Seeing God In Your Affliction (Genesis 16:7-16)

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Introduction

I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles once again to the book of Genesis. Our passage for today’s sermon will be Genesis 16:7-11. If you do not have a Bible with you this morning, or if you’d like to follow along in the translation I will be preaching from, please make use of one of the pew Bibles where you’ll find this passage located on page 11.

One of the unfortunate outcomes of humanity’s fall into sin is that we now often go through times of difficulty that are so great that we are not sure whether we are going to be able to withstand it. All of us journey through seasons of life where we feel like we are being mistreated, or where we feel like our struggles are simply too much and unfair. Yes, somewhere along the journey through life we are going to know what it feels like to suffer and to be alone and isolated—abandoned by our friends and maybe, it may seem, even by God. Too many of us will endure real abuse at the hands or mouths of others. We will all struggle through times of discouragement and deep sadness where we do not believe there is any hope that things will get better. And some of us will experience this sort of thing to a greater degree than others—going through terrible times of loss, distress, mistreatment, and suffering that are beyond what seems normal in this life. And the desperation that goes along with these trying and hopeless times cannot help but leave you distraught and discouraged and unsure about what to do or where to turn for help.

There is a company that has made a lot of money selling T-Shirts and other apparel with the slogan, “Life is Good.” But we all know, that in reality, there are seasons of life that are not so good but are very, very hard. There are seasons of life where it seems that all this company is selling is a lie. Because there are many occasions where no matter what we want to say, life is not good. In fact, there are many times in life where it is the opposite of good. And wearing a T-Shirt or a hat that says otherwise is not going to change the reality of the moment.

And, some of us, for reasons that we cannot understand, have had to endure more than their fair share of difficult and trying times. Yes, some of us have been asked by God to endure difficulties so great that the rest of us have a hard time even understanding what it must feel like to go through that kind of suffering. And that is one of the most difficult things about any kind of suffering in this life. Yes, one of the most difficult things about the struggles we face, is the feeling that we are facing them alone—not just the feeling, but the reality of it sometimes. If the suffering in and of itself isn’t difficult enough, the realization that no one else is even remotely aware of what you are going through, makes it practically unbearable.

And, at some point in our lives we will all feel this way. We will all say things like, “No one knows what I am going through, no one knows my pain, no one knows my difficulty, I am alone in this wilderness of despair and I am not sure that I can keep going.” And yes, sometimes it might even seem as if God himself has forgotten and abandoned us. Sometimes it might feel that not even he knows what we are going through. And, as terrible as this is to describe and consider, I suspect that there are probably some of us in this room today, who are feeling this way at this very moment.

And so, friend, if that is where you find yourself this morning, I want you to know that our passage for today’s sermon is for you. It is exactly what you need to hear in this season of your life. And, I want to encourage you, therefore, to pay careful attention to it so that you can find the comfort you need in the midst of your affliction.

So, let’s turn our attention now to God’s Word, which is the only place in this world where we can find true hope. If you haven’t done so already, please open your Bibles to Genesis 16, and follow along as I read from verses 7-16.

7 The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” 9 The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.”

11 And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction. He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”

13 So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.

15 And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram. (Genesis 16:7–16 ESV)

So this story picks up where we left off last Sunday. In last Sunday’s sermon we saw how Abram’s wife, Sarai, had decided to take matters into her own hands with regard to her inability to conceive and give birth to a child. Yes, although God’s promise to Abram about offspring so numerous that they would be as innumerable as the stars in the sky was also a promise to her, after ten years in Canaan, Sarai was beginning to doubt God’s promise. And, like Abram had done before, she was also beginning to come up with her own plan for a son. Last Sunday we saw that this plan involved her personal servant, Hagar. And we talked about how it was customary in that day for a wife to give a servant to her husband as a means to produce children for their family when she could not. And that is what Sarai had decided to do. She had decided to do what was normal and customary in her day—nothing scandalous—instead of continuing to trust in God and his promises.

Well, as we saw last week, this resulted in some strife within the family. Yes, once Sarai’s servant, Hagar, became the second wife of Abram and had conceived a child for him, she began to treat Sarai differently. In verse 4 from this chapter it says that she began to look at Sarai with contempt and disrespect. And, this frustrated Sarai, and made her angry not only with Hagar, but also with her husband, Abram. She was so angry about this in fact that she tells Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you!” (Genesis 16:5 ESV). And Abram, just trying to weasel out of the situation instead of actually dealing with it—like husbands often do—basically tells Sarai in verse 6, that Hagar’s behavior is not his problem to deal with, but her’s. He says, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please” (Genesis 16:6 ESV). In other words, “Whatever is going on between the two of you is not my problem. I’m not getting involved in this mess, you deal with it yourself.” And deal with it is exactly what Sarai did. From that point forward, Sarai began to treat Hagar harshly—so harshly, in fact, that Hagar fled away from Abram and Sarai out into the desert.

