The God who sees
- Acts 10:30-48
- Genesis 16:8-15
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
There are certain types of people I don’t particularly like. There are those who openly hate God and mock his Son, Jesus Christ. I add my voice to that of David when he says,
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? (Psalm 139:21, NIV)
Then there are pedophiles. And dishonest people. And because of what I have seen about the ISIS people, who in the name of their god behead people, sell children and women as slaves, and brutally kill the husbands, I made up my mind that there is at least a certain kind of Muslim that I don’t like. It is probably because of this that I don’t particularly like Hagar.
Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, who became the father of the Arab people, and most Arabs are Muslims. In my mind I made this jump from what I see today about violent Muslims around the world to project my dislike on Hagar of Genesis 16. What I conveniently forget is that Mohammed, the prophet of Islam, received his so-called visions in 610 A.D. – this was about 2,300 after Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael. Interestingly, after Mohammed got his visions he and his followers were mostly resisted by Arab people. Huge wars were waged before Islam finally took root in most Arab peoples, about 200 years later.
True, Hagar was not Abraham’s first wife. Her son, Ishmael, was not the son of the promise. The blessings to Abraham and Sarah would reach to the end of the world through their children, Isaac and Jacob. Out of them the Christ would be born, and through his death and resurrection salvation has come to all peoples on earth, including the sons of Ishmael. They, like all of us, must bow before King Jesus and receive salvation from Him to be saved. Salvation for them is indeed the only possible way in which we would meet each other as brothers and sisters.
The apostle Peter learned this lesson very early in his ministry after Pentecost, as read about it in Acts 10:
“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. (Acts 10:34–36, NIV)
Hagar, the refugee
We dwelled on the terrible, sinful mistake Abraham and Sarah made to include Hagar into their family line. This was not the plan of God, and dreadful consequences followed their disobedience. Sarah’s full wrath and jealousy descended upon Hagar. Knowing that Hagar became her rival, expecting the child of her husband, the Bible says Sarah mistreated Hagar.
Abraham though he could get of this by washing his hands and pretend nothing happened. “Do with her whatever you think best. She is in your hands!”
Then, one day, Hagar was missing. Neither Sarah, nor Abraham went looking for her. She was on her way back to Egypt where she was originally from. She took the known highway down from Beersheba to Egypt.
I don’t think the absence of Hagar from the tents of Abraham andSarah necessarily brought peace between them. They knew she was pregnant and that the blistering hot sun could kill her. The Bible does not tell us that they showed any mercy to her. She disappeared, running away from her master and mistress – something which was possibly, from a legal point of view, not the smartest thing to do: slaves had no rights, she had no legal ground to stand upon, and could be severely punished if found – which is probably why she wanted to go back to Egypt as soon as possible.
Her fleeing the tents of Abraham signalled her flight away from the blessings of God through Abraham.
The story of Hagar running away from the tents of Abraham is in many ways the story of every sinner: we run, not going somewhere in particular, but surely away from God. Without a sense of direction we find ourselves deeper into a desert, alone, forgotten, forlorn, without hope, with no future. Paul describes this in Ephesians 2:
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:3,12, NIV)
The worst part is that we find ourselves on a road we reckon will rescue us from what we are running away from. We think we dealt badly by God and other people, so we don’t even think of calling upon Him. Our natural instinct is not to seek God – sin prevents us from doing so.
In some ways, because I don’t really like Hagar, my sinful nature would think that she should have been left to die. But there is something amazing in this text. Forgotten by Abraham and Sarah, lonely in the desert, without hope for a pregnant women to ever survive her escape, the Bible reads:
The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. (Genesis 16:7, NIV)
Without going into a deep theological discussion about who the Angel of the Lord is (there are good and well-documented articles to read in this subject) most theologians believe the this Angel is the pre-incarnate Second Person of the Trinity. Wherever we read about “The Angle of the Lord” in the Old Testament, it is in connection with the salvation of people.
In any case, angles were messengers of God, and God sent this angel to find Hagar. Why? She was lost and needed to be brought home. Arthur Pink makes a lot of finding people at wells in the Bible, but let’s just think for one moment the meaning of the well here points to. First, it points to life. God directed the steps of Hagar to the well where she would find water. He caused the well to be there in the first instance, then He caused her to be there. The water meant life to her, in the same way as Jesus Christ is life to the sinner.
