What to do when We Cannot See Our Way out of a Mess
“Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the waterskin and gave a drink to the lad.”
Sometimes people look at this passage and wonder at how Hagar could not have seen a well nearby. There are two elements we need to keep in mind when we begin to ask this question. The first is that God is sovereign and sometimes he deliberately blinds us to the reality around us to humble us and to teach us of his abundant grace. Essentially, God uses instances like this to get our attention focused on what is important. Sometimes we allow ourselves to get into a “funk” where we just cannot see past the dilemma that is before us; we get frustrated and we get tired and when this happens we just don’t think straight. The solution to our problem might be standing practically in our midst, but we just don’t look because we are selfishly focused on our problem. And here, in cases like these, God keeps our eyes shut. It is only when he can get our attention back upon himself, that he allows us to see the means by which he will lift the problem from our midst.
Hagar is in as great a time of distress as one could imagine. She has been kicked out of her home with her young son, has been given relatively little in the way of provision, and has wandered aimlessly into the wilderness with no plan and no way out. She collapses and just gives up, ready to die and hoping that she will not have to watch her son die as well. And here God comes to her. He reminds her of his promise and then opens her eyes. How little faith Hagar showed, but how often we too, who know the risen Christ, show a faith that is just as paltry.
The second thing that ought to be pointed out is that sometimes wells or springs are not as obvious as others. In the wilderness, wells are essential for maintaining your herds as they grazed and sometimes wars were fought over the “water-rights” to the wells…things haven’t changed much even today. Water is a precious commodity. We don’t want too much of it, but we need enough of it to survive. Sometimes, in the ancient world, wells were larger and more pronounced, but out in the wilderness, they were typically smaller and not always designed to stand out. The term that is used here is rEaV;b (be-er), which can refer to a small well or to a small underground water source. All that might have been there is a small spring trickling up to just below the surface, something that would not have been readily noticed lest it were pointed out. Either way, God’s hand of grace is directing Hagar to the spot where she get renew her strength with some water before they push on.
Again, how often we allow the difficulty of our immediate situation to cloud our vision of what God has promised to us in our lives. How often we throw up our hands in defeat rather than engaging the situation for the glory of God. And how often God shows himself to be faithful even though we fail to trust in his never-failing faithfulness. Beloved, do not fall into the trap of Hagar. God is faithful and he is faithful all of the time. He will work things through in his own timing and for his own glory and it will be far better than we could have designed were we able to design life ourselves. Do not doubt, but press forward in the design that God has for your life trusting him to provide that which you need physically and spiritually—trusting in his ever-flowing grace.
Faith and Hope
“And God heard the voice of the lad and the Angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is it to you, Hagar? You shall not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.’”
Do not forget that God has already given Hagar a promise that he would make a nation out of her son. What a marked contrast, though, between Abraham’s faithful response to God’s promise and Hagar’s limited vision. Indeed, in just a couple verses, scripture records God opening Hagar’s eyes to see a well by which he will make provision for her and her son for their journey. Abraham was far from being perfect, but he was willing to stake everything on the reality of the promise that God gave to him. Here, Hagar falls on her face and expects to die, doubting that the promise will come to reality.
Here is a contrast between how a believer and an unbeliever approaches the promises of God. Yet, how often even as believers, we struggle with faith, walking in the assurance that God will provide for us. How often, because our limited vision fails, do we raise our hands in frustration and think that God has abandoned us. How patient God is with us toward that end. Abraham is referred to as the “Father of the Faithful” (Romans 4:11-22) not because he always got it right, but in the end, when he could not see the design of God in the events in his life, he still walked forward in faith and hope of the promise. Hagar does not have that belief and thus sinks into despair.
Loved ones, faith does not mean that we will always get things right, but faith does give us hope during the dark times when we cannot see the hand of God at work in our midst. We hope because we have the assurance that God will not abandon us to destruction, but that he will redeem us for his glory. Take heart, for God is good and his mercy never ends…really, it never does end. We need to cling to that.
