Editor’s Note: Today, as you read Genesis 16:7-15 and Psalm 27:11-14 or take a listen as part of Day 2 for Believing God in Unwanted Circumstances, we hope this reflection piece from Jasmine Timm encourages you.
By Jasmine Timm
In the last six months, we have seen a lot of unfortunate stories. Whether we have experienced them personally or read of them in our news cycle, we are bombarded with stories of undesirable, even devastating, circumstances. In moments of crisis, we begin to feel as if all of this is too overwhelming, that this is new, and we fear we will be left alone to crumble under the weight of our suffering. However, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), and the Bible itself is full of unfortunate stories of people with unwanted circumstances.
Before we get very far in our Bibles, we read the story of Hagar in Genesis 16. She was a slave girl from Egypt, who through no fault of her own, ended up as a surrogate mother for the family she lived with. Sarai, her mistress, chose this for Hagar, and before she knew it, Hagar was sleeping with her master Abram to produce a child for him. As we may have guessed, this did not turn out well for anyone. Hagar begins to have contempt for Sarai, and Sarai begins to have contempt for Hagar, demanding that Abram send the pregnant maid away.
After enough poor treatment from Sarai, a pregnant Hagar flees and finds herself alone in the middle of the wilderness. Things look bleak for Hagar. But the story takes a different twist: God shows up and finds her. As He engages her, God does not ignore the state Hagar is in. He acknowledges her as “Hagar, servant of Sarai.” I imagine the last thing Hagar wanted to hear in this moment was the name of her mistress, who had treated her so poorly. But God does not overlook the situation Hagar finds herself in. Rather, He meets her in the midst of her unwelcome circumstance.
Like Hagar, we often wish we could brush away our circumstances, pretending to be someone else with a different life than the one we currently have. However, we know life doesn’t work like that, and thankfully, neither does our God. What we see Him do with Hagar, He does with us. More often than not, God does not blot away our circumstance but enters into it with us. He calls us to face the situation for what it is, but does not demand that we do it alone. He sees us, and this can give us the confidence we need to face the circumstance at hand. We are not left alone to suffer.
In this account, we see that it is God who finds Hagar (16:7), not the reverse. Although He knows exactly where she is coming from and where she is going, He calls out to her gently, “Where have you come from and where are you going?” It is not just that He sees her circumstance, but He sees her. He cares about her. He is genuinely concerned about Hagar, servant of Sarai. Not because she is Sarai’s servant, or a wife of Abram, but because she is an image-bearer whom He formed and whom He loves. He listens to her affliction (Genesis 16:11) and provides for her.
After recognizing that she has seen the God who sees her, we read of a Hagar who is somehow now courageous enough to go back to a horrible situation in which she is a second-class slave woman, living under the harsh care of her mistress and her husband, who also happens to be the father of her own child. We don’t see her return begrudgingly, but willingly. Why? Because she has seen the One who looks after her. She knows she is not alone, but is fully seen and still loved.
In Hagar’s story, we learn of a God who both sees and hears. We see a God who has immense mercy on the downtrodden. Certainly Hagar did not ask for her situation, and given that we know God planned for Sarai to be the one who would give birth to Abraham’s heir, we can surmise God also did not want this for Hagar. This was a plan crafted by Sarai, not God. And yet we see a God who, despite not wanting this to happen, allows it to be so and shows mercy to Hagar. God can both desire something not to happen (i.e. Hagar’s circumstance) and even be grieved by it, and still mercifully intervene in the situation He permits to happen. It is a mystery to us why He allows certain circumstances to unfold, but one thing is without question: God sees, He hears, and He bends down to show mercy.
As we read on, we will find that Hagar’s circumstances don’t change, but neither does her God. She continues as a servant, and we will see that there remains much difficulty for Hagar in her future, but one thing is different for her. She now knows that God sees and hears her, and this changes everything. We won’t hear about Hagar for another fourteen years until her story picks up in Genesis 21, but we know that the God who sees and hears her certainly will not cease in His mercy. God sees Hagar, and although much time elapses between Genesis 16 and 21, the reader does not have to wait long and will soon find out that He is not finished with her yet.
God has not changed since the days of Hagar, and we can confidently call Him the God who sees us. Just as He did not leave Hagar, He does not leave us alone to deal with hard circumstances. Perhaps in seeing this God who sees, we will gain the courage necessary to remain faithful where He has called us.