Oh, that I had wings like a dove; then I would fly away and rest! I would fly far away to the quiet of the wilderness. How quickly I would escape—far from this wild storm of hatred [Psalm 57:6-8 (NLT)]
Good people must never expect to escape troubles; if they do, they will be disappointed, for none of their predecessors have been without them. [Charles Spurgeon]
It wasn’t Hagar’s fault; she really had no choice in the matter. It was the barren Sarah who offered her maidservant Hagar to Abraham like a brood mare to a stallion to provide him with an heir. Having been used by both mistress and master, Scripture tells us that Hagar began to treat Sarah with disdain once she became pregnant. Rather than accept her part in the tense situation, Sarah blamed her husband, grew jealous of her maid, and treated the girl harshly. Sarah wasn’t just unpleasant to her servant. The Hebrew word used was anah, meaning oppressed or afflicted; it is the same word used to describe the way Egypt’s taskmasters treated their Israelite slaves. In short, Sarah wasn’t just stern, she was vindictive and cruel. Since Abraham had washed his hands of the matter, Hagar saw no reprieve. Wanting to escape her merciless mistress and the household turmoil, Hagar did what many of us do when faced with difficult and seemingly impossible circumstances—she fled.
It’s thought that Hagar wanted to return to her family in Egypt, which meant crossing the desert in the Wilderness of Shur—a dangerous prospect for a lone pregnant woman. It was on the road to Shur that the weary Hagar stopped by a well and met the Angel of the Lord. Rather than aiding in her escape or promising to alleviate the situation at Abraham’s home, He told her to return and “submit” to Sarah’s authority! He then blessed her with good news about her future. Having heard her cries of distress, He told her to name her son Ishmael, meaning “God hears.” From then on, Hagar called the Lord El-Roi, meaning the God who sees me.
We probably don’t flee into the desert to escape our troubles but, like Hagar, we want to flee some way or another. Some try escaping with drugs, alcohol, infidelity, or denial while others run away with work, spending, lethargy, food, or exercise. Like Hagar, we would prefer to be rescued from our troubles than to face them. We want the God who hears and sees us to cure the cancer, fix the infertility, make the chronic pain stop, and free us from our grief. We want Him to bring the lost child home, get the loved one sober, replenish the empty bank account, fix the broken marriage, and make the dysfunctional family functional. Given a choice, we would prefer God to make everything right than to face our troubles. We join with the psalmist in his desire to escape by flying away on the wings of a dove.
Hagar’s story, however, tells us that’s not how it works—rather than flying away, God expects us to face our troubles. He told Hagar to return to Abraham and submit to her mistress. Rather than rescuing Hagar from her trouble, God sustained and blessed her in it. The good news found in Hagar’s story is that God is aware of our suffering. He sees and hears us in the hospital room, courthouse, morgue, homeless shelter, prison cell, rehab unit, living room, football field, workplace, doctor’s office, and even the desert. No matter where we are or what what kind of trouble we’re facing, we are never lost, alone, or abandoned. Our God is El Roi – the God who sees us! While He may not free us from our troubles, He will sustain and bless us in them!
Don’t pray to escape trouble. Don’t pray to be comfortable in your emotions. Pray to do the will of God in every situation. Nothing else is worth praying for. [Samuel M. Shoemaker]