Now, because Hagar was pregnant and still took such drastic measures, we can infer that Sarai’s treatment of her must have been very, very bad. Pregnant women normally do whatever they can to protect the child they are carrying in their womb, and running off into the desert would not be something that she would have even considered unless she believed the desert was safer for her and her baby than what she was experiencing with Sarai.

So, this is a pretty crazy turn of events. Remember, all this was Sarai’s idea—it was her solution to her childlessness. Her original intentions were for Hagar to have this baby for Sarai to raise as her own. But now, this is where we are at. As I said last week, going against God’s plan always has unintended consequences. For Sarai it meant there would be no child for her. And for Hagar it meant terrible distress in the desert without much hope for herself or her baby. It seems like she was heading back to her home in Egypt, but the likelihood of a pregnant woman safely making that journey on her own, was slim to none. And that must have been what she was thinking when she stopped at this well we read about in verse 7. She was in a really bad situation. She had been treated harshly by her mistress—so harshly that she ran away in fear. And now, she is out in the desert all alone, without much hope, pregnant with a child, and desperate for some help. And while we cannot know exactly what was going on in her mind and in her heart, I imagine that she must not have felt all that different than the way we feel when we find ourselves in seasons difficulty that are so great that we are not sure whether or not we can bear it.

But, what I want us to see today, is that in the midst of her affliction, Hagar learns some things about God. Yes, she learns some things about God that will be of great encouragement to any of us who are in our own season of despair. Whether that means you have been mistreated, or are suffering through great difficulties where you feel all alone and maybe even abandoned by God, I believe this story of Hagar’s divine encounter in the wilderness will be comforting and encouraging to you. So let us take a look now at three things this passage teaches us about God.

God Seeks And Finds Us In Our Afflictions

Look back with me at verse 7. Here we see that the first thing Hagar learns about God in this passage, and the first thing we can learn from it as well, is that God seeks us out and finds us in our afflictions. Yes, notice in verse 7 how God sought out and found Hagar in her time of affliction. As we have already seen, Hagar had apparently come to a spring somewhere in the middle of the desert through which she was traveling. She was running away from the pain and troubles that had come about because of her pregnancy, and as she was taking a break at this spring of water, lo and behold along comes someone the Bible identifies as the angel of the LORD. That’s what we see in verse 7.

Now, the first question that ought to come to your mind at this point is: Who exactly is the angel of the LORD? Well, this phrase, “the angel of the LORD,” occurs fifty-eight times in the Old Testament1—this being the first. And the commentator Gordon Wenham tells us that “within Genesis, the angel of the LORD tends to appear at moments of dire personal crisis”2—like the one Hagar is going through in our passage for today.

Now, because both the Hebrew and Greek words we translate as “angel” can also mean messenger, and because in many instances it is clear that the angel of the LORD in a particular passage is just that—an angel sent by God to deliver a message from God—many people believe that the “angel of the LORD” Hagar encounters at this spring was merely an angelic messenger sent from God to help Hagar. But, based on what I see further down in this passage, and based on what I see elsewhere in the Old Testament, I think there is more going on here than that. Yes, I tend to agree with those who believe that the angel of the LORD Hagar speaks with here is more than just a messenger from God, but “God himself appearing in human form.”3 And one of the main reasons I believe this is true here is because if you look down to verse 13, you can see that this is exactly the impression Hagar took away from this encounter. There we see how Hagar believes that she has seen God himself on this day. That was her understanding when she walked away from this encounter—she believed that she had heard from God himself on this day.

So this brings us back to the first thing this passage teaches us about God. Yes, why did Hagar encounter God on this day? Well, because according to verse 7, God “found her by a spring of water in the wilderness.” She did not find him there. He found her there. He sought her out.

Often we talk about someone “finding God,” don’t we? We say something like, “Yeah, Joe went through a really rough time a few years back, but in the middle of the mess he found God and has completely turned his life around now.” But, I want you to know, that is not the way it works. The Bible tells us that it is God who seeks out his lost sheep and rejoices when he finds them. And, if anyone finds themselves looking for God, it is only because he was first looking for them. They were only responding like a lost sheep who hears its shepherd’s voice calling. And, the truth is, we sometimes hear God’s voice best in our times of affliction.

So, if you are in deep despair today, I don’t want you to lose hope. I want you to believe that God still seeks us out in our times of affliction. He does not leave us to go through it alone. You might go through it alone for a while, but he will seek you out. He will find you in your wilderness of despair. That is the first thing this passage teaches us about God. While it may take longer than we’d like, he does seek us out and find us in our affliction.

God Is Aware Of Our Pain

Now, the second thing this passage teaches us about God is that God is always aware of our pain. Yes, he hears and pays attention to our cries of affliction. He sees and knows about our suffering. That doesn’t mean that he is going to take it away, but it does mean that he is aware.

