Haggar, Sara’s servant, conceived – at Sara’s request – a son with Abraham. Haggar was then expelled into the desert by Sara who resented bitterness from her triumphant pregnancy.
The name « Haggar » means « emigration ». Pregnant and on the run, she met an angel near a well in the desert. It was not her first encounter with an angel.
According to Rashi, Haggar had already seen angels four times in Abraham’s dwelling. He also points out that « she had never had the slightest fear of them », because « she was used to seeing them ».
Haggar’s meeting with the angel near the well gave rise to a curious scene. There was a mysterious encounter between Haggar and the Lord, implying at least two successive, different, « visions ».
“She proclaimed the name of the Lord [YHVH] who had spoken to her: ‘You are the God [EL] of my vision [Roÿ], because, she said, did I not see, right here, after I saw?’ That is why the well was called ‘Beer-la-Haÿ-Roÿ’ [the ‘Well of the Living One of My Vision’]; it is located between Kadesh and Bered.”i
It is said that Haggar « proclaimed the name of the Lord [YHVH]« , but in fact she did not pronounce this very name, YHVH, which is, as we know, unpronounceable. She used instead a new metaphor that she had just coined: « El Roÿ » (literally ‘God of my Vision’).
She thus gave a (pronouncable) name to the (unspeakable) vision she just had.
From the name given to the well, that was conserved by the tradition, we infer that, a little while after having ‘called the Lord’, Haggar called the Lord a second time with yet another name: « Haÿ Roÿ » (‘The Living One of My Vision’). It is this second name that she used to name the well.
Haggar coined two different names, just as she had two successive visions.
In the text of Genesis, Haggar used the word « vision » twice and the expression « I saw » also twice.
She revealed that she had another vision ‘after she saw’: « Didn’t I see, right here, after I saw? ».
The first name she gave to the Lord is very original. She is the only person in the whole Bible who uses this name: « El Roÿ » (‘God of My Vision’).
The second name is even more original: « Haÿ Roÿ » (‘the Living One of My Vision’).
Here is a servant girl expelled away in the desert by her mistress. She then has two visions, and she invents two new names for God!
The name she gives to the second vision is « The Living One ». This vision is indeed very alive, it is « living », it does not disappear like a dream, it lives deeply in her soul, as the child moves in her womb.
The text, taken literally, indicates that Haggar had two successive visions. But Rashi takes the analysis further, in his commentary on Gen 16, 9:
« THE ANGEL OF THE LORD SAID TO HIM. For every saying, another angel had been sent to her. This is why for each saying, the word AN ANGEL OF THE LORD [ מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה ] is repeated.»
Then according to Rashi, four ‘angels of the Lord’ spoke with Haggar, who therefore had four visions corresponding to four different angels.
If we add the four other visions that she already had in Abraham’s dwelling, also according to Rashi, Haggar had at least eight visions in her life.
I say ‘at least’, because around twenty years later, Haggar had yet another spiritual encounter: an angel called her from the heaven, when she was in danger of dying after having been expelled, once more, from Abraham’s dwelling, as reported in Gen 21,17.
The last angel who spoke to Haggar, near the ‘Well of the Living One of My Vision’, had said :
« You shall bear a son, you shall call him Ishmael, because God has heard your affliction. »ii
Ishmael can indeed be translated as « God has heard ».
Haggar saw a vision and heard a divine voice, and God also « heard » Haggar. But why doesn’t the text say that God « saw » her affliction?
Here is a possible interpretation: in fact God does « hear » and « see » Haggar, but He does not “see” her separately from her unborn son. He « sees » the mother together with her son, the former pregnant with the latter, and He « sees » no immediate reason for affliction. Rather, God « sees » in her the vigorous thrust of a life yet to come, growing in her womb as a seed, and her future joy.
Haggar’s affliction has nothing to do with her pregnancy, it has everything to do with the humiliation imposed on her by Sara. It is this humiliation that God « heard ».
But then, why did the angel who spoke the second time say to her: « Go back to your mistress and humiliate yourself under her hand.” ?
Why does God, who « heard » Haggar’s affliction and humiliation, ask her to return to Abraham’s dwelling, for a further life of humiliation?
God reserves great glory for the afflicted, the humble, the humiliated. And as a price for a life of humiliation, Haggar « saw » the Most High, the Almighty, at least eight times. Many more times than Sara, it seems.
iGn 16, 13-14
ii Gen. 16, 11