God is a God who sees. Why is this important to remember? What comfort can we draw from it? To fully understand the importance, we must examine the passage where God is revealed as a God who sees. In Genesis chapters 16 and 21 we have an amazing account of an angel of the Lord appearing to Hagar, not once, but twice, and it is in one of these appearances that God is identified as a God who sees. What does God see, and why is this the name that meant so much to Hagar when the angel of the Lord appeared to her?
Before we examine these accounts, it is noteworthy mention a couple of things. Here in the Bible we have God appearing and speaking to someone who is not a Hebrew, but an Egyptian. Hagar is not even related to Abram, but a maid of his wife, Sarai. This draws attention to two additional reasons to take notice of these accounts. Hagar is a woman and a servant. So why pay attention to God encountering an Egyptian woman servant, and why is it so significant that she recognized that God sees? And why is this important to us today?
Genesis 16:13 Hagar calls God the God who sees me. What did God see in Hagar?
The loss of her home. So, how did Hagar come to be a maid of Sarai? Scripture tells us in Genesis 12 that Abram and Sarai travel to Egypt to escape a famine in the land. While there, Abram instructs Sarai to tell the Egyptians that she is his sister for he feared the Egyptians would kill him in order to claim Sarai if they knew she was his wife. Pharaoh was enchanted with Sarai’s beauty and took who he thought was Abram’s sister into his home. It is at this time that Pharaoh gifted Abram with many things: livestock and male and female servants. Was Hagar one of these servants? I believe so. When Pharaoh learns of Abram’s deception, he gives Sarai back to Abram and sends them off. It is at this point that Hagar must leave her home.
What images or memories appear when we think of ‘home?’ As Dorothy Gale states in The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.” How true. Home is what is familiar and comfortable for most of us. A place where we are loved, a place where we are known, and a place where we belong and have roots. Hagar had to leave all of this behind to follow Abram and Sarai. She did not choose to leave home; she did not decide that she wanted to set off on a grand adventure and see the world. No, she had to leave because Pharaoh had given her to Abram and Sarai and they were leaving. How many times did she glace back at her homeland as they traversed farther and farther away from all that she knew. How many nights as she waited for sleep to overtake her did she call to her mind the warm memories of growing up, think of her family, and miss her own customs as she cradled the aching grief of what was lost to her in her heart? Did she despair of her own inability to return home?
A Mistreated Servant. Hagar, with no authority of her own, is subjected to the wills and desires of others. When Sarai becomes impatient with her infertility, she suggests that Abram have intercourse with Hagar so that Sarai and Abram may have offspring through her maid, Hagar (Genesis 16). Hagar is not consulted or asked if she will consent. She has now been demanded to become a baby factory for the benefit of others, and asked not to produce an heir for herself, but for Sarai and Abram. Hagar is not even afforded to have the authority over her own body. The most intimate and sacred acts of a woman are not to be hers to give, but are taken from her by others.
God Sees and God Acts
Hagar was an outsider in the community in which she now lived. In addition to the status of being a woman in a patriarchal society, Hagar was also a servant. Through the accounts in these two chapters of Genesis, we see that Hagar has no say about what happens to her, nor does she have any authority. The power belongs to others: Abram and Sarai.
As an outsider and a servant, the covenant promises between Abram and God do not directly benefit her. The land promised by God to Abram will not be hers to possess in any way. God sees all of this. God knows her circumstances, and comforts Hagar by letting her know that he sees what she has endured in life and what she is currently enduring. God is revealed not just as a God who sees in general, but sees specifically the hardships and oppression that individuals face. God knows Hagar’s losses, her pain, her heartache, her mistreatment, and he promises that he will greatly multiply her descendants, too (Gen 16:10). She would have a family of her own in the future, she would have a place to belong.
We can take comfort in knowing that God knows more than just facts about us, he sees our emotions, he sees the stirrings in our hearts, the thoughts in our minds, and he sees our hopes and dreams. God is the God who truly sees who we are, and acts on our behalf.