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Sarah and Hagar

Genesis 11

by

Grace Aguilar

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Part One

The longer paragraphs have been split for ease of reading and some very long sentences broken apart for the same reason.  All the headings have been inserted by us, as has all the coloured emphasis.  The italics are in the original.

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 Sarai/Sarah

So varied and so important are the incidents comprised in the life of Eve, that, on a mere superficial view, Sarah’s biography appears somewhat deficient in interest.  Yet, as the beloved partner of Abraham, Sarah ought to be a subject of reverence and love to her female descendants; and we will endeavour to bring her history forward, that such she may become. Much of the Eternal’s love and pity towards His female children is manifested in her simple life, and also in the life of her bondwoman [voluntary servant]  Hagar, which is too closely interwoven with hers to be omitted.

The real relationship between Abraham and Sarah, before marriage, has never yet been clearly or satisfactorily solved.  Some commentators asserting that she was his niece, the daughter of Haran his elder brother; and others, that she was, as Abraham himself declares, his half-sister – ‘She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife.’ We believe the latter assertion much more likely to be the correct one, because, in the first place, there is no foundation whatever for the idea that she was Haran’s daughter, except the supposition that Iscah means Sarah (Genesis xi [11] 29); and, in the second, it is not probable that, when questioned by Abimelech, Abraham would have condescended to utter a falsehood.  The Bible mentions Lot only as the child of Haran; and Abraham himself says Sarah was his half-sister.  The latter relationship, as preventing marriage, is no proof in favour of her being his niece, as no laws of marriage had yet been issued; and in the early stages of the world, such connections were not considered sin.  

Leaving this difficult decision to more curious speculators, we shall proceed to subjects of greater interest. 

 

The leaving of the land

The first notice we have of Sarai is her accompanying her husband and Lot, from the home of her kindred, to a strange country, among all strange people, in simple obedience to the word of God. Holy writ is silent on the youth of Abram; but it is the opinion of our ancient fathers, that his earnest desire after divine knowledge – his pure and holy life – his affectionate and virtuous conduct, attracted towards him the blessing of the Lord, and caused him to be selected as the promulgator [teacher] of the Divine Revelation.

That Abram was exposed to many dangers, on account of his loving obedience to the one sole invisible God, instead of acknowledging the idols of his race, is indeed very possible, and probably originated [caused] the first removal of his family to Charran [Haran in our Bible], where also his father accompanied him. At Charran they seem to have dwelt in peace and prosperity, secured from former persecutors, so that it must have been no little trial to go forth again, more particularly without any definite cause for the removal.

To Sarai the trial must have been more severe than to her husband. She was to go forth with him indeed; but it is woman’s peculiar nature to cling to home, home ties, and home affections – to shrink from encountering a strange world, teeming with unknown trials and dangers. Rather than the parting from a husband, indeed, all other partings may seem light; but yet they are trials to a gentle woman.  And the heart that can leave the home and friends of a happy youth – the associations of years – without regret, proves not that its affections are so centred on one object as to eschew [steer clear of] all others; but that it is too often wrapped in a chilling indifference, which prevents strong emotion on any subject whatever. We have enough of Sarai in the Bible to satisfy us that such is not her character.

One cause for the love of home ties and associations, in the heart of a right-feeling woman, originates in the belief that there she can do so much more good than elsewhere – that, unfitted by the weakness and infirmities of frame from active toil, and the pursuit of goodly service, as falls to the lot of man, she can yet benefit her friends, children, and domestics, in the hallowed circle of home; and better manifest the blessing of the Lord, and the love she bears Him, there than amongst strangers.

And this was especially the case with Sarai. By one of our ancient fathers it is said, that as Abram and Lot were permitted to turn many of their own sex from idolatry to the knowledge of the one true God, so also was Sarai granted the hallowed privilege of leading many of her female friends and domestics to the same blessed Fount.

It was, therefore, no doubt, a source of questioning and wonder in her mind, why the Eternal’s mandate to go forth should be given. She had not even experience in the Eternal’s glorious attributes, as displayed in His dealings with His creatures, and through His word, to comfort and be her guide.

All was mental darkness in the world around her, except her husband and those few whom he had been enabled to teach a partial knowledge of his God. They stood alone in their peculiar faith; and how often, in such a case, do doubts and fears enter the breast of woman! Yet it was enough that her husband prepared, without question or hesitation, to obey his God – to leave his aged father, his kindred, and his friends; and, with simple and loving faith, she went with him where the Lord should lead.

