The God Who Sees and Hears

Sermon preached on Genesis 16 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 09/03/2023 in Petaluma, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.

As we were reminded last chapter, God had made great promises to Abraham. Those promises included a great offspring to come forth from Abraham, one that would even bring blessing to all the nations of the earth. Last chapter, God even formally bound himself to those promises in the form of a covenant. Yet here, Abram, with his wife Sarai, still has no children. What we find then is their human effort to try yet to find a way to bring in God’s promises. We will see that this results in several interrelated hardships for the household ands its members. Next chapter it will also become clear that their efforts here are not going to be way that God fulfills his promises. But despite the problems we see here in Abraham’s household, we also see God’s grace and mercy continuing to be at work here.

Let us begin in our first point to consider verses 1-6. Here we see both the efforts in Abraham’s household to secure God’s promises through alternate methods, and the problems that came along with that. As we study this first point, I want to remind you that when interpreting Scripture we need to take genre into account, and Genesis here is the genre of historical narrative. Something to keep in mind in such genre is that historical narrative is largely descriptive. It describes different people doing different things. Just because a character does something in the account doesn’t necessarily mean God’s Word is approving of that action. Sometimes the Bible is reporting someone’s sin, for example. And so, in historical narrative, the Bible is giving us a divinely inspired report of the events. Thus, we receive it as an accurate account of what happened. Now sometimes the narrator will also give us some commentary that evaluates someone’s actions, which gives us a divinely inspired assessment. Or other times, the narrative tells us something the LORD did, and so we certainly receive that as good. But sometimes, the narrator doesn’t tell us how to evaluate things, but maybe other Bible passages help us to be able to ourselves assess what is going on in the passage. These skills will be needed today in our first point as we assess the actions of Abram, Saria, and Hagar, which are by no means perfect here.

Beginning in verse 1, we are reminded of the concern here that Abraham has no children. It specifically notes that Sarai has not borne any children to him, for we learned before that she was barren. In verse 2 then, after so many years of trying and having no children, we see Sarai’s plan to address this. She wants Abraham to take her maidservant Hagar to bear a child on Sarai’s behalf. When studying historical narrative like this, we also need to understand it in its historical context. When we do that, we recognize that what Sarah is proposing was a culturally acceptable practice at that time. Sarah’s maidservant would be given to Abraham as a sort of second wife, but really to function as a surrogate mother for Sarah. The baby born to Abraham and Hagar under such a practice would be counted in some sense as if Sarah had bore the child. This was a common enough practice back then, but realize that it still would have been emotionally hard on Sarah to propose this route. Surely, she was burdened in her heart that she couldn’t conceive. Surely, she would have been burdened to so intimately share her husband like this with another women. I think we should have sympathy for Sarah here. She knew God had promised Abraham an heir. She probably understood that was thus her job to provide that to Abraham. She hadn’t been able to. So she probably feels a sense of responsibility to “make it happen.”

So, I think we can see some positive intentions by Sarah here, but that doesn’t mean that this was a good idea. This form of surrogacy may have been culturally acceptable, but that doesn’t mean it what was morally right in regards to God’s institution of marriage as we read back in Genesis 2. We are subtly hinted at this in verse 2 when it describes how Abraham did what Sarai proposed by saying that “Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” That echoes back to how God rebuked Adam after the fall in the Garden of Eden, reprimanding Adam for listening to the voice of his wife by eating of the forbidden tree. Abram submit to his wife’s surely well-intentioned but foolish proposal, instead of being the spiritual leader here he could have been. It’s all too reminiscent of the Garden of Eden failing. The fact that Hagar is also stated as an Egyptian, reminds us that she was probably acquired when Abram and Sarai made that foolish sojourn to Egypt in Genesis 12 where Abram sinned in his foolish effort to save himself. This attempt to bring God’s promised heir via Hagar looks like another foolish effort to bring God’s salvation through man’s efforts.

So then, Abraham successfully conceives a child with Hagar. Now everything will be happy and good, right? I can only imagine that this would have just added salt to Sarah’s wound. She had tried so long and hard to conceive and here Hagar has no problem. People who struggle with fertility know how emotionally challenging that is. But then, to add insult to injury, we see in verse 4 that Hagar ends up looking on Sarah with contempt afterwards. In other words, she started to look down on Sarah. Sarah was the mistress (which is the feminine form of the word master); Hagar was the servant, so Hagar should have been showing respect and honor to Sarah. But in light of her bearing Abraham’s child, she had begun to sinfully think of herself more highly than she ought in relationship to Sarah her mistress. Now, who could have seen that coming?

