The God Who Sees Me
Have you ever felt invisible? Showed up at an event where you didn’t know anyone and no one spoke to you or seemed to want to know you? Maybe it was even a church you were visiting. Or how about the times you are driving and get cut off by someone and then immediately another someone pulls in front of you, and you wonder, maybe even out loud, “Am I invisible?” We want to be noticed, don’t we? I can remember our kids showing off for visitors at our house. They would casually bring something out of their room, like the latest Webkinz stuffed animal, or the newest Lego contraption they had designed and built. They were so hopeful that someone would notice them and ask them something about it. And they would get closer and louder until someone couldn’t help but notice. They wanted to be seen. To be noticed.
Don’t we all want to be noticed? To be seen? To matter to people?
I suppose there are times when we would rather not be seen. I can remember reading about the Invisible Man and thinking about all the cool things you could do if you were invisible, but it would certainly have its downside. Interacting with folks would be tricky. And interestingly, it is actually harder to hide. You can’t open and close doors without being noticed. I wouldn’t want it to last too long. But certainly there are times we would like to become invisible. When we do something stupid or clumsy. When we run to the store without combing our hair or changing our dirty clothes. Or when we do something wrong. I can remember as a child really wondering if my parents or teachers had eyes in the back of their heads. It sure seemed like it to me. And then there was at least for a few months the idea that Santa was always watching. And then we sang about the all-seeing eye of God. I suppose that was supposed to comfort me, but it seemed threatening to me. For most of my life, I don’t think I thought about God seeing me as something to celebrate. Our story today is about that very thing. Celebrating the all-seeing eye of our God.
I love the story of Hagar and Sarai. Sarai had been longing for a baby. Abraham had been promised by God that a son coming from his own body would be his heir and that his offspring would be as many as the stars in the sky. Abram was to be the father of a great nation, and through him all nations of the world would be blessed. But they had been settled in Canaan for ten years now, the Promised Land where this was all to take place, and still there was not even one baby.
Sarai becomes restless and impatient and in her impatience pushes Abram into the tent of her servant, Hagar, thinking perhaps she can help things along. Hagar is an Egyptian girl, likely among the many gifts given to Abram and Sarai by the Pharaoh while they are living in Egypt during a famine. Hagar is regarded as Sarai’s property. She belongs to Sarai. And so any children born to Hagar would also be the property of Sarai. Hagar becomes pregnant immediately and when she discovers she is pregnant, Hagar despises Sarai. This implies that she became disrespectful toward Sarai. Perhaps even taunting Sarai, who no doubt is jealous of the quickness with which Hagar has become pregnant. Sarai is angry. How dare Hagar treat her like that? She takes her case to Abram and lays the blame at his feet. (Now remember whose idea this was to start with? It seemed like a good idea at the time!) Abram washes his hands of the problem and gives Sarai free reign for how she will treat Hagar.
Sarai’s treatment of Hagar is such that Hagar runs away. It appears she is running toward her family back home in Egypt, but this desperate journey leads her into an even more desperate place – the desert. A runaway slave is a serious matter with harsh legal consequences. A pregnant woman traveling alone through the desert would have little chance of surviving. Living with Sarai must have been tough. We don’t know what exactly that looked like—was she beaten? Whatever the case, it appears Hagar would rather take the chance of dying in the desert over staying with Sarai.
The angel of the LORD finds Hagar sitting by the stream. This angel of the LORD, it would seem, is actually a manifestation of God himself, rather than a created angel we usually think of when we see the word “angel.” He calls her by name, and asks her from where she is coming and to where is she going. She replies that she is running away from her mistress who is mistreating her.
I don’t know what Hagar thought God would say when she made this declaration. I know I would be thinking for sure that hearing I was mistreated, God would certainly take my side and in compassion for me, liberate me from this unfair bondage, and perhaps even punish Sarai. But the angel tells her to return and submit to Sarai. Not only to return, but to submit to Sarai. To respectfully put herself back under the care and direction of her mistress. Ouch!
The angel continues to prophesy and tell Hagar that her descendants will be too numerous to count, and then prophesies about this unborn child. It will be a son. Hagar is to name him Ishmael, because God had heard of her misery. Interestingly, this is the first time that a name has been given by God to a baby before he is born. Later there will be John the Baptist and Jesus, whose name will be foretold. And the prophesy about Ishmael continues: He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.
At first glance this seems like worse news than finding out your only hope is to submit to your terrible slave owner. But I don’t think that is the case. The donkey is a respected animal in this culture. This son will be strong, and not in bondage like she is. He will be a free man. A fighter, not a peaceful man, but free. I suppose that would resonate with an abused slave girl so desperate she has run into the death trap of the desert, and who finds instead a hopeful promise and blessing for her unborn son. She has been seen by God. And God knows her name. And he has a plan for her.
It is after this exchange that Hagar extols this virtue of God by naming him, “the God who sees.” Beer Lahai Roi. She is alone and hated and without a voice. To just be seen by him is enough to praise him. No doubt she felt invisible. Worthless. A slave --and a despised one at that. Away from her family and on top of it all – an unwanted child on the way. God sees her. Sees her misery and acknowledges her.
And I am amazed, really. That she is willing to celebrate just being seen. To be acknowledged. Even if that acknowledgement is accompanied by a difficult command. Go back to the situation from which you are running. Change the way you are responding to your situation. Hmm … I am hoping for more usually. Because I don’t want to just be seen. I want him to make things better. Make my path easier, not just spot me in my wanderings. But often that is what I need. Just a reminder that he knows my name and he sees me. And that perhaps freedom and blessings will flow when I change the way I am responding to the difficult places I may find myself.
Are you in a tough place? Do you feel invisible? The same God who saw Hagar, an Egyptian slave girl, sees you. And knows your name. Maybe for now, you just need to celebrate that thought with me. Stop complaining about your circumstances. Change the way you are looking at life. And celebrate the all-seeing eye of our God.