Genesis 16:1-13

June 16, 2002

Mary Jane Davis,
Pastor of Congregational Care

The Grantham Church

Genesis 16:1-13

As I’ve been preparing the Romanian Missions Team for our trip in a few weeks, I’ve spent some time looking at my photos from Romania and re-reading my journal of my time over there. I reflect with great memories the day in mid December 2000 that I dropped off the fall semester students at Otopeni Airport in Bucharest and I began the five-hour drive up through Romania to Transylvania. It was still dark at 5 am as I steered the old German car I was driving up through the Carpathian Mountains, with snowflakes dancing off my headlights. It was a little scary, for folks told me that if I got caught in snow, I’d never make it over the mountains. But I was also excited; it was my first road trip in Romania alone and I could take my time and enjoy the country. I stopped many times during that ride to pause and enjoy, to look and capture a “Kodak moment” and to talk to people along the way. As I got out of the car in the small town of Ploiesti, at the foothills of the mountains, an elderly gentleman was crossing the road, wearing a high, sheepskin hat, and I asked if I might take a picture. He asked me, “De unde sunteti? Unde mergeti? Where are you from? Where are you going?” Later, I stopped in the ski resort town of Sinaia, up in the mountains to get a cup of hot coffee, the waitress asked me, “Doamna, Unde mergeti, aceasta dimineata in zapada? Where are you going this morning in the snow?” And still later, as I drove through the second largest city in Romania, Brasov, my mouth watered, knowing I was going to pass one of the few McDonalds in the country. Now I rarely go to McDonalds here, but for some reason the thought of an egg Mac muffin that morning seemed to strike my fancy, probably a reminder of home. I hurried into the restaurant, and asked for my oua sandvich, and the girl just looked at me, puzzled. I quickly scanned the board for the egg sandwich in Romanian. It wasn’t there. Ah! only hamburgers and fish sandwiches. With disappointment I frowned as I ordered a peste sandvich - a fish sandwich for breakfast. The girl behind the counter laughed, and asked, “De unde sunteti?” And I told her that I was from the US originally, although I was driving from Bucharest that morning. And then she asked, “Unde mergeti acum? Where are you going now?” And I told her that I was headed for Sighisoara. She smiled and told me it was the loveliest town in Romania.

Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Common questions we ask of lots of people or they are asked of us. We are inquisitive, interested in where folks come from. We are curious where folks are headed. In each situation I was asked that question, people wanted a geographical answer. But this morning I’d like to explore with you those two questions from an entirely different perspective.

We need to start with the Biblical story of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar. Ten years earlier, God had promised to Abram and Sarai, that they would have children. In Genesis 16, verse 1, the story opens with the spotlight on Abram’s barren wife, Sarai. In ancient times a woman’s self-worth and social status pivoted around her family – namely the reputation of her husband, and more importantly, the number of children she had borne, preferably males. Sarai’s honor rose and fell in that one line…Sarai, had borne him no children. And now Sarai, almost 75 years old was giving up hope. “Come on, Lord, it’s just not going to happen. I’m an old woman. I’m getting older as I speak.” Abram, likewise, was puzzled and discouraged by the problem. Frustrated with God’s timing, Sarai and Abram went ahead with Sarai’s plan B. Sarai, no longer expecting to have children herself, proposed to Abram to take a surrogate wife, Hagar, Sarai’s slave, whose children would become her property. While her mistress was old and had no hope of ever conceiving a child, Hagar was young and fertile. But Hagar was poor. In fact, she was worse than poor; she was a slave. And because she was a slave she was powerless. And strange as it seems to us, Sarai’s suggestion of Abram taking Hagar to have a child in her stead was an acceptable act. There was nothing immoral about it in the eyes of the community. This was common in the life of these nomadic people. Yet, as we see the end of this action, we are aware that is was an act of appalling folly and stupidity, resulting in endless sorrow and heartache for all involved. Sometimes we are so like Sarai ourselves, that we feel some resentment at the idea that she should be blamed for suggesting this. Like Sarai and Abram, we often struggle with waiting patiently upon the Lord. The great New England preacher, Phillips Brooks, was noted for his poise and quiet manner. At times, however, even he suffered moments of frustration. One day a friend saw him pacing the floor like a caged lion. “What’s the trouble, Dr. Brooks?” asked the friend, “The trouble is that I’m in a hurry,” said Brooks, “but God isn’t.” Brooks was quoted as saying, “The hardest task in my life is to sit down and wait for God to catch up with me.” Patience is a part of God’s strategy for maturing us as Christians. But in our desire to try to please God, we take life on with our own efforts and in the process our Christian experiences lose their glow and fire. Instead of the fruit of love, joy and peace, we find our lives are empty, unfulfilled, barren. We battle the same problems Abram and Sarai did. This life, which is expected to produce goodness and mercy, only produces barrenness. It’s like Sarai was saying, “I know what God has told me he wants, but now it really depends on me to figure out how to reach it, and I’ve got just the plan.”

