Whose Side is God On?

This true story says it best…

Pregnant. Battered. Alone. The woman was running away, but to what? Her whole life she had been controlled by others. Sold into slavery as a girl. Carried off to a foreign country by strange owners. Forced to have sex with an already-married man. Bearing his child, but only to have to give it over at birth. Now violently humiliated by his jealous wife. She couldn’t take it anymore; she had to escape. But she had nowhere to go, no one to help her.

As the miles dragged on, her mind whirred towards the future. Who was she anyway? She was a possession, her identity completely bound up in those who owned her. Apart from them, she was just a runaway slave, the baby within her a bastard child. What future could she possibly hope for? What would become of her, of this child within her? Frazzled and shaken, she pulled off the road into a rest area.

A soothing creek ran undisturbed by the side of the road, its peaceful gurgle a welcome relief from the turmoil in her soul. She sat down to rest in solitude. But she had not gone unnoticed.

“Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”
Genesis 16:8

Her heart plunged into her stomach. She had been seen! Who had come all this way in search of her? An angel! She should have known better. Abraham and Sarai were important people, very special to their God. She was carrying their baby; she herself was their property. Of course He would never let her get away with running away from them. He was on their side. He was here to protect their best interests. Was there no one out there to protect hers?

Broken and helpless, Hagar didn’t even try to resist.

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai.”

Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”
Genesis 16:8-9

Naturally, God was on their side. They were the righteous ones; she was the one who was out of line. After all, she was the one who had let her pregnancy go to her head. She was just a little slave girl who had gotten cheeky with her mistress, thinking that perhaps now that she was carrying Abraham’s child she should be treated with a little more respect. Who had she been fooling, thinking that she deserved to be treated better? God would probably say that she had brought Sarai’s abuse on herself with her uppity attitude. God had made her their slave, and God was here to make sure she stayed in her place. Hagar resigned herself to her fate. Who could argue with God?

God was not there to condone her leaders’ actions. He was there because she had been wronged.

But the angel wasn’t finished. God was not there to condone her leaders’ actions. They may be His chosen people, but that did not give them the right to treat her the way they had. She, too, was His creature, made in His image and loved by Him. He was there because He had noticed her plight. He had seen her misery, and He was moved to act on her behalf.

The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.”
Genesis 16:10

Had Abraham and Sarai’s God just promised a future for her? Her descendants? This was the kind of promise that He made to important people like them, not to insignificant slave girls like herself. This must just be an extension of the covenant God had already made with Abraham. It couldn’t be meant for her, personally.

The angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”
Genesis 16:11-12

Incredible! God was doing this for her. He was making this promise to her, speaking directly to her with the same honor and dignity that He would later bestow on Hannah and Mary, the maidservants of the LORD. A promised son, named in advance by God. Prophecies about his future, his significance, his role.

Why would the God of her abusers do such a great thing for her? Was she really so valuable to Him that He would stand up for her and make restitution for the wrongs she had endured? But He had promised He would. He had seen her. He had come near to her and honored her with this rare glimpse of Himself. Hagar responded in faith.

She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
Genesis 16:13

13 thoughts on “Whose Side is God On?”

  1. I wasn’t expecting to be hit with Hagar; well done! With God there is no partiality, and it is in the thick of things that this is best demonstrated. The partiality comes from us, and only us. Sometimes we try to blame God for it, but that is a lie.

    1. You are right about God’s impartiality. But when people are mistreated, especially at the hands of those who call themselves Christians, it is really hard not to fall for the lie that they deserve it or that God is siding with their abusers against them.

      1. I have a friend who is in precisely the place you describe with regard to injustice and being falsely accused. People can believe he’d do the thing he was accused of, so they assume he has and that justice has been done. Christians are so quick to forget the lessons of Job and the tower which fell and killed a bunch of people! If enough people believe this, even the innocent start feeling as if they’re guilty.

      2. Add to that the deep sense of shame that comes along with being rejected and looked down on, and you have a perfect storm. I wrote this thinking of the many people I know who have experienced varied degrees of abuse, including spiritual abuse. I think God included these kinds of stories in the Bible (including the very relevant ones which you point out) with abused people in mind.

      3. Oh, this friend of mine has a debilitating sense of shame. I’m not sure how to help him reject it, as Jesus despised the shame he got. 😦

        Perhaps the most ironic thing is that the kind of people we’re talking about have the best chance of understanding what’s wrong with society as it currently works. The system is terribly stable: just blame the people who are having a rough time and then nobody will listen to them!

