“The God Who Sees”
October 1, 2006
When circumstances are unpromising or difficult, faith sees the God Who Sees.
I. Faith Must Not Manipulate (Genesis 16:1-3)
II. Faith Must Not Wimp Out (Genesis 16:4-6)
III. Faith Must Not Flee (Genesis 16:7-9)
IV. Faith Sees the God Who Sees (Genesis 16:10-16)
MessageLucille Ball and Desi Arnez created some truly classic television. Heres a minute from a typical episode. (video clip)
Lucy was always getting herself into trouble because shed have some idea she thought was great, and shed manipulate Ricky into agreeing. Then later shed regret it when things went wrong. That pattern is as old as Scripture; its a pattern we see this week in Genesis 16 as we continue to look at Abrams journey of faith. In this case Lucy is Abrams wife Sarai, and the trouble she gets herself into is not something that could have been shown on 50's television. But the use of manipulation is the same. And it is not something confined to old TV episodes or Scripture stories. Manipulation is one way that we continue to fall short of faith, and according to my best sources it is a problem Christian wives especially still struggle with. In the same way, giving in to manipulation, as well see Abram do, is still a problem for Christians today. And fleeing from faiths demands is an escape any of us might attempt. So Genesis 16 is a clear case of an ancient text with contemporary relevance and the lesson of Genesis 16 is of benefit to us all: when circumstances are unpromising or difficult, faith sees the God Who Sees.
I. Faith Must Not Manipulate (Genesis 16:1-3)
Lets begin with Genesis 16:1-3; faith must not manipulate. Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; 2so she said to Abram, "The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her." Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
We dont know a lot about Sarai at this point. We know that the New Testament later commends her for obedience to Abram. Weve already seen one of the episodes in which she was obedient, when his faith failed and he tried to pass her off as his sister in Egypt. But most of the time when Sarai comes to the forefront of this account, her behavior isnt great, and her faith isnt strong. The problem Sarai faces is that God has made her husband a promise, and its not happening. In chapter 15 we heard Gods promise that Abrams heir and the first of his countless descendants will be a child coming from his own body. But Abram, Sarais wife, had been married to him for many years and had borne him no children. She seems to have recognized herself both as infertile and rapidly passing the age of fertility. She was probably about 75. So rather than trust Gods promise to give Abram a son, she began to take matters into her own hands.
Verse 1: But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar. Notice that Hagar is specifically an Egyptian. Its likely she became Sarais servant during the time when Abram and Sarai were in Egypt - one of the servants Pharoah gave to Abram as dowry for Abrams sister Sarai. So in a sense Hagar is on the scene only because of Abrams previous failure of faith. But Sarai, almost certainly desperate, sees Hagar from a human perspective, a way that she, Sarai, can make sure Gods promise is fulfilled. And she manipulates Abram into agreeing. Verse 2: so she said to Abram, "The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her." Abram agreed to what Sarai said. There is a custom, well attested in ancient records, which allowed a woman who could not bear a child to give her husband a female slave as a wife and then claim the child as her own. So Sarai, like her husband before her, is using mans way rather than Gods to accomplish her purposes. Verse 3: So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When we think of Abram we dont think of him as having more than one wife, as we do Jacob or Solomon, but this verse reminds us he did.
But its entirely Sarais plan: not Abrams, not Gods. Sarai manipulates Abram into accepting an apart-from-God solution to the apparent failure of Gods promise. And manipulation like this is a problem Christian wives still struggle with. You might think it presumptuous of me to say that, since Ive never been a wife, but I base my comments on the fact that for years I have heard wives and elders wives and missionary wives including this in the list of things they struggle with, and working to mentor younger women in resisting this temptation. Ive got to believe this is a very real issue women face.
Two points. First, Im not saying men dont struggle in this arena. I think Abrams failure of faith in Egypt, his attempt to pass off his wife as his sister was an example of trying to manipulate circumstances for his own self protection, instead of acting in faith. Second, such manipulation can take many forms, whether initiating something that puts the other person in a box, or stalling in doing something until what you want has to be done, or most commonly, using emotional blackmail. I read a cute example of emotional blackmail, a mothers tongue-in-cheek introduction to her sons new book: My son wrote this book and asked me to read it. I am sure that if my son wrote it, it must be a wonderful book. I don't know. I haven't had time to read it because I have been so busy lately without anyone to help me. My son is such a wonderful caring person and loving son. I am sure that since he has finally finished this book he will again have some time for his poor sick mother who misses him very much and needs whatever help he has time to give. I hope that you will all buy my son's book. Thats emotional blackmail - using both positive and negative words to manipulate someone into certain actions. Now your use of it may be more subtle than that, more subtle than Lucys, but maybe not much.
