, God also had a purpose for Ishmael. You will find out one of them later.

Remember, God promised to make a great nation out of Ishmael and the Bible records that God was with Ishmael all through! What was the purpose of allowing Ishmael? What was the purpose of making a great nation out of him? What was the purpose of allowing Hagar and his son be sent out? Before I tell you, get this too:

God may have a hand in certain rejections and maltreatments that you experience and if He ever has a hand in it, it is for your good! It also means He won’t forsake you because He has His hands on it! God never hated Ishmael neither had God forsaken him. God was watching everything but everything was going according to His plans. While Sarah may have seen Ishmael as a product of mistake and impatience, God wasn’t taken unawares; it was part of His plans for Israel. As the mistakes were being made, He was smiling through it. Ishmael’s birth didn’t make heaven have emergency meetings to come up with another plan; it was part of the plan.

While Hagar had been sent out, she had no hope for the survival of Ishmael because they didn’t have enough water and presumably, they also didn’t have food to sustain them. God indeed said Ishmael would become a nation but Hagar wouldn’t want to trust that God who drove her back into trouble again! She was seeing it wrong because God’s ways aren’t the ways of man. The Bible records that while she wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba without course and had gone short of water, she left Ishmael in the bush and went to hide her face. She believed this was the end of her son but she didn’t want to watch her die. She cried on her own while the boy also cried of taste.

The Bible says that God harkened to the cry of Ishmael! What a God! When you feel God has rejected you, look, God is smiling at you! When you feel it is all over, God is telling you to watch and see! Many of us aren’t seeing the supply simply because we have allowed our fears to cloud our sight. This was the case of Hagar at that moment. God spoke to Hagar through an Angel saying

“What is wrong, Hagar? Do not be afraid, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he lies. Arise, lift the boy and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” (Genesis 21:17-18)

God had to remind Hagar that He keeps to His promise, she was refreshed and only then was her eyes able to see that she wasn’t running short of water, and there was an abundant supply of water for her! She filled her water bag and also quenched the thirst of her son, Ishmael. They didn’t leave the wilderness, God was with them in the wilderness and Hagar got him a wife from Egypt when he had grown. This was going to build a relationship between Ishmael and Egypt. It was still God’s purpose on course.

God gave Ishmael twelve sons who were going to eventually become many great nations. Fast forward…

Abraham had died; Isaac had given birth to Esau and Jacob whom God later renamed Israel! Israel was God’s chosen nation through whom salvation would be brought on Earth to all men as God has promised Abraham (Genesis 22:18). Previously, God had said to Abraham concerning Israel in Genesis 15:13

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.”

It was part of God’s plan that Israel will be in a foreign land for four hundred years, it was all part of God’s plan to establish Israel as a nation. He said to Abraham

But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterwards they will come out with great possessions… In the fourth generation, your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

You may have to read it slowly at this time. God wanted to use Israel to punish the Amorites for the sins He had seen already that they would commit and God wanted to handover to Israel, the land of Canaan but until it was time, God wanted to preserve, train and discipline the nation of Israel in Egypt and also use them to expose His power in a dimension that has never been known. This is where Ishmael will play the role God has designed that they would play.

Fast forward again!

Jacob who is now Israel had twelve sons, Joseph was his favourite and these sons of Jacob hated Joseph. Just like God used the dislike of Sarah, God was using their hatred to fulfil His purpose. When God wants to do something, He uses every means to achieve it including the display of human wickedness! Joseph would always have a dream and narrate his dreams but these things would only worsen the hatred of his siblings had for him because they were very scared Joseph’s dream would come to pass and he would rule over them as much as he was much younger than most of them.

One day, they had the opportunity to deal with Joseph. Joseph had gone to see them on the instructions of his father but they caught him up and had wanted to kill him. Reuben said to them

“Let’s not kill him, why should we shed any blood? Let’s just throw him into this empty cistern here in the wilderness. Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on him.”

Reuben said this because he planned to save him from that cistern after they were all gone (Genesis 37:22). God planned that they would want to kill him, God planned that Reuben would convince them to leave him to die in the cistern but it was also God’s plan that Joseph won’t be saved from that situation. Why would God allow such a thing happen?