      4. I’m not surprised. I wrote a whole book on shame, attempting to develop a healing theology of shame, especially in the aftermath of abuse. As I examined the stories of shamed people throughout the Bible, I was deeply moved by God’s understanding of their shame and His proactive, wise ways of healing it. In summary, I think shame is the experience of losing our “glory” before the eyes of God and others. The only way out of it is through loving relationships which restore our sense of dignity and worth. I’m glad your friend has you to incarnate for him the truth of who he is to God.

      5. That’s remarkably similar to what he has said, albeit much more darkly. He says he knows what some of the school shooters are thinking, as is exemplified in what was made into a film, Bang Bang You’re Dead: folks who abuse them take away their ‘name’, and the only way to get it back is by making a big splash, saying, “Hey, I was a person and will be again, even if I have to expend my life to say so!” I’ll bet ‘name’ = ‘glory’.

        I tried to find the book you mention; what’s it called?

  2. Awesome post. Yes, we see stories of abuse throughout the Bible… and God watches over every victim and calls them by name. Thanks for commenting on my post so I could find yours about Hagar.

    The part of Hagar’s story that always amazed me is the cycle of abuse that continued from then to now that has never been broken. “… He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” Genesis 16:12 When we consider Hagar’s descendants, we see that much of what goes on in the world today is part of God’s ultimate plan. Though we may not understand, we know that God is in control..
    Thanks again and many blessings to you Tiffany!

    1. His plan and His ways baffle me, too. I see bits and pieces of what He has revealed, and wonder how He is fitting them all together to bring about His good purposes. What I love is that He never has to lay aside one person’s good in order to accomplish another’s. He manages to uphold His justice and His compassion at the same time. Wish I could figure out how to do that!

      1. I totally agree. I guess as we just keep our eyes on Him, and not this world, we will become more Christ-like and understand more. The word that came to me as I read your comment is GRACE…. His Grace is sufficient for all. We serve an Awesome God. I pray that more will realize this and turn their hearts to Him. Thanks for your encouraging words and support Tiffany.

      2. I see bits and pieces of what He has revealed, and wonder how He is fitting them all together to bring about His good purposes.

        Maybe if we all team up and share the bits and pieces each of us understands, we can understand more and more of the intricate details of how God works. 🙂 This does, however, require trusting each other and trying to understand each other, and not insisting that my way to understand things is the only valid way. (see Rom 14)

        I’m quite serious: I wish Christians would engage in this kind of ‘research’ with diligence and zeal. I actually think this is what verses like Phil 1:9-11 are calling us to do. No matter how much we know about God and how he does things, there is more to understand. Is 55:6-9 is often misquoted, as if God’s ways are permanently above ours. No; in context, God wants us to learn his ways! While he may be unfathomable, that does not mean we cannot fathom him more and more deeply. 😀

      3. Luke,
        I can’t tell you how much I enjoy your comments. They reflect a deep knowledge of God’s Word and an equally deep humility before Him. I agree with you, both that God wants us to be like little children perpetually on a treasure hunt to discover who He is and how He works, and that He intends us to do that in community with each other. Living in multiple cultural contexts has convinced me of that all the more. Each new cultural lens that I acquire, each new set of experiences that He takes me through, and each new community of believers which whom I associate opens my eyes to new aspects of His ways. Thanks for being one of those!

      4. 🙂 It sounds like you might be particularly well-suited to explain in detail why Paul writes what he writes in 1 Cor 12 (if not the spiritual gifts part, definitely the body of Christ part). It sounds like you could give a non-trivial answer to my Hermeneutics.SE question, 1 Cor 12:22-25 — ‘weaker’? ‘less honorable’? ‘unpresentable’? I’ve been cooking on that question for a while, now.

        So many Christians don’t think the Bible really and truly makes deep contact with reality. It does! It just takes personal sacrifice to see this. Most people don’t seem to want to do this, or don’t know how. But I think we’re all given enough hints to make progress, even if some are given one talent and others, ten. Alas, people like you and I can give others examples to follow and improve upon. We must build up, not tear down, unless that tearing down is absolutely necessary to build up.

        Here’s a fun question: how many people do you know who bring truth to the second half of Prov 9:8, “reprove a wise man, and he will love you.”? I strive to be that wise man. Sadly, I have met so few of them. 😦 So many people are just defensive, defensive, defensive. I know that much of this is due to insecurity and those people never having had a truly safe environment, free from judgment but full of encouragement and yes, rebuke that leads to healing and growth, a la Gal 6:1-5.

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