The Story of Hagar in the Bible

The story of Hagar in the Bible is a picture of God’s goodness and grace at work, but her story is also marked by the painful reminder of what happens when we run ahead of God’s plan for our lives, and how our choices don’t just affect us.

Hagar is often a forgotten character of the Bible but there are so many wonderful lessons we can learn from her story and her encounter with God!

The Old Testament story of Hagar offers many insights into God’s character, including his faithfulness, sovereignty, care, and nearness.  

Nestled in the middle of the book of Genesis, Hagar’s story is one of heartache, human folly, uncertainty, and, most of all, God’s faithfulness.

If you are feeling unseen or forgotten by God, Hagar’s story can offer the hope you need.  

Through Hagar, we learn that God does not show favoritism.   We also learn that when God makes a promise, he will be faithful to keep it.

Through this story, God also reveals his character as El Roi, the God who sees us.  Let’s take a closer look at this story as a means to understand the love, compassion, and care of our great God.

Be sure to download the free study questions at the end!

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The Story of Hagar in the Bible

Before we can fully understand Hagar’s story, it’s important to grasp the context into which she enters the book of Genesis.  Hagar’s story begins in Genesis 15 with the story of Abraham.

At this time, God has not yet changed Abram’s name to Abraham.  

The story begins when God leads Abram outside and declares, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5, ESV).

After receiving this promise, Abram begins to wonder how God will accomplish it.  He and his wife, Sarai, are growing older and have been unable to conceive.

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Who Was Hagar in the Bible

This is where the young Egyptian girl named Hagar enters the story (in Genesis 16). We are introduced to Hagar as the Egyptian slave of Sarai, Abram’s wife.  

Sarai devises a plan to provide Abram with a child.   She advises Abram to take her slave woman, Hagar, as a second wife.  Polygamy was common in the Middle East in biblical times, and Abram agrees to the plan.

Shortly thereafter, Hagar becomes pregnant.   Sadly, her pregnancy creates a spirit of contempt between the two women.  Sarai is so harsh toward Hagar that Hagar flees into the wilderness to escape.   

What Happens to Hagar

After fleeing to the wilderness, Hagar stops beside a spring of water.  Here, an angel of the Lord appears to her and asks where she is going.   She is honest and says that she is fleeing from Sarai.

The angel then commands her to return to her mistress and submit to her.  

He also says, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude. . . . Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son.  You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has listened to your affliction.  He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen” (Genesis 16:10-12).

Hagar responds, “You are a God of seeing (El Roi).  Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13).

Hagar then obeys the angel and returns to Abram and Sarai.

In time, she gives birth to a son and names him Ishmael.  

Shortly after his son Ishmael is born to Hagar, God visits Abram and establishes a covenant with him.  

He changes his name to Abraham and changes his wife Sarai’s name to Sarah.   He also promises that Sarah will bear a child in her old age (see Genesis 17).  

Abraham and Sarah both doubt this promise from God; however, they soon conceive a child. Sarah gives birth to Abraham’s son, Isaac.  

This is where Hagar’s story takes an especially difficult turn.   Hagar’s son, Ishmael, holds contempt toward Isaac, and Sarah tells Abraham to cast out Hagar and Ishmael.

Distraught, Abraham seeks the Lord.  The Lord responds,

“Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. and I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring” (Genesis 21:12-13).

God assures Abraham that both boys will prosper.  His son Ishmael will be the father of a great nation.   However, Isaac, the special child of promise, will be the son of the covenant and will carry on Abraham’s name.

After receiving this Word from the Lord, Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael into the Wilderness of Beersheba with a skin of water and bread to sustain them.  

After being cast into the wilderness, Hagar is distraught.  She didn’t choose to become a slave to Abraham and Sarah, and she never asked to bear a child to Abraham.  Her lot seems unfair.

When her supply of water runs dry, she has her son sit under a bush, and she waits for them both to die.  

As she weeps, God hears her voice and asks what troubles her.   Hagar explains her situation and laments over being destitute in the wilderness for a second time.

In response, the Lord declares, “Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation” (Genesis 21:18).

Suddenly, Hagar’s eyes are opened, and she sees a well of water.  She and Ishmael survive.  They eventually settle in Paran, where Ishmael takes an Egyptian wife.

What Was Significant About Hagar

The life of Hagar reveals a great deal about the character of God.  

The first time Hagar retreated into the wilderness, God’s grace met her through the angel of God.   He encouraged her in the difficult situation and offered hope for her future.  

He also sent her back to Abraham’s home, where she would be protected and cared for despite Sarah’s disregard.

After the birth of her son Ishmael, when Hagar retreated into the wilderness for the second time, her second encounter with the presence of God was even more powerful.   

God cared for her physical needs by providing water to drink and also brought the good news that her son would play an important role as the father of a great nation.  

Hagar was rejected by the people who should have cared for her.  She was pushed away and abandoned.  Nevertheless, God never rejected her.

God saw her and cared for her.  He was faithful, kind, and compassionate toward her.

Hagar’s situation is a good reminder that God sees us. He is faithful to us in hard times.  When we feel alone and forsaken, God is near.

He cares about our needs, and he is ready and willing to meet our needs, help us, and encourage us in difficult times.  

What Can We Learn From Hagar

From Hagar, we learn that God never misses a moment of our lives.  Even when we are treated unjustly, God is with us, and he wants to provide for our needs.

