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Volume 17, Issue 3: Pooh's Think

The Women of Israel, V

Michael Metzler

The hot dry air blew up smoky dust clouds all around the woman and her child. The woman walked slowly with her crying child in her arms. A cloth vainly draped over the child's face to shield off the sand and sun. Without any more water, there was nothing else to do for the child. The woman's hope to make it back to her homeland in Egypt waned more with every fatigued step. Bitterness and sorrow welled up inside her, interrupted with brief relieving moments of numbness to any feeling at all. The remembrance of her first flight from her mistress throbbed in her head; she could have gotten back to Egypt then. She could have done it; her son was only a small child then. But the angel of her master's God stopped her and made her go back to submit to the mistreatment of her master's wife. She was promised a wild and free nation from the boy. Instead, she was still a female slave, despised and sent off by her master; and her son was now as good as dead.

Finally, she stopped, laid her child under a bush to die, walked a hundred yards away, fell to the ground and started weeping. "Do not let me see the boy die," she wailed. In the midst of the barren desert, the crying of the woman and the boy went out to diffuse with the hot wind and sand.
But there was a God who heard the crying of the child; it was the God who sees, the God who saw the woman during her first flight from her mistress. This was a God who took note and saw the woman in her distress, and now He had heard the crying of her dying child. And so the angel called out from heaven with the same promise: "I will make a great nation of him." And God opened her eyes so that she could see the well of water by her.
This second Hagar story is told just before the berith encounter between Abraham and Abimelech, just as the first story of Hagar is told right in between the berith encounters between Abraham and the Lord (chapters 15 and17). The women of Israel did not cut covenant and so neither did the Lord with them. The blood of berith did not concern them as did the blood from their womb. We see this again with Leah: "Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb" and she said, "`Because the Lord has seen [lit. looked upon] my affliction; surely now my husband will love me" (29:31). Likewise with Rachel: "Then God remembered Rachel, and God gave heed to her and opened her womb" (30:22), and she said, "God has taken away my reproach."
This gives us necessary context for understanding the Lord's relationship with Sarah. After persevering with her laughter (18:12-15), "The Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised" (Gen. 21:1). New laughter was given to her (21:6).
The next time we see the Lord dealing with a woman, she is also an afflicted servant girl, out in the wilderness. "So God heard their groaning and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them" (Ex. 2:23-24). The Lord takes note of the abandoned slave girl Israel; He sees her in her distress and cannot refuse His intimate care, tutelage, and re-establishment. Before we come to the terrifying sign of the Treaty berith, the worship at Mount Horeb, the berith cut with Abraham and the berith given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are realized only after the Lord sees His abandoned slave girl, and hears the crying of His despised people from the midst of the desert.
And in the end, this intimate love overwhelms a poetic use of manly berith. When Zacharias, as a new Abraham, asked, "How shall I know this for certain?" the Lord gave no berith assurance but rather rebuked his unbelief with dumbness. But his wife became pregnant and she knew that the Lord was looking with favor upon her, to take away her disgrace (Matt. 1:25). And Mary, the female slave of the Lord, likewise found favor with God. The Lord blessed the fruit of her womb (42). Mary sang to the Lord, "He has had regard for the humble state of His female slave … for the Mighty One has done great things for me" (48-49). And Elizabeth gave birth to a son, for the "Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her" (58). When the Messiah finally comes to us, He comes from the blood of the womb; He comes from the slave girl in distress. The man looking for berith confirmation is struck dumb. The women crying out in the desert are visited with God in their womb. After Zacharias regained his voice, he sang, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for his people … to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham" (72-73).

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