Hagar squinted against the sun’s tormenting glare. Looking over her shoulder she could barely see signs of the life she was fleeing from – someone had made a fire and the smoke looked like a tiny ribbon reaching heavenward. A tightening of her throat and short intake of breath, the familiar sting of tears forming like a storm about to break. A battle raged in her heart between the longing for her home and never wanting to see her mistress again. Forget “fight OR flight,” this was both.
A stumble snapped her attention back to her feet – she saw her shadow falter. The thirsty, rocky soil wasn’t making this getaway easy, nor was the heavy pack she carried. Somewhere in the far distance a bird called and another one answered. The sound of their conversation taunted her – “Even the birds have each other – you have NO ONE.” She let the loneliness come in, like a host opening the door for a guest, choking on the sob that had been waiting to burst since she stormed from Abram’s tent.
Then, a flutter came from within. It reminded her that another life depended on her survival. Renewed resolve propelled her forward. There must be a spring somewhere…
Hagar was a “handmaid” – female servant – probably acquired by Abram and Sarai when they were in Egypt (Gen 12). She lived a life of humble servitude, where a job well done was synonymous with invisibility – perhaps she was noticed only when she dropped a clanging dish. If an artist were to paint Genesis 12-15, she would likely be depicted in blurred neutral tones of the background, barely visible behind the exquisite, full-color details of our main characters – Abram and Sarai.
She had likely seen the hand of God move in the household. With an upbringing in polytheistic Egypt, perhaps the notion of serving and praying to ONE God was a strange concept. She may have seen Abram call on the name of the Lord at Bethel, perhaps heard the stories of the conquest to save Lot, or caught fragments of conversations about God’s promise of Abraham’s offspring being as numerous as the stars.Maybe there began to stir in her a longing to be seen and known by this God. Maybe she wondered if He was also for her? Or just the wealthy? Or a certain race?
Hagar is thrust onto centerstage of the story and into the arms of her master when Sarai becomes frustrated with her own infertility and seeks to conceive through her slave (Genesis 16). This was a new level of servitude for Hagar, that marked the beginning of great turmoil and pain in her relationships with this family. Hagar despised Sarai (16:4), and Sarai mistreated Hagar (16:6) and sent her away.
It is here that “the angel of the Lord found Hagar…” by a spring in the desert. Banished, single, mom-to-be, with no provisions/possessions or friends/family, and barely holding it together with cords of adrenaline, rage, and shame.
How captivating is it that HE found HER. In God’s mercy and compassion, He makes the first move – a move towards a life that desperately needed to be noticed, called out of anonymity. From this divine encounter with Hagar we understand God in a new way. El Roi: THE ONE WHO SEES.Hagar’s conversation with God was short but life changing. In this conversation He demonstrated that:
El Roi sees the past.
El Roi sees the pain.
El Roi sees our sin.
El Roi sees the way forward.The first two on that list are comforting. We want God to see our pain and validate us. It feels amazing to know we are not alone in our suffering, and nothing escapes the fatherly gaze of our Creator. We want to cry out, “God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands…” (as Jacob said to Laban in Genesis 31:42).
But the last two things on that list can be convicting. He also sees the blind spots – where we have sinned, and also what He requires of us in the future. In Hagar’s case, He told her to go back and submit to Sarai – someone who had mistreated her. (We can speculate perhaps this instruction was due in part to Hagar’s despising of Sarah – it’s possible her own sin was a factor in the conflict). He also told her of more trials to come for her family line. These are not easy things to hear!
Yet Hagar still felt the enormity of being SEEN by God, saying, “I have now seen the one who sees me” (16:13). This is the first time the angel of the Lord appeared to anyone (before we read of similar experiences for Moses, Gideon, Elijah, and even Hagar’s master Abraham) and how significant that this appearance was to an Egyptian slave woman! If her worth was ever in question before this experience, it was no longer. She mattered to the living God.
Pivoting to the New Testament – we again see such a beautiful example of El Roi’s loving oversight in the story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well in John 4:1-42. The woman was visiting the well in the heat of the day to avoid the crowds, an outcast not only because she was a Samaritan but also her checkered past. A woman who had had five husbands and was currently living with a man who was not her husband. In this story, as in Hagar’s case, we see Jesus communicating with the “outsider.” Not only an outsider, but one who’s love life was extremely controversial and messy. Again, He revealed himself to this foreigner in a new and unique way, as it is the first conversation where he openly claims to be the Messiah! He demonstrates prophetic knowledge of her past. El Roi saw her pain, her sin, and her way forward.God sees all people – men, women, children – of all races and nations. The loving eyes of El Roi are for all of us, and scripture is full of examples that extend to every cross section of mankind. However, the examples of Hagar and the woman at the well are especially precious to me, as I am a middle-aged woman. This is a subset of the population that can often feel overlooked in society, yet I’m so very comforted and challenged by the knowledge that I serve a God who sees me.
In both Hagar and the woman at the well, a transformation occurred in their lives after being with the God Who Sees. We don’t hear many more details in Hagar’s story, but we know she returned to Abram and Sarai a different person. Her enmity and bitterness had been replaced with submission. Similarly, the woman at the well went away from her encounter with Jesus with a new purpose in life. She shared the story with everyone she met. Her testimony had great impact, especially among the Samaritans who until then had not typically associated with Jews. Her shame had been replaced with boldness and hope, and her life had a new purpose!
This is because being seen by God causes a change in our reactions, relationships, and attitudes towards other people. Where we were once retreating, we are now engaging. Where we were once holding a grudge, we now let others in. Where we once were digging our heels in, we now bend and flex. Where we were once full of regret and shame, we are now full of grace and hope. It spills out into the lives of others. We don’t need to clamor for the approval and favor of others when all needs for attention are met by the God Who Sees.Are you feeling invisible or unknown? Be encouraged by this: El Roi knows every battle you are silently fighting, every tear that falls in the dark, every exhausting hill you climb. You are never alone – even right now you are seen. When you are in physical pain, He sees. When you stand alone for truth and justice, He sees. When you are exhausted, sacrificing your needs for to care for others, He sees. When you have doubts or questions about your faith, He sees. When the inspiration and joy of your calling/ministry is running low, He sees.
He also sees where when you are at fault. The sinful desires that entangle you, the words spoken in anger, the selfishness or the bitterness trying to hide in the corners of your heart. The ways you are tempted and the ways you give in to that temptation. None of this disqualifies you from His enduring love, or His willingness to draw you close and show you the next steps on your path with Him.
El Roi sees your past.
El Roi sees your pain.
El Roi sees your sin.
El Roi sees your way forward.
By: Tricia McCorkle