“And she said, ‘Who would have repeatedly announced to Abraham that Sarah would be made to suckle children? Yet I have borne a son in his old age.’”
This is one of those spots where our English translations are not helpful in assisting us to understand the depth of the statement that Sarah is making. Most of our translations render Sarah’s statement something like: “who would have said that Sarah would bear children.” This is not a wrong translation per say, but it obscures the nuances that are contained within the Hebrew verbs that are employed. As we read the English as it is typically rendered here, we walk away simply thinking that Sarah is amazed at the work of God. Indeed, it is amazed, but the statement she is making is far more profound than that.
To begin with, the first verb that is used is lAlDm (malal), which can legitimately be translated as the verb “to say,” though it is a fairly uncommon term in the Hebrew Bible and is only found once in the text of Genesis. What is more important is the verbal stem. In Hebrew, verbs can be found in a variety of forms, called “stems,” which indicate different nuances of how the verb is being used. Here we find the verb in the Piel stem, which refers to a repeated action. In other words, Sarah is not referring to a casual statement, “who would have said…” but to a statement that is repeatedly being made. In addition, when lAlDm (malal) is used in the Piel, it typically refers to an announcement that is being made. It seems that Sarah is not saying, “who would have said…,” but instead is saying, “who would have repeatedly announced.” In other words, she is reflecting back on the pronouncement that had been made repeatedly to them that she would bear a son who would be the vessel through which God would fulfill his covenant promises.
God is very clear with his people as to the way in which one can tell a true prophet from a false prophet. If the prophet is speaking for the Lord, then those things which he says will come to pass (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). Repeatedly, God had spoken either directly or through The Angel of Yahweh (the pre-incarnate Christ) that a son would be borne to them (Genesis 12:2,7; 13:15; 15:2-6; 17:2,16-19; 18:10-15) over a period of 25 years. They have struggled with doubt, fear, and worry with respect to the fulfillment of this promise. Here the promise is being fulfilled and Sarah is confirming in her statement that it is God who was behind the promise to give her a son. You could go as far as to paraphrase her statement as: “who but God would have announced that Sarah would bear a son.” These prophesies cited above, she is saying, have clearly come from none other but God on high.
The second note that reinforces this reading can be found in the second verb that is being used here. The term qÅnÎy (yanaq), which means to suckle, is found in what is called the Hiphil stem. The Hiphil reflects an action that has been caused or brought about. Obviously, it is clear that Sarah’s pregnancy was caused by outside means for she is old and has lived a life of barrenness (Genesis 11:30). God is the one who opens the womb (Genesis 29:31; 30:22) and closes the womb (Genesis 20:18; 1 Samuel 1:5-6). Who but God could bring to pass such a prophesy in the life of a woman who is many years past childbearing age? And indeed, what a supernatural act this was to take place?
On one level, some of these details may seem rather slight. Yet on a larger scale, they affirm that Sarah understands completely the nature of the promise that has been given to her and that she is affirming as well that God has brought things to pass. Oftentimes we struggle with doubt and fear when God fulfills promises in his timing and not ours. Often we struggle when God delays the answer to our prayers by weeks or months, let alone for 25 years. Do not think that you are alone in your struggles; Abraham and Sarah struggled in the same way—hence we have Ishmael and the Arabs that have descended from him. We need to be reminded of their struggles, but we also need to be reminded of their recognition that it was God faithfully bringing about his promises. Sometimes we plead and plead with God for things, yet when they come to pass, we feel as if we have somehow earned them through our own efforts. Yet it is by God’s hand of grace alone that we even breathe for another day, let alone accomplish any plans that may be set before us (James 4:13-15).
Loved ones, set Sarah’s example before you. Rejoice in what the Lord has done both great and small and trust in His timing, for it is always right and true (whether we happen to think so at the time or not!). And give credit where credit is due, for surely it could only be God who brings about such wondrous works in the lives of his people, both then in Sarah and Abraham’s day, and now in our day as well.