One of the most interesting women in the Bible is Hagar, Abraham's second wife, and the mother of Ishmael. The Arab and Bedouin tribes claim to be descendants of Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar.
According to the Midrash, Hagar was the daughter of King Pharaoh of Egypt. When she saw the miracle which G‑d performed for the sake of Sarah, to save her from the hands of the Egyptian king during Abraham's visit there, she said: "It is better to be a slave in Sarah's house than a princess in my own."
Her name "Hagar," according to the Midrash, stems from this beginning of her association with Abraham's house. It comes from "Ha-Agar," meaning this is the reward.
Hagar became Sarah's Maid, but when Sarah was not blessed with children, she persuaded Abraham to take Hagar as his second wife. Sarah hoped that she could bring up Hagar's children and merit G‑d's blessing that way, so that she, too, perhaps might be blessed with a child.
Abraham took Sarah's advice and married Hagar.
When Sarah's hopes began to be fulfilled, it brought her unexpected suffering. For, as soon as Hagar realized she was to have a child, she began to look down upon her mistress who apparently could not have one.
Sarah reminded Hagar that she, Sarah, was the mistress, and Hagar was but her maid, and she made Hagar work harder than ever. Hagar then ran away into the wilderness. There, an angel of G‑d appeared to her and ordered her to return to Sarah and treat her with the respect due to a mistress. He told her that for this she 'would merit giving birth to a son whose voice G‑d would hear (Yishma-El), who would be strong fierce, a man of the wilds and respected among her people.
Our Sages give Hagar much credit for not being frightened at having seen the divine angel, while even Manoah, as the T'nach tells us, feared that he would die because he had seen an angel of G‑d. This, say our Sages, shows how pious Hagar was, and how she had become adjusted to the saintly life of Abraham's house, where angels came and went as constant guests.
Later on, after Hagar's return and Ishmael's birth, things went well for all concerned. Sarah, too, was blessed with a son, Isaac. Ishmael was then already thirteen years old and he seemed to have inherited a wild nature through his mother's ancestors, for he was a bad influence on Isaac. According to one view of our Sages, Hagar was a true believer in the G‑d of Abraham. The Torah tells us that Ishmael mocked Isaac and often tried to frighten him. Again Sarah insisted that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away if Isaac were to be prevented from following Ishmael's evil ways.
Abraham was very reluctant to send Hagar away, and especially his son. But G‑d told him to do as Sarah wished and Ishmael would yet become the father of a great nation.
Hagar and Ishmael lost their way in the wilderness near Beer-Sheba and ran out of water. A terrible death from thirst threatened them, but they were saved by a Divine miracle. Hagar had put her son in the shade of a bush and moved away some distance, not bearing to watch him suffer, when an angel appeared again to her, assuring her that G‑d had seen her son's suffering and would save him. He would live, and become the father of a mighty nation. As the angel spoke, Hagar immediately noticed a well nearby.
Our Sages say that Hagar showed then her faith in G‑d was not genuine. For when her son suffered she doubted G‑d's promise.
Many of our ancient Sages speak favorably of Hagar who never remarried. She lived together with her son who had built his home on the edge of the wilderness and became a famous hunter. The Sages say that he possessed Adam's coat which he had taken from King Nimrod. (This coat gave the wearer power over animals).
Despite living with Ishmael so far from Abraham's influence, Hagar remained faithful to him. Therefore, after Sarah's death, Isaac himself went to her and took her back to his father to be again his father's wife. The Torah now calls her "Keturah," meaning "tied" to Abraham, for she had kept her faithful bond to Abraham; and it also means an adornment," for her good deeds. As the Torah tells us, she bore more children to Abraham. None, however, was as important as Ishmael.
The Midrash tells us that not only was Hagar reunited with Abraham, but her son, too, became a penitent and returned to the G‑d whom he had served in his father's house, and whom he had forsaken during his wild life as a hunter and ruler of nations. Abraham thus lived to see Ishmael become his true son.
Later on in the Bible, we find Hagar indirectly mentioned once more as the mother of several tribes of Hagarites, neighbors of the tribes of Israel. They lived in Trans-Jordan ("Ever HaYarden") and were driven away by the Israelites.
Interesting are also the legends which the Mohammedans tell about Hagar and which, in general, agree with the reports of our own tradition. To them Hagar was the ancestor of their prophet Mohammed, and naturally they attribute all kinds of miracles to her, of which neither the Torah nor the Midrashim tell us.
Hagar, as our Sages picture her, was a woman of humility and piety. Indeed, few others were privileged to have an angel of G‑d speak to them twice, and produce miracles for them.