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Hagar, Sarai's Handmaid (Genesis 16 And 21).

The application of the teaching of Holy Scripture affords instruction in regard to our personal lives, to the end that we might know divine guidance and help in all circumstances. Like the glistening jewel that sparkles with various colours, Scripture affords more than one line of teaching in its application. An instance of this is seen in the story of Hagar, Sarai's handmaid.

In its primary application it affords delightful instruction regarding the "end of the law." Paul takes up the narrative in the Galatian epistle and corrects the error into which the Galatians had fallen. They were seeking to establish a righteousness of their own by fulfilling the ordinances of the law, particularly so in regard to circumcision. While we do not find any today who would suggest that circumcision is necessary for the believer, yet there are some who judge that salvation depends on faith in Christ and law-keeping together. Paul points out the error 9f this idea by the lesson of the casting out of Hagar which clearly shows that law and grace have no place together. It would appear that Hagar had proved a satisfactory handmaid to Sarai. 11cr son had become established in the household so that Abraham said to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee! " However, God had a different purpose in view and said,

In Isaac shall thy seed be called." The time came when Hagar and her son must leave. There is no place for Hagar and Ishmael with Sarah and Isaac. "Cast out the bondwoman and her son" is the divine principle. The law given at Sinai, was a good law, but its ceremonial ordinances find no place in this day of grace. As to the ceremonial side of the law, Christ is the substance which cast its shadow on the sacrifices and ceremonies of the law. " Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to everyone that believeth," that is, He was the issue that was in view, for there could be no salvation for man in law-keeping, for man could not love God with his whole being and his neighbour as himself.

We do well to have regard, however, to the words of the Lord Jesus regarding the moral law. He says repeatedly, Ye have heard that it was said ... , but I say unto you ... " (see Matthew 5). In each of the matters mentioned in Matthew the standard the Lord Jesus sets for His disciples is far higher than that set for the people of the Old Covenant. Let us seek to grasp this and to endeavour to maintain the standard set, to the end that we might be found as hearers and doers of the word. Thus we shall be found building on the Rock. We suggest that there are lessons, other than those presented in Galatians 4, which may be culled from the personal experiences of Hagar, which will help us to a better understanding of personal dealings with God. Those who would walk in fellowship with God need a personal knowledge of God. We gain this personal knowledge by experience of constant dealings with God, and oft-times it is in periods of personal sorrow and trials that we learn precious lessons which enable us to enjoy deeper and sweeter fellowship with God.

Hagar is brought first to our notice when Sarai gave her to Abram. To appreciate the significance of Sarai's action we need to view it with due regard to the outlook and practices of Sarai's generation. The history of Jacob shows how his wives regarded this matter. While we do not justify Sarai, yet we can appreciate that in her own view she was honouring Hagar from the merely human standpoint. The honour conferred and its consequences caused an attitude on the part of Hagar that was unwelcome to Sarai. Hagar despised Sarai, and she, being told by Abram to do to her what was good in her eyes, dealt hardly with Hagar. Viewing the matter from Hagar's standpoint we can be sympathetic towards her. Her physical condition might well have been trying and the attitude of Sarai made life almost intolerable for her. The root cause of the matter lay in Hagar herself. She had become proud and her conduct provoked Sarai. The effect of carnal acts ever leads to trouble.

Here is a lesson we do well to learn. How often we may judge we are dealt with in a hard manner! Yet if we searched our hearts we might find that it was the result of our own attitude. Paul gives us a clear indication how our conduct should affect others when he speaks of "provoking one another unto love and good works." Oh, that this were more manifest! Our relationship with one another would be far sweeter. How careful should we be to consider the effect upon others of what we do and say! Then we should find their attitude to us reflecting ours to them.

The strain of the domestic atmosphere ultimately proved too much for Hagar and she ran away. In self-will she left the camp of Abram and found herself alone and desolate. It is thus we find her at the fountain of water. In wondrous grace the God of heaven draws near to this lonely soul and says to her, "Hagar, Sarai's handmaid, whence camest thou ? and whither goest thou ? " The first question found an obvious answer, but the second only brought from her the words " I flee." As we seek to enter into the thoughts of her heart at that time we are again afforded profitable lessons. We all pass through times of trial and difficulty. Indeed these experiences are for our profit. How do we respond at such times? Do we seek to flee from our problems? Or do we look to God for His enabling grace? We should have a greater knowledge of God than Hagar, and we have the benefit of the record of her experience. Let us remember Hagar and the questions put to her. We might well be able to state where we came from, but WHERE can we go? We shall be as Hagar was when the LORD drew near, she had no objective. The Lord's disciples were asked a somewhat similar question " Would ye also go away? Mark well Peter's reply, "To whom can we go ?