This results in Sarah getting upset at Abram, verse 5. She blames Hagar’s contempt on Abram. Our initial reaction is to say, “Sarah, but this was your idea,” and, “shouldn’t Hagar be blamed for Hagar’s action, not Abram?” I don’t think those would be wrong reactions. But as we see Abram’s response, I think we can glean there is more here to what Sarah is saying. I think Sarah is appealing to Abraham as the head of the house. Sarah’s complaint is essentially to Abraham because when you are the one ultimately in charge, when things go wrong, there’s a sense in which it is your fault. Again, like in the Garden of Eden, after they fell into sin, God didn’t confront Eve first, he confronted Adam first. So, Sarah brings her complaint to Abraham and we see his leadership decision in verse 6. He tells Sarah that her maidservant is in her power and to do to her whatever she thinks best. That decision by Abram also does not appear to be the wisest of leadership. Instead of making a wise judgment about how to handle it, he just reassigns the matter to Sarah to deal with it, arguably a sort of abrogation of responsibility. Indeed, Sarah deals harshly her servant. That is a sin, by the way. Hagar ends up fleeing from Sarah, because of that.

In summary, the Abram’s household was striving toward fulfilling God’s promise of a heir through their own failing and sinful efforts. By the end, everything is in quite a mess. But God will step in here to bring some healing to this household as he goes after runaway Hagar. It won’t be until next chapter that we will see God make it clear to Abram and Sarah that their efforts to have an heir through Hagar will not be how God fulfills his promises. We’ll have to wait for that next time. But for now, let us turn in our second point to consider verses 7-12. There we see God’s grace and mercy in reclaiming Hagar.

Verse 7 explains us how God pursues Hagar. It is through the Angel of the LORD. Let me clarify that we see in the Bible various angels of God. Angels are spirit servants that God created, some who have fallen and become now know as demons. But there are some places in the Old Testament where it appears that the Bible is not talking about just another one of many angels of the LORD, but the Angel of the LORD. In those cases, the Angel of the LORD appears to a person we would be right to describe as a theophany, as a manifestation of God. Indeed, it has been suggested that these references to the Angel of the LORD are describing none other than the second person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God, and thus a Christophany. If that is accurate, then that would mean that we have a glimpse into all three persons of the Trinity in the Old Testament, with various references to God or the LORD (i.e. the Father), the Angel of the LORD (i.e. the Son), and the Holy Spirit (i.e. the third person of the Trinity). While we can’t be dogmatic about that, it would certainly harmonize well with the New Testament. But here, we definitely see the typical features of this Angel of the LORD that causes us to ask such questions. In verse 10, he speaks in the first person in his own authority declaring what God alone has the power to declare as something he himself is doing. Yet, in verse 11 he also speaks of the LORD in the third person. And then both the narrator and Hagar in verse 13 clearly identify the Angel of the LORD as the LORD himself. So, at a minimum, the Angel of the LORD here is a theophany, a manifestation of God.

So the Angel of the LORD calls to Hagar in verse 8. Notice that he uses her name. If you notice, Abram and Sarai never used her name; they only referred to her as Sarah’s servant. Only the narrator had told us her name. But here, the LORD speaks to her saying, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going.” I would note that he appeared to her at a spring of water near Shur, and commentators like to point out that this was south of Hebron where Abraham’s household was, and so the thought it that maybe she was trying to flee back to Egypt. But she doesn’t answer the question of where she is headed, just that she had come from fleeing her mistress. Maybe the reality is she didn’t really know where she was headed, that she didn’t have a plan of where to go.

The Angels of the LORD then proceeds to give her three words. Notice the first word is a command, verse 9. He commands her to return to Sarah and submit to her. Basically, he’s calling for her to repent of her running away. It may be hard for us in our day to hear this, but 1 Peter 2:18 says that servants ought to submit to their masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. This call for her to return also has some similarities with the book of Philemon, if you recall that New Testament epistle.

But then notice the next word he gives her. In verse 10, he gives Hagar a wonderful promise that he would multiply her offspring so that they cannot be numbered. This is a tremendous promise, and has a lot of similarity to the promise God had made to Abraham. Yes, God’s promises to Abraham went beyond just making a great numerous people. But God to promise that part also to Hagar is amazing.

Then the third word he gives her is in verses 11-12. This is actually a prophetic song or poem that foretells the future for her child in the womb. In this poem, she learns several things. She learns her baby will be a boy and she is to name him Ishmael, in recognition of that, The LORD had listened to her affliction. The name Ishmael means “God hears,” and this probably also suggests that Hagar had been calling out to God for help before he appeared to her. But then verse 12 has a bit more mysterious language about her son being likened to a wild donkey and how he’ll find himself in a lot of conflict with others, even as he dwells alongside them. The donkey reference is probably foretelling a nomadic form of life for her future descendants. It’s generally believed that Ishmael is the patriarch of various Arabian peoples, and we know many such were nomadic, as well as having various conflicts with the various peoples that were all living around each other.

