There are two big concepts in scripture that we focus on at church. The Abrahamic covenant and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I would like to focus on two scriptural stories that discuss these concepts and what we can learn about the nature of God from these stories. The first is the story of Hagar in the desert, and the second is the story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb of Jesus.
God made the following covenant with Abraham:
And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.At church, the common interpretation of this promise is fulfilled through Isaac and then through Jacob and his sons, and then to all of us as followers of Christ who have been adopted into the house of Israel. I don't disagree with this interpretation; it's beautifully universal in that anyone who accepts the gospel becomes a partaker of this covenant.
And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.
However, I think there is more to be learned. Later in the story, after the birth of Isaac, Abraham casts Hagar and Ishmael into the desert. The desert is a harsh place, and they eventually ran out of water. Ishmael was near death, and Hagar prayed. The following occurred:
The angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.There are several things that stand out to me in this passage. This is the same covenant promised to Abraham. There is no Biblical record of Hagar having any other children, so a promise that her only son would be made a great nation is the same as a promise that she would be made a great nation.
Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.
And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.
Hagar didn't have an easy life. She was Sarah's slave. When Sarah couldn't conceive, Hagar was "given" to Abraham in order to bear his child. (Hagar does not appear to be consulted on this decision, besides, if she wasn't free, she couldn't really give meaningful consent anyway.) Then when she got pregnant, Sarah became jealous and was rather unkind. After Sarah was able to give birth to Isaac, Hagar and Ishmael were sent into the desert at Sarah's insistence.
The angel appeared in response to Hagar's earnest prayers and called her by name. Although everyone else abandoned her, God did not. God remembered her and spared her life and the life of her son. From this story, we can learn an important lesson. God does not concern Himself with rank or power or privilege. He covenants with people of any social standing and he reaches out to save those who have been oppressed.
Tomorrow I'll post part 2, the story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb of Jesus (in a rather belated Easter message).