Imagine the story from Hagar’s perspective.
We always tell the wife’s story but what about the other woman? What is the story of being the other woman?
We’ve all had an encounter with the other woman. Maybe we met her because she was party to a forbidden fling that changed our lives. Maybe she’s a friend who confessed tawdry tales of her storied past. Maybe she is you.
The Story of Being the Other Woman
In any case, we don’t usually have much sympathy for her. She is the other woman. A seductress. Hide your husband; hide your boyfriend. Hide anyone you might have ever thought of being remotely interested in.
And then we find Hagar. The other woman. We don’t get a lot of details on the front end of the story. We just know that she’s working as a servant for Sarai.
Sarai’s struggling to get pregnant. Seems modern-day problems are similar to ancient problems.
While every baby is a unique and special snowflake, Sarai and Abram had been promised by God that they’d have a child. An heir. Someone to carry on the family name. God has promised Abram that he will become a great nation through his descendants. So they wait. They try to get pregnant by doing the things that grown folks do, and they wait.
Her Time Has Passed
However, each month brings the disappointment of Sarai’s monthly cramps and then her cycle. Each month Sarai finds herself unclean in the women’s tent, reminded of her inability to get pregnant.
Finally, one month she notices that she’s missed her monthly cycle. She is getting up in age. She notices other tell-tale signs she’s heard the older women talk about. Her heart sinks. Her time to have a child has passed.
Her mind begins to race: How must Abram, her husband feel? What shame must he be carrying in the community with no son to call his own? No one to carry his name.
When the other men speak of the cheeky things, accomplishments and firsts of their children, Sarai knows Abram sits in silence. Silent questions. Silent disappointment. Silent resignation. Silence. Vocally celebrating the births of his friends’ sons. Vocally reassuring his wife. Vocally remaining steadfast as the man of the house. Silently suffering.
So when Sarai made the proposition to him, he didn’t know whether to speak or remain silent, but this isn’t Abram’s story or Sarai’s story. Unusually, it’s the story of being the other woman.
Unlike most love triangles, this one was initiated by Sarai, the wife. Frustrated at her inability to have a child, she offered Hagar, her servant, to her husband. Yup, you read that right. She offered her servant to her husband. This is no seedy romance novel with a bronzed, sculpted body on the cover. This is the Bible, and the arrangement with Hagar was an ancient surrogacy service. I’m unsure how Abram reacted, but we know he went along because later, Hagar is pregnant.
And this is where the script flips. This is where the power shifts. Hagar goes from being a silent powerless women in the story to gaining confidence, power and control. She suddenly has a voice. She’s satisfying Sarai’s man in a way that alludes Sarai. She’s having Abram’s baby. She’s fulfilling her purpose as a woman.
A Woman’s Worth
When she was just Sarai’s servant, who knew if she would have ever had the opportunity to have a child – to be the woman that she was designed to be. So she does what many women would have done in this situation. She gloats. She flaunts. She now knows her value and self-worth in this family. And though this was Sarai’s idea, it doesn’t quite play out as she imagined. Sarai is miserable at this young thing carrying her husband’s baby. While Hagar could be controlled when she had nothing to offer, she can hardly be endured now that she’s pregnant.
And once again, I feel my sympathy gravitating towards Sarai, but strangely enough, this isn’t her story. This is the story of being the other woman. As an Egyptian servant in the house of this wealthy and powerful, foreign-born family, perhaps Hagar had never found her place. Perhaps she never felt part of this family. Perhaps the idea of this baby has finally given her life meaning.
Sarai’s furious. I imagine Hagar starting off being as quiet as a church mouse and then morphing into a New York city alley rat – bold, unnerved and ferocious. It’s the story of being the other woman.
The Other Woman
Even though Sarai was desperate for this child, she feels disrespected in her own home. So she lashes out. She lets out all of her fury, for this situation and the anger of not getting pregnant herself. The abuse, the name-calling and the physical pain causes Hagar to quickly grab a few things and run out the house. She runs. And she runs. And she runs.
Living in suburbia, it’s hard to imagine someone running and running and running and running far enough to finally end up in the wilderness. All I can compare it to is leaving my house, running and running and running and finally ending up in the middle of the Aussie bush or the American forest or into the middle of a paddock or a field or the jungle. Alone, by myself, surrounded by nature.
And this is where the story gets good. Just when the story should get really, really bad, it gets good. Similar to the promise God gave Abram years before, he gives one to Hagar: your descendants will be great. So great you won’t be able to count them.
Genesis 16:11 says, “Yes, you are pregnant and your baby will be a son, and you are to name him. Ishmael (‘God hears’), because God has heard your woes.” Hagar is so grateful to be seen. Hagar, who is on this roller coaster of value, no value, and value again, is so grateful to be heard. Hagar feels valued, not for what she has done nor her ability to get pregnant. She feels valued because God has infinite value. And if God, who has infinite value, takes the time to see her and to hear her, she must be valuable in God’s eyes.
The God Who Sees
After her encounter with God, after being assured that she has value in His eyes, she calls Him “You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees. And yet it doesn’t change her position in life as the other woman.
There’s no happily ever after, as we would see it in fairy tales. Hagar doesn’t walk off with Abram. In the end, God fulfils his promise through Sarai, just like He said He would. The beauty in the story is that God finds value in the other women. Though she didn’t deliberately inject herself into Sarai and Abram’s relationship, once there, she made herself unbearable. Even still, God found worth in her.
This is the story of being the other woman. What’s your story? Where in your story can God find value where others can’t? While you may look at the other woman and think, I have nothing in common with her, where in your life are you unbearable to those around you? Where are you going to any lengths, doing anything asked of you, no matter the cost, to finally feel a sense of value and self worth? Where are you finding your value in getting those around you to see you instead knowing God has seen you from the beginning of time?
It’s in these moments of realisation that your story gets good. Just when the story should get really, really bad, it gets good. Because God, who has infinite value, takes the time to see you and to hear you, you must be valuable in God’s eyes.