So this prophetic song gave a message of blessing among affliction, something Hagar could certainly relate to. I could imagine Hagar at this point was feeling pretty down and out. She was on the run, and her future was uncertain. I would think a wandering woman like this would be afraid for her very life. But God appears to her and offers her hope. But that hope is bound up with her returning to Sarah and submitting to her. But this hope surely includes hope that things will get better. If God would so minister to Hagar like this, then surely the same God could work in Sarah’s heart so Hagar could be received back in a good way. Again, I think of that similar hope in the book of Philemon.

Let us in this second point not miss that God is showing such amazing grace to a maidservant. To the world’s eyes, this is just some runaway maidservant and yet God reveals himself to her and gives her such a promise. But this isn’t just any maidservant. It is a maidservant in the house of Abraham. And even though Ishmael won’t be the promised heir of Abraham’s house, Ishmael will be a part of Abraham’s house and he’ll know much blessing because of it. And don’t miss the point that Abraham is the possessor of such promises not because Abraham was so godly. But in God’s grace that he’s chosen to show Abraham, it will also flow to Hagar and Ishmael in their connection to Abraham. Back in Genesis 12, God had mentioned that his promises to Abraham would bring blessing to all the nations on the earth. Here, this lowly Egyptian girl begins to realize some of that blessing.

Let us now turn to briefly consider Hagar’s response to God. This is verses 13-15. In short, she has a heart of gratitude and praise for God who came to her in her hour of need. In verse 13, we see that she expresses here appreciation by giving a name to God. She calls him the “God of seeing.” This complements the prophetic song in verse 11 that said that “God hears”. She is overjoyed that she has seen this God who has seen her. God has taken notice of her, some lowly mistreated girl whose value for her household had been in making a baby. God sees her. In other words, God notices her pain, her trouble, and her need for help. God comes to her to care for her. This truth and this amazing theophanic encounter was so important, that it resulted in the well at that spring getting named after the event. In Hebrew, the name is called Beer-lahai-roi, meaning, “The Well of the Living One Who Sees Me”.

What an amazing response. Here, this matriarch of the Ishmaelites, has this wonderful experience with God. Indeed, this maidservant in Abraham’s house had this developing relationship with the LORD. God saw her and heard her in her time of need, and he came to her spoke words of comfort and peace. She rightly responds to God’s grace with the praise that is due his name, exalting his name and glorying in his promises.

God’s care for Hagar here yet holds out a similar hope for all her descendants too. While this prophecy of the future for Ishmaelites hints at a future full of conflict, God’s interaction with Hagar stands as an invitation to all her descendants. There is blessing in Abraham and ultimately in the promised one of Abraham’s lineage. I speak of Jesus Christ. While many descendants of Ishmael today yet live in conflict with each other and others, there is yet hope for a true peace, a true salaam. It is not in Mohammed or his false prophecies about God. It is in Jesus and in his true revelation in the Holy Bible consisting of the Old and New Testaments.

What is true for all Ishmaelites, is true for all the nations and peoples of the earth. There is one true God who has made all things and who sustains all things. He is the God who sees and hears. Apart from his grace, that should terrify us. Because it means he has seen and heard all the bad things we have each done. But God offers his mercy and grace to all the world, the very fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. In the gospel of Jesus Christ, he offers forgiveness of sins and a blessed eternal life of peace. If you turn and put your trust in Jesus, if you will flee to Christ, then he will take you into his household of believers. Then the God who sees and hears will no longer see our sin. When he looks upon us who are saved in Christ, he will instead see the righteousness of Christ. We can have peace knowing that one day when Christ returns we will be saved from judgment, and he will usher us into that eternal blessed peace.

So then, while God no longer sees our sin, he does see us. God saw Hagar in her plight. And while today’s passage didn’t draw our attention to it, God also saw Abraham and Sarah’s plight. That plight included knowing God promised them an heir but they did not yet having a child and all the pain that came with that. Today’s passage shows the failings of all three of these people. Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, all show why they needed God’s grace to forgive them and also God’s grace to come to their aid amidst their troubles. This we can relate to. And so, God does see us. He does hear us when we call. He knows us and he cares about us. Maybe you are going through a hard time right now. Maybe you’ve had to endure some difficult relationships. Maybe you’ve experienced some great loss lately. Maybe your own sin had left you frustrated and feeling defeated. But our God sees and hears. Cry out to him today. Lay your cares before him. Know that he loves you. Know that he will find you where you are and minister to you. Believe this. Rely on this. And as we experience the care of our heavenly father, let us also respond with praise and gratitude to our great God who sees and hears.


Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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