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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:Our God is the God who sees
Text:Genesis 16:13-14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Desolation/Despair
 
Preached:2016-08-21
Added:2016-09-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2014 Book of Praise

NKJV

Psalm 113:1

Psalm 119:44

Psalm 4:1,2,3

Psalm 34:3

Psalm 113:2,3

 

 

Read:  Genesis 16

Text:  Genesis 16:13,14.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

Does God really see me?  Does He really care?

That was a question for Sarai.  It was a question for Hagar.  And it is a question for you and for me.

It was a question for Sarai. In the story of Abram as recorded in the book of Genesis, up until now Sarai has been silent.  We have known about her, of course.  We first heard about Sarai in Genesis 11:30 where it says that she was barren, she had no child.  Then, when Abram received God’s call and promises in chapter 12, Abram took Sarai his wife along to the Promised Land.  We also read in Genesis 12 about the time when Abram went down to Egypt and told Sarai to say that she was his sister rather than his wife so that Abram might be kept from harm and that it might go well for him.  But up to now we had not learned what Sarai was saying, what she was thinking.  We never read how the seeming contradiction between God’s promises and her barrenness was affecting her.  Nor did we read that God ever spoke directly to her. But what about Sarai?  Does she count?  Does God see her too?  Does God really care?  Does He understand the pain that she feels in not having a child?

The question “Does God really see me?” and “Does He really care?” was a question for Hagar too.  Hagar was a foreigner, an Egyptian, a slave, a nobody.  She was being compelled to be a surrogate mother, compelled to bear a child that her mistress Sarai planned to claim for herself.  But what about Hagar’s feelings?  Did she count for anything?  Did it matter what she was going through?  Did God see her in her distress?

And it is a question for you too.  You see, Genesis 16 calls us to look at both the big picture and the little picture at the same time.  The big picture is God’s plan for the world, His plan to have a people for Himself and His plan to send the Messiah.  But the little picture is the hearts and the lives, the pain and the distress experienced by individuals such as Sarai, Hagar and you.  Does God see this?  Does He see your pain?  Does He hear you when you call out to Him?  Is He the God not just of the big things but also of the small?   Does He really see you?  Does He really care?

The answer that Genesis 16 gives to this question is a resounding Yes!  When Angel of the Lord came and spoke to Hagar, she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees” because He saw her in her distress and the LORD heard her affliction.   And so I preach to you the Word of God under the following heading:

Our God is the God who sees.

  1. The problem when we don’t see God.
  2. The assurance that God does see us.

 

1.  The problem when we don’t see God.

We know, of course, that God sees us.  Proverbs 5:21 says that “a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD” and Proverbs 15:3 says that “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”  But does He see us in our distress?

It must have been so hard for Abram and Sarai.  Being childless is hard enough for most couples who bear that pain when they would dearly love things to be different.  But for Abram and Sarai it would have been doubly hard because the LORD had told them not once but at least four times that they would have descendants.  And so although they got older there was always that hope, that expectation, that one day it would be different, one day Sarai would be with child.

Except that “one day” never came.  Ten years after arriving in Canaan the was still no child and by now Sarai was an old woman, too old to be having children.

And then Sarai took control.  “Enough is enough, Abram.  We have to face it:  the LORD has restrained me from having children.  If we ever get to have a son, we need to find a “Plan B”.

And there was a Plan B, and the name of Plan B was Hagar.  Hagar, an Egyptian slave girl, was Sarai’s maidservant.  And the customary law of the law of the land was that if Sarai gave Hagar to Abram for a husband, then should Hagar have a son, Sarai could claim that son for her own.  Genesis 16:2,

“So Sarai said to Abram, ‘See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children.  Please, go into my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.”

What Sarai was proposing to do here was not an isolated event.  Archaeologists have discovered writings in at least two locations that describe how this was to be done and in Genesis 30 Rachel did the same thing with her husband Jacob.  In Genesis 30:3, when Rachel saw that she had no children, she said to Jacob,

 “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, and she will bear a child on my knees, that I also may have children by her.”

And, when Bilhah had a son, Rachel said in Genesis 30:6,

“God has judged my case; and He has also heard my voice and given me a son.”  Therefore she [Rachel – not Bilhah] called his name Dan.”

So that is what Sarai proposed to do.  And for Sarai as well as Abram it made sense.  Just as today a childless couple might be encouraged to make use of a donor egg or a donor sperm or even a surrogate mother, so the culture of their day made it perfectly acceptable for Sarai to give her maidservant to Abram so that Sarai might have children through here.  But just because it made sense and just because it was culturally acceptable does not make it right.  Just as there are limits today as to how far a childless couple can go in trying to have a child for themselves, so Abram and Sarai crossed a line that should never have been crossed.  Because from the beginning it was not so.  When the LORD instituted marriage at the beginning in Genesis 2, it was clear that He intended for one man to be married to one woman for life.  Genesis 2:24,

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

And neither polygamy, nor surrogate motherhood, nor in our days the use of donor eggs or donor sperm, should be getting in the way of this.  These things should not get in the way because, as the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 19:8 it was not so from the beginning.  So when God said, “Abram you are going to have a son” he should have believed that he would have that son through Sarai – even though Sarah was barren, even though it seemed impossible from a human perspective for Sarai to ever have a son.

