One of the pervasive marks of our times is emotional fragility. I feel it as though it hung in the air we breathe. We are easily hurt. We pout and mope easily. We break easily. Our marriages break easily. Our faith breaks easily. Our happiness breaks easily. And our commitment to the church breaks easily. We are easily disheartened, and it seems we have little capacity for surviving and thriving. The resolving thought is this: we need help.
These words were not spoken last week or last year or even in the last decade. These words were spoken in the last century! That might be a little misleading. These words were said twenty-eight years ago. It made me wonder, though, if much at all has changed in the last twenty-eight years. It may help to know that these words were spoken to a group of peculiar people – pastors. The “we” was referring to pastors! It made me wonder, again, that perhaps every local church needs a pastor, a pastor who would cry out, “I need help!” And perhaps the best question to ask is, what would help?
A Woman Named Hagar
A woman named Hagar is the help. She is not only the answer to the previous question, but literally, she is the help. We first meet her in Genesis 16:1. “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar.” Genesis 16 surrounds the lives of two women. It surrounds Sarai, Abram’s wife, who has no children and her help, her servant Hagar, who, too, in verse one has no children. But something changes following verse one. Sarai, Abram’s wife, has no children. Her help named Hagar is now expecting a child. Abram, Sarai’s husband, is the reason that Hagar is now expecting a child.
So, what happens? In short, verse six happens. “Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.” Make note of the word harshly. The most basic meaning is “to humble.” Sarai humbled Hagar. I like how the King James translates this verse: Sarai dealt hardly with her. Once Hagar conceived, “she looked with contempt” on Sarai. In other words, Hagar thought herself to be important, more important than Sarai. Hagar had accomplished what Sarai never did as the woman of the house. In response, Sarai humbles her. It is a very negative use of this word. How might have Sarai humbled Hagar? Perhaps it is as simple as reminding Hagar continually of who she really is. She is just the help. This word harshly or hardly is rather important to the rest of the chapter. Another word for harshly is not just to humble, but the word misery. In humbling Hagar, Sarai made life miserable for Hagar.
So, just remember that Genesis 16 surrounds the lives of two women – Sarai and Hagar. Sarai made life miserable for Hagar. And Hagar fled; she ran away as fast as she could from Sarai.
Found: A Woman Named Hagar
Genesis 16:7 has to be the most unexpected verse in the whole chapter. The last thing we read was about Hagar running, running as fast as she could away from Sarai. Where does Hagar think she is going? This is rather interesting. Moses tells us where Hagar was headed. In verse seven, he writes that Hagar was by a spring of water in the wilderness, on the way to Shur. Shur is really close to Egypt. So, where is Hagar, an Egyptian, going? It seems that she is going home to Egypt. But it is interesting that Moses is the one that gives us this information and not Hagar. The reason being is that it is not that important to the big idea of the text. And in verse seven, where Hagar is going is not what we are told first. Listen to it. It is most unexpected. “The angel of the Lord found her.”
Make note of the words “the angel of the Lord.” Now these words, this particular angel, are recorded some fifty times in the Old Testament. But this is the first recorded appearance of this particular angel. And he is mentioned specifically four times in Genesis 16 – all with Hagar. Again, this is a very particular angel, he is the angel. And he is the angel of the Lord. Notice that Lord is in all capital letters. This is the name Yahweh – the self-existent, eternal, never changing, unchangeable and faithful God. This is the angel of the self-existent, eternal, never changing, unchangeable and faithful God. And the first time that the angel of the Lord appears is to a woman who is just the help.
And there is a precious word to pay attention to. This particular angel does not appear to Hagar. This particular angel found Hagar. She was found. Does this mean that she was lost? When Jesus met Zacchaeus, “the wee little man,” he says to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10; see too Luke 15:24). The angel of the Lord found Hagar.
Where Have You Come From? Where Are You Going?
Notice what this particular angel says to her. “Hagar, servant of Sarai.” He finds her and says her name. Why is that important? In the previous verses, Sarai and Abram never uttered her name. She is just the help. Not only that, but the angel knows who Sarai is and he knows that Hagar works for Sarai. And he has a question for her. Where have you come from and where are you going? Seems like two questions. Remember, Moses hinted for us as to where Sarai is going – Egypt. But listen to Hagar. “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” This is her answer and it does not seem to be much of an answer. But remember, why did Hagar run as fast as she could from Sarai? Sarai was making life miserable for Hagar. So, where has Hagar come from and where is she going? She fled misery and is going anywhere where there is no misery.
