To be honest . . . not that I ever seek to be dishonest . . . but, to be honest, I most often associate Hagar with a badly devised and tragically executed “Plan B.” That is, until this morning.
Hagar, female Egyptian servant to Sarai. Sarai, the wife of Abram. Abram, the recipient of God’s unconditional promise that, could Abram number the stars in the heaven, then he’d have some idea of the number of descendants that would come from his offspring (Gen. 15:5-6). But he was Abram, the old, married to Sarai, the barren. So how was God going to give them children? Did I mention Hagar, the “Plan B?”
Thus, though according to the custom of the land but counter to the will of God, Sarai convinces Abram to lay with Hagar as “it may be that I shall obtain children by her” (Gen. 16:2). And a child is conceived. And family dysfunction springs forth like weeds (16:4-6).
The mom to be, Hagar, looks upon the old woman, Sarai, with disdain and treats her with contempt. Sarai blames Abram for Hagar’s contemptuous attitude. Abram washes his hands of the whole mess and tells Sarai to deal with it. And she does. Sarai is so abusive towards Hagar, that Hagar flees and finds herself alone in the wilderness. In the wilderness literally . . . in the wilderness figuratively.
Ill-conceived idea (pun intended). Tragically executed “Plan B.” Lots to be warned about — as in, resist the temptation to take matters into your own hands when God’s promises seem beyond realization. That’s usually where I end up as I noodle on Genesis 16. A strong warning but not much redeeming. But this morning I’m drawn to something else.
And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction. . . . So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen Him who looks after me.”
(Genesis 16:11, 13 ESV)
Amidst the rubble of a classic example of man’s best efforts falling way short of God’s best way, we see the heart of God . . . and the ears of God . . . and the eyes of God.
“You shall call His name Ishmael.” Yishma-el. Literally “God will hear.” God didn’t stop listening when Sarai and Abram started scheming. God didn’t plug His ears as the Egyptian slave woman taunted her mistress’s barren womb. God wasn’t unresponsive to the pregnant, homeless, helpless maid who found herself in the wilderness as a result of so many people’s bad choices. But God says, “I am the God who hears. Know this about Me. Name your son after Me.”
And this Egyptian slave woman, without so much a standing as to refuse to become a surrogate for her master, encounters the God of the universe, the God of grace, the God of promise, the God who hears, and comes to know Him as El-roi, the God who sees. Outside the covenant . . . a nobody in the house . . . for all intents and purposes on her own . . . and God speaks to her. The Almighty reveals something of Himself to her.
And heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss.
(Lyric from “How He Loves” by John Mark McMillan)
Beyond the revelation that God hears what happens on earth . . . beyond the realization that God sees those things that we feel are unseen by anybody . . . something else is revealed about God’s love and grace through this encounter. This “Plan B”, this side story, has been preserved through millennia that we might know that, not only does God hear, not only does God see, but God also bows down, He gets involved, and He makes Himself known. He reaches into the aftermath of our clever plans. And, despite our mess, He can be found in the midst of our mess.
God hears. God sees. God makes Himself known. Might we be comforted and encouraged.
Might He receive all the glory.