II. Faith Must Not Wimp Out (Genesis 16:4-6)
Sarahs manipulation was blatant - she offered her husband another woman. I dont doubt any maid-servant given by Pharaoh to Abram was attractive, which may be part of the reason Abram buys into it. In fact he wimps out on his responsibility to act righteously, to lead his family and to follow God by faith. Genesis 16:4-6 When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5Then Sarai said to Abram, "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. May the Lord judge between you and me." 6"Your servant is in your hands," Abram said. "Do with her what you think best." Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
Sarai is amazing here: she forces this relationship, but when it has an outcome she hasnt foreseen, she flat refuses to take responsibility, and tells Abram its his fault: Youre responsible for the wrong I am suffering. May the Lord judge between you and me. I would deem this degree of responsibility deficit syndrome unreal except that Ive seen it. Havent you? Ive seen people make a choice going against clear counsel and clear Biblical wisdom, and then turn and blame the outcome on their counselors. I remember a fella named Randall we tried to help many years ago, who readily blamed such things as being fired from work, being kicked out of his apartment and being picked up by the police on those of us trying to help him, so that he began to act hatefully and even dangerously toward those same people.
Sarai is not far from that kind of behavior here. Not that Hagar is faultless; she gave in to the very human instinct to become prideful when it became clear she could bear Abrams child and Sarah couldnt. But Sarai can only see that this pride is causing her suffering and misery. She uses this emotional black-mail to manipulate Abram. One doesnt know how long her whining went on, before Abram finally says shes your servant, deal with her any way you like. Abram wimps out on his responsibility. He had agreed to Sarahs plan, but now that he is under this emotional pressure he caves - without any apparent perseverance at all. He reminds me of Adam in the Garden: Eve had to be persuaded, but Adam just ate the fruit he gave her. In fact Moses has placed a number of verbal clues in this text which indicate that he saw it as a parallel to the fall of Adam and Eve.
The point is, men, that God has given you certain leadership responsibilities, and these certainly include the obligation to follow him by faith and to behave righteously toward others - and Abram did neither. He wimped when Sarai suggest a human solution to the delay of Gods promise, and he wimped again when he let her abuse and drive off a servant in his household and the mother of his child. Cmon Abram, be a man - stand up for whats right and speak against Sarais vengefulness. Dont be a wimp with phrases like well, youre going to do whatever you want anyway. God wants us to call others to a walk of faith, not to join them in human scheming. He wants us to care for those close to us, not condone their hating and hurting each other. Abram bears a big part of the responsibility for this whole sordid situation.
III. Faith Must Not Flee (Genesis 16:7-9)
Things go from bad to worse until finally Hagar flees. Verses 7-9: 7The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8And he said, "Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?""I'm running away from my mistress Sarai," she answered. 9Then the angel of the Lord told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her."
Until now there hasnt been an appearance of the angel of the Lord in Scripture, though we have already talked about pre-incarnate appearances of Christ, and identified two in these chapters. But most such appearances involve the angel of the Lord, partially because he almost always speaks as God, with divine authority. Further, Moses often speaks of him as God: hes not just the angel of the Lord but often the Lord. Even here, though only the angel of the Lord speaks, Hagar is convinced she has seen the God who sees. And if you do see God, youre probably seeing the person of the Son in human guise since both Father and Spirit are identified as spirit in Scripture and therefore less likely to make such an appearance.
So the angel of the Lord finds her by a desert spring on the road to Shur. Remember, Hagar was an Egyptian servant - shes fleeing back to Egypt. But its a long, hard road, and its likely God saves her life and the life of her child by stepping in to stop her flight. As is typical of God, whether in the Garden of Eden or elsewhere, he asks a question: Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?" He doesnt need the information, he just wants her to say it. And she doesnt mince words: "I'm running away from my mistress Sarai," 9Then the angel of the Lord told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." This is hard counsel; go back and be mistreated, back to a scheming mistress and a wimpy master and life as a second class citizen after this pregnancy gave you your first hope of rising above slave status. Hagars flight is understandable. But fleeing difficult circumstances is almost never of faith, and God commands her to the course of faith, which is to endure. Peter will say the same thing 2000 years later: Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. . . If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. The path of faith is not to flee but to endure as Christ endured. In difficult circumstances faith must learn not to manipulate, to wimp or to flee.
