God Hears and Sees

Genesis 16
It has probably occurred to us at some point in our lives that the life we led as unbelievers before we came to faith seemed remarkably simple. Or, if we have trusted in Christ our whole lives, we can look to outsiders and see that they have a seemingly simple life. They are not troubled by sin, and they do not need to swim against the tide of society. That is certainly how Egypt must have looked to the Israelites. Moses wants to prevent them from looking back to Egypt as the solution to their problem. Abram has already done it once, with disastrous consequences. Now, however, Sarai wants to do it, and the consequences are also disastrous. But through it all, in the most desperate of circumstances, God hears and sees.

Hagar and Sarai are a study in contrast. Hagar is young, fertile, and a slave, whereas Sarai is old, barren, and free. This is a story of how God hears and sees the cries of both Hagar and Sarai, and answers them. He will answer Sarai more fully in a later chapter. But here God answers Hagar.

This is a very subtle narrative. The clues are almost hidden, and it takes a little digging to get them up, which we are going to attempt.

The first subtle thing is verse 1. If we go by too fast, we might miss the fact that this says something different from what Moses had said earlier. In 11:30, Moses says that Sarai was barren: she had no child. No however, Moses merely says that she had borne no children to Abram. That implies that she was no longer barren. If she was no longer barren, then she should have waited on the Lord, rather than to try this experiment.

Probably, however, Sarai had gone through menopause, which is why she can say that the Lord had prevented her from bearing children. And so, Sarai has now given up. She does not see how God could bring life out of this situation. Remember again that barrenness was viewed as a form of death. Sarai viewed herself as dead to Abram, since she had borne no children. Barrenness was usually viewed as being the woman’s “fault.”

What she should have done in this situation is trust the Lord who can bring life out of death. If the Lord can bring stars into being out of nothing, then He has the power to bring life out of her body.

But, she had not been told who would be the mother of this child of promise. And so, she gets this thought that the mother could be someone else, and yet the child would still be hers. That is how the law read at that time. Any child of a slave to the master would belong to the chief wife. Any child of Hagar’s would belong to Sarai.
What Sarai tells Abram is really an Egyptian solution. We have to remember that Hagar is an Egyptian. She was probably given to Abram on his last visit to Egypt, when the Pharaoh treated Abram so well on account of Sarai. Probably, Pharaoh gave Abram this slave. This is the kind of solution that comes to Sarai’s mind: an Egyptian solution.

Remember also that the people hearing Moses’ words were constantly being tempted to the Egyptian solution. They were wandering in the wilderness, and remembering the leeks, garlic, melons and other great food they had while they were in Egypt. Of course, they usually forgot to mention the abject slavery to which they had been subjected. So Moses is trying to get rid of this mentality that says that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Moses says that freedom from Egypt is the best thing for the Israelites.

We should notice the difference between how Sarai thinks and how Isaac thinks when Rachel is barren. Instead of looking for a proxy mother like Sarai does, Isaac prays to the Lord. This is in 25:21, where Moses says, “And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.” There you have it. Isaac prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered his prayer. That was what Sarai should have done. In fact, we have no record that Sarai ever prayed to the Lord to change her condition of barrenness. That was lack of faith. But the Lord is in the habit of teaching his saints about having faith in the One who brings resurrection from the dead.

In the meantime, Sarai tempts Abram with a shortcut. Notice the similarity between this situation and the Fall of Adam and Eve. In both cases, the woman offers the fruit to the man. In both cases, the man listens to the voice of his wife. In both cases, there is a change in someone’s view of someone else after this Fall has taken place. Moses is saying that Sarai was another Eve.

The result was not what Sarai had hoped would happen. When Hagar found out that she was pregnant, she looked down on her mistress. Probably she was saying something like this, “I am Abram’s real wife. You are not, for you are barren.” Hagar thinks that her child is the child of the promise. She thinks that the promise to bless all nations will be fulfilled in her child. Hagar saw that the problem of barrenness obviously was Sarai’s problem, not Abram’s!

What happens is what Solomon was talking about in Proverbs 30:21-23, which reads like this: “Under three things the earth trembles; under four it cannot bear up: a slave when he becomes king, and a fool when he is filled with food; an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and maidservant when she displaces her mistress.” That is certainly what happens here. Hagar thinks that she has displaced her mistress Sarai.

Now Sarai was faced with the consequences of her lack of faith, and she immediately did what we all do when we are faced with the consequences of our actions: she blamed someone else! How typical of us all, isn’t she? Sarai says that it is all Abram’s fault. She thinks that Abram should have prevented this situation from ever happening. And of course, Abram does exactly the same thing. He says that Hagar is in Sarai’s hands, to do with however she wants. And so Sarai abused Hagar. A milder and gentler course of action would have been wiser, especially given the fact that Sarai and Abram were the cause of Hagar’s current situation. However, Sarai does not take that into account, and simply drives Hagar away, as she will do again later on in chapter 21.