So Abram hearkened to the voice and wishes of Sarai and went to Hagar, the Egyptian slave to produce a child. Abram was ready to do the will of God without seeking to discover the way of God. There are no other words to express what happened, than to say it outright. In their selfishness they all sinned. And verses 4-6 express the immediate results of acting in the flesh. They became petty and petulant, displaying enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness - all ugly emotions that lie near the surface of the fallen human heart. Let’s take a quick look. First contempt- Hagar despises Sarai. Verse 4. When Abram placed Hagar into rivalry with his wife, Hagar became insolent and impertinent and held her mistress in utter contempt. The next thing mentioned is Sarai’s unreasonableness in verse 5. She initiated the proposal to Abram and urged him on. But when he gave in, she turned around, threw it back in his face, crying, “It’s all your fault. Why did you do this to me? May the Lord judge between you and me.”

And then we see the irresponsibility on Abram’s part. He said to Sarai, “Your servant is in your hands. Do with her whatever you think best.” He dodges his responsibility, passing the buck. “Don’t bother me about this. It is your problem, you settle it.” Hagar was proud. Sarai was pushy. Abram was passive.

And Sarai did just what Abram suggest…she settled it. She mistreated Hagar. Harshness and rebellion followed. Sarai dealt harshly with Hagar, and she fled from her. Sin results in a continual chain reaction of sin.

That takes us to Hagar, who, having been treated harshly by Sarai, has fled out into the desert, near a spring that is beside the road to Shur. Have you ever fled? Run away? Sometimes we run physically. Sometimes we run emotionally. Sometimes we do it out of spite. Sometimes we do it out of fear. I remember vividly at about age 8, one summer when our family was living up in the village of Perdix along the river, my older brother was left in charge of my younger sister and me, while my mother went off to work. Frank, seven years older, thought he was hot stuff and bossed and pushed us around a lot. I despised his actions towards me, but if I complained, my mother always seemed to side with him. One day, I had had enough, and I took this little wooden, doll suitcase I had and filled it with some of my precious belongings and began hiking along Route 11 & 15. I had no idea where I would go. I just felt no one loved me nor cared, so I was going to show them. I’d leave. I probably hadn’t gone more than a half mile until I sat down and ate the peanut butter and jelly sandwich I made and then realized I didn’t have any place to go and it was getting dark out. I just cried and cried. Running away wasn’t the solution, and now I feared going back. It only seemed to get worse. And, yes, I was punished for running away. Now I was a child with relatively no issues and I was hurting. Can you imagine Hagar, a single woman, a slave, far from home, a woman carrying a child, treated so harshly, realizing that Sarai would always have one up on her? She didn’t know what else to do, so she fled. She ran away from it all, wanting to escape, wanting something better but it wasn’t there.

The story is told of two hunters who came across a bear so big that they dropped their rifles and ran for cover. One man climbed a tree while the other hid in a nearby care. The bear sat down between the tree and the cave. Suddenly, the hunter in the cave came rushing out, almost ran into the waiting bear, hesitated and dashed back in. The same thing happened a second time. When he emerged the third time, his friend frantically called out, “Woody, are you crazy? Stay in the cave until he leaves!” “Can’t, “ panted Woody. “There’s another bear in there.”

