There was a time in my childhood that I packed up my life and ran away from home. When I got far enough away from the horror that probably amounted to having to clean my room or not getting something I wanted, well then, they’d see! They’d miss me and be sorry they ever asked me to pick up after myself! I wrapped a few things up in my blankie and stormed to the end of the driveway and sat down. I may have lasted 15 minutes, but I was certain it was most of the afternoon. Eventually I came back in the house and slunk off to my room. My mom came in to find me and brought me a bowl of cut up apples as a peace offering and in a few moments, with a little rush of natural sugar and a bit of caring, all was right in my world.
Hagar had far more stick-to-itivity than me. Sarai had mistreated her to the point she couldn’t take it anymore and she ran. If you have a copy of the Bible handy, feel free to open it up and let’s pick up where we left off last week. Click the link and let’s read together!
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Hagar is not fleeing like an impetuous child. In order to step into the desert and run for the land she left years before, she has to be ready to face death over the abuse doled out to her by her mistress. She will be traveling through intense heat, and as we will see later in Hagar’s story, the desert elements put her and her son at the edge of death for this very reason. Should she make it through the desert to her homeland, she will be entering it as a single pregnant woman. What would she be? It should be obvious to all of us that this is a woman who would rather be free at the risk of death than sheltered at the expense of her independence.
The Lord found her near a spring, and how beautiful a spot, where she may likely have come, collapsing in the heat of the day, desperate for a drink. We think of another woman, another well, and Jesus speaking to another woman of no account, there offering her living water so that she may never thirst again.
In this moment what the Bible doesn’t say speaks volumes to me. The angel of the Lord finds her and she speaks with him as if he is you or me. She is no cowering shepherd tending their flocks who were so afraid. She is no shaking disciple in a boat. She is bold and speaks plainly to Him. He is sometimes referred in this story as “the angel of the Lord” or “the Lord” or “the God.” Whether this was the highest angel representative, God the father manifest or God the son manifest, I am not certain, but Hagar speaks clearly indicating that she knows this to be God. I am not certain that if I was to come face to face with God that I would be able to form even two words, let alone a full conversation. This is a brave woman!
If what the Bible doesn’t say speaks to me about Hagar’s character, what the Bible does say speaks to me about the character of God. He speaks and the first word is her name. It is identification and it is value and it is knowing. Then he speaks her role and shows he knows who the world sees her as. Finally, He asks her where she has come from and where is she going. He knows the answer to this already. Like many questions God asks, it is for the listener to gain meaning. This question is about inviting her to consider what is your past, Hagar, and what is your future? In essence, who does she see herself as.
Hagar answers essentially with information about her present, not her past or her future, nothing of her regrets or her hopes, simply what she is doing now. The past is too far gone, what she could have been, who she could have been, and there is no future in sight. She identifies herself in her present despairing state. The angel of the Lord then directs her to return to her former situation. She has told him what she is doing. He tells her what to do. This has been a direction that I have struggled to understand for years. How could a loving God, a God who cares about abused broken women, tell this girl to go back to that?
Then He speaks over her. For years I have seen God say to Hagar, essentially, “You’re pregnant. You’re going to give your kid kind of a weird name. He’s going to be a real big problem and difficult to raise.” Why is Hagar happy about that? How can she smile and skip back to Canaan like nothing happened because God said that nonsense to her?
If we take apart God’s words and consider them. He tells her to go back and then follows it with a promise, a promise very similar to the one given to Abraham, the promise of descendants. This is a big deal, particularly to give this promise to a woman, particularly to give it to a woman of no standing. We are so many years in the future and societies still don’t give the kind of equality and honor to women that God has no trouble extending at nearly the beginning of history.
Next the angel of the Lord says is “I see the mess you’re in, and I am naming the outcome of this mess, “God hears,” because when I asked you who you were, you vulnerably answered with not who you were born to be or who you hoped to be, but that who you were at this moment was out of options.” Who among us has not been there? Who has not wished someone would just notice the mess we’re in and maybe they aren’t going to fix all the problems, but they are willing to hear us and get it when we say “This sucks. It really really sucks.”
Finally, five lines dedicated to Ishmael’s attitude and behavior. Any mother I know would have taken a step back if they’d heard the child in their belly was going to fight with everyone, live in hostility against his brothers and be a wild donkey. Let’s remember who Hagar is, however. This is no trembling feather falling from a sparrow. She is the whole hawk. God is not offering her a son whom she would not be able to manage. God is promising her that she will have descendants through a her son who will be a man who is prepared to fight for his freedom. What I have always read as almost a punishment, to her would have been a delight. He would be just like her.
The answer to how can Hagar return willingly to the abuse she was ready to die to get away from? Because God came to her in her lowest and heard her and speaks very closely to the same message he gives to Israel in Jeremiah 29:11-14 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.” I have big plans for you. I hear you. You can see me. I will set you free. A nation sized promise given to one girl.
She turns and having been seen, having been heard, having been called by name and having had the life inside of her named as well, she turns and names God. How intimate! She says “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” There is the most beautiful of all mysteries to me, that an invisible God sees me and makes himself seen by me.
Seeing this interaction for what it is has altered my view of God in this encounter. No longer do I see a removed dictator who just sends back a broken girl into abuse, but rather I see a restored empowered girl ready to do more than most of us could dream doing because God saw her. God didn’t just give her hope, but also a purpose, to carry the message of the God who sees us. He gives her dignity, a name, and the assurance of value and worth. God empowers her not to simply overthrow her oppressor, but to do something infinitely more difficult…to co-exist with those who’ve deeply wronged her.
This is El Roi, the God who sees you.
- Where have you been and where are you going? If God asked you this question, how would you respond?
- When things really, really stink are you able to speak frankly to God about where you are in your mess?
- Has God asked you to stay somewhere uncomfortable? What hope did He give you to see you through?
- If you were to give God a name to reflect who He has proven to be in your life, what would it be?