EL ROI - THE GOD WHO SEES ME
Read Genesis 16:1-16, and 21:8-21
Have you ever felt invisible? Or do you, even now, feel ignored, used or overlooked at times? If so you will sympathise with Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian maid. She was taken from her country, bought, perhaps when Abram visited Egypt. She moved with them in their wanderings in Canaan, described as Sarai’s bondservant, and, presumably, she never saw her own family or country again.
When Abram’s promised son failed to appear, and she was past child-bearing age, Sarai suggested that he use Hagar to produce a son, who would belong to Sarai. To us it is a bizarre suggestion, but not unheard of at the time. Was Hagar consulted, we wonder, or was she just used and abused?
When Hagar became pregnant, ‘she despised her mistress, and Sarai hated her.’ “So Sarai dealt harshly with Hagar, and she fled.” Then Hagar, who has been uprooted, enslaved, used and abused, is wandering, alone and pregnant, in an inhospitable dry land. I imagine, even today, there are refugees who can tell a similar story of abuse, uprooting and loss. But when Hagar is at her most desperate, God steps into the picture by sending His Angel to find her by a spring of water, to listen to her and reassure her. Often, with us, God seems to wait until we are at our lowest ebb, broken, empty and hopeless before appearing with a solution that only He could bring. In our story now He tells Hagar that she will have a son, that he is to be named Ishmael, and be the founder of a nation. God has seen her, heard her cries, and tells her to return to Sarai, and be obedient to her.
Suddenly Hagar was noticed, cared for, listened to and with something to live for. She stops feeling sorry for herself and looks up. She calls the Angel who visited her EL ROI, or God who sees me. One can sense her wonder and amazement as she says, ‘I have seen Him who sees me.’
This is not the end of Hagar’s story for, after God’s promised son, Isaac, is miraculously born to Sarai, Hagar offends her mistress and is cast out and wanders in the desert expecting to die. But, again God sees her, listens to her, and reassures her. He shows her a spring of water, and they survive. Ishmael grows up to be the founder of the Ismaelites, and eventually of the Arab nations.
Through Hagar, the one who was cast out, ignored, powerless and weak, we get a glimpse of the God who sees us and comes to us when we are at our most desperate. Unlike some more prominent characters in the Bible, such as the wise men, Hagar has a name, because our God, who sees her, and knows her name, has recorded it for us. I find it very touching that this insignificant Egyptian slave girl is named, and God has given her significance.
There is more to the story of Hagar than this: it is a metaphor for the contrast between the old Covenant, lived under the Law, and the life of the new Covenant that Jesus has won for us. In Galatians 4:30, Paul refers to Hagar, reminding us that the Scriptures say, “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” Paul then adds that we are not
children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
As we approach Good Friday and Easter, let us remember that we now know EL ROI as the God Who not only sees us, but comes into our world, to show us what He is like, to live our life, and to die the death that should be ours. Jesus tells us that God, our heavenly Father, counts every hair on our heads, and, because of His death and resurrection, we are no longer under the Law, but are free to know God personally as our Father. He has raised us to be with Him in the heavenly realms, given us new names as adopted sons and heirs in His Kingdom, and he gives even the least of us significance in His Kingdom.