The picture of God offered within Hagar’s story is a picture of hope and love—love from a God who did not spare his own Son for our sake.

Hagar’s obedience to the Lord is also revealed through the story.  

When God sent her back to Abraham and Sarah after her first retreat into the wilderness, Hagar obeyed.  She continued crying out to the Lord, and God was with her.  

Let’s look at 11 additional lessons from Hagar’s story.

1. God sees every moment of our lives.

Do you ever feel forgotten or abandoned by God?  When Hagar fled to the wilderness for the first time, she was distraught.  She wondered if God had forgotten her.

In response, God sent his angel to reassure her and provide for her.  In the same way, God never takes his eyes off of us.  He is the first Person to come to our rescue, and he cares about us deeply.

2. God is faithful.

The people in Hagar’s life were not faithful to her.  Abraham and Sarah forced her into a situation that was complicated and unwanted.  

When Sarah forced Hagar to flee into the wilderness a second time, she knew that single mothers stood little chance of surviving alone, let alone flourishing.

Nevertheless, God cared for Hagar.   He provided physical provision with his own hands and led her into a secure future.  

God was faithful to her when other people were not, and his character has not changed.  He is faithful to us, too.

3. God’s plan will not be thwarted.

God had a plan for Sarah and Abraham to conceive a child who would become the father of his people.  This was Abraham’s son, Isaac.  

When Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands by involving Hagar, it might have appeared that they had thwarted God’s plan.  

However, God’s plan prevailed.  In time, he fulfilled his promise to the couple.

He also fulfilled his promise to Hagar and made Ishmael the father of a great nation as well.  This story reminds us that when God has a plan, his plan will come to pass.

4. God is our source of hope.

God wants to be our refuge, our hiding place, and our everlasting source of hope.  He proved his character in these ways when Hagar was left destitute in the wilderness.

When he made the well of water appear and spoke promises about Ishmael’s future, he offered Hagar practical hope as well as hope for the future.  

We can cling to this same hope.  God’s plans for us are good, and he wants to fulfill his divine purpose through our lives.

5. God’s promises hold true.

At times, most of us are tempted to doubt God’s promises.  We wonder if he will hold true to his Word and provide for us.  We fear that he will forsake us or allow our plans to fail.

Meanwhile, Hagar’s story reminds us that God keeps his promises.  Despite Abraham and Sarah’s disobedience, he held true to his promise to give them an heir.  

He also remained faithful and true to Hagar and Ishmael by allowing a great nation to come from them.

6. God does not show favoritism.

We live in a world in which favoritism is the norm.  Meanwhile, God doesn’t pick favorites.  His children are all his favorites.

We see this in his faithfulness to Hagar as well as his faithfulness to Abraham and Sarah.  God didn’t cast down Hagar because she was an Egyptian slave, and he won’t reject those who are commonly rejected in our society either.   

7. God’s power is made perfect in weakness.   

In his second letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul wrote that God’s power is made perfect in weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9).  God demonstrated this principle through Hagar’s life as well.

When Hagar was at her weakest moment, God showed up.  He spoke hope to her heart and provided for her.  He wants to do the same for us.

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Download these Hagar Bible Study Questions for free! Includes 10 study questions and 5 reflection questions as well as the specific passages to read her story.

8. God wants us to wait for his perfect timing.

Abraham and Sarai grew anxious as they waited for God to fulfill his promise regarding a child.  In their restlessness, they took matters into their own hands and stepped outside of God’s perfect will.  

This decision created generations of strife between the offspring of Isaac and Ishmael.

Consider how different this story might be if they had waited for God to miraculously open Sarah’s womb and provide a child.  In the same way, when we rush ahead of God, we often create trouble for ourselves.  

If you are feeling tempted to take matters into your own hands instead of waiting on God to fulfill a promise in your life, let Hagar’s story remind you that God’s timing is always perfect.

Furthermore, just as God was faithful and loving toward Hagar, he will be faithful and loving to us when we feel like outcasts or face rejection.

9. God is able to redirect our missteps.

Have you ever made a mistake so terrible that you feared your life was ruined?  This story reminds us that God can correct even our greatest mistakes and missteps.

Abraham and Sarah’s lack of trust in God’s plan wasn’t the end of the story.  Even after they had taken matters into their own hands, God provided them with their promised son.  God is able to correct our missteps, too.

10. God’s love knows no bounds.

Our God is full of compassion.  He knows that we are weak, and he knows that we will make mistakes.  

Just as he fulfilled his promise to Abraham and Sarah, he will fulfill all of his unconditional promises to us.  

11 Lessons from Hagar Bible Study for Beginners
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11. God will never abandon his children.

One of the greatest promises in the Bible is the promise that God will never leave or abandon his children (see Hebrews 13:5).  

A more thorough Bible study reveals that this commitment remains true throughout all of the Old and New Testaments.  

Hagar was rejected by the people who were supposed to care for her; however, God did not reject her.  He pursued her.  He never took his eye off of her, and he showed her great care.  

Hagar’s story is deeply encouraging to those of us who feel rejected or hopeless.  Through this story, we experience God’s character and grace.  

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God will never reject those who earnestly seek him.   No matter what you are facing today, God sees you.  

He has not forgotten you. Wait for him to move in your life, and he will not let you down.

Be sure to read more from our Women of the Bible Series!

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