Last time, we started to compare the circumstances of Sarah’s maid Hagar, Ishmael’s mother, in two different chapters of Genesis where she had experienced an epiphany: in Genesis 16, when Hagar was pregnant and fled from Sarah, and in Genesis 21, after she, and her teenage son Ishmael, had been banished from Abraham’s camp. We came to the conclusion that in Genesis 21, Hagar was in a much worse situation. Nothing can be compared with the anguish of a mother’s heart when her child is suffering, and this is the torment she is going through in Genesis 21. Moreover, the Hagar of Genesis 21 is a very different woman from the Hagar of Genesis 16. The obstinate girl who knew her way and knew what she wanted is gone; the feeble, vulnerable mother, worrying about her son and desperately trying to save him, has taken her place. I believe this is precisely why her second epiphany was so different from the first.
And so, we learned much about Hagar when comparing those two scenes and realizing how different her circumstances were in these chapters. Today, we will see how different, accordingly, are God’s responses in these two cases. For me personally, it is a great blessing to see how God responds in each situation. In these two chapters, He touched her life and unlocked her heart in two completely different ways. Let us observe these differences!
God knew that the girl of Genesis 16, more than anything else, needed a change of heart. Certainly, she thought her circumstances were very difficult, and they were indeed. Certainly, she thought she was going through terrible hardships, and she was indeed. However, more than anything else she needed to be changed from within, and God knew that! The terrible storms and the endless torment of her soul, the love and the hatred, the accusations and the guilt, the bitterness and the pity, all intertwined and twisted, made her hurt constantly, so more than anything else she needed peace in her heart! Therefore, when the Angel appeared before Hagar in Genesis 16, God gave her this peace. He completely changed her heart, but He didn’t change her circumstances.
Please take a moment to think of this situation. Imagine yourself in the midst of very trying circumstances and then all of a sudden, you meet the One who can actually do anything—can change everything! Wouldn’t you expect Him to help you, to change your circumstances? Hagar didn’t ask for this meeting and didn’t expect it, but since it did happen, couldn’t He have at least helped her a bit? Why does He send her back to the same very affliction she is fleeing from? He didn’t promise any good changes; He didn’t say that Sarah would change her attitude and be more merciful and compassionate, or that Hagar’s life would become much easier now. He didn’t say any of that. He just said: “Return to your mistress and submit yourself under her hand.”
Remarkably, in Hebrew, the verb that is translated here as “submit” comes from the same root as the word “afflicted” in Genesis 16:6: Sarai afflicted her. In English it is impossible to derive both of these words from the same root; in Hebrew, however, it is the very same root, though in different forms: active and passive. In a sense, this makes the original meaning even stronger, as if the Lord is saying to Hagar: “Return to your mistress and get afflicted.”
When we study this root (‘anah – ענה ) in Scripture, the first impression is that the word is always used in a negative sense, designating bad actions only:
And when Shechem the son of Hamor . . . saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her.
Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them.
Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.
And yet, it goes without saying that if the Angel of the Lord used this very word in His command to Hagar, it cannot be only negative. Indeed, we find very different occurrences of the same word, when it refers to what God is doing:
“… the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. “
“To humble you and test you.” Thus, we understand that it was not about Hagar and Sarah, or what Sarah was doing to Hagar—it was about God and Hagar and what God was doing to Hagar through Sarah: God commanded Hagar to return to her mistress and submit under her hand because He wanted to humble and test her! He sent her back to her “cruel and unjust” mistress (or so Sarah seemed to her at the time) and to the same very circumstances, knowing that her transformed heart would allow her to endure peacefully the same affliction that she had run from. Once again, He changed absolutely nothing in the visible realm then – but He must have transformed her heart completely. This transformation of the heart was so real for her that it is after this encounter that she had named God El Roi, the One-Who-Sees-Me.
The situation is very different in Genesis 21: here God physically saves Hagar and Ishmael’s lives. Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. Once again, He proves Himself as El Roi, the God Who sees: He saw their need and their suffering and He stepped in to save them. This is wonderful—we all long to see God step in and manifest Himself as El Roi, the One Who sees us, especially when we are suffering! We have to remember though, that before God changed Hagar’s visible circumstances in a mighty way in Genesis 21, He had changed her heart in Genesis 16. As impressive and wonderful as it is, the miracle of Genesis 21 would not have happened if the miracle of Genesis 16 had not taken place in Hagar’s heart first. The heart has to be healed first, and only then does the visible miracle come.
Where do we witness the bigger miracle, in Genesis 16 or in Genesis 21? Where does God’s power manifest itself more – in the visible stories of healing and miracles, or in the invisible transformation of the heart? God knows—and only He knows—whether it is your heart that needs healing, even in the midst of harsh circumstances; or it is your situation that needs changing and you need a visible breakthrough. In His time, He will open your eyes and you too will see a “well of water”.
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