Well is it for us when we can do so likewise.  When, in some of those bitterest trials that woman’s heart can know, the change of home or land, be it with our parents, or husband, or, more fearful still, alone, we can yet so stay upon our God that we can realize His presence, His loving mercy directing our weary way, and resting with us still. His direct communing, by voice or sign, or through angelic messengers, is indeed no longer ours; but those that seek to love and serve Him, may yet hear His still small voice breathing in the solemn whisper of their own hearts, and through the individual promises of His Word.

The move to Canaan

Accompanied by Lot and their household – expressed in the term, ‘the souls they had gotten in Charran,’ who were probably those whom they had instructed in the true faith – and carrying with them the substance they possessed, Abram and Sarai ‘went forth into the land of Canaan,’ which was inhabited by a fierce people, and gave little hope of ever being possessed by the patriarch and his family, for, by their constant jouneyings, it would seem as if they could not even obtain sufficient land to fix their home.

Yet, there again the Lord appeared to the patriarch and renewed His promise – thus proving His tender compassion for the human weakness of His creatures, and encouraging their faith, when, without such encouragement, He knew it must have failed.

The move to Egypt

To add to their numerous human discomforts and trials, a famine broke out in the land, so severe and grievous that Abram sought the land of Egypt; and there, rendered fearful by the exceeding beauty of his wife, and the supposed barbarity of the land, he bade Sarai call herself his sister, not his wife.

In this first deception, however, Abram was much more to be excused than in the second. He had not yet had all the convincing proofs of the Eternal’s tender watchfulness and care, as he had afterwards. He had gone to Egypt without the express command of the Lord, and this very fact, to one accustomed to divine guidance, and not yet perhaps feeling himself sufficiently strong spiritually to go alone, rendered him more fearful than he would otherwise have been.

He might also have thought that, as he was destined for a great end, it was his duty to use any means to preserve the life so appointed, without sufficiently considering that life and death were equally in the hands of the Eternal, and that He would preserve His servant alive without the intervention of human means.

Spiritual advancement requires effort, perseverance, and experience, as well as every other; and Abram himself, though the elect of the Eternal, could not obtain perfection and firmness in faith without some human tremblings, which, it is enough for us to know, were overruled, compassionated, and forgiven.

We perceive by the sacred narrative that his intention was frustrated, and his words caused the very evil he dreaded.  Which is sufficient warning for us to avoid all departure from the straight line of truth.  While the continued care and favour of the Lord should check our presumptuous condemnation, and remind us that, if His justice and mercy thought proper to overrule and forgive and continue, nay, increase, His long tenderness towards Abram and his family, it is our part, instead of marvelling, to thank God that such weakness is recorded, that we may not feel it is human perfection alone which calls down His blessing, and so shrink back in terror and despair.

A beautiful woman

This part of Sarai’s history gives us information generally very interesting to young female readers – that she was very beautiful. We are wont to imagine that the charms of sixty-five could not be very remarkable; but, reckoning according to the age to which mortals then lived, she was not older than a woman of thirty or thirty-five would be now, consequently, in her prime; endowed, as her history gives us authority to suppose, with a quiet, retiring dignity, which greatly enhanced her beauty, and rendered it yet more interesting than that of girlhood.

The return to Canaan

Protected from this danger, his substance greatly increased by Pharaoh’s gifts, Abram, his wife, and household, retraced their steps to where ‘his tent had been at first, between Bethel and Hai.’ The altar which he had originally erected was still there, and again he and his family ‘called on the name of the Lord.’ The command of Pharaoh – ‘Go thy way,’ was most probably regarded and acted on by the patriarch as a warning, that his safest and most hallowed home was in the land to which the Lord had originally guided him.

In the events which follow – the separation of Abram and Lot – the battle of the kings – the imprisonment and rescue of Lot – the blessing of Melchisedek – Holy Writ makes no mention of Sarai. She was performing those duties of an affectionate wife and gentle mistress of her husband’s immense establishment, which are nothing to write about, but which make up the sum of woman’s life, create her dearest and purest sources of happiness, and bring her acceptably before God.

