THE RUNAWAY SLAVE
“I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai” Genesis 16:8.
Have you ever felt like quitting the church? Have you ever felt like taking your bat and ball and going home? Have you ever met anyone who used to come to church but quit? People quit coming to church for any number of reasons. It might have been a conflict of opinion with someone in the church – sometimes the preacher! So they take their worship and their personal opinion elsewhere. They leave. They might then start attending the church down the road or even across town. But sometimes people leave the church altogether!
In the following we’re going to look at a woman, a pregnant woman, who left the church altogether. She met with a bit of conflict. So she ran away. However, the Owner of the Church went after her. This all happened some 4,000 years ago. However, we today can learn a lot from it. The general gist of what we’re looking at is: Don’t turn your back on church just because someone wronged you!
“The Angel of the Lord found her” Genesis 16:7. So get the picture: wilderness, barren wasteland, no houses, and there’s nothing to eat. And there was a pregnant woman walking through this wilderness. She stops by a spring of water and it is here she meets her rescuer.
Who is this Rescuer? What does He look like? Whatever He looked like, He’d be a sight for sore eyes! No doubt this woman would have been doing a fair bit of crying. I’m sure as she walked along the trail she’d be talking to herself, just as you or I might if we thought no one was around for miles! Well anyway, this Angel of the Lord knew her name. He calls her by her name, Hagar, and He asks her two questions: “Where have you come from, and where are you going?”
When you think about it, there was time when Adam, the father of the human race, ran away. But the LORD God came after him, didn’t He? The LORD God walked in the garden in the cool of the day. And what did the Lord God say to Adam, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:9. “Where have you come from, and where are you going? – Where are you?” It sounds very much like the same question, doesn’t it? Now then, are we to imagine that the all-knowing God didn’t know everything about these two runaways? Adam, where are you?” And “Hagar, where have you come from and where are you going”?
Have you ever had anyone put a question to you in such a way that it has arrested your soul? Do you know what I mean? The question is like a hand that reaches inside and grabs you by your heart! “Neil, where are you?”
“I’m sitting in a chair writing this!”
“Where have you come from? And where are you going?”
“I’ve come from inside my house to sit out here with my laptop and when I’m done here I’m going back in there again!”
Scripture says that God’s Word is living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It’s the discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, Hebrews 4:12. The question: Where are you Adam? was a sword designed to pierce Adam’s heart! I put it to you, so was the question put Hagar in our text!
So then, let’s say you were asked those questions right now, how would you answer? Where are you? Where have you come from and where are you going? Sure, you might answer: “I’ve come from Home and I’m going to my mum’s house or my sister’s house” or whatever. But that would be to miss the point of the question, wouldn’t it? I put it to you that the Angel asked Hagar those two questions so that she would realize how lost she was! Hagar, like Cain before her, had gone out from the presence of the LORD who was with Abram. She was fleeing from the Lord every bit as much as she was fleeing her mistress Sarai!
So then, I hope you can see that the Angel of the Lord in our text is wielding the exact same sword as the One who spoke to the runaway Adam. Hagar and the rest of us, like Adam our father, are lost! That’s where we are until we are rescued by the LORD – lost! We’re all runaways, like Adam, like Hagar, runaway slaves!
The ex-slave-trader, John Newton understood this when He wrote:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see?
Where has Hagar come from? “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai” Genesis 16:8. She’s fleeing from the mistress who became despised in her sight. Hagar is a runaway slave. And where was Hagar going? We’re not told, but it looks like she was headed back toward Egypt from whence she came.
So, we understand then, that the One rescuing Hagar, i.e., the Angel of the LORD is none other than the LORD Himself, presumably in the form of a man. This Angel of the Lord then is the same Person who spoke to Adam in the Garden. He is the Logos, the Word who became flesh, John 1. He is the preincarnate Christ, the Second Person in the Trinity, the Mediator between God and men.
Notice that He says in Genesis 16:10, “I [i.e., the Angel of the LORD will multiply your descendants.” And notice Hagar’s response to the whole incident in Genesis 16:13 “Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are the God who sees.’” Literally that reads: “And she called the name of Jehovah, the One speaking to her, ‘You are a God of seeing.’”