I dont know what difficulties you are in today. I do know there are a lot of families in this church who are struggling with difficult and very difficult circumstances and stresses and demands. And I know God calls you to faith and trust in him during those times. As you cling to him in difficulties, as you cling to his word and his promises and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, you can find strength to endure, a strength and comfort that youll look back on with great joy. We heard a testimony just like this in our small group just a week or two ago.
IV. Faith Sees the God Who Sees (Genesis 16:10-16)
Hagar receives her promises and comfort directly from the angel of the Lord and proclaims him the God who sees. She didnt flee in faith, but she returns in faith, and becomes the only one in this passage to show faith. Verses 10 to 16: The angel added, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count." 11The angel of the Lord also said to her: "You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery. 12He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers." 13She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me." 14That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered. 15So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.
Its typical of the Lord to give a plain command but then to add words of promise and comfort: "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count." Clearly this is an echo of Gods promise to Abram: Hagar would not give birth to the line of promise, but in Gods providence and because he cares for all people, her offspring would also form a great nation. You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery. Ishmael means God hears. The God who sees is first of all the God who hears our misery and responds in compassion. His name would be a constant reminder to Hagar that no matter how difficult her future circumstances, God had heard when she cried out in misery. The next promise is not quite so comforting. Verse 12: He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers. What is the origin of the Arab-Israeli conflict? Its this moment; its these three not-very-faithful people: Sarai, Abram and Hagar. You see, Ishmael becomes the father of all Arab peoples, and a conflict begins that is developed later in Scripture and continues beyond the end of the New Testament and into todays headlines. There is no record of conflict between Isaac and Ishmael, but their descendants have more than made up for it.
So both Hagars course and her faith are corrected by this encounter with the angel of the Lord. We see this in verse 13: 3She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me." The God Who Sees, Hebrew El Roi, reflects Gods sovereignty, his omniscience, his omnipresence and his mercy toward those who cry out in misery or in difficulty. The Psalmist says Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?. He is God of every place, the God who sees our need and the God who hears our cries. Moses is consciously looking forward to the words God spoke to him in Exodus: And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.
Hagar has seen the God who sees, and that recognition is so profound that the very place she kneels becomes named after it; verse 14: That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi - well of the living God who sees me. The point is that when we are in suffering, when we are in stress, when we are in difficulties, we need to trust that God hears our cries, God sees our circumstances, and that God cares. The Psalmist will write: I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 14Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage, and wait for the Lord. Its really not enough to have a God who sees or who hears, or even a God who is powerful. What we really need to cling to is that the same God is the God who loves us and does good for us.
Thats the God Hagar has seen, the God revealed in Scripture, the God who will hear the cry of his people in Egypt and rescue them. Thats the God who will see the misery of all people burdened by sin, and will send his Son to be the rescuer. The beauty of the God who sees is that he sees us in our misery, he sees us in our distress, he sees us in our sin and he loves us anyway. What does Romans 5:8 say - that God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. I did a council time at Awana last week where I recommended that when you read the Scriptures you substitute the word mud or filth for the word sin, and see what you get: While we were still filthy, Christ died for us. Ephesians 2: As for you, you were dead in your muddiness and filth in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our mud-stained nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love for us, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in filthiness --it is by grace you have been saved.
The God who sees and the God who hears is the God who cares and the God who has already demonstrated ultimate goodness to us in Christ. Therefore he is the God to be trusted when promises seem delayed, when righteousness is hard, when suffering assails us. Hagar has learned this, because she says I have now seen the God who sees. He hasnt left me alone, comfortless and without help; hes come to me and revealed himself to me. This is the same thing Job at the end of that long contention with God: My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Hagar has seen the God who sees - and she trusts him enough to go back into that hard situation, partially of her own causing. Verse 15: So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael. When circumstances are unpromising or difficult, faith sees the God Who Sees. May it be so for us. In our difficulties may we see and trust the God who sees and cares.