Genesis 16 - Reflection

‘[Hagar] gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me’’ Genesis 16:13

Brothers and sisters, one of the remarkable parts of pregnancy was getting to see the baby scan. Before we could even see that Natalie was pregnant we could go to hospital, have a nurse put a load of gel on Natalie’s tummy, and then with the flick of a wand we could see, for the first time, our Amelie. It was truly amazing. As we turn our attention, once again, to the story of Abram we find something similar going on. Over the past few weeks we have heard the promise of a baby to Abram and Sarai. Then last week we heard Abram’s doubts and the promise made again, this time in emphatic form, by God to the childless couple. God sees the future which He promises to bring about. 

In the first episode of Abram’s life (Genesis 12) we likened God to a Sat Nav guiding the travellers with just His voice. By the time we get to our reading today, Genesis 16, Abram & Sarai have been following for 10 years, and so far, no kid and Sarai has run out of patience. Verse 1: ‘Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.’ Abram agreed to what Sarai said.’  Sarai doesn’t trust the promise, and sees an alternative way forward. As those who have been reading Genesis from the beginning we ought to be very worried by these verses, very worried indeed. We’ve seen this all before, haven’t we! Back in Genesis 3, Eve didn’t trust the promise of God, and thought she saw a different way forward. Eve suggested it to Adam, and Adam agreed to what Eve suggests. Now God’s rescue plan is just getting going, and we’re hopeful for a fresh start, but humanity keep letting the side down. Once again, just as humanity did back in Genesis 3, we opt for our own plans, forget God’s promise, and think we see an alternative way forward. And what happens? Everything goes wrong! Once Abram’s second wife, Hagar, becomes pregnant, she has everything her culture has ever said certifies a woman, and, as far as anyone knows, Hagar is carrying the Promised Baby. And what follows isn’t pretty. Sarai flips out, and then Abram chickens out, saying, verse 6: ‘Your slave is in your hands,’ Abram said. ‘Do with her whatever you think best.’ Then Sarai ill-treated Hagar; so she fled from her.’  We aren’t told the details but we know Sarah’s actions were so harsh, and Abraham’s inaction so cruel, that it forces a pregnant woman to flee to the desert. Once again, humanity thinks that they can see clearer than God, and in taking matters into their own hands, mess everything up. They can’t see the pregnancy, they can’t see the baby they long for, and they get fed up of waiting. Once again, Abram messes up, and we find he isn’t the hero we hoped he might be. However,  as we’ve been learning, the book of Genesis isn’t really about any of the real life human characters. No, the book of Genesis is about God, and what He is like, and once this sorry episode has worked its way out, we find that Abram and Sarai take no further part in this chapter.

So, what do we learn about the God of Abram in this chapter? We have already seen He is the God who foresees the pregnancy that He Himself will bring about, that is nothing new. Rather, in recording this historical event, the author, shows us something which has been hidden in the background over the last few chapters. Namely, God’s care and concern for everyone, not just those called His People. Not only does the Lord speak Hagar's name, He also wants to have a conversation with her, v8: ‘He said, ‘Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?’  This Egyptian slave girl is getting the same kind of one-to-one attention that Abraham has just gotten in chapter 15. As we read chapter 16, we’re meant to wonder, could the God  who just made His covenant to form one special nation, also care about this representative from a different nation? And from the nation  which He knows will later enslave His people? The first Jewish readers would have been stunned to find that God cares for an Egyptian slave girl! And Hagar’s response shows she’s stunned too, stunned that God noticed her! Hagar reacts in a way utterly unique in Scripture.  Hagar becomes the only human —male or female—  in all of the Bible  to give a name to God. Up to this point in the narrative, He has been simply ‘God’, the ‘Lord God’, or ‘the Lord’. The name Hagar gives him is determined by the way in which this God has revealed  Himself to her:  she names Him the ‘God who sees me’. She identifies Him as the One who has seen her plight, as One who has found her. This God sees, and therefore, values everyone. 

What does it mean for us to be seen by God? It is probably the deepest-seated desire of every human being to be seen as they really are, to be properly known in their weakness and failings, and to be accepted unconditionally. And what we find in this God of Abram, is precisely a God who sees each and every person, knows  them inside and out, and calls each one into a friendship with Him. This is yes, quite scary, but also profoundly reassuring, that the God who calls us to know Him, already knows us, already knows our mistakes and our sins, and He still calls us, still wants us to know Him and trust Him. However, not only does God see us, He also sees His plans for us, and knows the best way to make it happen. Like an ultra-sound scan, He sees the child-of-God we might become long before we can even see the beginning of our growth. Like a GPS unit, He knows the best way to get us there, and though it might take a long time, we are asked to be patient, to wait and see what the Lord has planned for us. The God who sees you, you in all the complexity of your life, loves you and asks you to trust Him. Let the answer to that be ‘yes’. Amen. (from Fr. Mike).