A few weeks ago, on a whim, I decided to join the Tuesday morning Bible study at our church. The bratty teenager in me had been battling this decision for some time, because somehow I still feel like I’m young enough to say that the only people who attend Tuesday morning Bible studies are women who are older. And then I looked in the mirror, tallied up the wrinkles, remembered that I have three elementary age children and swallowed the pill of reality.
But I was apprehensive.
We are going through Beth Moore’s The Patriarch’s, and you guys we are three weeks in and it is completely wrecking my already tender heart. I feel like it was written just for me to experience at just this time. Had I done this study a year ago, I wouldn’t have been nearly as moved as I am today.
Last week’s lessons were particularly challenging, especially given the fact that last week was when I finally, fully laid down the adoption and said so out loud. Oh how my heart ached through the week. My soul was weary and weepy.
Then I read the story of Hagar and for a few days my spirit grew restless and anxious.
For those who may not know, Hagar was an Egyptian slave who lived in the house of Abram, serving as his wife, Sarai’s maid. Though Abram had been promised an heir by God, he and Sarai had yet to have a child and Sarai, in her grief and impatience, commanded Abram to take her maid as his wife.
“Since the Lord has prevented me from bearing children, go to my slave; perhaps I can have children by her,” Sarai told her husband, and Abram agreed. (Genesis 16:2)
It’s so easy to pick apart this passage and point out the blatant and glaring errors in this plot, but it’s good to remember a few things. First, as wrong and ugly as that practice sounds, it was not uncommon in those days. A female servant becoming a second wife for the purposes of bearing children was not considered wrong then, and though not a designed or desired practice by God, to Abram it could have seemed like a practical solution to what seemed to be a real problem.
Second, God uses flawed people who struggle in their faith to carry out His plans and promises and thank goodness He does, amen?
So Hagar and Abram conceived a child and Sarai, naturally, writhed in jealousy and bitterness because she got what she wanted but did not consider the outcome of such an ill conceived plan. Things got so uncomfortable that Hagar fled the house, escaping her mistress’s cruelty and this is where the story took the breath straight from my lungs.
As she rested in the wilderness, an Angel of the Lord found her and comforted her in her emotional suffering. He told her to return to Abram’s house and that the child she carried, who was to be named Ishmael, would receive a promise of many offspring.
There, in that wilderness place, Hagar became the only person, male or female, in the Old Testament to give God a name. The God who Sees.
“I have now seen the One who sees me,” Hagar said when the mist of the moment faded away. (Genesis 16:13)
God saw her pain and her distress and He met with her. It is generally believed that the Angel of the Lord referred to in Genesis 16:7 was God Himself and, as Beth Moore so beautifully explains, the literal Hebrew translation of Hagar’s words is “Have I really seen the back of Him who sees me?”
In Exodus 33:20, God allows Moses to see Him, but He had to do so from inside the cleft of a rock and he could only catch a glimpse of God’s back as He passed by because God’s glory is too great for our feeble human eyes. “You cannot see my face,” God spoke. “For no one can see me and live.”
I was so struck by this lesson. First, just the reminder that God sees us in our distress, when the wilderness closes in, was something I desperately needed because I have felt so terribly lost and alone this year. But He sees and He knows and the comfort that brings is difficult to describe.
But I had another emotion, one so great that I almost felt a panic well up inside me – I wished I could see Him. I longed so desperately to see His back, to have a physical, real and tangible glimpse of Him. I wished that He still revealed Himself to us today the way He did in Old Testament times. I wished I didn’t have to listen so hard for that still small voice because what I wouldn’t give for a burning bush right now.
It took me a few days to work past that before I could embrace the Truth of today: We have the revealed God available to us in scripture, and His power ignites from the pages of His word. We glimpse His back when we read His Words in scripture. He hasn’t need to issue in person promises anymore, because all of His promises were complete in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. And so what now?
I look up and praise the One who sees me. He has revealed Himself to me, and His glory is evident every day. I will likely never have a moment when I come face to face with Him incarnate on this earth, but that does not diminish His power or glory, and oh does it make the prospect of heaven seem so much sweeter.
If you, like me, are longing to see His face today, take comfort in the fact that He Sees yours, and rejoice in the knowledge that you are not alone. I am praying for everyone who reads these words, that they would have a fresh encounter with the God who Sees.
Happy Wednesday, sweet friends.