A nomadic life

Her home was still an unsettled one. The Lord had again appeared to renew His promises to Abram – comforting him in the sorrow which Lot’s choice of a dwelling in the sinful Sodom had occasioned him, by the assurance that all the land which he saw, northward and southward, eastward and westward, would He give unto him and to his seed, and his seed’s seed for ever. That he was to ‘Arise, and walk through the land, in the breadth of it and in the length of it, for I will give it unto thee.’

In consequence of which, the tent of the patriarch was removed southward, to Mamre in Hebron, and an altar built at once to claim the land in the name of the Lord, and give to Abram and his household a place where to worship. The extent of the patriarch’s household may be imagined by the fact that, at his word, no less than three hundred and eighteen servants, born in his house and trained to arms, accompanied him to the rescue of his nephew. Those who were left to attend to his flocks and herds, which he possessed in great numbers, must have been in equal proportion; and over these, during his absence, Sarai, assisted by the steward, had unlimited dominion.

Equal partners

The beautiful confidence and true affection subsisting between Abram and Sarai marks unanswerably their equality; that his wife was to Abram friend as well as partner; and yet that Sarai knew perfectly her own station, and never attempted to push herself forward in unseemly council, or use the influence which she so largely possessed for any weak or sinful purpose.

Some, however, would have found it difficult to preserve their humility and meekness, situated as was Sarai. A coarser and narrower mind would have prided herself on the promises made her husband, imagining there must be some superlative merit, either in herself or Abram, to be so singled out by the Eternal.

There is no pride so dangerous and subtle as spiritual pride, no sin more likely to gain dominion in the early stages of religion – none so disguised and so difficult to be discovered and rooted out. But in Sarai there was none of this; not a particle of pride, even at a time when, of all others, she might have been almost justified in feeling it. She was, indeed, blessed in a husband whose exalted, yet domestic and affectionate, character must ever have strengthened, guided, and cherished hers; but it is not always the most blessed and distinguished woman who attends the most faithfully to her domestic duties, and preserves unharmed and untainted that meekness and integrity which is her greatest charm.

Abram’s warlike expedition was the only one in which his wife did not accompany him. With what joy she must have welcomed her warrior lord! How gratefully must her loving heart have delighted to ponder on his magnanimity [nobility] in going instantly to the rescue of his weak and little grateful nephew; on his courage – his success; and yet more on his noble refusal of all gifts from the king of Sodom, lest the glory should be taken from the Lord, and any mortal should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’

We dwell with delight on the stirring records of chivalry; and it is right we should do so, for the study of all honourable, unselfish, and unworldly deeds must do us good; but where shall we find, in the whole history of chivalry, an instance of such perfect nobility and magnanimity, unstained by one action from which mind or heart could revolt, as in the only warlike expedition of Abram? It was indeed enough for a woman to glory in; and, though nothing is said, for the record of Moses is too important to descend to the thoughts and feelings of woman, we may imagine the grateful and rejoicing feelings of Sarai as she welcomed her husband home – forgetting all the pangs of parting and loneliness of separation in the triumph and delight of such a meeting.

The promise

It was after these things that we have the first allusion to the patriarch’s being childless. And by the words in which the Lord addressed him – ‘Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield, and exceeding great reward,’ we are led to suppose that some anxious thoughts, and perhaps doubts, natural to humanity, were occupying his mind. We, weak and frail as himself, might exclaim, What, still doubting, still fearing, when he has had so many proofs of the Eternal’s providence and care! But God, whose ‘thoughts are not our thoughts,’ instead of reproving, addresses him in terms of the tenderest love and encouragement, for He knew the nature of His creatures, and that faith could not be perfectly attained without years of watchfulness and prayer; that if it were, man would cease to be man, and this life be no longer what it was intended – a life of trial.

Abram’s instant reply reveals the painful thoughts which had engrossed him: - ‘Lord God, what wilt thou give me? Seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus. Behold, to me Thou hast given no seed, and lo, one born in my house is mine heir.’ God had promised that the land should be his and his seed’s, but Abram in sorrow beheld years pass, and still he had no child. Sarai had long passed the age when, humanly speaking, she could be a mother. It was much more natural – truly pious and faithful as he was – that Abram should be harassed with contradictory fears and doubts, than that he should have had none.

God had promised, but how was that promise to be fulfilled? – unless, indeed, not his own child, but ‘one born in his house’ was to be his destined heir. This appeared perhaps the most probable, though it was painfully disappointing; and to soothe this fear and remove it, the Lord addressed him as we have said. The gracious and most blessed promise directly followed – that not one born in his house, but his own son should be his heir; and, bidding him look up at the stars – as countless and numberless they gemmed the clear, bright heavens – promised that ‘so should his seed be.’

