The God Who Sees -- By: L. Daniel Hawk

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 41:0 (NA 2009)
Article: The God Who Sees
Author: L. Daniel Hawk

The God Who Sees

Genesis 16:1–13

L. Daniel Hawk*

One of the remarkable things about the Bible is that it tells the stories of people who generally don’t matter to others. And one of the remarkable things about Bible readers, and particularly Christian ones, is how little attention these stories receive, even though the Christian story is populated by those whom the world esteems not. The story of Hagar is one of the most striking of these stories. For the most part, Hagar has escaped the notice of commentators, who generally view her story as little more than an appendage to the more prominent story of Abraham and Sarah.

I want to bring Hagar’s story front and center as we reflect together on the issue of human trafficking. Hagar is a slave, a person whose identity is shaped by others, whose decisions are made by others, and whose value is determined by others. After a brief introduction, in which she is defined with reference to her mistress Sarai, Hagar moves to the edge of the story. She makes no decisions, and she says nothing. Although the narrator dignifies her by calling her by name, her name is not uttered by Abram or Sarai. To them, she is only “the slave girl” (vv. 2, 5, 6). And she is valuable for only one reason: her sexuality.

In the eyes of Abram and Sarai, Hagar is property; she is an available sexual partner whose purpose is to fulfill the desire of her owners. As the story begins, her owner Sarai wants a baby but cannot have one. Hagar has an available womb. Sarai gives her slave to her man as a sexual partner. And Hagar is silent and compliant as her sexuality is bartered. She has no choice. She cannot refuse. The decision about whom she will give her body to is made for her. The text conveys no sense of love, affection, or intimacy with the old man to whom she is given. Giving her body is all she is good for.

The terse language of the story gives us plenty of space to wander around inside it. We do not know how Hagar, an Egyptian, was sold into slavery. Perhaps she was the child of slaves. Perhaps her parents were impoverished and sold her to this wealthy couple in order to sustain the rest of their family. Perhaps she was kidnapped by ruffians or marauders. Whatever the case, her life was not her own.

Hagar’s story is reflected in the lives of countless millions of human beings in today’s world. The U.S. State Department reports that 14,500 to 17,500 people, primarily women and children, are trafficked just ...

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