Under the abuse and mistreatment of Sarai (later Sarah), Hagar ran from her mistress. Sarai is the one who had sent Abram in to conceive a child with Hagar because she did not believe the promise that she would ever bear a child of her own. Hagar did what she was "commanded" to do by her mistress, but she was no innocent- she lorded over Sarai her victory where Sarai experienced a great sense of defeat.
Heartbroken (infertility is a special kind of heart brokenness) Sarai's "solution to her problem only brought her greater pain (which is typical when we try to do things in our own understanding rather than in trusting God with His plan.) Abram permitted Sarai to treat Hagar "however she saw fit." I am relatively certain that the harshness that came from Sarai and drove Hagar to run away pregnant with her son was far deeper than the pain of just Hagar's offense. I imagine Sarai transferred decades of pain and disappointment into the cruelty that she brought against Hagar, and so Hagar ran.
The angel of the LORD came and met Hagar "beside a spring of water in the wilderness." In their exchange there, Hagar declared "El Roi," as a name of God. "El Roi" means, "the God who sees me." And it is clear in the passage that this sense of Him brought great comfort to Hagar. I too can relate, for I think it is at the heart of every man and woman to desire to "be seen."
But what fascinates me about this passage is the LORD's command to her in the midst of her pain. "Go back," he tells her. "Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority." He saw her pain, he knew the source of it, and yet, his command to her was to return. And yet, Hagar was not only comforted, but strengthened to obey him.
Even the "promise" the he spoke over her and her unborn son, was not one of great relief. There was no, "It will all work out, everything is going to be grand when you return." Quite the contrary, "This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives,” he told her. Basically he told her, like you, your son will live a hard life. He wasn't the chosen one; he was not the one God would fulfill his promises to Abram through. In a sense, he was a "Plan B," made at the hands of Sarai, and it would never really succeed.
But call him, "Ishmael," Hagar was told. "For I have heard your cry of distress," and Ishmael means, "God hears." God sees, God hears, and yet, circumstances do not change, times do not promise to get better. Yet, Hagar was comforted.
How often do we as Christians want to believe that being a follower of Christ and walking in obedience guarantees us some sort of comfort, success or victory. And so when we walk in difficulty or struggle, all the while trying to follow Christ and walk in obedience and our inclination is to wonder where He is. I know I do a poor personal inventory and a lot of second guessing. "Am I sin?" "Did I miss God's direction?" "Am I on the wrong path?"
Sometimes the harder things get, the more dangerous questions I ask. "Where is God?" "Doesn't He care?" "Is He angry with me?" "Has He forgotten me?" "Stopped loving me?" And this is dangerous ground, where questions slowly turn to accusations. Fear finds fault. And suddenly I have forgotten God sees, and God hears. And there should be comfort in that. That is enough.
It's times like that that it's so very important to be grounded in God's Word. It's then that we need to know who God says He is, and what He HAS promised to us. He has not promised life will always be easy, or full of prosperity. Read the life of Paul, and his pain struggle and suffering as he did the will of God. Would he ever preach to us a "prosperity gospel"? Certainly not in the physical sense! Find an apostle that lived the life of luxury. You can't. James, Peter, martyred, John exiled. Look in the Old Testament too. What of Joseph? He suffered greatly and repeatedly for a greater good.
It fascinates me greatly the the Angel of the LORD came to Hagar "beside a spring of water in the wilderness." It was just a small place of good in a huge place of pain. We forget that these days, this side of heaven, are the wilderness we wander until we also reach (like the Israelites) our "Promised Land." The promise we have isn't on this side of eternity. We might find ourselves at good "springs," but we will never really find the place of blessing where we will settle because it isn't here. Life will always have challenges, times will get tough again. We will have distress, we will suffer even as we follow in His ways-- sometimes it will be discipline, sometimes it will be persecution, and sometimes it will just be life, because this is not our home, we have not entered the "Promised Land."
That truth was beautifully stated in the end of the movie "Les Miserables" which I went and saw with my oldest son last night. It's an accurate account of what life may be for us as followers of Jesus Christ. This life will always fall short, comfort will never be complete, life may always be hard.
But stop and sit a moment at the spring in the wilderness.
God sees you.
God hears you.
You are not alone.
This is not all that there is.
Carry on, remembering.
That is why we never give up.
Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.
For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.
Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!
So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now;
rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.
For the things we see now will soon be gone,
but the things we cannot see will last forever.
II Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT