El Roi – The God Who Sees
Japan is a country of great beauty and feeling. It’s very different from the US and many of the things they do are quite foreign to our ideas about how things should be done. When I lived there, I made two friends not long after arriving – Minoru and Atsushi.
They worked at Fussa-dempo or the telecom in the town of Fussa. I used to go out with them or meet them at their work, or they’d come over and we hang out. One of the things I saw them do, and which I found out is the norm in Japan is that they would go out with their boss almost every night and buy him drinks at the bar.
And on holidays, they would buy him presents – not the other way around. In the US, we have special and not so nice terms we use for people that do it this way. But this is how things are done there.
Another thing that might seem a bit odd is that the cleaning ladies would walk right into the restroom and start cleaning the urinal right next to you as if you weren’t there. They didn’t knock or put up a sign that there was a lady in there.
There were all kinds of things like this that might seem nutty or odd to us, but that’s just the way those things were. The problem wasn’t with them, it was with us. We were in their culture and needed to adapt – not the other way around.
Today’s sermon contains some things like this. They seem foreign, odd, and even down right sinful to many, but this isn’t the way it was at all. It was a different culture with different views on the world and we need to understand that the things we think are wrong aren’t always that way.
We are entering into their culture and we need to adapt to it or we’ll end up finding fault where there is no fault.
Introduction: Some time ago, I said that if the Bible doesn’t condemn an action, neither should we. Instead, we should accept it at face value and attempt to learn from it and not point fingers and act as if our values are so much more dignified.
The things we’ll read about today are recorded for us to see how things transpired, why things are the way they are in the world even today, and how God’s plan is being accomplished in amazing ways – and all from people’s actions that often seem contrary to the way we may think things should have been done.
Text Verse: Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. Romans 13:1, 2
Sometimes submitting to authority is something we simply don’t want to do, especially when that authority is one that rules over us harshly. In times like these, we need to trust that God has placed us in that position for His own good purposes and we need to attempt to live under that premise to the extent that we will bring Him the glory and honor He’s due. And so… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.
I. Different Culture, Different Time – Be Nice to Abram and Sarai
1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar.
Chapter 16 begins with the problem which has now afflicted Abram for right at 10 years – ever since he entered the Promised Land and was given the promise of his descendants possessing the land. He still has no children.
God made this promise to him in Genesis 12, 13, and 15 and the one in Genesis 15 is very specific –
“And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Genesis 15:4
It’s appropriate to note before we get into the coming verses that what was promised doesn’t mention Sarai at all. Let’s remember this as we go on in the story. At this point, Abram is now 85 and Sarai is 75. They’ve probably been married for at least 50 years and maybe even longer. It’s pretty evident to them that Sarai is barren and won’t have children.
Although the Bible doesn’t say this, we can make the logical assumption that the Egyptian maidservant came into Abram’s home at the time they were in Egypt.
If you remember what happened down there, Sarai was taken in to Pharaoh’s home in order to become his wife. This happened because he didn’t know Sarai was Abram’s wife. When Pharaoh took her in, he gave Abram a great deal for her, including servants.
Hagar is probably one of those servants. After coming into their home, they named her Hagar as this is a Hebrew, not an Egyptian, name. Hagar’s name means “flight” which is closely related to the term “the sojourner.”
2 So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai.
At seventy five, Sarai finally decided that she probably wasn’t going to have children and she certainly wanted them as much as Abram expected them. He had been given a promise and she couldn’t fulfill it, and so – using the customs of the day – she does the natural thing one would expect.
Hagar belonged to her, solely and entirely. She was her possession and anything that Hagar worked for or any children she had would be the possession of Sarai. Therefore, the child would belong to her as much as to Abram.
In what might seem even more unusual is the custom of the servant actually having her child in the lap of Sarai. By doing this, the child would symbolically be coming from her. Children born at this time came out while the woman was in a sitting position and so sitting in her lap would be just an added step in the process.
The term Sarai uses here when she said “perhaps I shall obtain children by her” is a word which means to build or lay a foundation. In other words, she’s looking to establish the house of Abram through this union between him and Hagar.
After making the proposition to him, the Bible records “And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai.” Ok,,, I’ll do this difficult task for you my beauty…
3 Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan.
We can stand back and see in our minds what has happened here. Sarai certainly took Hagar by the hand and led her into Abram’s tent and grabbed his hand and placed it on Hagar’s. Thus the verse says she “gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.”
The two are joined in a rite that had probably been conducted many times in the land and would have been perfectly acceptable to everyone around them. It was a union without scandal.
The same thing happens in various cultures even to this day and we can’t look down on them for it. We need to remember that it is their culture and their tradition. What we see as abnormal is, to them, a regular part of the society in which they live.