And then it was, that – all of doubt and mist and fear dissolving in the heart of the patriarch, before the words of the Lord, as snow before the sun – HE BELIEVED: and that pure FAITH was accounted to him as RIGHTEOUSNESS. How blessed are those words! In every station of life, however tried and sad and mourning, and deprived of all power to serve the Lord as our hearts dictate, we may yet BELIEVE, and Faith is still accounted RIGHTEOUSNESS.

On the glorious prophetic vision which followed when the sun went down, we may not linger, as it will take us too far from the subject of our narrative.

Great must have been Sarai’s joy when this gracious promise was made known to her. If to Abram the being childless was a source of deep regret, it must have been still more so to her. Loving and domestic, as her whole history proves she was, how often may she have yearned to list [hear] the welcome cry of infancy; to feel one being looked up to her for protection and love, and called her by that sweet name – Mother. But this joyful anticipation could only have been of short duration. Sarai, as is woman’s nature, in all probability imagined the fulfilment would immediately follow the promise.

The most difficult of all our spiritual attainments is to wait for the Lord: to believe still, through long months, perhaps years, of anticipation and disappointment, that as He has said it, so it will be, so it must be, though our finite wisdom cannot pronounce the when. Did the Eternal fulfil His gracious promises on the instant, where would be the trial of our faith, and of our confidence and constancy in prayer?

The waiting time

Finding still there was no appearance of her becoming a mother, we are led to suppose, by the events which follow, that all Sarai’s joyous anticipations turned into gloomy fears, not merely from the belief that she herself would not be blessed with a child, but that Abram might, as was and is the custom of Eastern nations, take another wife; an idea excited, perhaps, by the recollection that her name had not been mentioned as the destined mother of the promised seed, but precisely the most painful which could find entrance in a heart affectionate and faithful as her own. To prevent this misfortune, and yet to further (as she supposed) the will of the Eternal, Sarai had recourse to human means.

All women in her position, and influenced as she was by the manners and customs of the East, would have both felt and acted as she did, but few, we think, would have waited so long. It was ten years after Abram had left Egypt to fix his residence in Canaan before Hagar became his wife. The separation of himself and Lot appears to have taken place in the first year after their settlement in Canaan, the expedition against the kings in the second or third year following. And we are expressly told that it was soon after these occurrences that the Lord appeared unto the patriarch, and promised him an heir in his own child.  The Hebrew word, (Hebrew characters here for the word ‘after’), signifying, according to Rashi, that the event about to be related took place soon after the period of the former narration.  But when a long period has intervened, the expression (Hebrew characters) is used.[1]

According to this reckoning, then, full five, or, at the very least, three years must have elapsed between the promise made to Abram and his taking Hagar, at Sarai’s own request, to be his wife; and few women would have beheld year after year pass, each year increasing the impossibility of her becoming a mother, and yet so believed as to adopt no human means for the furtherance of her wishes.

In perusing and reflecting on the blessings promised, and revelations made to the favoured servants of the Lord, we are apt to suppose that their lives were preserved from all trouble, all trial of delay, from the fearful sickness of anticipation disappointed, and hope deferred.  Whereas, a more intimate study of the holy Scriptures would convince us that though indeed most spiritually blessed, their mortal lives were not more exempt from labour, and all the sorrows proceeding from human emotions, than our own.

We only see those periods on which the broad light of sunshine falls. The darker shades of human doubt, the often supposed blighting of hope, the struggles and terrors of the spirit alternating with the rest and confidence which it sometimes enjoys; these we see not, and, therefore, pronounce them unknown to our forefathers.  Whereas, did we examine more closely, we should not find severer trials in our own lives than in theirs: nor cease to believe, for a single moment, that the God who guided them through the dark shadows of human trials, and strengthened them with the light of His presence, does not equally guide and reveal Himself to us.

Presumption and pride

The first human evidence that Sarai’s scheme would be productive of vexation and sorrow, as well as of joy, was her disappointment with regard to Hagar’s continued humility and submission. Forgetful that it was to her mistress, humanly speaking, she owed the privileges now hers, the Egyptian so far forgot herself, as to feel and make manifest that Sarai ‘was despised in her eyes.’

