“Your servant is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her. The Angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert ... beside the road to Shur. And 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. Then the Angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The Angel added, “I will increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” The 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.” Genesis 16:6-11 NIV
What’s the story?
Hagar was the personal maid servant of Sarah (Sarai), Abraham’s wife. Hagar was Egyptian, and most likely she was purchased as a slave when Abraham and Sarah were living in Egypt (Gen. 12). Because Sarah was unable to conceive, she suggested that Abraham take Hagar as a concubine. Although this was certainly not the way the Lord planned to fulfill His promise that Abraham would have a son, this practice was not uncommon in that culture, and is even mentioned in legal contracts of that time. So this idea was of pagan cultural origin, and perhaps Sarah thought that this scheme might prove that their failure to have children was not her infertility, but Abraham’s! However, Hagar did conceive, and as a result she began to despise Sarah. In frustration and bitter anger, Sarah blamed Abraham for the situation and began to treat Hagar harshly.
Hagar became so desperate that she decided to run away from her problem with Sarah. Most likely she intended to return to Egypt, since Shur (Gen. 16:7) was on the wilderness road between Abraham’s home in Beersheba and Egypt. It was here that the Lord met Hagar. Although He told her to return and submit to Sarah’s authority, the Lord also encouraged Hagar by giving her some wonderful promises.
What does it teach?
Does God see the plight and hear the cries of people who are disadvantaged in this world? As we look around at those who seem to have gotten the “short end of the stick” (maybe even our own situation), sometimes it seems as though God doesn’t hear or see the plight of people who are underprivileged or disadvantaged. The biblical account of Hagar certainly refutes that idea!
Hagar was in a terrible situation through no fault of her own. Undoubtedly Abraham and Sarah had taken advantage of Hagar. First they purchased her as a slave, then forced her to become a concubine. Finally she was reduced from a position of privilege as Sarah’s personal servant and Abraham’s concubine to the status of an abused slave – because she followed orders! Her chances for marriage had vanished. She was treated so harshly that, in desperation, she was forced to flee. But God sees the plight and hears the prayers of the disadvantaged and downtrodden. The Lord knew all about Hagar’s problems. He had heard her cries and had seen her situation, and He personally came to her in the wilderness to strengthen her and encourage her.
Notice that God found Hagar. Hagar had no idea the Lord was seeking her, and was unaware that God cared for her personally. To her amazement, Hagar discovered that God sees the plight of those who are abused and disadvantaged. And He didn’t just see the problem, He did something about it! No wonder Hagar referred to God as “El Roi,” which means “You are the God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13). Notice what the Lord said in verse 11: “You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery” (Gen. 16:11). Ishmael means, “God hears.”
God heard the cry of poor, downtrodden Hagar. All that God promised her came true. Yes, there has been bad fallout down through the years between the Jews and the descendants of Ishmael, as God predicted in verse 12. The consequences of Abraham and Sarah’s sin (and all sin) are serious and long-lasting. But for Hagar, the Lord both saw and “heard of her misery.” As it was with Hagar, so it is with us. Do you feel that you’re the underdog or disadvantaged in some way? Do you feel like you’re always ending up at the bottom of the heap? Has someone taken advantage of you? God sees your plight. He hears the cries of disadvantaged people.
How does it apply?
Hagar tried to run away from her problems, but the Lord told her to return and even to submit to Sarah, who had harshly mistreated her. Because of the Lord’s personal encouragement, and because of His promises, Hagar was able to face her problem and see the Lord working in her situation.
Rarely can we run away from problems without negative results. God wants us to face our problems and work them out. With His personal presence in our lives, and His wonderful promises of help and encouragement, we will begin to see His hand at work in our lives, even in the midst of our problems. As we work through the situation with the Lord at our side, our trust in the Lord will grow stronger and deeper.
God will work out His purposes for us, even in the most desperate problem situations we may face. Psalm 52:2-3 is a great encouragement: “I cry out to God … who fulfills His purpose for me. He sends from heaven and saves me … God sends His love and His faithfulness.” When we go through desperate situations, it helps to remember that God’s purpose for our lives is not always achieved through personal comfort or “smooth sailing” in life, because His ultimate purpose for us is not earthly or temporal. His purpose for each one of His people is to make us more like Jesus Christ. And He works through every situation in our lives to achieve that purpose. Read Romans 8:28-30 and don’t stop reading at the end of 28!
Are you facing a problem – in your marriage, your family, your finances, your relationship with a fellow-believer, your relationship with the Lord? Don’t try to run away! Don’t give up! Return and face the problem. Ask the Lord for help, and He will answer you with His presence and encouragement. As with Hagar, the Lord sees your problems and hears your cries, and He will help you as you look to Him. Don’t try to run away from your problems – work them out with the help of “the God who sees me.”
By David R. Reid