Chaplain’s Reflection

Deborah Chapman (2)July & August 2017

Our God Who Honours Women
‘You shall name him Ishmael [God hears] for the Lord has heard of your misery’….’You are the God who sees me…I have now seen [the back of] the One who sees me.’ That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi [well of the Living One who sees me];….Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.’ Genesis 16.11b, 13b-14a and 21.19a

We often study the promises made to Abraham, both in Genesis chapter 12, where he hears the voice of God and answers His call to move and in chapter 15, where God initiates a covenant with Abram, promising that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, later reaffirmed by the covenant of circumcision in Genesis 17, when Abram and Sarai’s names get changed to Abraham and Sarah. But we don’t often study God’s promises to and about women in the same narrative. We may have been told that the Old Testament is patriarchal. It certainly describes a culture that could be defined as patriarchal. But that makes the discovery (revelation?) of God’s equal relationship with, and treatment of, women even more stunning! The Old Testament directly challenges our view that it is as patriarchal as the societies of its day.

So what about Sarai, Abram’s wife, and her Egyptian servant Hagar? Sarai decides to take matters into her own hands (‘The Lord has kept me from having children.’ 16.2), and offers Hagar to her husband, so that she can ‘perhaps…build a family through her.’ But when Hagar becomes pregnant, she despises her mistress who cannot get pregnant. Sarai ill-treats her in return and she flees. ‘Near a spring in the desert’ (v.7) is the setting for an encounter with an angel, a messenger from God, who tells her to go back and gives her God’s promise that ‘I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count’ (v.10). Hagar’s description of her relationship with God speaks of awareness of one another’s intimate presence: ‘She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

Note that Hagar was not a perfect person, but she was understandably distraught by the bad treatment she received from Sarai. Sarai, though, was reaping the consequences of taking matters into her own hands. But neither Hagar or Sarai had learned her lesson yet! Genesis 21 reveals that somehow, Ishmael had picked up his mother’s bad habit of looking down on others (…the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking…v.9) but this time, God tells Abraham that he must listen to his wife Sarah (v.12) when she says to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael and reassures him that Ishmael will also be a nation. God tells a man to listen to a woman! And what Abraham is to listen to is the ranting of a jealous woman who wants to get rid of her rival and that rival’s son, because their contempt is unbearable. Jealousy v.s. contempt – not very pretty!!

And yet God is faithful. He had already fulfilled His promise to give Sarah and Abraham a son (Genesis 18), despite Sarai having taken matters into her own hands (!), and now Abraham is reassured that the son of the outsider, Hagar the Egyptian, would also be blessed, despite her own wrong attitude. But perhaps the most astounding aspect of this whole episode is the tenderness of God towards Hagar when she has left her child to die. We read that ‘God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar,…”What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.”‘ (v.17) God instructs her to take the boy and only then does He open her eyes so that she sees a well of water…and all this AFTER reiterating His promise to make him into a great nation – a promise made directly to her as a woman with no man to care for her!

The promise comes when we cannot see how God can possibly fulfill it. So let’s trust Him, unafraid, joyful in spite of our sinful weaknesses, grateful for His forgiveness and moved by His tenderness.



earlier posts.





  • About Myself

    The Rev Dr Deborah Chapman

    Born in a small town in Massachusetts, the first of 5 children, my parents took me to Argentina when I was a year old. This is how I grew up bilingual, with Spanish as my first spoken language. I feel very much ‘at home’ with the grand mix that is the Mothers’ Union throughout the world. ‘Home’ is not a feeling that is usual with me, having lived in five different countries in Latin America, as well as various places in the U.S., U.K., Spain, France, Papua New Guinea and most recently, in Sharjah (UAE). I am now a cleric with Permission to Officiate in the Archdeaconry of Gibraltar, accompanying my husband John who is the Chaplain at St George’s Barcelona.

    John, from Scotland, and I met in 1977, at the London Bible College, after I had moved to London in 1976 to study linguistics and then theology, having been accepted as a Bible translator with Wycliffe Bible Translators. We married in 1980, and thereafter worked together in Christian mission with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (1979-1991), and Latin Link (1991-2002) before both of us became ordained Anglican Deacons then Priests. I have been a Mothers’ Union member since serving my curacy at St Mellitus Hanwell (2005-2008), and served as the Mothers’ Union Chaplain for the Willesden Area of the London Diocese for just one year (2012-2013) before John accepted the calling to be Chaplain of St Martin’s Sharjah, UAE. There was no Mothers’ Union there, but I was very involved with the Women’s Fellowship, and through them with the Vacation Bible School for the children. It is a great joy to be invited to serve as Chaplain for the Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Europe!

    I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour one night when staying in a hotel in Copacabana, on the shores of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia – my apologies if you need an atlas to work out where that is! I was 16 at the time. Nothing has brought me more satisfaction in life than allowing my Lord to guide me into that fullness of life that He promises in John 10.10. My husband John and our two married children and their spouses - Matthew (and Belinda) and Kirstin (and Elliot) are a huge part of the full life He has given me, as is the pleasure of serving Him as an ordained minister. I also enjoy walking, swimming, reading, writing, painting, cooking and being an occasional academic.