Hagar: A Spectacular Story

Who first named God? Adam, perhaps. Well, maybe not. Apparently he was too busy naming animals. Okay, then Noah, who had those long conversations with God about ark-building. Nope. Guess he was busy sawing wood…or convincing his wife that the world really would flood. Abraham? Wrong again.

The first person to name God was Hagar, the woman whom Sarah, Abe’s wife, had designated to bear a child with Abraham. Of course they didn’t have fertility clinics back then. Her tent was the clinic. And such an arrangement was actually faithful on Sarah’s part because she way past menopause (light years!) and God had promised her and Abe a son. The only way to have that son was to arrange a surrogate mother — and Sarah named Hagar.

But Sarah gets jealous (wouldn’t you?) and tosses Hagar into the desert, with Abe’s consent. Hagar, who, understandably is thirsty and hungry, calls on God in her first reported words in the Bible. “You are El-roi,” she cries (Genesis 16:13). In that moment, God is named for the first time* — by a slave woman, an outcast, and one who would die were it not for God’s protection and her deep survival instincts.

*A brilliant perspective of this encounter is put forth in Charlotte Gordon’s book, “The Woman Who Named God: Abraham’s Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths.” A must-read for anyone seeking to understand the birth of the world religions and their interactions today.

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