What happened between Sarah and Hagar? Were they a couple of jealous, fickle, manipulative women who wound up being married to the same man?
No. Abraham wasn't stupid.
Let us remember that they were both righteous women who did whatever the Lord requested. And Abraham was blessed by their presence in his life.
So who was Sarah? The Jews hold up Sarah as a woman worthy of Abraham. The Midrash says she was a blonde beauty and her intelligence, wisdom, compassion and gentle spirit amazed all who knew her. Additional records tell us she was spiritual, devoted to God and her husband, and full of truth—preaching the gospel to the women while Abraham taught the men.
Isaiah, Peter and Paul all hold up Sarah as an example of a righteous, faithful woman. (See Isaiah 51:1-3, Heb. 11:11 and 1 Pter 3:5-6.) Even the Lord tells Abraham to "hearken" unto the voice of his wife when making a difficult decision (Gen. 21:12).
And who was Hagar? Many records tells us that Hagar was not just any slave given to Sarah by the Pharaoh but, rather, his very daughter. Hagar was true royalty--a princess in the eyes of the world. Some accounts state that the Pharaoh gave Sarah his daughter so Hagar could learn the doctrines which Abraham and Sarah knew and taught.
Think about that for a moment. Sarah knew of divine birth. Hagar knew of royal birth.
So, an earthly princess appears on the scene. She goes from palaces to pasturelands...and she does it remarkably well. In fact, the Lord said Hagar helped fulfill "among other things, the promises" (D&C 132:34).
Hagar served as Sarah’s handmaid for ten years before Sarah made the decision to give her to Abraham as a maid-wife. Law stated a covenant wife could do that—she could give her maid to her husband for the purposes of childbearing. So, that is what Sarah did.
Now, we can be sure Sarah had more than one servant. So why did she select Hagar? Because she deeply and truly loved Hagar.
Think about that for a moment. You certainly wouldn't send your enemy into your husband's bed. If asked to make that difficult decision you would send the woman you loved and trusted with all your heart!
Earthly law saw Hagar as a maid-wife. Hagar could not receive a legal inheritance nor stand in equal position with the covenant wife. As a maid-wife, Hagar would always be a maid first, a wife second. Her children would also be of a lower status in the eyes of the law. Yet Hagar--who was still learning the gospel--must have thought the eternal promises made to Abraham would now be hers...shifting from Sarah to Hagar so that she would be the 'covenant' wife.
But eternal families require more than just conceiving and delivering a child and Sarah, Abraham, and the Lord knew that. Hagar had just been legally wed, not eternally sealed to Abraham.
Sometimes the truth hurts. It can feel like someone has dealt "hardly" with us, which is how Hagar felt. But you can never run from the truth, even if you don't like it. It will find you and the Lord did find Hagar in the wilderness.
Despite being new to gospel understanding, Hagar was righteous and worthy enough to receive a visit from an angel—not once, but twice. In the first visit the angel told her to return and submit to Sarah—not Abraham. Why? So she could learn, from another woman, what she needed to know to be a righteous and virtuous wife in the eyes of the Lord--one worthy of receiving promised blessings from the Lord. Then the angel told her of those promises and Hagar knew He held great blessings in store for her, too.
So Hagar did as the Lord requested. She returned and learned how to submit to righteousness. And righteousness always involves loves. Sarah, we know, was a compassionate, righteous and loving woman. So was Hagar. Josephus also tells us that when Ishmael was born Sarah loved him as her own. She raised Ishmael and educated him and, even when Sarah later gave birth to Isaac, her love for Ishmael was “not inferior to that of her own son.”
So why did Sarah cast out Hagar and Ishmael after Isaac was weaned? Was she truly upset because a 13-year-old, that records tell us she loved equally to her own son, was making inappropriate comments?
Please, give the woman more credit that that. Sarah had lived 100 years. She knew the weakness of teenage words.
Many scholars believe that Sarah released Hagar and her son precisely because she loved them. She granted them the only thing she could by law: their freedom. Sarah could not leave Hagar and Ishmael an inheritance—the law forbid it. Hagar, the woman she loved enough to share with her husband, and Ishmael--the son she loved equal to her own son--were slaves. She did not want them to live that way or die that way, so she gave them their freedom.
Jewish accounts tell us that was not the end of their relationship. Abraham and Sarah watched over Ishmael and Hagar, and Hagar remained true to her vows. Later, Jewish records tell us Hagar changed her name to Keturah and this time, as a free woman, became a full and equal wife to Abraham, becoming the mother of a multitude through the only man she ever married. We see the name change as symbolizing her acceptance of the gospel and entrance into the Abrahamic Covenant.
These two women, Hagar and Sarah, were chosen by God to become the mothers of multitudes. They were not perfect--that we know. But we must also know that they were not jealous, controlling, manipulative women. They learned to love and respect the other and do what the Lord asked of them.
They were not rivals. They were sisters.