But Abram listened to Sarai his wife and it says in Genesis 16:3,

 “Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan.”

And we can be critical of Sarai here but can you imagine the inner grief, the sadness, the turmoil, that she must have felt?  Abram was her husband and she was his wife!  How they had hoped and prayed for so many years to have a child.  And even after they had moved to Canaan they had lived in hope for another ten years that a child might eventually be born to them.  But now Sarai has given up and it is Sarai who introduces another woman, an Egyptian, her maidservant, into their marriage.  Although Sarai hoped to get something out of it, it must been really sad, really hard, to see Abram go with Hagar into her tent.

But for Sarai, it was this way or no way.  There was no other option, there was no other hope that she would ever have a child.  Sarai – and Abram too, for that matter – had stopped looking to God, they didn’t see Him and as much as they did see Him, He was the problem and not the solution.  Do you see how Sarai blamed God in verse 2? 

 “See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children”

But when you take your eyes off God and you look for your own solutions, or society’s solutions, to your problems, it will not go well for you.  And it most certainly did not go well for Sarai, for Hagar and for Abram.  Genesis 16:4,

“So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived.  And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.”

And that is when the problems really began.  Many years later it would be written in Proverbs 30:22 that the earth trembles at the idea of a maidservant who displaces her mistress, but that is what Sarai had to deal with.  Sarai became despised in Hagar’s eyes.  As far as Hagar was concerned, she was the new wife of Abram, and the child she was carrying would be hers, and not Sarai’s.  So then Sarai put the trouble on to Abram.  Genesis 16:5,

“Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘My wrong be upon you!  I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes.  The LORD judge between you and me.’”

It had seemed as though it was the right thing to do.  It had seemed as though the plan for Abram to have a child through Hagar, a child whom according to the custom of the land Sarai could claim as her own, was a good one.  But it was not God’s plan.  It was not God’s way.  And now there was trouble.

But instead of taking responsibility, Abram said to Sarai in verse 6,

“Indeed, your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.”

And Sarah did what she pleased:  she dealt harshly with Hagar.  So harshly in fact, that Hagar ran away. 

And there we see the consequences of leaving God’s way and following your own way, doing what you think is best.  What sad day in the tents of Abram!  And they were all to blame.  Sarai should never have suggested that Abram take Hagar as his wife in the first place, and Abram should never have agreed.  Then, when trouble happened, Hagar should not have despised her mistress Sarai and Abram should have shown better leadership.  And Sarai – who had instigated all of this –  should not have become bitter and treated Hagar so harshly.  Abram, Sarai and Hagar had all taken their eyes off God, they did not see Him anymore, they did not turn to Him for a solution to the problem that they in their own sinfulness had created. 

And the consequences will be with them and with Abram’s descendants for a long to come.  Yes, Hagar would come back and Abram would get to hold his son Ishmael.  Ishmael would even be circumcised in Genesis 17 but eventually Abram would lose Ishmael in chapter 21.  But even that would not be the end of the matter.  In Genesis 16:21 the Angel of the LORD would say to Hagar concerning Ishmael,

“He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him.  And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”

“He shall be a wild man” or literally, as the ESV puts it, “He shall be a wild donkey of a man.”  He would not be tamed and he could not be trusted.  That is what Ishmael and his descendants would be like.  And although Ishmael would live in the presence of his brothers, there would be trouble and that trouble would never go away. 

The birth of Ishmael is one more example that it does not work when we take our eyes of God and try doing things our own way.  That is the case for us also.  When we stop listening to God and instead listen to the wrong counsel of our friends or of the world, or when we become impatient with God and end up making foolish decisions, we will suffer the consequences of those decisions, we will eat the bitter fruit of what we have done.  We will experience pain and that pain may last a life time – and perhaps even longer than that.

But it we have taken our eyes off God, if we have turned away from God’s way and followed our own way, there is forgiveness, there is a way back.  1 John 1:9 says,

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

That’s what Abram should have done, that’s what Sarai should have done, that’s what Hagar should have done.  And that is what we should do also.

 

2. The assurance that God does see us.

You’ve got to feel for Hagar in all of this.   For Hagar to run away from her mistress Sarai, for her to run away from the tents of Abram, life must have been brutal for her.  Running away as she was from her master she would have to hide in the hope that neither Abram’s servants nor a stranger would chase after her.  If she was caught, Hagar could not expect to be treated well.

But Hagar ran away, making her way back to Egypt.  And as she travelled she reached a spring of water and, most likely being hungry and tired and parched with thirst, she stopped.  And then something amazing happened.  Hagar was found – by the Angel of the LORD.

This is the first time that the Angel of the LORD is mentioned in the Bible and there are various interpretations as to who this Angel really is.  A traditional interpretation is that the Angel of the LORD is the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God who would later be born as Jesus of Nazareth.  At any rate here in Genesis 16 at least, the Angel of the LORD is clearly a manifestation of the LORD God Himself.  You can see that in verse 13 where it says,

“Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?”