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37–38, NIV)
His mission was to seek and to save the lost. So He comes after the sinner, not to condemn, but to save.
The grace of God is shown in the two questions asked to Hagar:
- Where have you come from?
- Where are you going?
When Jesus spoke to the women at the well in John 4, He also asked questions. They were meant to take her to the point of admitting her sinfulness before God. She wanted the water Jesus was talking about, and Jesus was about to give her it for free, but she needed to own up to her sin.
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. (John 4:16–17, NIV)
The question of the Lord is not meant to hurt, but to set free. This is true to every sinner. Sometime we want the are Jesus gives, but we are not willing to own up to our sins – the very reason Jesus came into the world for and the very reason He gave his life. So, the question is still very applicable for everyone who hears the searching grease of Christ. The Heidelberg Catechism, in its second question and answer nails it right on the head when it states:
What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort? First, how great my sins and misery are; second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.
This is the purpose of the question, “Where have you come from?” My dear friend, let’s own up before God and confess our sins to Him who knows everything about us. We leave our past with Him, and in truth He sets us free from our past through the blood sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Make the most of God’s grace now presented to you. Paul writes:
“In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2, NIV)
Hagar owned up to her past. She admits, “I am running away.” O, what great verse this is. Hagar was in distress purely she was running away from blessing. Like the lost son she needed to go back home; it is just so much better there: it is where life is. Say this to God today, admit your sin before Him because He wants you to go home ad have rest.
In more than one instance going back calls for restitution. Hagar was after all the “servant of Sarai” (Genesis 16:8) by God’s will. But we can make restitution because God has given us forgiveness through his Son. We can and should love others because we have be given love. Paul writes to Philemon about Onesimus his run-away slave:
Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. (Philemon 15–16, NIV)
What is the basis for Paul’s plea with Philemon? “I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love.” (Philemon 9, NIV)
So, based on the forgiving grace of God, who is at work in both you as sinner and those whom He sends you back to, go home!
Hagar received blessing from the Lord. In her case it had to do with her son and his descendants, and as such, we can’t just draw a straight line between what He promised her and us – other than to say we are blessed through Abraham, the father of all believers, through the Son of Abraham, Jesus Christ.
Hagar’s reaction on what happened there at the well of Shur is preceded by God’s grace. Two things stand out:
- God hears
- God sees
The name of the unborn son is given in advance: Ishmael, which means “God hears“. Every time Hagar, Abraham and Sarah would address this son, they would be reminded of this fact. Hagar never prayed to God to come and save her – He did so out of grace. But to his saved child He gives this promise, “If you call on God, He will hear.”
Further, Hagar called this well, “The One who sees“. God saw Hagar in her misery, the outcast one without hope and about to die. His seeing meant that He did something to save her. The same thing happened in Egypt with the people of the Lord, then in bondage:
“I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land … (Exodus 3:7–8, NIV)
God saw and He heard – not that they were crying to Him for help. Their cry was a cry in slavery. They forgot the Name of their God. Moses had to ask God by what Name would should he appeal to the children of Israel, for they have forgotten the Name of their covenant God! “I AM” was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 3:15).
Hagar saw the God who hears – and who saves! My dear friend, listen to this: God sees and knows your misery, and in seeing, He gives you the promise sealed up in Christ. His name is “Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
What do we learn from this passage in the Bible?
The grace of God is:
- seeking, hearing, finding, rescuing, restoring
- triumphing over catastrophic human sin – just look at the cross of Christ!
- calling us to come back home
- providing the strength to face difficulties
- extends to all types of people in Jesus Christ of all nations in Abraham through Jesus Christ, descendants of Hagar included
- extends to all, not only to those I like
Like Peter in Acts 10, we need to learn this lesson. What is the answer to the problem of ISIS and those who brutally murder people, including the people of God? The grace of God. And for this reason we as the church of Christ is called to proclaim to the them the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
May God give us the grace to be obedient. AMEN.
Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 14 September 2014