Read Genesis 16
Hagar and Ishmael
1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 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. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaanten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”
6 “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.
9 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
11 The angel of the Lord also said to her:
“You are now pregnant
and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
for the Lord has heard of your misery.
12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward all his brothers.”
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.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.
We finished Genesis 15 with a covenant promise from God that He would do more in, for, and through Abram than he could possibly imagine. Then, Genesis 16 opens with Sarai convincing Abram to completely disbelieve the covenant that God made. How quickly we humans forget and fall back into our pattern of faithlessness! What is amazing about God is not that He is faithful to keep His commitments and promises, but that He is faithful to keep His commitments and promises to a faithless, stubborn people. In this passage, we see one of the most common hang-ups of God’s people: a desire and effort to help God work out His plans for His people. With the best of intentions, Sarai attempts to manufacture and manipulate what she has been promised. She thinks in terms of human possibilities, and in the process, she sets herself and everyone around her up for failure. What we know, and what Sarai will come to learn, is that what we see with our eyes and understand with our minds is never the only thing God has to work with. It’s never the big picture. It’s never His reality.
Any time we manipulate, manufacture, or deceive to “help” God almost always results in a mess. And, what plays out in Genesis 16 is a messy scene. God’s instructions regarding how we engage in relationships and how we treat one another are meant to simplify and bless our lives. Any time we deviate from His plan and instructions, our relationships get complicated at best and disintegrate at worst. When we seek to use, manipulate, abuse, oppress, or remove others, we disconnect from their humanity and individuality. Hagar is not called by her name, but reduced down to “maidservant,” “servant,” “her,” “she.”
Hagar flees the camp of Abram’s family. The last thing she expected was to encounter God. She wasn’t looking for God, but God was looking for Hagar. God sends the Angel of the Lord to find her, and He does something radical—while the language is less explicit than in chapter 15, God makes a covenant with Hagar. In her faithfulness, in her sin that followed it, in her rejection and persecution, God sees her, and He reaches out to her, comforts her, and provides for her.
It’s awe-inspiring that the God holding all things together, the One running the universe, is ready and willing to approach us. People matter to God. They cannot be easily discarded. He interrupts our lives sometimes with His unexpected pursuit of us. He seeks us, though we are never out of sight. Hagar reminds us of this truth. She gives God a name. No other character in the Old Testament, male or female, does such a thing. Only Hagar, an Egyptian maidservant, a “her.” El Roi…
You are the God who sees.
You are the God who sees it all.
You are the God who sees me.
He sees when no one else cares to look.
What did you learn from Genesis 16?
How do you respond or act when waiting on God? Do you often like to “help” God with His plans?
Psalm 8 says that God is mindful of us. How can you rest in knowing that you are not an afterthought to God, that He sees everything you are going through?
Did You Know?
Ishmael is the first man in the Bible to receive his name from God before he was born. The name Ishmael means “God hears.” Genesis 16 proves a foundational truth—God both hears and sees His creation.