Ishmael had grown into a nomadic nation in present-day Saudi Arabia. They usually traded spices with the Egyptians; they were interchangeably referred to as Midianites or Ishmaelites because of their close relationship with the Midianites. Midianites are descendants of Abraham born by Keturah after Abraham’s death and they lived almost together and possibly intermarried with the Ishmaelites.

It was these Ishmaelites that the brothers of Jacob saw and changed their minds concerning Joseph. If they had left him there, he surely would have died but the Ishmaelites have been preserved by God for this single purpose! Judah said to them

“What will we gain by killing our brother? We’d have to cover up the crime. Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders. After all, he is our brother—our flesh and blood!”

If there have never been these Ishmaelite traders, there would never have been an opportunity to sell Joseph off! That was God’s plan, that at a time like that, Ishmaelites will pass and their sight would change the minds of the brothers of Joseph, to sell him off instead of leaving him at the cistern which would possibly thwart his destiny! If he had been left there, he would either be returned to his father by Reuben or he would have died! Or perhaps, they would have sold him to some other people who weren’t going to Egypt!

It would have been a testimony that Reuben saved Joseph from the cistern and Joseph later became rich in cattle. But, it was a greater and overwhelming testimony that a boy who was sold to slavery and then a prisoner would later rule the centre of civilization in the entire world of then which is Egypt!

How was Joseph’s misfortune instrumental to the plan and purpose of God? Joseph was sold to Potiphar afterwards by the Ishmaelites. You know the story from here; Potiphar’s wife would falsely accuse Joseph after a failed attempt to get him to sleep with her. Potiphar would believe his wife and throw Joseph into the prison from where he would meet another prisoner who would later be released back to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt and through whom he will be introduced to Pharaoh!

Joseph would interpret the King’s mysterious dream concerning a famine and he will find favour and be crowned the highest authority in the land of Egypt after Pharoah. But then, the famine which Joseph talked about was part of God’s plan too! Remember, He said to Abraham

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.”

Using the famine, God took the siblings of Joseph to Egypt in search of where to buy grains. Joseph would later discover them, forgive them and have them move over to Egypt where they would enjoy the benefits that come with his influence. This way, Israel became sojourners in a land that isn’t theirs. Joseph eventually died and the descendants of Israel lost the privileges they had and they became slaves for a period of four hundred years as they await the sins of the Amorites to reach its full measure. Concerning Pharoah and what the Israelites went through in Egypt, God said as reported in Romans 9:17

I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth.”

This single role the Ishmaelites played was going to change the entire course of this world and it was going to make room for the nation of Israel to rise out of nothing, leaving with a massive wealth from Egypt just as Jacob left Laban’s house with almost everything Laban had. God’s fame would spread through the powers He was going to display in the country where civilization began, His fame would spread throughout the earth afterwards! Then the law would come to Israel, defining sin and the need for God’s grace. Finally, God would come in the form of man, Jesus, from the nation of Israel, that anyone who believes in Him shall not perish (as the law had said) but be saved (John 3:16)! In regards to this, the Bible says

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Whatever we see God doing in the Old Testament was never a display of wickedness but a display of love and outplay of His plans to save the world. Love isn’t pampering all the time, it could be harsh at some other times. He showed us through His love for Israel that we are chosen! We saw the punishments associated with breaking His commandments so that we can understand what we are being saved from. The Bible says in Romans 6:6-7

 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin”

Do you see the story of Hagar, the rejection of Ishmael by Sarah, and the bad treatment of Joseph by his brothers? They are all part of God’s great plan for salvation. God is a master planner! If Abraham never sent Ishmael away, they may never have gotten to that wilderness and live there. Joseph would never have been sold to slavery; he might have been killed or taken back to Jacob by Reuben… But, all things were working together for good!

What are you facing? It may also be another big story unfolding for you. If God’s hand is in it, you surely have got great stuff going on in your life! We do know that God doesn’t initiate troubles; He uses them for your good even before they get initiated!

God bless you.