Whether from circumstances beyond our control, or consequences resulting from our own sinful choices, life can become very complicated. It can become so complicated that we see no way out of our own personal hopelessness. That was the case for an Old Testament woman known as Hagar. Hagar enters the biblical story as the maid of Abraham’s wife Sarah. There is no way we can know the exact circumstances in which Hagar lived. It doesn’t appear she was under any form of duress while living in the home of Abraham, until Abraham’s wife gave her the assignment of being his mistress for the purpose of becoming a surrogate mother. The child would become the child of Abraham and Sarah. It was a bad decision from the start for all parties. Once it was clear she was pregnant, Hagar felt superior to Sarah, since Sarah was barren. As a result, Sarah hated Hagar and began to treat her accordingly. Abraham, certainly not an innocent figure in the story, found himself caught between the ire of the two women in his home.
So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence. Genesis 16:1-6
It sounds like a modern day soap opera. It is hard to feel sorry for anybody. You can identify with Sarah and her animosity. After hearing the story, you might feel that Hagar ought to leave. Depending on your own personal perspective, you will either see her as the villain or the victim. However, it is not up to us to pass judgment. Instead, we need to look for the response of God. The focus of the Biblical story immediately shifts away from the main characters, Abraham and Sarah, as God turns His concern toward Hagar.
Hagar was running away. She was running away from a bad relationship. She was running away from her problems. She was running away from her past. Running away is not always the answer. Running away can make problems worse. When you run away, you don’t always know what you’re running from. Is it a person? Is it the problem? Is it something you are afraid might happen? Or is it something inside you. Hagar was running away. It is interesting to me that her name means Fleeing. Maybe that is how she dealt with things her whole life. She just ran away.
Hagar was running without purpose. She didn’t know where she was going. She was flailing her way into the future. She didn’t have a guide. She didn’t have a goal. She never considered where her steps might lead. Would things be better, or would they be worse? One bad decision often leads to another, especially when you are simply trying to run away from the consequences of the previous decision.
The Bible tells us that she stopped by a spring of water on the way to Shur. That word can mean a place of walls. She was looking for security. That sounds a lot like our word sure. In her mind, she was running toward SURE, but in fact, she was running toward uncertainty. She was running toward disaster. In fact, a later verse tells us that this well where she stopped was located between Kadesh and Bered. Kadesh means holiness and Bered means hail. In the Bible, hail is an emblem of God’s judgment. Hagar was, without knowing, running away from God. Is that where you are? Are you somewhere between holiness and judgment? As you run away from your problems, are you simply moving faster toward disaster?
Running away was not the answer. Running away would only make her problems worse. She was running away, but she didn’t know what she was running away from or where she was going. She was running away from her fears. Have you ever had that feeling of being followed—that something or someone was behind you? If Hagar continued to run, she would spend the rest of her life looking over her shoulder. What will the rest of your life be like? Will you spend the rest of your life fearing the future or in fear of the past catching up with you?
Something wonderful happens in the middle of Hagar’s journey. Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. Genesis 16:7
The Angel of the Lord found her. This is one of the most mysterious figures in the Bible. In every case where the Angel of the Lord appears, He always turns out to be more than an angel. Whenever this figure appears, the person who encounters Him realizes it was an encounter with God. Some theologians believe this to be an appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. Think of that! Consider who found Hagar. He intercepted her on our journey of running away. He found her! He knew where she was. He knew her name. He knew where she had been and where she was going! He knew what was going on inside her and around her. He knew what she was running from, and what she needed to do instead of running away.
Is this the moment God has chosen to intercept you—to speak with you about where you are, where you have been and where you are going. He knows your name! He knows what you need, what you face, and what you need to do!
What are you running from? Are you running from your past? Are you running from something you see looming in the future? Jesus knows all about it. He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” Genesis 16:8
Was Hagar worthy of a visit from the Angel of the Lord? No! She was not worthy! None of us are worthy! This is God, in His grace and mercy, reaching out to a woman to express His love, to offer His direction, and to spare her from further heartache. God also reaches out to you and to me, even though we are unworthy of His attention and affection.
This turns out to be one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible. God reveals His love to Hagar. He speaks promises over her life, offering her a certain future made firm by the power of His hand. What if God is at work to do the same thing for you in your circumstances? God told Hagar to stop running. Instead, she needed to rest secure in His love, even though she would continue to face the wrath of Sarah. God was working His plan. This wouldn’t make all her problems go away, but it would allow her to experience His providential care across the journey of her life.
Out of that experience, Hagar gives God a new name. Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.Genesis 16:7-14
This often happened in the Bible when someone encountered God in such a surprising way. She called God, “El-Roi”. It means, the God who Sees.She named the well the Well of the Living One Who Sees Me. Hagar is the first woman at the well. Remember what the woman at the well in the New Testament said about Jesus. “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done.” John 14:29
She also declared Him to be a God who sees! “He could See my past. He could See into my heart. He could See where I had been and where I was going. He could See that I was thirsty. He could See that I was lonely. He could See what I needed. He could See all the wrong in me. He is the God who Saw me and yet loved me!”
He is still the God who sees! He sees you right where you are. He sees you in the midst of your need. He sees you as you deal with the consequences of bad decisions and sinful living. He sees you, and yet He loves you! He has chosen to meet you in this moment, that He might intercept your journey, and re-direct you toward a better and brighter future. The only sure thing in life is the certainty of His Sovereignty. Would you give Him the opportunity to speak His promises over your life and wrap you in the shelter of His love?
Are you running from something? Are you are running from something you can see, or something you can’t see? Are you running from some fear from the past, or from some fear of the future? Are you running from one relationship into another relationship?
The God who Sees is watching you. He knows where you are. He knows your name. He knows where you have been and where you are going. He is still the God who sees. He is still the God who seeks to rescue us from our own decisions, from our own dilemmas, from the dread of the past, and from the dread of the future. Hagar was, without knowing, running away from God. Is that where you are? Are you somewhere between holiness and judgment?
The God who Sees is a God who loves us so much that even when we are walking with our back toward holiness and our face toward judgment, He intercepts us on our journey, and redirects us, speaking His promises over our lives, and offering to swaddle us in His sovereignty.
Photo by Alexander Mils