So, the Angel speaking to her is Jehovah and Jehovah is God. Therefore this Messenger of Angel of the LORD is the LORD Himself. So the LORD Himself is the Rescuer and He rescued Hagar who was with child.
Notice how the Angel of the LORD addressed Hagar at the beginning of Genesis 16:8, “And He said, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s maid’” He didn’t say, “Hagar, Abram’s wife.” No, it’s “Hagar, Sarai’s maid.” So Hagar was fleeing from Sarai, her mistress. Hagar, therefore, was a slave, a bondwoman as she’s called in Galatians 4.
A slave or a bondwoman, of course, was one who worked but received no wages. We take it that Hagar was a servant or slave Pharaoh gave Abram in Egypt, Genesis 12:16. And you’ll remember that Sarai gave Hagar to her husband Abram to be his wife of sorts. Sarai was hoping that Hagar would conceive a son for Abram and her. However, the plan backfired when Hagar began to despise Sarai. And likewise Sarai began to despise Hagar and she dealt harshly with Hagar. We can only guess how Abram and Sarai felt when they noticed Hagar had run away. What about the great program to bring about the birth of the Savior of the world? Well, it was all up in the air. Hagar the slave had high tailed it!
Now, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Lord would be happy to see the back of Hagar. I mean, this isn’t what the Lord had in mind when He promised Abram offspring, was it? There’s that. And what about another issue we’ve slightly touched on? What about the issue of slavery? Doesn’t the Lord know that slavery is supposed to be wrong? Didn’t God create all men equal and all of that? Well, what does the Lord in His Word say about slavery? Perhaps some other time we could look into the issue of slavery in greater depth. But for now, where the Bible has little, or perhaps nothing, to say about the “abolition” of slavery per se, it does however have a fair bit to say about relationships between masters and slaves and slaves and masters.
Well first off in Genesis 16:9 the Angel of the Lord said to Hagar, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.” Hagar is a runaway slave and the Angel of the Lord is telling her to return! Why? The Lord’s Apostle Paul sent the slave Philemon back to his master. Why? And Paul also in Ephesians 6 tells slaves to serve their master as if serving Christ. And in the same chapter he tells the slave-masters not to threaten their slaves. And again in Colossians 4:1 he says, “Masters, give your servants [i.e., slaves] what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”
One of the things Sarah is remembered for is recorded in 1 Peter 3:6: “Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord or ‘master.’” The word used for “Master” is kurios in NT Greek – adonai in Hebrew, which word may be translated “lord”, “master”, “Owner”, “possessor”, “potentate” “sovereign” and so forth. Sarai was Hagar’s “mistress”, i.e., her master or lord (in the feminine). I labour this point because we’ve lost sight of the meaning of “lordship” in today’s society. In turn, our cloudy understanding of lordship causes us to miss a lot of what the Bible teaches!
There was the so-called “Lordship Salvation” debate going on in some Christian circles not so long ago. Some people believe they can have Jesus as “Saviour” without necessarily having Him as “Lord”. In other words, they believe they are saved from their sins but meanwhile can live as sinfully as they like! This is all part of the issue in the churches of so-called “Carnal Christians.” However, we live in an age where people find the very idea of lord and master repulsive! Women want their wedding vows changed (and wimpy men let them!) “I will not have this man to rule over me,” she says. And the man says, “Yes my mistress, whatever you say. ‘Cause I’m not too keen on the lord and master business either!”
As Christians, we need to be careful here, don’t we? We’ve all seen movies and perhaps have read books about the Blue and the Grey. We all know about the American War between the States, i.e., the American Civil War. We’ve all heard that during the war the North (under Abraham Lincoln) artfully turned it into a fight over the issue of slavery and thus began to win the propaganda war. And we’ve all heard about William Wilberforce (the Christian) and his fight to abolish slave trading. But don’t miss the point in our text here! It’s wrong to run out and capture and bunch of men and women and their children and hold them in captivity as your slaves only to mistreat them. That’s what the wily old Devil did, didn’t he? He successfully hatched a scheme to make Adam and Eve and all their children, including even you, me, Abram, Sarai, Hagar, i.e., everyone his slave, didn’t he? He hates us, he, as it were, beats us and mistreats us. He treats us very harshly!
