Cruel mistress

Sarai heard Abram often talk of fathering a great nation. She wanted to pave the way for God’s promise to be fulfilled for Abram, so she suggested Abram should sleep with her Egyptian slave, Hagar.

Abram tossed the idea around for about a decade, until Sarai pressed the issue, bringing Hagar personally into his tent. When Hagar got pregnant, she hurled insults at Sarai and adopted an air of superiority over her.

Sarai flew into a rage, and Abram took the brunt of her wrath. “I offered you my slave as a second wife,” she seethed, “and she became a monster. What are you going to do about it?”

“She’s your slave,” Abram shrugged half-heartedly, “and this was your idea. Take care of the situation however you wish.”

On that very day, Sarai’s treatment of Hagar became so unbearable that the slave fled into the wilderness.

An angel of God approached Hagar as she followed a brook toward Egypt. “Hagar, where’d you come from?” the angel asked. “And where are you going?”

The slippery rocks on the creek bottom made the way difficult, but she continued along the path undeterred. “I’m escaping the cold, cruel grip of my mistress.”

The angel stepped in front of Hagar, blocking her way. “Turn around,” the angel said. “Go back and submit to Sarai. In return, I’ll give you more descendants than a census can track.”

Hagar dropped to her knees and held her belly. “How can I go back to that abusive woman?” she sighed, rocking in place.

The angel of God knelt beside her and said, “Your son will be named Ishmael because God hears your cries of anguish. But you should know, Ishmael will make an ass of himself and will have enemies all around him, including his own family.”

“I’ll call you Elroi,” Hagar said, suddenly still, “because I’ve seen God and will live to tell about it.”

After the encounter, the well of the spring was called “Beerlahairoi,” Well of the Living Sight.

Hagar returned to her mistress, bore a son, and named him Ishmael. Abram turned eighty-six years old.

Inspiration: Genesis 16

Beauty tips

The land Abram came to conquer was harsh, arid and cracked, and the food was in short supply, so Abram decided to move his family into the fertile land of Egypt for a while. When they entered the city, he pulled his wife aside for a briefing.

“It’s no secret that you’re stunningly beautiful,” he said to Sarai. “And when the Egyptians see you, they’ll slit my throat in the night and steal you away from my bed.” Then Abram suggested, “Tell them I’m your brother. That should neutralize the threat.”

“It will be as you desire it, my lord,” Sarai said, laying her hand over his heart.

As Abram predicted, Sarai’s matchless beauty arrested the attention of the people wherever they went, and word of her fame soon spread to Pharaoh himself. Before long, Sarai stood in rare splendor before the very god of Egypt in his own court.

Sarai became the newest installment in the royal harem, and Pharaoh treated Abram like a brother, giving him sheep, oxen, donkeys, camels, and slaves. Pharaoh, on the other hand, acquired nothing but a God-given illness after a week or two. Pharaoh had spies everywhere, and putting two and two together, he became wise and confronted Abram on the matter.

“What’s going on?” Pharaoh asked. “Why’d you lie about Sarai being your wife? Thankfully, I never laid a hand on her. Get her out of here so your God will clear the air and restore our health!”

Pharaoh’s officers escorted Abram and Sarai out of Egypt along with their parting gifts.

Inspiration: Genesis 12

Abram’s call

The brawny shepherd hoisted himself onto the peak of the highest hill in Haran and surveyed the modern trading mecca. On the horizon, an imposing castle of great basaltic blocks overshadowed the temple of the moon-god.

From Shem’s family line had come the so-called Semites, and one such shepherd, Abram, considered the Babylonian city of Ur his first home.

He and his wife Sarai had migrated north to the sprawling metropolis of Haran with his father’s tribe.

As Abram stood overlooking the vast expanse of Haran, the ancient Semitic legend rang in his ears.

Canaan will bow to Shem.

Then God suddenly spoke.

“Take your herds and head south. You’ll settle in a place I’ve designated for you, and for the fulfillment of a promise I’m making to save all humankind.”

Abram listened as God’s voice echoed in his dreams.

“You’ll become a nation of glory,” God told him, “blessed and renowned. Those who bless you will be blessed, and those who curse you will be cursed. Because of your dominion, Abram of Ur, every family in the world will have reason to celebrate.”

Abram took God at his word. When he was seventy-five years old, he straightened his spine, packed his bags, and loaded up his wife, his nephew Lot, their livestock, and all the servants they had acquired in Haran. Together they journeyed voluntarily into dust-swirled chaos.

Traveling through Canaan, they stopped at Moreh Grove in Shechem. God said, “This will be the land of your children.”

Abram had no children and knew his wife was barren, but he built an altar anyway, willing to stretch himself beyond his personal limits, believing that God’s word was His bond.

From Shechem, he and his entourage continued trekking south, living off the fruit and fat of the land. All along the route, Abram would order his surroundings by building one altar after another. His confidence was a magnificent stone castle in its own right, and his resolve to take possession of a new kingdom was fueled by a God who would show up indiscriminately to repeat his promise of wide, open spaces and endless descendants.

Inspiration: Genesis 10-12; I Chronicles 1