Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: Hagar Meets an Angel

Scripture: Genesis 16:7-16

Even though Abram had been promised a son, his wife Sarai bore him no child. So they decided to help God out and Sarai gave her maid, Hagar, to Abram. Hagar, of course, got pregnant, starting a feud between the two women. This resulted in Sarai treating Hagar harshly. So Hagar ran away to the wilderness where she encountered an angel of God.

Observations: Genesis, whose very title means “beginning,” is a book of firsts. The first person, the first temptation, the first sin, the first promise of a Savior…and that is in just the first three chapters of the book! Genesis 16 continues this theme and contains several firsts of its own:

  • The first use of angel in the Torah. Cherubim are mentioned back in Genesis 3:24, set there to guard the Tree of Life. Genesis 6 references “the sons of God,” another possible allusion to angelic beings. But not until here is the term angel actually used.
  • The first recorded encounter between a human and an angel. Even the two uses of angel in Job (4:18 and 33:23) are passing references to these supernatural beings. This is the first time we see clear and precise interaction between a human and one of God’s messengers (the literal definition of both the Greek and Hebrew terms used for angel).
  • The first encounter between God and a “Gentile” in the Torah. Although there is not yet a Jew-Gentile division yet, since the nation of Israel does not exist, other nations and countries have developed since the Flood. With that development, a division is already forming between the “godly” line that will eventually lead to the Jews (and ultimately to the Messiah) and those on the outside. In fact, Scripture makes a point of emphasizing that Hagar is an Egyptian: She’s not of the line that would produce the promised people and possibly not even a believer in the God Abram and Sarai served.

Significance: As this is the first clearly recorded angel encounter, it probably shouldn’t surprise that this passage provides us several clues about the supernatural.

First, we realize that not all we now call “angels” are angels in Scripture. We tend to use the term to refer to any supernatural being who isn’t God. But in Scripture, the word for angel was simply “messenger” and could refer to a human (in which case it’s usually translated messenger), to a non-human being (what we call angels), or even to God in the form of a theophany (Christ appearing in human form on Earth before His incarnation). On the other side, there are mentioned other supernatural beings who aren’t messengers—the cherubim and seraphim, for example. This reveals that different roles and different “races,” if not “species,” exist for what we call angels. Moreover, this shows that God has many ways of communicating with humans as well—through other people, supernatural beings, and even directly Himself.

We also see in this passage that one of the main roles of a true angel is that of messenger. Their job is to interact directly with people and speak to them. That message may be short or long. It may include commands, instructions, promises, encouragement, prophesy, and (as we will see later) warnings. Often these messages, like here, are very specific, quirked for a specific person facing a very specific set of circumstances, usually with some immediate application. This specificity implies that the completion of the Bible would not nullify the work of a messenger angel, which in turn implies that they are still necessary and active today.

But I think what impressed me the most about this passage was to whom God sent this first messenger: a female, Egyptian slave who might not even believe in Him. That is about as low as you can get, especially in a Jew’s eyes. Yet Hagar gets the distinction of having this first recorded encounter with a messenger from the LORD and possibly the first post-Eden theophany as well (implied by the use of “I” in verse 10).*

This tells us that the supernatural is not reserved for the elite. You do not have to be a certain gender. You do not have to belong to a certain race. You don’t have to possess a certain social ranking. Any of us may experience the supernatural. Any of us may encounter God. So the question becomes less “can we encounter the supernatural” and more “how will we respond when we encounter it?” Will we recoil…doubt…rebel? Or respond with obedience like Hagar, realizing God sees us and our circumstances no matter how difficult?

*(While God frequently talked with other people before this point, only twice is He said to make an visible appearance—once speaking out of the whirlwind with Job [Job 38:1, 40:6] and once He “appeared” to Abram in an unspecified form [Genesis 12:7]. Neither imply a human-like form that is consistent with the known theophanies.)

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