For the past few chapters of Genesis it would seem that Abraham is God’s main focus. God cares about him, has given him a promise, and we’re reading about how Abraham doubts and believes God over the course of time. In that we could make the mistake of thinking that God only really cares about Abraham and his line. There isn’t really room for anyone outside of that. As we look at Genesis 16:7-16 that idea seems to be challenged. While there may be a focus on Abraham and his promised heir, those outside of the promise are not unimportant.
This can be seen in the events that follow Hagar’s escape from Sarah’s mistreatment. Hagar has left, there seems to be no indication that anyone was really seeking to change any of these events. Hagar was running away and nobody was seeking to have her return. Walter Brueggemann puts it this way:
It shows that all parties- Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael-would have left well enough alone. All parties except for God! It is God who reopens the issue.
While I’m not sure why Brueggemann included Ishmael here, I mean he’s not even born yet, his point stands. It is only God who intervenes in this situation. At first, if we weren’t aware of how the story turns out, it may seem that the child Hagar is carrying is the promised heir for Abraham. That would explain why God decided to go after her, but by the end of the chapter we really don’t get that feeling particularly with Genesis 16:12.
So we’re left with a strange situation. Hagar and her son are not part of the promise to Abraham, yet God is still seeking her out. God cares enough about this Egyptian servant woman to speak to her and even bless her, even if the blessing is a bit more mixed than the one directed to Abraham and his proper heir. It would seem a rather unexpected thing.
The blessing that is given to Hagar is that she shall have numerous descendants, which is similar to part of the blessing given to Abraham. She is also told that she will give birth to a son, that his name will be Ishmael, and that he will be in conflict often and either that he will be hostile towards his brothers, or that he will live to the east of his brothers, which could be an indicator that he will not be the recipient of the promised land and will live outside it.
Even with this mixed blessing, Hagar seems to be pleased to be seen by the Lord in her plight. She returns and gives birth to Abraham’s son Ishmael and that’s all for now. It’s a rather abrupt ending to this little aside, and to be honest I’m not sure what to make of it.
I do believe that it does show that God is interested in and shows compassion to those even outside of the “promised” line. At the same time I don’t think you can develop that too strongly simply from this passage. Yes, God comes to Hagar and makes her return to Sarah and Abraham, but we have little reason given as to why. Is it for Hagar’s good because she is trying to travel on her own while pregnant? Is it for Abraham’s sake because Hagar still carries his son? The section seems rather focused on Hagar, but gives us little detail as to why.
At the end even if we’re given very few details involved in the story it appears that God cares even about those who are outside of the promise. The focus so often may be on Abraham here, but God is even willing to appear to Hagar and bless her. The messes our decisions create can cause real harm to the people around us. While we often may be focused on who is in, or who is out. I think this incident presents that maybe God cares about more people than we would like to realize.