Notice, that after asking Hagar in verse 8, where she has come from and where she is going, the angel of the LORD tells Hagar to return to Sarai—again our encounters with God do not mean that our trouble is going to go away. In fact, in this case, Hagar is instructed to walk right back toward the thing she was running from. She is told in verse 9 to “Return to your mistress and submit to her.”

But along with this command comes a promise. And the promise is similar to the promise God had made to Abram. The promise found in verse 10 goes as follows: The angel of the LORD says, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” And in verse 11, he continues by telling Hagar that she is pregnant with a son, and then proceeds by giving her son a name. And I want you to notice what that name means. In verse 11 the angel of the LORD says, “You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction.”

Friends, God hears us when we cry. He hears our hearts when they are breaking. He is aware of what we are going through. And not just because he hears, but also because he sees. Look with me again at verses 13 and 14. In these verses Hagar takes it upon herself to give God a name. Verse 13 says, “So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing.” Yes, after this encounter with God, she knows that God has been aware of her suffering and she thus calls him, “The God Who Sees.”

Yes, brothers and sisters, God is listening when we cry out in distress and pain. He sees what we are going through. He is not a God who set the world in motion and is now busy doing something else, unable to pay us any attention. No, I want you to understand today that God hears our cries, he sees our suffering, and he pays attention. Even though our suffering may not come to an end, God is aware of what we are going through. And eventually, he will seek us out. And eventually, he will bring our suffering to an end.

Our Afflictions Are Often The Place Where We Can See God Most Clearly

Now, the final thing we learn about God from this passage, is that our seasons of affliction are often the place where we can see God most clearly. This is hard truth. But it is true. While we’d rather encounter God on one of those mountain top experiences, the truth is it is often when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death that we become most aware of God and his presence in our lives. That is exactly what happened with Hagar.

God not only heard the cries from her broken heart. He not only saw the struggles she was going through. He not only sought her out and found her in her wilderness of despair. But, he also used her time of affliction as an opportunity to reveal himself to her. And that is often what God does.

Notice what Hagar says at the end of verse 13. She says, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” Truly here—in this terrible desert of despair—I have SEEN him who looks after me. Friends, sometimes is not until we are knocked to our knees in despair that we become capable of seeing God at work in our lives. Sometimes we must go through seasons of real pain to realize that God truly is looking after us and caring for us. And while we never ought to seek out pain and suffering, we may look back on it one day as a true blessing—a true blessing from God that he used a terrible time in our life to make himself known to us in a way that would not have been possible apart from terrible pain and affliction. Yes, it is often those who have suffered the most, who know God best.

Conclusion

So, if you were expecting or hoping to hear about Hagar and Ishmael and Islam and all that sort of stuff today, that was obviously not my focus. Instead I chose to focus on what this passage is focused on—God’s grace and compassion that is often experienced most clearly in times of deep pain and suffering. And my hope today, particularly for those of you are suffering in serious ways, is that you would not leave here believing that God has abandoned you in your affliction, but believing that God might be using your affliction to reveal himself to you. He is God who hears your cries. He is a God who sees your suffering. He is a God who seeks you out and reveals himself to you in your affliction.

And friend, the first thing you ought to notice when you see God in your affliction, is that he has suffered too. He has suffered as a father who watched his one and only son die an undeserved death on the cross. He has suffered in the person of Jesus Christ—suffering in all the ways that we suffer as human beings on this earth, culminating in the terrible suffering he endured in our place as he hung on a tree.

Friends, God has heard our cries. He has seen our suffering. And he has put on human flesh, become one of us, to seek and save the lost. He knows what it is like to suffer, and he knows what it is like to be abandoned by his friends, and he knows what it is like to feel abandoned by God. Remember, Jesus too cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 ESV). Brothers and sisters, you are not alone in your deepest and darkest moments of despair. You have a Savior who has been there too. He knows your pain. He has felt it for himself.

So let me conclude today by reminding you that no matter what you are going through, and no matter how alone you seem to be in the midst of it, God is there. And because of Jesus Christ, we can have hope for a day where there will be no more suffering, no more sadness, and no more tears. He has not abandoned you in the desert, but he has entered into the desert himself to find you and deliver you. And, he has promised to remain with you on the rest of your journey—a journey that he has guaranteed will end with happiness and joy beyond anything you can imagine. That is why the Apostle Paul could say that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” when Jesus returns (Romans 8:18). You may be enduring something terrible today, my friend. But I want you to know that Jesus is coming soon. And that is the hope we have as Christians. And it is a hope that not even our deepest pain and suffering can take away.

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  1. Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16–50, vol. 2 of Word Biblical Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 9. ↩︎
  2. Wenham, 9. ↩︎
  3. Wenham, 9. ↩︎