Look at Job, Satan destroyed his house, his livestock, his family! He gave Job painful boils all over his body – head to foot! He left poor old Job sitting in a pile of ashes trying to scrape the boils off! Of course, God permitted Satan to do this to Job and his family. But it was Satan, the hard-taskmaster who did it with pleasure.
Now then, why am I telling you all of this? And what does it all have to do with the text before us? Well, it has everything to do with the text before us! Hagar is deliberately turning her back on the household of God. She is fleeing back to the kingdom of the world. In today’s terms, she’s quitting the church (as it was back then) and is heading back to live in sin city. Why? Because she despises her mistress!
Take note that Hagar started despising her mistress long before her mistress treated her harshly. Sarai did ask her husband Abram to do something about the whole thing. However, Abram shirked his responsibility and handed the problem right back to Sarai. It was only THEN that Sarai dealt harshly with her. So, this is no innocent slave being worked to death and physically abused by her mistress. No, this is a slave who had begun to abuse her mistress! To be sure her mistress may not have handled her unruly behaviour very well. But Sarai had done the right thing. She had appealed to her husband as head of the house, but to no avail. However, I hope you can see that Hagar is at fault, not Sarai. How do we know for sure? We know for sure because the Angel of the LORD in Genesis 16:9 told her to “Return to her mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.”
We’ll pick up on this some more in a moment. But for now, think about it, while on this earth there is only one of two masters you can serve! As Jesus in Scripture says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other” Matthew 6:24. Of course Jesus there goes on to say, “You cannot serve God and mammon [or riches]” But let me ask you: If you are serving mammon or riches, who are you really serving? Well, for a start you would not be serving God now, would you? So, who would you be serving? Well, we might begin to answer that question by saying “SELF!”? If I were a slave or a servant of riches, I’d be serving SELF, i.e., my own selfish desires. So, I suppose that chasing after the things of this world would be a form of self-serving. But what about that line we say in the Lord’s prayer? “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from [SELF!]” It’s not just SELF you need to be delivered from. It’s EVIL, as in THE EVIL ONE – SATAN.
Listen to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked according to the course of this world, [according to SELF? No!] according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” etc. Ephesians 2:1-2. And, 1 John 5:19, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” Satan took all of mankind into bondage when he captured Adam and Eve in the Garden.
Adam was created to serve God. And Eve was to serve God by serving her husband Adam, as if she were serving the Lord Himself. However, both Adam and Eve of their own free will and accord no longer wanted God to be their Master. They wanted to be their own master. They wanted to serve themselves. But what really happened was that they exchanged masters. When they were fleeing from God they fleeing to Satan, for “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.”
Like Hagar, all who have ever lived since Adam, are runaway slaves! Mankind are slaves running from the Master who loved them! They are running from the One who sent His Son into the world to conquer the Devil and thereby rescue His people. But, even in our own day we hear them say of Jesus Christ “We will not have this Man to rule over us!” It’s true, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.”
So the Angel of the LORD would approach all runaways with the words: Who is your master? Christ or Satan? Return then to the household of faith!
Do you see the picture here? The Angel of the Lord is rescuing the runaway slave. Consider again the words He spoke to Hagar: “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai!”
If that was all Hagar was doing then why is the Lord so keen to have her go back? What was really happening here? Hagar could just have easily answered the Angel of the Lord with these words: “I no longer want to serve my mistress and her God in Abram’s household and I’m going back to serving Satan!” With a child in her womb, Hagar was turning her back on the household of God! She’s, as it were, left Eden and she’s back in the wilderness!
And the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness. Hagar, like the woman at the well, if you only knew who it was who was talking to you! For the Angel said “Return to your mistress Sarai, submit yourself under her hand.” If the Lord recognized Hagar’s marriage to Abram as legitimate He would have surely said, “Return to Abram and submit yourself under his hand!” But no, again, like the woman at the well it was “The one whom you now have, even Abram, is not your husband!”