And there you see something of the grace and mercy of our God.  A grace and a mercy that is so wonderful that He would come to Hagar, a servant girl, a foreigner, a slave who was so distressed about her lot in life that she had run away from her mistress Sarai.  And the LORD came to her.

“And He said, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?’  She said, ‘I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.’”  (Genesis 16:8)

When the Angel of the LORD spoke to Hagar, He did so with kindness and with compassion.  But He did not gloss over Hagar’s wrong.  He called her “Hagar, Sarai’s maid” because that is what she was.  Hagar should not have been there, on the desert road to Shur.  She should not have been there, pregnant, lonely and destitute, by a water hole.  She should have been home, with Abram and Sarai.  And, considering the circumstances, although running away might have been understandable, it was not right.  And so the Angel said to her,

“Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.”

“Go back, Hagar.  Back to where you belong.  God’s blessing rests on the household of Abram.  Go back there and be safe.”

But the LORD said more to Hagar.  Verse 10-11,

“Then the Angel of the LORD said to her: ‘I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, sot that they shall not be counted for multitude.’  And the Angel of the LORD said to her: ‘Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son.  You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has heard your affliction.’”

“He has heard you, Hagar!  He has heard your affliction.  Yes, you must go back to your mistress Sarai.  But God is with you.  He has heard you and He will take care of you.  You shall have a son and he will be your son – not Sarai’s – and you – not Sarai – shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has heard your affliction.”

What an amazing thing to say!  What an amazing thing to happen to run-away Hagar!  Hagar must go back to her mistress Sarai but there would be a future for Hagar because the LORD had seen her and He had heard her affliction.  And that is the amazing thing about our God.  Yes, the LORD is working all things to bring about His purposes; He has the big picture in His sight at all times.   His plan to have a people for Himself and His plan to send His Son, the Messiah, would come to pass.  But at the same time He never forgets the “small picture”, He never forgets the hearts and the lives, the pain and the distress experienced by each and every child of His.  Not even the “small picture” called Hagar.

And Hagar responded with a mixture of trust and of worship-filled awe.  Verse 13,

“Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?”

Or, as the ESV puts it,

“Truly here have I seen him who looks after me.”

And the place where the Angel of the LORD met with Hagar was named.  No longer would the place simply be “the water spring on the way to Shur”; from now on it would be called “Beer Lahai Roi” which means, “The Well of the Living One who sees me”.  The well would be there as a permanent reminder not just to Hagar but to all God’s people that we have a God who sees us in our distress and who looks upon us in His grace.  “Observe!” Moses, the writer of Genesis wrote.  “Look!  You can find this well and see it for yourself between Kadesh and Bered.”

And Hagar returned back to the tents of Abram, back to her mistress Sarai.  And then comes verse 15.

“So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.”

Hagar – not Sarai – bore Abram a son.  And Abram – not Sarai – gave him a name.  The child was Hagar’s child and not Sarai’s.  At the beginning of Genesis 16 Sarai had encouraged Abram to take her maidservant Hagar, saying “perhaps I shall obtain children by her.”  But God said “No.  This is not My plan.”  The LORD would not bring about His promises through the birth of the son of a slave woman.  Instead Abram and Sarai must wait for the one who was promised.  Many years later the apostle Paul would reflect on this in Galatians 2:22,23

“For it is written that Abram had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman.  But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise.”

Abram was 86 years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.  But Abram and Sarai must wait another 14 years before the son of Promise, Isaac, would be born.  But as they waited they would see another son – Hagar’s son – grow up.  And when saw him they would remember his name the name given by the Angel of the LORD.  Ishmael.  God has heard.  He hears.  And He sees.  He has not forgotten His promises.  He has not forgotten Abram.  And He has not forgotten Sarai.  Abram and Sarai’s faith had failed when they agreed to have a child through Hagar.  But God did not fail.  He remained faithful.  He hears and He sees.  When the LORD had made a covenant with Abram in chapter 15, He and He alone had walked between the animal pieces.  And He would do what He had said:  He would give the child that He had promised.  And we know that He did.

But that is not where it ends.  Many years later there was another old man, Zacharias, who with his wife Elizabeth, had waited many years to have a child.  And one day an angel of the Lord came to him, and the angel said to him,

“Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for our prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will have a son, and you shall call his name John.”  (Luke 1:13)

And this John would go to prepare the way for the coming of another Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  And when Jesus was born, he was brought to the temple of Jerusalem where Simeon, a devout man, was waiting for the Consolation of Israel.  And seeing this Jesus, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:

“Lord, now you are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”  (Luke 2:28-32)

That was God’s plan all along.  A plan to look upon us in His mercy a plan to send us His Son, Jesus Christ.  Truly our God is the God who sees, He is the God who looks upon us in our distress, and He is the One who hears us when we cry.

And therefore you may be sure that He does see you and He does care.  Yes, as we will now sing, you can be sure that

“The Angel of the LORD always encamps around all those

Who fear him and exalt his name; God saves them from their woes.

O, come, then, taste and see that he, the LORD, is good and just.

Blest is the man who turns to him and puts in him his trust.”  (Psalm 34:3, Book of Praise.)

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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