Cast Out and Cast Off: Hagar, Leah, and the God Who Sees -- By: L. Daniel Hawk

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 25:1 (Winter 2011)
Article: Cast Out and Cast Off: Hagar, Leah, and the God Who Sees
Author: L. Daniel Hawk

Cast Out and Cast Off: Hagar, Leah, and the God Who Sees

L. Daniel Hawk

L. Daniel Hawk, Ph.D., is Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio, and a minister in the United Methodist Church. He is particularly interested in the ways that biblical narratives construct and contest identity. His most recent book, Joshua in 3-D: A Commentary on Biblical Conquest and Manifest Destiny (Eugene, Ore.: Cascade, 2010), draws connections between Israel’s narrative of conquest and America’s national mythology.


The patriarchal narratives of Genesis have long been read as paradigms of divine/human relationships. Abraham is often viewed as the exemplar of life in relationship with God, the man who follows God’s initiative, believes God’s promises, and is declared righteous as a result (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:1-25). Abraham’s departure from Haran can be read as “a paradigmatic test of faith,” while subsequent interactions with the Lord display “the human attitude toward the proffered salvation” that presents “in an exemplary and vivid fashion the activity and passivity of the person called.”1 Isaac and Jacob demonstrate, in different ways, God’s ability and faithfulness to continue and protect divine promises in the face of various challenges and detours. Jacob is “a work in progress—another of God’s reclamation projects” who “has done nothing to deserve God’s attention” but who nevertheless receives God’s presence and comfort.2

The stories of the matriarchs, on the other hand, have generally been viewed as ancillary to or dependent on the patriarchal narratives.3 Conventional interpretation sees Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel as agents who play important yet marginal roles in the Genesis story, primarily through bearing sons. Yet, the biblical narrative often conveys its most powerful truths through stories that arise in counterpoint to those that carry the main plot. This is true particularly of the stories of the matriarchs. At key junctures in Genesis, women emerge as the subjects of their own stories, inviting readers into the lives of those who do not occupy center stage in the overall narrative.

While it is true that the stories of women are not prominent in Genesis, this does not mean that the stories are any less significant or exemplary. Rather, women’s stories—and particularly those of the ancestral mothers—subtly destabilize the symbolic infrastructure of patriarchy by challen...

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