[This was my message at the assisted living facility on Sunday.]
My message today will be from a passage in Genesis chapter 16 about the woman named Hagar, connected with Abraham and Sarah, but before I read the passage, I want to set it up for you.
We all know Abraham. Abraham is a landmark figure in the spiritual history of the world. Abraham is important. Yet, in his day, Abraham was actually not-so-important. In himself, there was not much to make him worthy of distinction. God chose Abraham in grace – for undeserved reasons. During his lifetime, Abraham did not have an important position. He did not rule an empire. He did not command an army. He did not perform miracles.
Yet – 4,000 years later – we know Abraham. One of God’s promises to Abraham was that he would make Abraham’s name great. – God fulfilled this promise!
God also promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, and that the entire world would be blessed through him.
God fulfilled those promises too, but there were detours along the way.
We likely know the story of Abraham and Sarah. They were quite old and no children had resulted from their marriage. How could their offspring form a great nation and be as numerous as the stars in the sky when they were childless? – Instead of waiting on God and trusting him to fulfill his promise to them, they took matters into their own hands.
Sarah proposed that Abraham should take a “secondary wife” – that is, that they could have children through their Egyptian servant Hagar.
This may sound rather disconcerting to us. However, this type of arrangement was culturally acceptable and legally permissible at this point in time in ancient history. But it was spiritually disastrous.
There is a lesson there for us today as a society. Just because something is legal or has become culturally normal does not mean it is right in the eyes of God or that it is a path Christian believers should take.
Abraham and Sarah contradicted the way of patient faith in the promises of God. They got tired of waiting, and things got complicated. When Hagar got pregnant, this created an awkward relationship between Sarah and Hagar. No surprise there, right?
Sarah mistreated Hagar, and Hagar fled into the wilderness. And now I’ll read our passage for today: Genesis 16: 6-16.
This story has a dark side (Sarah mistreated Hagar) and a bright side (the Angel of the Lord communicated with Hagar in the desert). Hagar had a great privilege and honor that is never recorded in the Bible about Sarah: Hagar receives special divine revelation, attention, and comfort.
What a surprise it must have been for Hagar to suddenly hear someone calling her name in the wilderness! “Hagar, slave of Sarai.”
The person who called her name and spoke to her is stated to be the angel of the Lord. Some Bible scholars think this was actually the Lord himself appearing in a veiled form, because in verse 13, this angel of the Lord is now referred to as the Lord. It says that Hagar: 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.”
This is a pretty amazing and unique moment in the Bible. Hagar is the only person in the Bible to confer a name on deity. Did you know that?
People often name family members, things, places but never one’s God – except Hagar. In all other times, it is the reverse. God reveals his name, or something about his name, to someone. But here Hagar does the naming. And the only person in the Bible who names God is:
a woman, a slave, a foreigner, and a refugee from oppression.
She is a victim, caught up in events outside of her control.
The name Hagar gave to God is El Roi, which is the Hebrew, and it means: “the God who sees.”
God saw her distress and affliction, and he heard her too. God said that her son should be called Ishmael, and that name means “God hears.” Every time Hagar would call her son’s name in the future, it would remind her of how God heard her in the wilderness.
This moment marked a turning point in Hagar’s life. God spoke to Hagar, and she responded in faith. She did as the Lord told her and returned to Abraham’s household. Her son would not be born in the wilderness but in the house of his father.
Verse 15 says that Abraham gave the name Ishmael to Hagar’s son when he was born. This indicates that Abraham believed Hagar’s report that God appeared to her in the wilderness, and said that the child’s name should be Ishmael.
Hagar was irrevocably involved with God’s promise to Abraham that he would have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. In verse 13, the Angel of the Lord told Hagar “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
These things must have been a bit of a rebuke to Abraham and Sarah. Sarah failed to live in faith, took matters into her own hands, and had to learn a lesson the hard way – From her despised foreign slave who, ironically, returned from the wilderness having had a faith experience with God.
What does this story reveal about God’s character? – So many things! One is that God keeps his promises. God is a promise keeper, not a promise breaker. He doesn’t break his promises even when humans mess things up, but he keeps on working in the situation.
The situation may have to take some unfortunate or complicated detours, but God’s plan continues to unfold. God was patient with Abraham and Sarah, despite their failings. I probably would have fired Abraham: “You’re fired!! I’m choosing a new person through whom to make a great nation and bless the world!” – But in Genesis 17, the next chapter, God actually reiterates his promises to Abraham.
He is the God of grace. Now that doesn’t mean there were no consequences. When the way of faith (which involves patient waiting) was abandoned by Sarah and Abraham, they were caught up in a chain of events that would trouble them for years to come.
Continuing to answer the question: What’s does this story reveal about God’s character? He is El Roi, the God who sees. God loved Sarah and had a mighty role for her, but God loved Hagar too. Acts 10:34 says that God does not show favoritism. God came to the rescue of Hagar. He saw her in the wilderness. Throughout Scripture, the Old and New Testament alike, there are so many examples of how God sees people that society tends to overlook or even despise.
God is compassionate. In our New Testament reading from 2 Corinthians today, verses 3-4 said: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
– God’s people throughout Scripture were frequently encouraged to imitate God in this way and show compassion, especially to people who are suffering, mistreated, overlooked, or despised. Zechariah 7:9-10 says: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner, or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”
Ultimately our passage from Genesis 16 about Hagar, Sarah, and Abraham is a story of divine redemption of human failure. There is no rewind in life; there is only redemption. And actually, that is the story of the Bible from start to finish!
God creates, humans mess things up, God redeems. Over and over again as the Bible progresses we see this happen.
The God who sees appeared to an Egyptian slave woman, a victim of mistreatment, and comforted her. Hagar had a blessing never recorded of Sarah: a personal revelation of God in condescending grace.
Hagar could not have known that one day this same God would actually be born on earth to a young woman named Mary. Of course, I speak of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Christians, we worship the eternal triune God. Some churches sing the Gloria Patri: “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.” – Jesus has always existed because he is the eternal God.
The ultimate act of condescending grace was when God humbled himself by becoming human. God the Son entered human history at a specific moment in time. This is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that the entire world would be blessed through him.
Galatians chapter 4 says: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”
– Those who come to Christ in faith, that is believe the good news that God became human to die on the cross for our sin and conquer death through resurrection – become a child of God. We are adopted into God’s family when we believe. Jesus is for everyone. Through faith, we become a part of that huge family promised to come through Abraham.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. In churches that follow the ecclesiastical calendar or the liturgical church year, Advent is the 4 weeks before Christmas Day. Advent is from the Latin and means coming. It is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for both the celebration of the first coming of Christ at Christmas, and the return of Christ at his Second Coming that we await in the future.
In the Methodist church we sometimes say: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” Let’s say that out loud together.
Earlier in the service we sang the hymn “Standing on the Promises.”
Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let His praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.
Let’s sing this hymn again as we close this message.
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