Sometimes there are truths that do touch you at first, but as they settle into the soil of your soul, they penetrate far beyond what you expected upon first reading or experiencing said truth. Such is the case for me during an in-depth Bible Study on the Patriarchs. So often I have passed over the story of Abraham, thinking I understood the meat of it, but I have never before grasped the depth of Genesis 16…
Quick backstory (bear with me through some of this because I promise it’s worth it) – Abram (name has not yet changed to Abraham) is following the Lord’s call to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…” (Gen. 12:1-2). And yet in Genesis 15, Abram asks what most of us probably would – “O Lord, what will You give me for I continue childless…” And God affirms His promise with a covenant that Abram’s very own offspring WILL posess the land.
Which brings us to Genesis 16 (almost to the good stuff…). Sarai, Abram’s wife, took matters into her own hands (sounds like someone I know…someone perhaps writing this very blog). She decided to give her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, to Abram as a wife – and Hagar eventually conceived but then began to despise Sarai – and the Word says Sarai dealt harshly with her and Hagar fled from her.
As Hagar is wandering in the wilderness – probably without a destination in mind but feeling there is no way she can go back, probably feeling alone, oppressed, used, emotional already because of pregnancy, etc. – an angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness (the author of the Bible study notes how much she loves that it uses the word “found” because it means God sought Hagar eventhough He knew where she was all along). The angel asks her where she has come from and where she is going – Sarai replies that she is fleeing (never mentions a destination) – and the angel tells her to go back to Sarai and submit to her (a bitter pill to swallow), however he says that the Lord will multiply her offspring – tells her that her son will be named Ishmael, meaning ‘God hears’ and ‘Yahweh has been attentive to your humiliation’ – and yet the Lord doesn’t beat around the bush and says that Ishmael will be a ‘wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him’ – but my favorite part is Hagar’s response…
“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have seen the One who sees me.'”
As the author of the Bible study points out, this is so incredible because this is the ONLY INSTANCE IN THE ENTIRE OLD TESTAMENT when anyone is recorded giving a name to God – Hagar, the Egyptian maidservant, whom we don’t even know professed to believe in Yahweh called Him El Roi, the God of seeing!!!!! The place where this unprecedented event took place was then renamed Beer-lahairoi meaning ‘the well of the Living One who sees me.’ Yet again, an Egyptian maidservant, manipulated and cast out, wandering in the the wilderness pregnant with nowhere to go, a complete ragamuffin was the only person to name God in all of the Old Testament – does that comfort your heart like it does mine? And even as God made a promise to her to multiply her offspring, He didn’t exactly say what a mother wants to hear about her son (that everyone’s hand will be against him) – but still her only response was crying out El Roi, the God of seeing – at a spring in the desert – the parallels to our own lives are endless, aren’t they?
Fellow ragamuffins – God is still El Roi – the God who finds us by a spring in the desert of our lives – the God who sees us – sees us in the midst of our pain, sees us in the midst of our wounds, in the midst of our wandering through the wilderness, in the midst of our joys, in the midst of our tears, in the midst of our distrust of others, in the midst of the names we have felt placed upon us by others and ourselves – and here is the most beautiful thing – God sees us as He created us to be, He sees where we can go if we simply abide in Him, He sees the desires of our hearts beyond what we can fully grasp, He sees how He will use even the enemy’s attacks in our lives for good, He sees how He is going to raise up those unique gifts He has placed in us if we continue to submit to Him… He is the God of seeing. He sees you as you are and as you were meant to be – and He is the God who will see you and love you in that process.
And sometimes God uses us to reveal to others that they are seen and heard by El Roi. Hagar did go back to Sarai and Abram and we have no written record of what life was like when she returned (there is a 13 year gap between Genesis 16 and Genesis 17) – but I can only imagine that others were encouraged by her experience with El Roi. She was probably still a bit of a ragamuffin – yet she encountered El Roi and that changes everything.