Return to the Misery
And now verse nine. This is the second time that we are reminded who it is that is speaking to Hagar. It is the angel of the Lord. He tells her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” The words return and submit are both imperatives. This is a command, two commands actually. This particular angel is commanding Hagar to go back to Sarai and submit to her. Think about how remarkable this really is. Sarai makes life miserable. Hagar is fleeing misery to go wherever there is no misery. And this particular angel is telling her to return to Sarai.
Make note of the word submit. It means to humble. Hagar is to humble herself to Sarai. The word submit is the same word for harshly in verse six. Put it all together. This particular angel is commanding Hagar to return to the misery, to put herself back under the misery. This causes so many questions like, what?! Why?! How?!
A Sure and Steadfast Promise
And now verse ten. This is the third time that we are reminded who it is that is speaking to Hagar. It is the angel of the Lord. After he tells her to return to the misery, he gives her a promise. It is not just any promise. It is a sure and steadfast promise. “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” Hagar, you will have lots of kids. This promise seems really similar to the promise given to Abram. Abram too was promised that he would have lots of kids and like this promise they will be beyond numbering (cf. Genesis 15:5). This promise to Hagar though is different. The promise to Abram regarding his son and offspring is connected to the promise of land. In this promise to Hagar and her son (also Abram’s son) there is no promise of land. In fact, this son and his offspring are described as wanderers. Hagar’s son and offspring will be strong, free roaming, not tied down to one place. But this kind of lifestyle will be in conflict with society, most importantly his relatives (kinsman; vv. 11-12).
I do want to point out how this promise is given. This particular angel says, “I will multiply your offspring.” Who will do the multiplying? It sure seems like it must be the one who is speaking. Who is he?
And make note of verse eleven. It is the fourth time that we are reminded who it is that is speaking to Hagar. It is the angel of the Lord. And when he speaks he gives Hagar a sure and steadfast promise. A promise that is more precious than land. And she is being told to go back to the misery. How can she do that? God’s comfort for her affliction was bracing rather than soothing, drawing her mind to things ahead, away from past injuries.
I like the word bracing. It signifies something strong that supports a structure. What is in God’s comfort for Hagar that would brace her for more misery and would keep her mind on things ahead?
The Lord Has Heard Your Misery
This particular angel tells Hagar what she is to name her son. His name will be Ishmael. Ishmael means, “God hears.” She is to go back to misery, probably to endure more misery with a son named “God hears.” And every time that she would say her son’s name she would be saying, “God hears!” Every time that she tucked her son in bed at night she would say, “Goodnight, God hears.” Every time she would tell her son “I love you Ishmael,” she would be saying, “I love you. God hears.” But there is something greater here. Why would she name her son Ishmael? Look at the end of verse twelve. “Because the Lord has listened to your affliction.” Make note of the word affliction. It is a word that means misery. It is the same word as submit and the same word as harshly. As she goes back to misery probably to endure more misery, she is to name her son Ishmael, not merely because “God hears,” but because God hears my misery.
You Are the God Who Sees Me
Now get ready for verse thirteen. Who has been speaking to Hagar? We were reminded four times that it was the angel of the Lord. This is just all so amazing. Hagar has been commanded to go back to the misery, probably to endure more misery. And listen to what Hagar discovers. Listen to Genesis 16:13. “So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her…” The angel of the Lord is now disclosed to have been the Lord himself. And she calls him, “You are a God of seeing.” The word seeing here is a noun. You are a God of sight. The theme of Genesis 16 is sight. The first six verses were about Sarai. Sarai was to see that God would do for Sarai what she could never do on her own. Here with Hagar it is still about sight. Hagar was in misery. Hagar was lost. And God found her that she too would see. She was to see that God is a God of sight. He sees. He sees my misery. And there is so much more. He has not promised the misery to end. He is bracing her, he is giving her strong support to endure more misery. How can she go back to endure more misery? Better yet, how is God bracing her so that she can go back to endure more misery?
Verse thirteen is really important. And it is one word that brings the verse together. She calls Yawheh the God of sight; the God who sees. Why does she call this his name? It is the word for – “for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” Why did she call God the God of sight? For he sees me. He looks after me. And she sits here in wonder. I have seen him.
How is Hagar being braced to endure more misery? He sees my misery. And there is now so much more. And I see him. He knows my name and I now know his. This is the strong support to endure more misery.
So, what helps? The Apostle Peter wrote a whole letter about misery. And in the first few verses he wrote, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6). This verse is a part of a really long sentence that also includes verse eight. How do you endure misery? “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8). So, what helps? Knowing Him knowing that He knows me. Can you say that?
 Derek Kidner, Genesis, page 137.
 Ibid., page 138.