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Reform Magazine | December 7, 2023

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Chapter & verse: Genesis 16:11

Chapter & verse: Genesis 16:11

Tessa Henry-Robinson explores Hagar’s fear and misery

I am advancing a womanist biblical treatment of Genesis 16:11, considering Hagar’s move from enslaved woman, to surrogate mother, to exile, which God’s angel refers to as Hagar’s ‘misery’. This suggests to me that God disapproved of the treatment meted out to Hagar who I view as the very definition of patience, dignity and trust in God in the face of misery. It is in the naming of her son that Hagar learns of the God who hears, because God has heard of her misery. In her impatience to give Abraham an heir, Sarah overlooked God’s promise of a child to her, and successfully coerced Abraham into sleeping with Hagar. Together Hagar and Abraham produced Ishmael, who was later banished from the household alongside his mother Hagar, because Sarah saw him laughing at/with her son Isaac.

In Hagar’s positioning in the lives of Sarah and Abraham, there is fear – the imposition of fear, and felt fear. Sarah’s exercise of power, her longing to bear a child and her determination to stake a claim on a fertile matriarchy renders Hagar unable to exercise her authentic selfhood. The slaver/oppressor who recognises but fears the strength of the enslaved imposes fear to undermine their strength and cause misery (usually by violent means). Human beings take comfort in laying our fears aside and in Isaiah 33:6 we hear that ‘the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure’ which is ‘a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge’. But we need to discern the difference between fear in its own sense and fear of the Lord…

Tessa Henry-Robinson is Moderator-Elect of the United Reformed Church General Assembly


This is an extract from an article published in the September 2022 edition of Reform

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