4 So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.
No sooner had Hagar conceived then she began to act harshly toward her mistress Sarai. She was probably much younger than her and thought she would now move into the presidential palace and move out the first lady because she now bore the child and would also find Abram’s favor.
At this point in the narrative, most Bible scholars say that what’s happening is a direct result of the mischief that had been conducted in the whole affair, as if there is blame on both Abram and Sarai for doing what they’ve done.
But this is a very poor analysis of the situation, particularly considering the culture and circumstances. The fault rests not in Abram or Sarai, but in Hagar’s grabbing at the chance to usurp Sarai. And later in the Bible we see Solomon’s words about this exact situation –
For three things the earth is perturbed,
Yes, for four it cannot bear up:
22 For a servant when he reigns,
A fool when he is filled with food,
23 A hateful woman when she is married,
And a maidservant who succeeds her mistress. Proverbs 30:21-23
The earth simply cannot bear up under the injustice which has occurred because of Hagar’s actions. Abram, as the head of the household will have to act judiciously in order to keep things from spiraling out of control.
II. Now Sarai, That’s Just Not Nice
5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The Lord judge between you and me.”
Sarai at this point is letting her emotions rule the day and she blames Abram for what’s happening. According to the account, she is the one who initiated the action and set the entire thing up. Hagar is her property and at her disposal. But as soon as things go wrong, she turns around and blames him.
Truth be known, he probably didn’t even know what was going on. Because Hagar is her maid, he would be completely uninterested in whatever they were doing. But in an almost hysterical note, Sarai exclaims “The Lord judge between you and me.”
Unfortunately, this is exactly the type of situation that causes grief in families, friendships, and even between nations. Instead of coming quietly and resolving a matter, we storm into situations with almost reckless abandon and end up paying for it in the end.
How Abram responds here will be really important because, as Proverbs says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 16:1
6 So Abram said to Sarai, “Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.” And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence.
Abram took the calm route and passed the matter right back to where it belonged. When he did, Sarai took it to an unnecessary extreme and caused even more trouble… Hagar fled.
Do you see the irony here? Abram allowed Sarai to go into the Egyptian Pharaoh’s house in order to preserve his own life and when the ordeal was over, Pharaoh rebuked him and kicked him out of Egypt and so he heads home to Canaan.
Now Sarai asked Abram to go into the Egyptian servant who came from Pharaoh’s house to continue on Abram’s name and she ended up rebuking him and finally the maid runs away from her home, heading back towards Egypt.
In both instances, Abram is caught in the middle of a situation that was intended for good and which turned out to be a headache. Anyway, Abram did exactly the right thing. He handed it back to Sarai. Hagar is her maid, not his, and she needed to handle it.
There actually is a good life lesson for us here and something I need to be better at myself which is the proper delegation of authority. When something should be handled at a lower lever, then it needs to be sent back to that level.
If something isn’t one’s direct business, it needs to be sent to the right place to be handled. This will, in the end, save even more grief. Again to the Proverbs we go –
He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own Is like one who takes a dog by the ears. Proverbs 26:17
III. El Roi, The God Who Sees
7 Now the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur.
This Angel is none other than the eternal Christ – our Lord Jesus. He has already appeared at other times and will continue to appear at specific intervals in the Bible. This is our Lord, directing human history which leads to Himself and all of which is intended to teach us spiritual lessons about His wonderful working in our lives.
As will happen time and time and time again in the Bible, it is by a spring or a well of water than many pivotal moments occur. This land is a dry and barren waste and water is precious.
Finding it in the open like this must have seen miraculous to her, but it points to the spiritual side of the account – that Jesus is our Water of Life and the director of our steps.
Abram, Isaac, Jacob, Rebekah, Rachel, Moses, Samson, Jesus
Having been brought into Abram’s camp, she would have been familiar with his worship of God and this visitation would comfort her and assure her that the true life which springs from God would continue to uphold her.
8 And He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” 9 The Angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.”
In this address, the Lord calls her as “Hagar, Sarai’s maid.” Before He allows her to speak, he preempts her by stating that she is the property of Sarai.
I’m guessing He did this and then asked His questions in order to keep her from saying something untrue. By telling her who she is and who she belongs to, He’s hinting that He already knows the whole story.
As parents, we do this quite often with our own children in an attempt to get them to fess up to the situation. It’s a way of building character while preempting someone from being caught in an unnecessary lie.
And in turn, because of the way He addressed her, she speaks honestly and without hiding anything – “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” Because she acknowledged this openly and truthfully, He directly gives her His response – “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.”
Had he not appeared to Hagar like this, there would be a much less complete understanding of the doctrine of Divine Election and there would be a lack in our understanding of the Law verses Grace which Paul lays out in Galatians 3 & 4 and which uses Hagar and her son, who is yet to be born, as object lessons about the superiority of the ministry of Jesus over the Law of Moses.
