“How ya doing?” said the pastor on Sunday. This is our common greeting, but he told us this isn’t how people greet each other in parts of South Africa1.
When somebody there passes you by, they don’t ask a question. They look at you and make a statement: “I see you.”
“There’s something about being seen,” said Pastor Robert, “that brings you into existence.” We give a person dignity when we see them. Which then gives them the freedom to respond, “I am here.” I am here in this same space, breathing the same air, made in the same image.
Hagar would have a soft spot for this “I-see-you-I-am-here” exchange. So too would Sarai and Abram, I think. You remember their story in Genesis 16, right? It’s a good one to see, starting in verse 1:
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not borne him a child…
It may not be polite to mention a woman’s age right from the start, but it’s crucial to this story. Sarai is 65 years old, married, and without an child. Cue the tense music.
In that time and place, being unproductive in this sense meant you’re not worth a whole lot and the blame for infertility always fell to the woman. There is a painful, emotional struggle underway.
There’s also an enemy probing for opportunity.
…but she had an Egyptian slave woman whose name was Hagar.
“Do you see it?” asks our pastor. “Sin is crouching. Right here at the doors to Sarah’s heart marked ‘Unmet Desires‘ and ‘Unfulfilled Promises.'” Got any of those? I do. Temptation likes to lurk in these areas of our lives.
When our desires go unsatisfied and things we thought were promised aren’t yet made right, we become susceptible to the snake-like notion that God is holding out on us. If we fail to constantly reframe these doors with truth, we’re likely to begin considering unfaithful solutions.
So Sarai said to Abram, “Look/Behold/See now2, YHWH has prevented me from bearing children.”
I’m willing to guess this isn’t the first time Sarai brought up this topic with Abram. I’d also venture it was more than a single sentence of pent up frustration.
Maybe more like, “Abram, look around. Do you see any of our children? No, no you do not. I deeply desire children, even just one single boy, and yet we have none. None! And you know what makes this even worse? YHWH promised us offspring as numerous as the dust of the earth and stars in the heavens. But what works of His hand do I see? Lots of dust. Plenty of stars. But no offspring. Not a one. All I see is His hand against me, restraining me, withholding from me.”
“Please have relations with my slave woman; perhaps I will obtain/build children through her.”
“Abram,” I imagine Sarai saying, “I am done waiting. For ten years is this land you have built altars to YHWH but what has He built for us? Not a single heir. The way I see it, I will have to take matters into my own hands and build a family myself.”
We are not unlike Sarai. Only yesterday, my weariness gave way to frustration which gave way to selfishness. When we walk only by what our eyes see and not by faith in God’s timing, then instead of being content to wait and receive, we begin to grasp, build, and acquire for ourselves.
It’s bound to get ugly when I decide to do what’s right in my own eyes rather than what’s right in God’s eyes.
And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
“Why, Abram, why?” I want to ask him. “Like Adam, you heard the voice of YHWH directly (and repeatedly!) yet you yield to the unfaithful suggestion of another. If you can’t hold fast, then what hope is there that should I hear YHWH’s voice, I won’t acquiesce as well to the customs of the world around me?”
Abram’s not the first of God’s image bearers in the Biblical narrative to hear from God but ultimately choose a different way. Adam didn’t follow instructions. Nor did Cain. Nor Noah. Can anyone?
And so after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave woman, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife.
The disastrous pattern initiated in the Garden of Eden repeats itself here. Eve saw, desired, took, and gave. Sarai saw, desired, took, and gave. Same verbs3. Same consequences. The (upcoming) birth of a child becomes a source of pain and intimate relationships are fractured.
Then he had relations with Hagar, and she conceived; and when Hagar saw4 that she had conceived, her mistress was insignificant in her sight/eye5.
The outcome here is entirely expected. Sarai and Abram, God’s chosen people, didn’t see Hagar as anything other than a way to get what they wanted—a child.
Sarai gave what wasn’t hers to give. Abram took what wasn’t his to take.
Now in return, Hagar doesn’t see Sarai as anything other than a way to get what she wants—to be seen as someone other than a powerless Egyptian slave woman.
So Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be upon you! I put my slave woman into your arms, but when she saw4 that she had conceived, I was insignificant in her sight/eye5. May YHWH judge between you and me.”
Enter the blame game. It’s a ridiculous, but additive game. I speak from experience.
Move #1 – Fail to take care of yourself. Get overly tired and empty. Let the to-do list overwhelm you. Shutdown all positive, truthful self-talk. Stop praying with the Good Shepherd. Allow the thoughts of all the things you don’t have to stomp out gratitude for all the abundances you do have.
Move #2 – Blame someone else. Anyone other than the person in the mirror.
But Abram said to Sarai, “Look/Behold/See now2, your slave woman is in your power/hand; do to her what is good in your sight/eye5.”
There’s a part of me at this point in the story that wants to holler, “Abram! Three verses ago you followed what Sarai deemed good in her own sight and look at what it got you: you’re now an unregistered sex offender, a vulnerable woman is pregnant with your only heir, and your two wives are at each other’s throat. Yet you advise Sarai to do what is good in her own sight again! Are you mad?”
But then there’s that other part of me that is forced to acknowledge that Abram isn’t alone in his madness. I too can be mad, weary, grieved, and despair about YHWH’s seeming lack of progress on His promises. I too can walk by the sight of what looks good in my own eyes.
So Sarai treated her harshly, and she [Hagar] fled from her presence/sight/gaze6.
Sin crouched, leapt, and shredded its prey. Death now creeps in through the doorway.
Death for a pregnant woman traveling alone through the wilderness likely trying to make it back to her home country.
Death for a barren woman a long way from her country of origin trying unsuccessfully to build a family.
Death for an old man who maybe isn’t so sure anymore if he really saw and heard YHWH or if YHWH still sees and hears him.
Lord, come quickly.
- 1 – Pastor Robert Gelinas’ sermon on El Roi starts at 38:48.
- 2 – The Hebrew word hinneh can be translated as look, behold, or see now.
- 3 – Thank you to Tim Mackie at BibleProject for this insight.
- 4 – The Hebrew word raah can be translated as saw, seen, or looked.
- 5 – The Hebrew word ayin can be translated as sight, eye, or spring.
- 6 – The Hebrew word panim or paneh can be translated as presence, face, sight, or gaze.
Are you starting to see a pattern with the Hebrew words? 👀😉
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