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Sunday, May 08, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Hagar

This is part of a series on prayers in the Bible. For the previous entry, see here.

This being Mother's Day in the U. S., I decided to look for the first prayer, by a mother, in the Bible. I was surprised at the mother I found. Hagar. And, I must disclose that the Bible doesn't really say that Hagar prayed. It does imply it. She got answers.

Probably there were other women, before Hagar, who prayed to God. But the stories of the patriarchs are mostly about the men, not the women, and there is not much description of praying even by the men, in Genesis. In fact, even of the men who must have been closest to God, we are seldom told specifically that they prayed. Joseph, for example, said that God showed him how to interpret Pharaoh's dreams, but we are not told that he prayed that he would be shown the answer.

According to Genesis 16, Hagar was an Egyptian servant, or slave, of Abraham and Sarah. Sarah decided, since she wasn't getting pregnant, that Abraham should have a child by Hagar. As far as we know, this wasn't Hagar's idea, or Abraham's, but they went along with it. Then, when Hagar became pregnant, there was serious friction between Sarah and Hagar, perhaps mostly Hagar's fault. So Hagar ran away. An angel appeared to her, told her that she would have a son, Ishmael, and to go back and submit to Sarah. Hagar evidently had some sort of relationship with God, at this point (perhaps before this) because she acknowledged that God had spoken to her. She went back to serve Sarah.

In Genesis 21, we read that, after the birth of Isaac, Abraham sent Ishmael and Hagar away, because Sarah demanded this. Abraham, we are told, didn't like it. (Paul, in Galatians 4, uses this story to illustrate the difference between the two Covenants.) Off they went into the wilderness, and Hagar thought that they were going to die of thirst. The Bible doesn't say that she prayed, but it does say that God answered her desire that her son wouldn't die, and Ishmael's crying, and showed her a source of water. Hagar was able to raise Ishmael, and, eventually, as God had promised his father, he became an important tribal chief.

Did Hagar pray that her son would be preserved? I'm not absolutely sure. But it would make sense that a mother deeply concerned about her child, who had already had at least one experience in communicating with God, would seek to do so again. The word, pray, in the sense of praying to God, is absent from the Bible until Genesis 20. Presumably people, such as Noah and Enoch, did pray, but for some reason that is not specifically indicated in the Bible. This makes it more plausible that Hagar may have.

We don't know what happened to Hagar after this. We do know that she at least lived long enough to get a wife for Ishmael. Perhaps she died soon after that. Perhaps she was married. We are not told. But mothers love their children, and want the best for them. I suspect that Hagar did pray on this occasion. Whether she did or not, she was answered.

Thanks for reading. Happy Mother's Day!

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