Alas, how mournfully does that brief sentence breathe of woman’s fallen nature! How apt are we to exalt ourselves for imaginary superiority – to look down on those who have served us, when God has bestowed on us privileges of which they are deprived. We forget, often through thoughtlessness, that those very things of which we are so proud, come not from ourselves, but from Him who might equally have vouchsafed them to others.

We may not indeed have the same incitement to pride and presumption as Hagar, but have we never despised others for the want of those accomplishments, those advantages, that beauty, and other gifts from God, which we ourselves may possess?  Ay, sometimes, though we trust such emotions are rare as they are sad, the parents who have toiled and laboured to give us advantages of dress and education far above what they possessed themselves -the elder sister, who is contented and rejoiced to remain in the background, that younger and fairer ones, whom she loves with almost a mother’s love, may come forward – the homely and older fashioned aunt, to whom, perhaps, a sister’s orphan family owe their all - these are the beings whom the young and thoughtless but too often secretly despise, as if their superior advantages had come from themselves, not from God, through loving relatives and friends.

And this was the case with Hagar. A superficial reading of the Bible often causes Sarai to be most unjustly blamed for undue harshness. We think only of Hagar’s wanderings in the wilderness, and pity her as cruelly treated, and suppose, that as the Most High relieved her through His angel, she had never been in any way to blame.

Now, though to sympathize with the sorrowing and afflicted be one of our purest and best feelings, it must not so blind us as to prevent our doing justice to the inflictor of that affliction. We candidly avow, that until lately we, too, thought Sarai harsh and unjust, and rather turned from than admired her character.  But we have seen the injustice of this decision, and, therefore, without the smallest remaining prejudice, retract it altogether.  Retract it, simply because the words of the angel are quite sufficient proof that Hagar had been wrong, and Sarai’s chastisement just, or he would not have commanded her, as Sarai’s bondwoman, to return and submit herself to her mistress’s power, without any reservation whatever.

Sarah’s feelings

It must indeed have been a bitterly painful disappointment to Sarai, that instead of receiving increased gratitude and affection from one whom she had so raised and cherished, she was despised with an insolence that, unless checked, might bring discord and misery in a household which had before been so blessed with peace and love.

Sarai’s was not a character to submit tamely to ingratitude. There was neither coldness nor indifference about her. In no part of the Bible, either in character or precept, do we perceive the necessity or the merit of that species of cold indifference, which is by some well-meaning religious persons supposed to be the self-control and pious forgiveness of injuries most acceptable to God.

The patriarchal and Jewish history alike prove, that natural feelings were not to be trampled upon. The Hebrew code was formed by a God of love for the nature of man, not angels – formed so as to be obeyed, not to be laid aside as impracticable. The passions and feelings of the East were very different to those of the calmer and colder North; and nowhere in Holy Writ are we told that those feelings and emotions must be annihilated. Subdued and guided indeed, as must be the consequence of a true and strict adherence to the law of God, and impartial study of His Word; but in the sight of a God of love, indifference can never be, and never was, religion.

Abraham’s position

Yet even this, an affair of feeling entirely between herself and Hagar, could not urge Sarai to any line of conduct unauthorized by her husband. Naturally indignant, she complained to him, perhaps, too, with some secret fear that Hagar, favoured so much above herself by the hope of her giving him a son, might be unduly justified and protected. But it was not so. Abram’s answer at once convinced her that Hagar had not taken her place; nay, that though Abram could not do otherwise than feel tenderness and kindness towards her, he at once recognized Sarai’s supremacy, both as his wife and Hagar’s mistress, and bade her ‘do with her what seemeth good to thee.’

We have so many proofs of Abram’s just, affectionate, and forgiving character, that we may fully believe he would never have said this, if he had not been convinced that it was no unjust accusation of the part of Sarai. He knew, too, that she was not likely to inflict more punishment than was deserved, particularly on a favourite slave; and, therefore, it was with his full consent ‘Sarai afflicted her, and she fled from her presence.’

Whatever the nature of this affliction, it could not have been very severe – neither pain nor restraint – for Hagar had the power to fly. Reproof to an irritable and disdainful mind is often felt as intolerable, and given, too, as it no doubt was, with severity, and at a time when Hagar felt exalted and superior to all around her, even to her mistress, her proud spirit urged flight instead of submission, and not till addressed by the voice of the angel did those rebellious feelings subside.