The One who spoke to Hagar was the One who became the great Redeemer. The whole Bible is a record of the history, HIS-STORY of redemption. Redemption has all to do with the purchasing, the redeeming of who? It’s SLAVES, even runaways who are redeemed at the market, even Calvary! If you think redemption has to do with saving “the lost” then you’re saying the same thing. It is lost slaves, even runaways who are being saved, rescued, redeemed!
The One who spoke to Hagar went on to become the One who said these words to His disciples, “Whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” Matthew 20:27-28. He came as a Slave and gave His own life as a ransom for MANY, not a few! And if you’re one of the many then He has ransomed you. He has redeemed you. He has rescued you, bought you. He has purchased you. Therefore He owns you! And He placed His brand upon you when you were baptized.
However, He didn’t purchase you from Satan, because stolen goods don’t belong to thieves! He rescued you from His own justice, from the punishment you were due for your sins. You’ve escaped the stripes or lashes because Another took the lashes as your substitute! “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”
It’s my hope that you’ve understood the text before us. It’s my hope you can see there’s no ordinary possibility of salvation outside the family of God. Hence the Angel of the Lord telling Hagar to get back to where she once belonged! The moral of the story is: Don’t turn your back on church just because someone has wronged you! For to turn your back on the Lord’s people is to turn your back on the Lord. For the Lord’s disciplines His slaves, His servants, through the elders of His Church.
In a sense, to run from His Church is to step out of Eden and into the wilderness. It is to remain as a runaway slave. Therefore return to your Master, even Jesus Christ, and submit yourself under His hand. And how do you submit yourself under His hand? In the case of Hagar, she was to submit to Sarai. As the Lord says elsewhere through His Apostle, “Servants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh ... as to Christ ... as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with good will doing service as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free” Ephesians 6:5-8.
Have you got the picture? Just as wives are to submit to their own husbands, as to the Lord, so slaves are to serve their masters as if they were serving Christ their Master. And what about the masters? Masters of slaves are to realize they have the same Master as their slaves, Ephesians 6:9. Therefore, they should not treat them harshly, even when despised, as was Sarai by Hagar.
This speaks volumes to the church today, doesn’t it? For we are all slaves or servants of Jesus Christ. We are the Church and the Church’s husband, our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ laid down His life for His bride. He shed His own blood for His slaves.
So, is all this lord & master business making sense to you yet? Or do you still think you are your own master? There’re only two masters on earth, not three - Christ or Satan! So take your pick who you’re going to serve And remember, to serve self is to serve Satan.
And just a word of caution: If a woman has a husband who beats her and treats her harshly, or even if anyone has an employer who treats them the same way, then ring the police! When Sarai dealt harshly, as we’re told, with Hagar, we’re not to think of physical torture. So don’t think for a minute the Lord would send anyone back into those type of conditions. The Lord, in time, will deal with all unrepentant wife-beaters and sweatshop operators etc. For the Lord and His Gospel is about setting captives free!
However, with regards to the Lord’s Church, how many people do you know who’ve done a Hagar? Someone or something in the church has upset them? So they wander back into the wilderness. Where have they come from and where are they going? I’m sure you’ve learned enough to answer that. So if you meet any runaway slaves on your travels, tell them about your Lord and Master. Tell them about the great Redeemer, the One who rescues runaways such as you and me. Remind them of His wonderful remedy.
Think about it, if Hagar had asked the Angel of the Lord, “Where have YOU come from and where are YOU going? What do you think the Angel of the Lord would have said? You know the answer to that. The Angel of the Lord might very well have answered, “I’ve come from heaven and I’m going to hell and back to rescue all of My beloved slaves!”
So, if you come across any of His runaway slaves in your travels, tell them about your Lord and Master Jesus Christ! Tell them to return to Him, and submit themselves under His hand. Therefore, you need to tell them to return to His Church. For He dwells in His Church by His Spirit, speaking to us by His Word. Tell them not to despise the Master.