Relational abuse is not something we should tolerate. This is with the understanding that abuse is the regular, deliberate intent to harm or diminish another. It’s important to address this based on Hagar’s statement to the Lord’s messenger.
Based upon the Scriptures, Hagar presumed too much. As the first (Sarah being the other) person to conceive a child of Abraham, Hagar no longer viewed Sarah as deserving her respect. Culturally, this would be the “second wife” taking over the place of “the first” wife in the family. That would have been a move of significant dishonor. In a culture that highly values honor, it’s almost like killing Sarah (yes, that would be the significance of dishonoring). Sarah would not have taken that well.
Hagar, on the other hand, would have likely viewed her (Hagar’s) place as being of greater honor due to conception. From Hagar’s viewpoint (honor and respect being integral), anything that Sarah did that “kept” Hagar in “her place” as second wife (even though a servant) would be insulting and harsh. From her perspective, Hagar “earned” her new place as first wife.
We have a hard time understanding this, as our enculturation includes monogamy. It is critical when reading the Scriptures to understand where our culture (and thus understanding) doesn’t mesh with the culture(s) portrayed in the Scriptures.
From a cultural standpoint, Hagar had betrayed the family. The messenger made no such accusation. The messenger just said, go back. The messenger also gave a name to the son to be born…Ishmael (he hears). God heard Hagar and the son was named to bear witness to this truth.
Assigning names is not a small thing. Names are both a beginning and an end. Multiple times in the Scriptures, a person gains a new name after a significant (God) event. Thus, when Jesus asks his disciples (his friends) who do they say he is, Jesus is being vulnerable.
We look at this passage knowing that Jesus is the Messiah, but when we think about it, when Jesus puts this question before the disciples, he is opening himself up to many things. The names/identities that the disciples say others are saying would not have the full effect or import.
One of the things that any of the identities/names that the disciples had put forth would, in some respects, diminish Jesus’ ministry. All of them were those that came before Jesus, so Jesus would have been “just” a repeat. They even brought up John the Baptist! Talk about a misunderstanding of God!
Jesus’ vulnerability to being misnamed is significant on multiple fronts. It showed his effectiveness. The disciples (or at least Peter) correctly identified Jesus. This provides a greater perspective regarding what Jesus did before, and what he did after.
“You are the Christ,” is similar to getting a new name. Something happened. In at least one disciple’s eyes, Jesus wasn’t just a good religious man. Jesus went from prophetic friend to the hope for change and rescue. For Peter, it may have also been one of the hardest things. His friend became someone undeniably more than ordinary.
- What does your name mean to you? What did your name mean to your parents (if you know)?
- What nicknames do you have for people you know? How about for people you don’t know (like that driver who encroached or cut you off)? What do these names mean?
Lord, we have many names and titles in this world. Thank you for the one the surpasses them all, Child of God. Amen.