There was no mistaking the angelic voice, and his first words destroyed the proud dreams which she had indulged. ‘Hagar, Sarai’s bondwoman!’ he said, and the term told her, in the sight of God she was still the same, ‘whence camest thou, and whither art thou going?’

Where did you come from?

It was not because he knew not that he thus spoke. The messengers of the Lord need no enlightenment on the affairs of men, but their questions are adapted to the nature of men, to awaken them to consciousness, to still the tumult of human passion, and by clear and simple questioning, compel a clear and true reply. Had his command to return been given without preparation, Hagar’s obedience would have been the effect of fear, not conviction.

 But those simple questions, ‘Whence camest thou?  Whither art thou going?’ startled her from the tumultuous emotions of rebellion and presumption. Whence had she come? From a happy loving home, where she had been the favourite of an indulgent and gentle mistress; a home which would speedily be to her yet dearer, as the birthplace of her child; that child who was to be the supposed heir to her master and all his sainted privileges; from friends, from companions, all whom she had loved: and she had left them!

 And whither was she going? How might she answer when she knew not? Was she about to resign all of affection, privilege, joy, to wander in the wilderness, helpless and alone? How idle and impotent now seemed her previous feelings. Those simple questions had flashed back light on her darkened heart, and humbled her at once; and simply and truthfully she answered, ‘I flee from the presence of my mistress Sarai;’ thus meekly acknowledging that Sarai was still her mistress, and that her derision had indeed been wrong.

 Reproof, therefore, followed not; but the angel bade her, ‘Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself to her power;’ And, perceiving that her repentance was sincere, and would lead to obedience, he continued graciously to promise that her seed should be multiplied, so that it should not be numbered for multitude; that her son should bear a name which would ever remind her that God had heard her affliction, with other promises concerning that son, yet none which might lead her to the deceitful belief that he would be Abram’s promised seed.

 Inexpressibly consoled, in the midst of her bitter self-reproach, and convinced, by his supernatural voice and disappearance, that it was indeed an angel direct from the Lord with whom she had spoken, it is evident from the context, although not there mentioned, that Hagar must have unhesitatingly obeyed, and returned to her mistress – convinced of her error – submissive and repentant, and been by Sarai received with returning confidence and full forgiveness.

 In due course of time the promise was fulfilled, and Hagar, to the great joy of Abram, had a son, whom Abram called Ishmael [God shall hear], thus proving that Hagar must have imparted the visit of the angel, and his command as to the name of her son.

Where should you be?

Before we proceed we would entreat our younger readers to pause one moment on the simple facts we have related; and so take it to their hearts, that the first words of the angel may become theirs as well as Hagar’s.

We have not indeed the direct communings with the messengers of the Lord, as is recorded in the Bible; but we are not left unguided and unquestioned. We have still an angelic voice within us that, would we but encourage it to speak – would we but listen to it – can, even as the angel’s, still the wild torrent of passion, awaken us to our neglected duty, and lead us, repentant and sorrowing, to those whom we may have offended.

God has not left us without his witness. The VOICE OF CONSCIENCE may be to us what angel visits were to our ancestors of old. There is no period of our lives in which it is wholly lost; but in youth it is strongest and most thrilling. In youth it is that we awake from the (often) stagnant sleep of earlier years; - we awake to a consciousness of bright, glowing, beautiful existence; - we become conscious of a deep yearning after the good, and at the same time sorrowfully feel that it is not quite as easy to attain as we believed it.

As our emotions and feelings spring into life, so does conscience. We become aware of a peculiar thrilling sense of joy, when we have accomplished good, either in conquering ourselves – in giving up a selfish inclination – or in showing kindness, affection, and respect to others. There is a glowing sense of joy, when conscience tells us we have done well, unlike the joy proceeding from any other cause; and as it approves, with an angel voice that will be heard, so does it disapprove.

We may stifle it – we may refuse to listen to its still small tones – yet we cannot shake off the depression and the sadness which it leaves. We may refuse to know wherefore we thus feel; but it is conscience still. How much better, then, to permit its having voice and power, and as it dictates, do – to encourage it at times to speak, and ever keep its silent watch, for we need it, O how powerfully we need it! How fearful is our responsibility if we permit it to lie unused; for more strongly than ought else does it breathe our approval, or our condemnation, in the sight of the Lord.

