Archive for August 10th, 2007

The God Who Hears and Sees

Friday, August 10th, 2007

Today’s scripture: Genesis 16:7-13 (NRSV) (The Message)

As you read, consider: What might God be saying to me in this passage? Summarize your thoughts in a sentence or two before reading on.

My thoughts on this passage (Deb Doty):

This reading plops us down smack in the middle of a story — so a little back-story is in order:

God had promised Abram and Sarai that they would become the parents of a great nation. But years had passed, and they found themselves elderly and still childless. Sarai decided they would do the safe, common sense thing — the only option that seemed to remain: she would offer her Egyptian slave-girl, Hagar, to bear Abram’s child, and then she would claim that child as her own. This was well within the custom of the time. And besides, it made good, practical sense — so it must be God’s will, right?

Wrong.

As soon as Hagar became pregnant, Sarai discovered that her plan had a downside. Hagar began to view her mistress with contempt. What did Hagar do? Maybe she rolled her eyes when Sarai approached. Maybe she mouthed off to some of the other slaves. Or maybe she resented being used and simply sizzled with animosity deep within. Who knows?

But Sarai was irked that Hagar was not cooperating with the smoothly flowing plan she had envisioned. So, since Hagar was just her slave-girl, Sarai acted within her power and did as she pleased — she began to deal harshly with her. We aren’t told what Sarai did, but whatever she did, it was harsh enough to cause Hagar to run away into the wilderness. And that’s where our passage begins.

Hagar is resting by a spring in the wilderness on the way to Shur, heading back home to Egypt. She’s traveled a loooong way. And this is where the “angel of the Lord” finds her. The “angel of the Lord” referred to here is not one of God’s subordinate, created creatures. From the text, we can tell that what Hagar sees is a theophany – a rare appearance of God in human form.

God knows who she is, but asks where she came from and where she’s headed. Hagar admits she’s running away. God tells her to return to Sarai and — God actually uses the submit word (a word most of us choke on!). God also promises her that she will be the mother of multitudes (just like Sarai!) and that her son, Ishmael (which means “God hears!”) will be a real handful with everyone he meets. Then Hagar does something that no one else has done before: she names God. Her name for God? “The God Who Sees.” In this wilderness encounter, she has come to know God for herself. She knows God has heard her and personally come to see her. God hears; God sees. Now she knows God will hear her and God will see her — yes, even her — when she returns to her harsh mistress. She has found hope in a hopeless situation. Because God hears and God sees, she will never be alone no matter what happens.

Are you alone in a wilderness, caught between where you’ve been and where you’re headed, too tired to go forward, and too terrified to go back? Maybe, like Hagar, people in power have been harsh with you, proving their strength at your expense. Maybe they even thought they were doing God’s will when they hurt you. In your powerlessness it seemed all you could do was run away. And sometimes that is all we can do to protect ourselves.

But sometimes, when we least expect it, God says to us, “Go back. Even if what happened to you was unfair, you need to go back for your own good.”

Going back doesn’t mean that what happened was OK. (Sarai was still wrong in mistreating Hagar.) It doesn’t mean that what happened was God’s will. (Sarai’s lack of faith in God’s uncommon sense set in motion a rivalry that still haunts her descendants.) And it certainly doesn’t mean you won’t be hurt again. (About 14 or 15 years later, Sarai would finally banish Hagar and Ishmael forever.)

In going back, Hagar demonstrated the power she had found in God’s presence. She showed that her faith in the God Who Sees was stronger than Sarai’s. (It was even stronger than Abram’s!) In going back, she put her life in God’s hands. Sarai could have had her killed, but Hagar believed what God had told her — she would live and have a son, and that son would have children. And God honored her trust. When she and Ishmael were finally cast out, she left with a strong teenage son and provisions prepared by Abram himself. And God was with them.

Thought for the day: Learn from Hagar! You can trust the God Who hears and sees — even when it doesn’t make sense.

Today, let’s join together in prayer for: the areas in our lives that don’t make sense, or where things are unfair. God, what do I do? Dare to ask that, then listen.

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. Use the item above as a starting point, or consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.

"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10
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