We ended the first part of this account in a very dark place.
Sarai’s plan A for a family—waiting to receive God’s promise—hasn’t worked out in a decade. Plan B—pushing her own solution and timetable—has lead to family hostilities. And she still has no children.
Abram is making bad decisions right and left.
Hagar, assaulted and now pregnant with Abram’s one-and-only heir, is on the run, thinking it’d be better to die unseen in the wilderness than unseen in this messed up family. Can’t say I blame her.
It’s in the darkness though that the Morning Star likes to shine brightest. We pick up in verse 7:
Now the angel of YHWH found her [Hagar, who is fleeing] by a spring of water in the wilderness, by a spring5 on the way to Shur.
Do you think the psalmist had Hagar in mind when writing “YHWH is my shepherd…He leads me beside quiet waters.” Or perhaps this story prompted the lyrics of Psalm 139, “O YHWH…Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” To which the answer, of course, is nowhere, not even to the desert.
He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s slave woman, from where have you come, and where are you going?”
In the first thirteen pages of the Torah, this is the third time YHWH has asked “Where?” First to Adam, “Where are you?” Second to Cain, “Where is your brother?” Now to Hagar, He asks it twice, “Where are you coming from? And where are you going?”
Are we to assume the Creator of Life cannot keep track of His creation?
I like what Marty Solomon says about this question7. Rather than eliciting information, God is asking the question to make a statement. It’s what we call a rhetorical question.
So what’s the statement God is making? “You’re not where you’re supposed to be.”
To Adam hiding among the trees, “You’re not where you’re supposed to be.”
To Cain in the blood-soaked field, “Both you and your brother are not where you’re supposed to be.”
To Hagar in an uninhabitable land, “Hagar, I see you. I know you. You are a slave woman to Sarai. You’re not where you’re supposed to be.”
And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence/sight/gaze6 of my mistress Sarai.”
Two questions asked. Only one answered. It’s as if Hagar is saying, “I am coming from over there, and while I may not be able to answer where I’m going, it’s definitely not back there! In Sarai’s sight, I am seen as only worthy of abuse.”
So the angel of YHWH said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.”
One of the things I’m looking forward to most in the new heaven and the new earth is getting the unabridged version of stories like this. Something certainly happens between “the angel of YHWH said” in this verse and “the angel of YHWH also said” in the next verse.
Maybe Hagar had a few choice words in response to this directive, like “No! No way. No how. Not today. Not tomorrow. Do you, angel creature, have any idea what it’s like to be a slave woman? I am as low as the dust on the ground. Everyone in my life walks over me like they don’t see me and orders me around like they don’t hear me. Even you! No more. Flutter all the wings you want, but I am not returning.”
Then again, maybe Hagar was nicer than I would have been. Or perhaps she said nothing at all and simply turned her face away. Whatever the case, the angel’s words weren’t enough to propel Hagar back to Sarai.
The angel of YHWH also said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.”
By use of repetition, the author of this story wants to make sure we’re crystal clear about who’s in this scene and what’s being promised.
First, Hagar has been referred to as “slave woman” six times so far. And Hagar probably isn’t even her original name. The word “Hagar” seems to come from the Arabic verb to flee8.
Secondly, just in case we’re tempted to think Hagar may be delusional from heat-stroke in the desert, the title “the angel of YHWH” is used four times. This is no mirage.
Now roll it together and see: THE angel of YHWH is making it’s very first appearance in the Bible—not to Adam, Noah, or Abram—but to a mistreated pregnant runaway slave woman! Whoa.
Then notice the parallels in language of the promises that are spoken.
To Hagar, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.”
To Abram one story earlier, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!”
YHWH made a covenant with Abram and even though Abram and Sarai really mucked it up thereby giving YHWH every right to break the covenant, YHWH decides to remain faithful to His word. The promise of His blessing will flow to Hagar and her offspring. She will be known as more than just a fleeing slave women; she will be given status as a mother of many.
Now we begin to see what’s going on here.
Hagar to the Angel of YHWH: “I am here.”
The Angel of YHWH to Hagar: “I see you.”
But notice, there’s no mention that Hagar turns her steps back towards Sarai at this point. While titles and recognition are nice, they’re not what soften the human heart. Our deepest desire is for something else.
The angel of YHWH said to her further,
“Look/Behold/See2, you are pregnant, and you will give birth to a son;
You shall name him Ishmael, because YHWH has heard your affliction.
But he will be a wild donkey of a man;
His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him;
And he will live in face/defiance/to the east6 of all his brothers.”
YHWH has seen her pregnancy and foretells the future.
YHWH has heard her affliction and names her son.
Did you catch what the name is? YHWH combines two words to name Hagar’s son: “shama” meaning to hear and “El” meaning God. Ishmael. God hears.
A million times in the years ahead Hagar will repeat this word.
“Ishmael, wash up.”
“Ishmael, do you not hear me calling your name?”
Each time will be a reminder to herself, her son, and everyone around that God hears.
When you cry out in the dry and broken places of life, God hears.
When you ask where, why, how will this ever be made right, God hears.
When you and I think no one is hearing our anxiety, anger, afflictions, let us be reminded, “Ishmael. God hears.”
Then she called the name of YWHW who spoke to her, “You are El Roi,” for she said, “I have now seen4 the One who sees4 me.”
After YHWH gives Hagar’s son a name, she gives YHWH a name. She’s the first person in the Scriptures to do so.
Hagar follows YHWH’s pattern and combines two words to give Him a name: “El” meaning God and “Roi” meaning to see. El Roi. The God who sees.
The God who looks at us and says, “I see you.” When we feel overlooked, cast aside, and diminished, He leans in close to affirm, “I see you, beloved.”
Then we can know it’s safe to say, “I am here. In this place feeling misunderstood. In this situation feeling unheard.” Each of us has desert-like experiences where we’re looking for a divine presence and a refreshing spring.
For me it’s often, “I am here, in this life feeling a bit clueless. I am here, YHWH, but like Hagar, I have no answer for the question, ‘Where are you going?'”
Once upon a time I thought I could see my way. To becoming a veterinarian. Then a commercial airline pilot. Then a process improvement consultant. Nope, nope, and nope.
When I look out now, I see only heavy mist, like fog resting thick on the beach. That’s been my sight for years. Each day is a step in the sand toward I don’t know where. I just try not to get swamped by a rogue wave.
I’ve never been an ambitious goal-setter or resolution-maker. Maybe that’s my problem? I’m more of a book-collector. Someone who keeps lists of sermons, podcasts, prayers, and authors.
Whether it’s good or bad (I’ve given up on judging myself), I’ve walked in this mistiness for so long that it’s not quite as disconcerting as it once was. Rather than trying to flee from it, I try to embrace the freedom of it. I don’t have to see months or years ahead. El Roi sees for me. And El Roi always sees me.
His sight is significantly more important than mine.
All I have to do is listen. Listen to how the Spirit speaks in the waves. Listen for the low tone of the fog horn that promises His presence is near. Listen. Step. Listen. Walk in long obedience in the same direction. Listen. Walk by faith.
I am seen.
I am heard.
Where I am going is known to YHWH.
The same is true for you. You are seen, heard, known, and loved. I pray the truth of that fills how you see both yourself and the God who sees.
- 2 – The Hebrew word hinneh can be translated as look, behold or see now.
- 4 – The Hebrew word raah can be translated as saw, seen, sees, 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.
- 7 – From the BEMA Podcast, Episode #2.
- 8 – The word “Hagar” seems to come from the Arabic verb to flee.
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