Our Reading takes place in the story of Abram and Sarai, later known as Abraham and Sarah. They were waiting for the promise of the Lord to be fulfilled that they would bear a son. Sarai came up with a plan to have Abram take her maidservant Hagar as a second wife. Then a child could be born to Abram. So Hagar became pregnant.
Hagar did what many people might do: She became proud. She despised her mistress, Sarai. Hagar judged Sarai to be small in her eyes.
This is what the Fourth Commandment talks about. We are not to despise our parents and other authorities. This is a sin in the Lord’s sight. When He sets someone in authority over us, we are to treat them with respect and honor. We are not to belittle them or treat them with scorn.
In America, we have free speech. Many seem to take this as permission to break the Fourth Commandment. People are liable to say almost anything about those in government, with little or no restraint on their tongues. This is not to say that we must approve of everything that the government does. Yet we should only criticize if we still allow them the honor that is their due.
The same happens in families. A child who treats his parents with respect is rare these days. May our Christian homes be better, and bring repentance when it is not.
Hagar had a mistress, that is to say, Sarai was in authority over her. They were both wives of Abram, yet Sarai was in charge of Hagar as her slave. There are several relationship here that are foreign to our experience, yet the main idea should be the same. Respect and honor those in authority. Hagar was sinning by treating Sarai with scorn.
When Sarai began to discipline Hagar, Hagar did not tolerate it for long. Why should she put up with this from Sarai? After all, Hagar had the child of promise (or so she surely thought). Hagar had received a sign of the Lord’s favor when she conceived a son, which Sarai was still unable to do. Why should Hagar tolerate this harsh treatment?
So Hagar left. She abandoned her mistress and ran away into the wilderness. By so doing, she was disobeying her mistress, adding that to her sin of insolent disrespect.
She is met in the wilderness by the Angel of the Lord. He says, “Hagar, Sarai’s maidservant, where have you come from, and where are you going?” Right away, Hagar seems to recognize that this is no ordinary person. We are not told what the Angel looked like, although almost always such appearances are in the form of an ordinary man. But He knows her name, and the name of her mistress.
Perhaps Hagar connected the dots. She had surely heard Abram speak about his God. Did she recognize that this was a representative of the Lord?
In any case, she is startled into a sudden confession. “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress.” If you are an escaped slave, the one thing you do not want to do is say that you are an escaped slave. But Hagar opens right up and admits it. What might happen next? The man might return her to her mistress, or steal her for his own, or even kill her.
What is she doing? She is repenting. She admits her sin. She makes no excuse. She just owns up.
May we repent this way. We would rather hide our sins. We would rather keep them to ourselves and it is nobody’s business but our own. This likely means sweeping things under the rug, concealing and possibly lying and compounding our sin with more sins.
The Lord wants us to quickly repent. He has even given us private confession where we can admit to a man our sins. “But my sins are not his business!” we might say. No, they are not. But he is not there on his own. He is a representative for God. God already knows your sins, so He does not need your confession. But He plops a man in your midst to speak for Him because He wants to speak graciously to you.
The Person who met Hagar is also gracious. This is a representative of the true God. He might have come to give Hagar the punishment that her sins deserved. Instead, He brought kindness and gentleness. He gives a message of command, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.” But no punishment. Indeed, the Angel adds a blessing that her child would have a multitude of descendants.
So the Lord heard her affliction. He was moved with tender mercy toward her. He sent His Angel to give her a message of comfort.
Now, Angel means “messenger”. This messenger is very special. This is not merely a created angel. This was the one and only unique Angel of Yahweh.
When He gave the promise to Hagar regarding her son, He said, “I will multiply your descendants.” He did not say, “The Lord will multiply your descendants.” We might think that the Angel was speaking for the Lord. But if so, surely He would have said, “The Lord says, ‘I will multiply.’”
Further evidence that this is no created angel comes from what Hagar says. “Truly I have here seen Him who sees me.” The text of Genesis says, “She called the name of the Lord who spoke to her.” Hagar and the writer Moses agree. This was the Angel of Yahweh who IS Yahweh. Moses also met Him at the burning bush.
He is separate from God, yet is God. This is the Son of God before He became Man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. This is the eternal only-begotten of the Father who in the fullness of time was born in human flesh.
This sets some of the story in a new light. When the Angel who is Yahweh says to Hagar, “Behold you are pregnant and shall bear a son and shall call his name ...”, these words are so familiar that we almost expect Him to say, “call his name Immanuel” or “Jesus”. But no, this is only Ishmael, blessed by Yahweh but not the child of promise. The child of promise was Isaac, still to come, yet even Isaac pointed to the even greater Child of promise, prophesied even in the Garden of Eden.
Here before Hagar stood the one who would one day be the Child of promise, to end all sin and defeat death and crush the serpent’s head. What grace, that Hagar received her blessing from the lips of Him! How awesome, that she who is not even one of the mothers in His lineage meets and hears Him face to face.
Why? Purely out of undeserved grace. Truly He delights in mothers and babies and desires none of them lost. After all, He did not scorn the Virgin’s womb. He created the wonderful relationship of mother and child, and He participated in it at the fullness of time in Nazareth and Bethlehem, conception and birth.
This same Angel of Yahweh graciously speaks to you. He speaks through a man who is not noteworthy or great. There is no appearance of the glory of Yahweh here. Yet the Word is His. The blessing and absolution are His. When I give you the Benediction, not I but Yahweh speaks. Do not miss His blessing, because it tells you His heart toward you. Then you can say, “The Lord sees me and takes care of me and hears my afflictions.” He willingly suffered greater afflictions than yours to fulfill and demonstrate His love for you.
Therefore, do not fail to repent of your sins, since He is gracious. Do not try to flee from His presence, but willingly accept the gifts He loves to give you.
In His Name, above all names. Amen.
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