The LORD's instruction to Hagar was simple and plain, "Return... and submit." God's commandments are associated with promises, and to Hagar He gave the assurance of a child with a future. She humbled herself and returned to the camp, enabled, we judge by divine grace. As we consider the period of happiness that followed the birth of Ishmael we can recall the word, "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted."

The name given for her son, "Ishmael," God heareth, and the Name she ascribed to God, "El roi" (God that seeth), sum up her experience at the fountain of water. She could now rest in these sublime truths. She knew a hearing and a seeing God, a God that was at hand as well as afar off. Has this fact been appreciated by the reader? Beloved child of God, may you know in the periods of trial and difficulty that are common to all, the experience that Hagar knew! It can be yours, for we have the promise, "Draw nigh unto God, and He will draw nigh unto you." Then you will likewise know the enabling grace that Hagar knew, grace that afforded her strength to face Sarai from whom she had but lately fled. It would seem that the very name of her son would bring comfort, and she would rejoice in a hearing God.

"That were a grief I could not bear,

Didst Thou not hear and answer prayer,

But a prayer-hearing, answering God

Supports me under every load."

The years moved on, and Ishmael grew. He seemed to find a place in the affections of his aged father's heart. As we have already mentioned, Abraham would have been content if God's promises were to be centred in him. This was contrary to God's purpose. Like Abraham we might have thoughts that appear good to us. Our outlook is limited to the extent of our knowledge. Has not God said, "My thoughts are not your thoughts"? We might plan and scheme, hoping that God will work in accordance with our ideas, whereas it might be that God has higher purposes altogether. Let us ever seek grace to yield to the will of God, for

"ALL is right that seems most wrong, if, Lord, it be Thy will."

The time came when, according to the word of the LORD, Hagar and Ishmael were sent away. Human intelligence would judge it a hard action. Indeed after Sarah demanded it Abraham waited until he had the mind of God in the matter. We do well to wait until we are clear as to God's will in any matter, but when God has made His will manifest then let us not hesitate to act, however hard the action we have to take, may appear. Providing we have the word of God for it, we can be assured that it will be the right and best action to take. We judge there would have been an end to domestic bliss had Abraham not thus acted. As we consider this action of Abraham we are led to return in thought again to the purposes of God. God was overruling for our instruction in regard to law and grace. "How unsearchable are His judgements, and His ways past tracing out!" In wondrous grace, God gave to Abraham the assurance that all would be well for Hagar and Ishmael, "Of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation." No harm ever comes from carrying out divine instructions.

As we come to the close of the narrative we find that once again Hagar is in lonely distress. We can enter sympathetically into her feelings as the water is spent and all hope seems lost. It is not only the grief of the lonely woman now, there is the added sorrow of the mother. We contemplate the sobs of the broken-hearted woman and our hearts beat in sympathy. Yet let us remember, what she appears to have forgotten, the name of the lad ISHMAEL, God hears, yes, and God sees. God was listening to all the sobbing. He knew all that had happened, and once again He drew near. How often we are found like Hagar, forgetting the experiences of the help God has afforded in the past! The God of all grace does not restrain His hand because of this in Hagar's case. How sweet the call, "What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is!" Then God opened her eyes to show her the fountain of water. It is possible that some reader might be in distress even as these pages are read. If so, can you recall your past experience of divine help and raise an EBENEZER? "Hitherto hath the LORD helped us." Look again to Him. If there seems no apparent source of hope or happiness, let Him open your eyes even as He opened Hagar's. God has not forgotten to be gracious, and He will show you a "WELL" where all your present need can be supplied.

The close of the narrative finds Hagar with her son and daughter-in-law. She passes from the pages of the divine record and we have no further information regarding her life or her death. We can be profited, however, by what we do know of her experiences. Let us ponder them and find in them comfort and encouragement. The God that drew near to Hagar, in her times of deep distress, changes not and delights to draw near to us all in our trying circumstances. "I Jehovah change not." Ishmael, God hears. El roi, God sees.