Whenever we run from problems, we will most likely face other problems. And that’s what happened to Hagar. With Abram and Sarai, she was mistreated, abused, cast aside. But in running away she is faced with her loneliness, her frustration, her anger and her weariness with no one to turn to.

And then Hagar has a visitor. The angel of the Lord found her, and he says to her, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”

What arresting questions! Was this angel of the Lord really interested in Hagar’s geography? Did it matter to him that Hagar had left the camp of Abram in Canaan and was most likely thinking of traveling back to her homeland in Egypt? Listen to Hagar’s response. “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” leaving the impression that it was all Sarai’s fault. She only gave her side of the story. It’s like if I, as a parent asks one of my two children who have been fighting with each other, what happened. “Lynsey. What is going on here?” And she proceeds to tell me all that Megan has done to her. It’s a one sided story. Hagar, doesn’t say, “I’m running from my mistress Sarai because I have exalted myself above her and committed sin.” What the angel of the Lord was asking Hagar by saying, “Where have you come from” was asking her to reflect upon her actions. He was asking her, “Where have you come from in your spiritual life? On whom do you believe and trust? Reflect on your behavior, your words, your thoughts, and your sins. What’s been going on in your life? Has God been part of it? Have you received any of His blessings?”

Interestingly, this isn’t the only place we find this question in Scripture. In Job 1 we find, “One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.’” Like Hagar, Satan overlooked the spiritual dimension of the Lord’s question. But Satan’s response is most likely the response of most people on earth. We wander to and fro about the earth, lost in what we are doing. We have little meaning or purpose in our lives.

Let me pose this question to you this morning. Where are you coming from this morning? And yes, you can spout off all kinds of responses. “We’re from Camp Hill, or Dillsburg, or Steelton, or Wellsville, or even as far as Manheim.” Or your response might be more like Hagar’s, not giving a location, but rather the event that you are dealing with, “Life isn’t easy here.” “My parents have made life difficult.” “My marriage is pretty disheveled right now.” “My wife is difficult to live with.” “My children are disrespectful.” “My life is one upheaval after another.” “The teachers have been uncooperative at school.” “No one listens to me.” But let me rephrase the question for you. Where are you coming from in your relationship with God? What has your spiritual journey been like? Has God been eminent in your journey? Do you believe and trust him? Do you want to do God’s will, but you are not willing to wait to discover God’s way to do it?

Let’s go further into the Scriptures and look at the second question Hagar was asked, “Where are you going?” Interestingly, we find Jesus responding to that question in John 8:12-14. Jesus Christ knows where he came from and where he is going because he is God incarnate. He knows no sin.

But Hagar, having sinned, was asked, “Where are you going?” What are you going to do now that you have sinned? And note that Hagar never responds to that question. It is quite possible Hagar had no clue where she was headed spiritually. She was lost. How could she respond? And I think God knew that for the angel of the Lord gives her direction. (v. 9) “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” By doing so Hagar would humble herself and repent. And the Lord then promises that he will increase her descendants that they will be too numerous to count. Her son, Ishmeal, would be the beginning of a great nation. With the command to return, comes the promise of blessing. Blessing always follows obedience.

Verse 11 is key to this passage, for it reveals to us that the Lord heard Hagar and understood her dilemma while she was in her sin. She was to name her son, Ishmael which means “God hears.” “The Lord has heard of your misery.” How often in our suffering, do we think and feel that God just doesn’t hear us. Where are you, God? When are you going to respond? David in Psalm 35 cries out, “O Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent. Do not be far from me.” How often do we not recognize God’s presence, or accept that he does hear, because like Hagar we have been too busy fleeing? We haven’t taken the time to be still enough, to know that God is the sovereign God over every part of our lives.

Let me ask you the second question? Where are you going? Your lives may be so busy and bustling that you can recite a zillion places you are headed or things you are going to accomplish. But where are you headed when it comes to your journey with God? Are you like Hagar this morning? Do you not have a response? Are you uncertain? Do you question God’s direction in your life? Are you searching for answers? Are you looking for God to give you direction, like the angel of the Lord gave to Hagar?