Hagar runs away into the wilderness. Ironically, Hagar is just like the later Israelites. The Israelites too would be oppressed to the point where they would flee into the wilderness. Only this time, it is the Israelite oppressing the Egyptian, rather than the Egyptian oppressing the Israelite. Immediately, she is met by someone she did not expect. The angel of the Lord found her there by a well or spring. This angel of the Lord is most likely Jesus Christ as the second person of the Trinity. We will see why in just a little bit.

The angel of the Lord asks Hagar from whence she came and where she was going. Hagar answers truthfully. She says that she is fleeing from Sarai her mistress. So the angel of the Lord tells her to go back and to submit to her mistress. But she doesn’t have to go before the angel of the Lord gives her an amazing promise: the promise that God gave to Abram will apply to Hagar’s offspring as well.

And then there is this beautiful promise given to Hagar. It sounds just like a promise give some 2000 years later to a woman named Mary. An angel comes to Mary and says, “Behold, you shall bear a son, and you will call His name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’” Here, the son’s name means that God has heard. Just as God will hear of the oppression laid upon Israel, so also does God hear the affliction of those whom we shun and oppress.

But notice one thing about this promise to Hagar. The angel of the Lord does not say that her son will be the blessing to all the nations that the Lord had promised to Abram. That honor was to be reserved for Abram and Sarah’s son. In the meantime, Hagar was to go back and submit to her mistress. Instead of being a blessing, the Lord promises that he will bring strife. He is not the child that God promised to Adam who would crush the serpent’s head. He is not the promised child to Abram.

But in response to this promise, Hagar does the only sensible thing: she worships the God who hears and sees. We know that God hears because of the name she is supposed to give to her son. We know that God sees, because of the name given to the well where this encounter took place.

This encounter should remind us of another encounter that God had with a woman at a well. In John 4, Jesus tells the woman at the well about the water that will never run out, and that will well up in a person to eternal life. The person who drinks of this water shall never thirst. Do you see the correspondence? That is why the angel of the Lord here is Jesus, the second person of the Trinity. It is because Hagar recognizes Him so to be. She says, “You are a God who sees.”

It does not matter what kind of trials we are in. God hears and sees what is going on, and He will deliver His people out of those trials. That was the message for the Israelites hearing this story being read to them, and that is the message for us today. God hears and sees our barrenness, that we have no life in and of ourselves. God hears and sees our futile attempts to bring about God’s promises by means of a shortcut. God hears and sees the oppression under which God’s people undergo. God hears and sees our sin, and also hears and sees our blame-shifting. It will not do any good to try to shift the blame for our sin onto someone else. That never works, even though we try it all the time. It didn’t work with Adam and Eve. It didn’t work with Sarai and Abram, and it surely does not work with us. The responsibility for our sin rests solidly on our own shoulders. But our shoulders are not fit to bear up under that kind of a burden. They are not strong enough to carry the consequences for sin. That is what we implicitly recognize when we try to shift blame onto someone else. We recognize that we are not strong enough to do away with sin. And so we shift it. We know that God hears and sees. Fortunately for us, God hears and sees and has compassion. His hearing and seeing never stop there. They go on to help His people. He helps His people by giving them Jesus, who can indeed support the weight of sin on His broad shoulders, and who can do away with sin’s ultimate consequences, even if He lets us suffer some of the lesser consequences of our sins. We have the opportunity to shift those consequences onto the shoulders of Jesus, if we will but trust in Him. Jesus is the One who has heard our cry for help, and seen our distress.

That being said, we should know that there is now not male and female, slave or free, Greek or barbarian, for all are one in Christ Jesus. Hagar is an Egyptian, and yet God blesses her beyond all her reckoning. Such are we. We are not Jews outwardly. Instead God has made us Jews inwardly. So we should not look down on other races. We should not stereotype them by saying that “they are always like this.” If we do that, then we are doing exactly what Sarai was doing: driving them away from Christ. When someone looks at us, do they see a barbed-wire fence saying, “Keep away from Christ?” Do we present a repulsive aspect to those outside? Or should we look like honey to a bee? Like water to someone dying of thirst. Like manna in the wilderness. That is what we should be to other people.

If we are barren in our spiritual life, we should not try shortcuts that lead us back into the land of captivity. Instead, we should look to God who can bring life out of death. Suppose you are spiritually dying inside. Pray to the Lord. Hear His word, and see his church. If He is a God who hears and sees, then He desires that His people should hear and see. We should hear the Word, and see with the eyes of faith what God has in store for His people. That is what it means to be a people belonging to the God who hears and sees.