Is there one amongst us that has not felt at one time or other, emotions similar to those of Hagar – anger at reproof, scorn of those who reprove, rebellion against their dictates; and we would fly from their presence with wrath at our hearts, and rebellion on our lips.  And, at such times, does the voice of conscience never steal over us with questions similar to these? ‘Whence comest thou? Wither wouldst thou flee? What wouldst thou do?’ – startling us from wrath often and often into a burst of passionate and self-reproachful, though, as yet, only half-repentant tears.

And when that passion in a degree is stilled – when affection and reason softly and pleadingly resume their sway, does not the angel voice bid us also ‘return’ unto those whom we have offended? submit to their control? It is wisest, best, though our wayward spirits shrink from it, proud of their own will, desirous of undue freedom. And at such times, O well it is for us, now and hereafter, if, even as Hagar, we return and submit, and thus acknowledge the power of that inward voice! Its angelic whisper will come to us again; we need not fear then, nor shrink from a lonely path – we have within us the ‘angel of the Lord.’

Refusal brings disaster

But those who hear yet refuse to heed, drowning that heavenly whisper by plunging anew into gaiety and pleasure, or by stifling it by unwonted industry, are exposing themselves to distant but untold-of sorrows. It will, indeed, be long ere conscience becomes so silenced as not to intrude, but she will at length.  And then, when, in agony of spirit, we wake from our vain dream, and would give worlds, if we had them, to feel as we have felt – to hear once more the voice of conscience thrilling and directing as in happier years – to be awake to the consciousness of our faults, that we might correct and subdue them – and feel once more the glowing approval of our strivings after good, O how agonizing must be the conviction – it is we who have spurned, neglected, and so silenced the angel of the Lord, that it must be a long, long, and weary interval of pain and toil, and watching, ere we may list [hear] those sweet low spiritual tones again.

Better, far better, the momentary pain and humility of acknowledgment and submission. Better, far better, the too tender conscience, giving pain, in some cases apparently unnecessarily, than its silence and stagnation; for it MUST one day awake, and dreadful will be that waking.

To obtain this blessed influence – to feel that to us is sent, as to our ancestors, ‘the angel of the Lord’ – we have but to study the Word of God and ourselves.

It may cost us at first many sad and weary hours – many bitter tears – and many a secret pang; for it is hard so to know ourselves as to see faults and failings which others see not. It is hard to restrain the too frequent indulgence of favourite pleasures, because we know they will do us harm. It is hard sometimes to perform a disagreeable, nay, a painful duty, only because we feel we ought, even though our friends see not the necessity. 

Hard, when friends approve, for our hearts to disapprove.  And all this we must encounter, would we study ourselves and God’s Word, till our hearts become shrines for His guiding angel. But O, sad, depressing as all this may seem, it is but a grain in the balance compared to the deep thrilling joy which is its accompaniment. Those who have once felt the glow of approving conscience – the strength, encouragement, consolation, hope, which it gives when all around is desolate and dark, who feel that, hand-in-hand with faith and prayer, it is leading us safely and blessedly through the stony paths of earth, even through the dark valley of death, up to the glowing and immortal light of heaven, will welcome even its severest pang to call it theirs, and hail it as, indeed, the angel of the Lord.

Restored to favour

It may be that Sarai’s correction of Hagar was unduly harsh, although we have no warrant in Scripture for so believing.  But it is evident, as there is no further mention of contention and disagreement between them, that she received her submission with gentleness, and restored her to favour.

It is well when forgiveness is thus recorded: many and many a young meek spirit would obey the voice of the angel and return, in humility and love, could they but be sure that submission would be gently and lovingly received; and shrink from it only because the chilling reception, the uttered but not felt reconciliation, falls upon their still quivering hearts with a pang and degradation which they feel that as yet they cannot bear.

The spirit of that healing and consoling love, which has its birth in religion, must guide both the offended and the offender, or reconciliation never can be complete; nor the latter be securely and convincingly led back to that better path to which the angel points. The pang of unrequited [unreturned] confidence, chilled affection, and all the bitterness of unnecessary degradation, will be stronger at first than the approving glow of conscience.  While a contrary reception, even though it may heighten the pang of self-reproach, will soothe and encourage, for the inward voice whispers – we have done well; and, from that moment, the heavenly messenger assumes her mild dominion in the heart, never to be lured thence [from there] again.


[1] See The Sacred Scriptures, Hebrew and English, translated by the Rev. D. A. De Sola, etc.  Note to verse 1 of chapter xvi (16).

On to Part Two


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