The omniscient God; he knows us so completely. Psalm 139 - God knows everything about us. He knows when we sit down. He knows when we stand up. He charts the path we are to take. He is both ahead of us and behind us at the same time. Verse 16 from the Living Bible says, “You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your Book.” What does one do with that verse? I suggest we joyfully wrap our faith around it and accept the blessed assurance that our Father has for us. Where we have come from - our past and our sins, yes, God knows and knows well. But simultaneously, he knows our future, and where we are going, and he promises to us that his grace is all-sufficient for all of life. Like God gave directions to Hagar, to return and submit to Sarai, God has directions, for each one of us as we wait upon him.

The Scriptures do not tell us what Hagar thought or felt about these directives…Go back and submit to Sarai, this woman who mistreats her? Was God telling Hagar to go back to a suffering situation? Yes, it appears that he was. To us that might sound cruel. What was God thinking? Hagar was deeply moved by her meeting with the Lord in the wilderness. Having been used, mistreated and rejected by her superiors, she was overwhelmed by the thought that the Lord himself cared about her and had plans for her and her unborn son which would have worldwide repercussions. So although she had no idea what awaited her back in Abram’s household, she returned on the basis of the word from the Lord. She had faith in her God who heard her in her distress and whom she saw anew. In so doing she started to make something positive out of the mistakes she had made. And for a time, God is sending Hagar back to Sarai to birth Abram’s son. God has a plan and Hagar, who now knows God hears her, goes back in faith, for God has promised her two things. First that she will be assured of innumerable descendants and secondly that she will bare a male son and her future will be through him. Remember I said at the beginning, Hagar was a slave; she was powerless. By God hearing her, responding to her, calling her back, God grants her His power. Through his omnipotence, she is now has power she never had before. Through His power, she can endure; she can embrace the suffering…for as long as God has planned.

God’s directives for us are not always what we would have personally selected. God has detours, roadblocks, alternate routes that have a purpose and a plan that many times we don’t fully understand for a long time. But to know those routes, to get his roadmap for our lives, we need to be in touch with Him. We need to have a personal relationship with him.

What does it take to get there - to receive God? Genesis 16: 13. She 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.” Hagar is beginning to catch a glimpse of God’s omniscience and power. Hagar calls the name of the God who has spoken to her, “You are the God who sees me.” God is all-knowing, omniscient. He’s all-powerful – omnipotent. And here we have another characteristic…let me coin a new word for us - omniocular - all-seeing. Hagar discovered her God who sees every part of her and knows and accepts her unconditionally just as she is. Scripture confirms that for us: In Psalm 139: My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret… Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
Psalm 33:18: Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy.
Psalm 43:14: The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.
Proverbs 5:21: For human ways are under the eyes of the Lord, and he examines all their paths.
Proverbs 15:3: The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.
And David prayed in Psalm 17:8: Keep me as the apple of your eye, hide me under the shadow of your wings.

After receiving a divine announcement of the forthcoming birth, recognizing that God truly sees her, Hagar sees God with a new vision as well. Hagar might be the first female theologian for she unites the divine and human encounter: the God who sees and the God who is seen. There is more to our faith than just knowing God sees us. It takes the personal experience of us seeing our God work in and through our lives.

All people are caught up in the web of sin in life on earth. The Lord calls us like he did fleeing Hagar to stop, to reflect on our lives; where have you come from? Where are you going? What have we been dwelling on? What has taken our attention and time as we have wandered aimlessly through life? Are we lost in our sin or lost in understanding God’s will and way for our lives? This passage challenges us, like Hagar, to stop and hear God’s voice, the God who knows us, inside out, knows every path we’ve trod. But he wants more from us than just hearing him. He wants us to get out of the ruts of life, toss aside the upheavals of the past that we wallow in, and go in faith to wherever he sends us. He is eagerly waiting for us to respond like Hagar, “I have seen the one who sees me.”