On Saturday, you could not see much. In the Washington-Baltimore area, we had snow. And more snow. And more snow. It snowed steadily from Friday afternoon until about 10:00 on Saturday evening at my house. At times, when I looked out, all I could see was whirling snow, and as I peered out of the window of my front door, I thought–more than once–how grateful I was to have a warm, snug house, with plenty of food and hot chocolate at hand. It was okay to watch–as long as I was safe and warm inside. My biggest concern was whether the power stayed on–which it did. A first-world problem, you might say, and you would be right.
This morning, I was doing my usual early morning devotions. Genesis 16 has the story of Abram, Sarai and Hagar. Sarai realizes that she cannot have children, which is a sign of shame and embarrassment in her society. However, legally, any children borne of her slave-girl will belong to Sarai. No doubt Abram and Sarai had bought Hagar back from their life in Egypt. So now, without asking Hagar’s permission, Sarai gives Hagar to Abram, who “went in to Hagar, and she conceived. . .”
Far from her home, far from her family, a woman whose skin is probably darker than that of her owners, marries a man she has not chosen (nor would she, in that culture, even back home), and whether she wants a child or not, she is having one. But this leads to even more issues, one being jealousy. Now it is clear that Hagar can have children for Abram, so maybe he will prefer her to Sarai–even though scripture lets us know that Sarai is beautiful enough that Abram was nervous when they were in Egypt–to the degree that he lied to Pharoah and said she was his sister, not his wife. Yet human beings have been broken from the time of the Garden, and so this continues in this story–the broken-ness.
Sarai is mean to Hagar, but Abram will not intervene. In desperation, the pregnant slave-woman runs away.
Who finds Hagar? Who sees her? Sarai has not seen her as a human being, nor has Abram. She is property, pure and simple. A vessel for children whom she will never call her own. The one who sees Hagar is a messenger from God. The angel tells Hagar to go back to Abram and Sarai, that the child she will bear will be the beginning of many generations, and that his name is to be Ishmael.
Very quickly, Hagar realizes that this is no ordinary conversation. She understands with Whom she is having this desert conversation. “So she names the LORD who spoke to her. ‘You are El-roi;’ for she said, ‘Have I really seen God and remained alive. . .?'”
El-roi. The God of seeing. This is the first woman in the Hebrew scriptures (after Eve) to whom God speaks directly. In fact, Hagar is the first woman to name God. She sees. She understands. She gets it. She names the God who speaks to her, the God she encounters.
I have thought about this amazing woman off and on all day long today. She gets very little credit. Yet she was a stranger in a foreign land. Alone. Without any rights at all. Her very existence dependent upon people who were obviously not always kind to her. Yet she saw the one God sent to her. She named God. She obeyed God. In her faithfulness lay the lives and loves of generations to come. Today, I give thanks for all the women who are in her situation. I ask God for the opportunity to SEE–to really see–and to understand what or who it is that I am seeing.
Thank you, Hagar. Thank you for your sight. You are blessed among women.