After you’ve gone through the entire Bible and put together pieces like this, accounts which seem to have no real significance or purpose come into clarity of focus. God Himself is working out a plan and He is using these real people and their circumstances in the execution of that plan.
10 Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.”
I’m certain that this verse is placed here specifically to show us the superiority of the gospel of Jesus Christ over the Law of Moses. I said a minute ago that Hagar and Ishmael will be used as examples of this in the book of Galatians. They will be compared to the barren Sarai who will eventually have a child named Isaac.
Paul will compare Hagar and her son to the giving of the Law of Moses at Mount Sinai and also Jerusalem where that law was carried out through Israel – a law which Paul calls “bondage.”
He will then compare Sarai and her barren state to the work of Jesus and the Jerusalem which is above, which is freedom. After making this comparison, Paul will reach back to the words of Isaiah and say this –
For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren,
You who do not bear!
Break forth and shout,
You who are not in labor!
For the desolate has many more children
Than she who has a husband.” Galatians 4:27
The Lord promised Hagar that He would multiply her descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude. And yet, despite this vast number, it will be inconsequential to the multitude who will be received into God’s kingdom through the spiritual rebirth which comes by faith in Jesus.
11 And the Angel of the Lord said to her:
“Behold, you are with child,
And you shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael,
Because the Lord has heard your affliction.
Ishamel means “God hears.” Again as has happened so many times and as will happen numerous times in the future, the explanation of a name is given in the very verse in which the name is given. The Lord has heard Hagar’s affliction and has responded.
I think anyone who has ever called on Jesus in their time of need could call out with confidence “Ishmael.” Once you’ve been through the valley of tears and poured out your heart to God, you know perfectly well when He responds that it was in the exact way you needed for the moment in which you were burdened.
As Matthew Henry so beautifully stated about this verse – “Even there, where there is little cry of devotion, the God of pity hears the cry of affliction: tears speak as well as prayers.”
12 He shall be a wild man;
His hand shall be against every man,
And every man’s hand against him.
And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”
Here we have a comparison of Ishmael to a wild ass. The word for “wild man” is pe-ray adam which finds its comparison in the wild donkey. He will be against every man and constantly fighting with them and he will live in the presence or in the face of his brothers.
And 4000 years later, the sons of Ishmael who inhabit the world still fit this description. Ishmael is the son of Abraham that the Arab world traces its ancestry and culture to. What an apt description of much of the Arab world today. Job makes this comparison about the wild ass which fits them even now –
“Who set the wild donkey free?
Who loosed the bonds of the onager,
6 Whose home I have made the wilderness,
And the barren land his dwelling?
7 He scorns the tumult of the city;
He does not heed the shouts of the driver.
8 The range of the mountains is his pasture,
And he searches after every green thing.
13 Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?”
One thing we can’t do without taking trouble into our own hands is to assign names to God. To assign a name to someone is to claim a type of ownership over that person. To name a baby is granted to the one who will raise the baby. To name a business is directly the choice of the principle owner. It can be delegated as a sign of favor, like to one’s wife though, “Honey, you choose the name.”
To name God is not within our right or authority and we need to be careful not to be presumptuous like this. In this instance though, Hagar – an Egyptian, is given the grace of bestowing upon Him a name which not only was accepted, but which is recorded for us today. She said, “You are El-Roi.” You are the God who sees.
After saying this, she says something that is very difficult to understand in the Hebrew and is therefore translated many ways by various translators.
It is a type of verse that the translators of the King James Version would say, “…it hath pleased God in his divine providence, here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness … that fearful-ness would better beseem us than confidence.”
What she said is ha-gam ha-lom raiti akharey roi. Have I also seen Him who sees me? Or, “I have now seen the one who sees me.” Or something like this. One scholar seems to have rightly seen in this the exclamation, “Have I here also seen the Latter Purposes or Designs of him who seeth me?”
In other words, because the Lord told her what her son’s name would be and then explained all that would come to pass from his generations, she is saying “I have seen what you intend.” It is an exclamation of His transcendence over time. He is the God who sees, not just now, but into the future and through all things.
Before we move on, we should look at 5 particular reasons why we can discern that this is, in fact, the Lord Jesus who is fully God and who was manifest in the flesh. It was He who spoke to Hagar and not just a messenger.
The first is that He promised to accomplish something that only God could accomplish and He foretold the future in a way only God can. He did this at the time of Adam, at the time of Noah, earlier with Abram, and elsewhere. He told her that she would bear a son and then described what he would be like, even throughout future generations.
Secondly, when she spoke to Him, she clearly identified Him as God – El Roi, the God who sees. Were this not true, then it would either be Satan trying to usurp God or if a good angel he would have refused the title just as the angel in Revelation refused worship. Scripture records neither and therefore this is Jesus who is God.
