I once worked with a woman who described her religious beliefs as “neo-Pagan.” She worshiped “Mother Nature” and exalted the “Power of the Feminine.” She liked to discuss matters of faith and would often tell me with great excitement of how she and her group would perform various ceremonies in the forests in order to incur the blessings of the “goddess.” She knew that I was a Christian which, in her eyes, was an equally valid “path” to knowing the Divine, just as hers was.
At one point, I was facing a difficult crisis in my life and this woman kindly expressed her concern for what I was going through. I thanked her and told her that I knew everything would be fine and that I was trusting God to bring me through it. I was absolutely shocked when she looked me in the eye and sadly replied, “Well, at least when you have problems you can pray to a God Who listens to you. All I can do is pray to a tree.”
Now, I acknowledge that there are likely many proponents of her belief system who would vehemently argue that the majority of those who practice it are not nearly so flippant about their devotion. I certainly am in no position to question the sincerity of any other “neo-Pagans.” All I know is that, in a moment of candor, this particular individual revealed her own view of the efficacy of her beliefs. In times of peace and tranquility, it seems that the esoteric nature of her religious practice was quite appealing, but she recognized that during her own moments of trial her object of worship was powerless to help her.
“And [the Angel of the Lord] said, Hagar, Sarai’s maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai.” (Genesis 16:8)
Imagine Hagar, a woman who grew up in the land of Egypt with its pantheon of silent “gods” who neither see nor hear, who now suddenly hears the voice of the living God speaking to her in a remote wilderness. Calling her by name, He rhetorically asks from where she has come and to where she is going. Not only does she hear the audible voice of Deity, but this God is concerned about her. He is interested in her past and in her future, asking her where she has come from and where she is going. He knows who she is (“Hagar, Sarai’s maid”) and He has found her in this barren desert. Hagar has fled from the mistreatment of her mistress, Sarah, and has headed back toward the only other home she knew: the land of her birth, Egypt. It hardly seems likely that a young, pregnant woman could have survived the harsh and unforgiving wilderness through which she journeyed alone and without supplies, but anger over the abuses that others do to us can compel us to the rashest of decisions. Hagar seemed to have nothing in view, not even her own safety and that of her unborn child, but to be removed from the place of her torment. Now, she lay exhausted and alone by the side of a solitary oasis in a vast wasteland. She probably felt that no one in the entire world cared whether she lived or died, yet God reached out to her in this desolate place.
As we read through the Bible, the focus is given so much to the key players in God’s plan that we can easily lose sight of the fact that the Lord is concerned with all people, not just those at “center stage.” The fate of Hagar has little bearing on what God is doing in the life of Abraham, and it seems that this episode of her flight into the desert could have easily been omitted entirely. Isaac is the son of promise, not Ishmael, so what difference does it make what happened to Hagar and her child? The difference is that it reminds all of us that God is concerned with even the “least” of us. What an awesome demonstration of the mighty love of God that He would come to this young lady on her way to Shur and reach out to her. Sarah may have hated her, and Abraham might have cared nothing about what happened to her (Genesis 16:6), but God cared.
Hagar immediately knew that this was not a “god” like any other Who spoke to her. He was a God Who sees. “Call his name Ishmael“, the Lord says of her coming offspring, God shall hear. Hagar can echo the declaration of Isaiah saying, Is the ear of God heavy that it cannot hear? (Isa. 59:1). She learns that there is a living God, the God of all, Who sees and hears and moves in the lives of man. He is not a dumb, lifeless idol who sits upon a shelf, nor is He a tree that cannot hear the prayers of people nor reach His hand out to help them, as my co-worker noted. Beer-lahai-roi, Hagar named the well where she met with Him, The well of Him that lives and sees me.
If you, like Hagar, have fled from your own place of calling; if you have rashly departed from the place where God has put you — is He not telling you the very same thing? Return, submit (v. 9). Go back to where He has brought you. There is no record of a great reconciliation upon Hagar’s homecoming back to the house of Abraham, in fact, we see in Genesis 22:10 that Sarah most likely never forsake her contempt for her handmaiden. But Hagar returned a changed woman, we can be certain. For now she had the promise of God given to her that her son would be the father of a great multitude of people. And, more importantly, she had the knowledge that God’s eye was upon her and His concern was with her, wherever it was that she may go.