Continuing with our reflection from Genesis 16…
Hagar was running away. After years (maybe a lifetime) of being treated as property. After being hauled away by foreigners to unfamiliar country. After being offered to a man for the sole purpose of conceiving, carrying, and bearing a child for another woman. After being mistreated and abused. She was fed up—but she was also alone, pregnant, and probably scared.
And that is where God met her. He intercepted her at a well.
First the bad news.
“Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.”(Gen 16:9)
Then the good news.
“…you will bear a son; and you shall call his name Ishmael [God hears], because the LORD has given heed to your affliction.”(16:11)“I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” (16:10)
Now, begetting a multitude might not be on the top of our “glorious news” list, but in Hagar’s day, this was the pinnacle of honor and security for a woman. To give a man a son was a praiseworthy accomplishment, and when the son grew to be a man, he could provide support for his mother. Being the mother of a great nation was icing on the cake. This was a lavish blessing.
And Hagar’s response?
She gave God a descriptive name. She called him “a god who sees.”
This may seem a little obvious to us. We 21st century Christians are die-hard monotheists, well versed in the Latin “omnis”. Of course God sees—he’s omniscient. But consider Hagar’s background. Polytheism was the norm. It is likely that in her view there were many gods, each with jurisdiction over a people group, national boundary, or aspect of life. When she was in her home country, she had reason to think the Egyptian gods might favor her or take notice of her. Though she was from the lower echelons of society, at least she was in the right place and of the right nationality.
But what could she expect from the god of Abraham? He was as likely to be indifferent or hostile as anything else. And her experience could only have confirmed such suspicions. So, when she declared him to be “a god who sees”, I don’t think she was making a statement about the nature or attributes of God.
I think she was humbled, blessed, and shocked that he saw her. That he had been watching her with keen interest and with compassion. That he cared—and he was going to act on her behalf. Her son was to be called God hears because He had given heed to her affliction (16:11).
We can learn from Hagar.
We all have experiences that cause us to wonder whether God really sees us. They may be as small as a discouraging day or as big as a life-altering tragedy. In our struggle to trust him, we know he’s aware of us—but is he looking at us, is he interested, are our struggles at all significant to him? If he’s not righting the wrong in the immediate, we assume it must be a matter of little consequence in his ‘scheme of things’ perspective. (There may be some merit to that last bit. God does have priorities and we do have spoiled, selfish fits.) But this story makes it abundantly clear that the details of our lives do not escape his intimate attention.
When things crumble, when relationships are broken, when there is no relief. When we are overlooked, ridiculed, or persecuted. When we are overwhelmed, floundering, or confused. He is watching closely and keeping track. He is seeing.
And, as with Hagar, he will take up our offense and make things right. More about that next time…