Third, when this was recorded by Moses, the writings designated Him as Jehovah. The record states, “Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her.” “Lord” in this verse is the divine name Jehovah. This name is not ever, ever given to a created being. It is the divine name of the God of power and perfection.
We can compare this account and the Angel who appears with the Redeeming Angel in Genesis 48:16, the Angel of God’s Presence in Isaiah 63:9, the Angel of the Covenant in Malachi 3:1, as well as other appearances by this Angel which are always and only applied to the divine God.
Fifth, what we have seen cannot in any way be related to a created being. The knowledge, works, and authority belong to God alone. And because this Angel is visible to the human eye, it must be the second member of the triune Godhead, Jesus Christ.
We know this because the Bible on many occasions says that no one has seen God, that God is invisible, that God dwells in an unapproachable light, etc. Only when God united with humanity could man see the image of God in human form – Jesus Christ.
14 Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; observe, it is between Kadesh and Bered.
The well at this spring of water is named because of the meeting and account which we’ve just seen. Again, in the coming pages of the Bible, we’ll see wells named based on what occurs around the wells as they are discovered.
It is a tangible and permanent tie to the supernatural and spiritual light which has temporarily shone through the fabric of our temporal reality.
Beer Lahai Roi means “The Well of the One Who Lives and Sees Me” and it is located between Kadesh and Bered. Kadesh is the same location which will be seen again in the book of Numbers during the wanderings of the Israelites through the wilderness.
15 So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.
In fulfillment of the promise to Hagar, and in obedience to the name given by the Lord, the son born to Abram by Hagar is named Ishmael. God heard, God saw, God promised, and God delivered.
Before we go to our last verse of the day, I’d like to provide a spiritual application to you concerning this very thought. God gave Hagar a promise. He heard her cry, He saw her affliction, He made the promise, and He delivered.
God has done the same for each and every soul alive today. “I love those who love me, And those who seek me diligently will find me.” says Proverbs 8. And I am sure that in the process, God will reach out to them to help along that road.
God has said that those who seek Him will find Him. And He doesn’t make it hard to do. In Acts 17 it says that in Him we live and move and have our being. He is right here waiting for the lost soul and even more, He has given us His word which tells us of His Son and His Son reveals Him.
When we seek God with tears and afflictions, He responds and He delivers. This isn’t only about salvation though, but about every good blessing that He desires us to have. He is there waiting for us to receive the fullness of the promises in His Son, Jesus.
16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.
It’s now 11 years since Abram entered the Promised Land and the year is 2095AM. He has finally had a son at the youthful age of 86. This is where the chapter ends and it leaves us in anticipation of more excitement in the lives of Abram and Sarai as they live in the presence of the God who sees and controls the destinies of man.
God is in control of your destiny as well and He may be calling out to you if you will only call on Him. Let me tell you how you can…
El Roi, The God Who Sees
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had born him no son
Getting old she figured her baby bearing chances were done
But she had a maidservant, an Egyptian named Hagar
So she spoke to Abram, words difficult to say
“Our chances of having a baby are surely gone by far
So please go into Hagar to have a child, yes… go this very day
Maybe I can bear children by her instead”
So Abram heeded Sarai and Sarai brought her to his bed
And when this came about, yes Hagar a child she conceived
But because of this, she despised her mistress in her eyes
Sarai felt now like the one who had been deceived
And she went to Abram so that Hagar he would chastise
My wrong be upon you – I gave her to your embrace
And now she mocks me, yes… mocks me to my face
The Lord judge between me and you
But Abram said, this isn’t for me to do
So Sarai dealt harshly with her Egyptian maid
And Hagar fled her presence and took off for home
But in the wilderness she stopped for water and some shade
And it was here she met the Lord who spoke words of shalom
“Hagar, Sarai’s maid whence come you, where are you going to”
I’m fleeing from the presence of my mistress, this is the thing I do
“Return to your mistress and submit yourself under her hand
I will multiply your descendants exceedingly you see
They shall not be counted for their multitude will be grand
In my hand is the future and I’ve showed it to you plainly
“Behold you are with child and you shall bear a son
You shall call him Ishmael because the Lord has heard your woes
He shall be a wild man, his hand against everyone
And everyone against him too, where he dwells and where he goes
Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her
“You are the God Who Sees and it is Him I did see”
And the well was called Beer Lahai Roi which does refer
To the Well of the One Who Lives and Sees Me
So Hagar bore Abram a son and his name was Ishmael
At 86 is when it happened, what a story to tell
Yes God keeps every promise which proceeds from His word
Because He is the covenant keeping, all knowing, all seeing Lord.
Hallelujah and Amen…