HAGAR AND EL ROI
(today’s post is not a devotion but an article adapted from a talk I gave at a women’s retreat)
She’d been mistreated by her mistress. She’d not wanted to do what was asked of her, which was to cohabitate with her master. But as an Egyptian servant in a foreign land, she had no rights, no choice in the matter. Then, to add insult to injury, she was banished by that same mistress and forced to wander in the wilderness, alone and defenseless. And she was pregnant, no less.
To say she felt scared, lonely, and feeling unloved is an understatement. She probably wondered if anyone cared about her or what was happening to her. Or her unborn baby.
This is Hagar’s story in Genesis 16:1-13.
Can you relate to her? Perhaps not to her exact situation, but to the emotions she experienced? Maybe your spouse has abandoned you and your children. Maybe you’ve lost your job or your home. Maybe your parents neglected or abused you as a child. Maybe your employer overlooks you and your efforts. Maybe a friend has hurt or betrayed you. Maybe your child is in rebellion or struggling with substance abuse.
Whatever the situation, you may have wondered the same as Hagar: “Does anyone care? Does anyone know what I’m going through?” Perhaps you’ve even wondered if God cares, and you’ve even cried out, “Do you see what’s happening to me, God? Do you see how bad it is?”
The answer, as it was for Hagar, is: Yes, God sees. He knows. While others may not, He does!
God Knows Your Name (Genesis 16: 2, 6)
One of the things that struck me when I studied this passage is that every time Sarah or Abraham mentioned Hagar in their conversations, it was not by her given name. Listen.
“Go, sleep with my servant,” Sarah said to Abraham. “Perhaps I can build a family through her.” Then, when Hagar became pregnant and taunted Sarah, Sarah berated her husband, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me.”
Abraham responded similarly, “Your servant is in your hands. Do with her whatever you think best.”
Hagar had no value as a person in Sarah and Abraham’s eyes. To them, she was just someone to be used and abused for their own selfish gain. How demoralizing that must have been.
But when God found Hagar at the spring (after Sarah had tossed her out), the first word out of His mouth was… “Hagar.”
At this point in the narrative, it is unclear whether Hagar knew who God was. Regardless, He knew who she was.
Like Hagar, you too are known by God, and known by your name. Writes John Piper, “Deeper than knowing God is being known by God. What defines us as Christians is not most profoundly that we have come to know Him but that He took note of us and made us His own.”
Furthermore, as a born-again believer—one who has appropriated the free gift of grace in Christ Jesus—your name is now immortalized forever in the Book of Life. Your name is eternal!
God Sees You (Genesis 16:8)
Interestingly, Hagar—a foreigner and a woman—was the first and only person in the Bible to give God a name: ElRoi, “The God Who Sees.”
It is unfathomable how God can see (and know) each and every person on this planet, as an individual. Including you! Consider that He “had [you] in mind…long before He laid down earth’s foundations” (Ephesians 1:4). And then when you were actually conceived, God took an intimate interest in forming you…while you were in the womb, no less. You are His personal, intricate workmanship.
God Sees Your Situation (Genesis 16:8)
Go back to that spring where God found a heart-sore Hagar. He asked, “Where have you come from, and where are you going?”
This, really, was a rhetorical question, because, being omniscient, God already knew the answer. He already knew the desperate situation Hagar was in. He saw her plight as an unprotected, pregnant woman, vulnerable to the punishing, unforgiving Mediterranean environment and to dangerous, roaming bandits.
God sees your situation, too. He is not blind to what is going on in your life right now. He knows exactly what is happening. You and your situation are always on His holy radar, so to speak. Nothing escapes His divine notice.
“There is no moment when His eye is off you, or His attention distracted from you, and no moment, therefore, when His care falters,” writes Pastor J.I. Packer.
God Sees Your Sorrow
Not only does God see your situation, He sees your pain, your sorrow. He sees the fear, the anxiety, the worry, the doubt, the anger. He even sees your tears. How well King David knew this. “You keep track of all my sorrows,” he wrote in Psalm 56:8. “You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”
Stephen Altrogge reminds us that, “Jesus knows us fully. He knows our strengths and weaknesses, our family history, our biological makeup, our worldview. He knows every nook and cranny of us. He knows us better than we know ourselves…He meets us in our downcast state and pours out grace upon us.”
God Sees Your Need
Hagar’s need at the moment when God met her at the well was reassurance. Was she and her unborn babe going to live? Or would they die in the desert? One of the ways God gave Hagar assurance was through a promise. “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count” (Genesis 16:10-12). God was saying, in essence, “You’re going to live, Hagar. You’re going to make it through this situation. In fact, I’m going to bless you with many descendants. I’m going to make you into a great nation.”
God went one step further. He told Hagar that the unborn child she was carrying would be a boy—talk about a divine ultrasound! His name, God said, would be Yishmāʽēl (“Heard by God”). This was a great honor and blessing, to have your child named personally by Yahweh. Only seven people in the Bible received that privilege, and Hagar was one of them.
For our part, we may not be blessed with “many descendants” or have our child named by God, but God will meet our needs accordingly. One way is by comforting us with His presence and power, by calming our worries and anxieties with His peace. He will heal our broken hearts. He will bind up our emotional and spiritual wounds and make us whole again.
He also promises to meet our physical needs. He tells us not be anxious about our lives, what we will eat or drink or wear. He promises to provide for us, and that might come through the church or friends or family or a charitable organization, even a stranger.
God Remains with You
As you remain in your trial, God remains with you. He promises to “never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). And when you pass through the waters, He is with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you (Isaiah 43:2).
He promises to send His angels to minister to you and “encamp” around you. He upholds you with His righteous right hand (Psalm 34:7).
One of the most touching verses that perfectly captures God’s heart toward you is Zephaniah 3:17. “The Lord your God is with you. He’s mighty to deliver. He takes great delight in you. He will quiet you with His love. He rejoices over you with singing.”
Take heart! El Roi cares for you and about you, because He knows your name, He sees you, He sees your situation and your sorrows, and He promises to be with you and help you, because He loves you and cares for you.