The God Who Sees Me (Genesis 16)
Invisible. Overlooked. Inferior.
I sit alone in the tent of slaves, trying to prepare myself for the day. Work. Unrelenting, overwhelming. I am no one.
I rise slowly and drink stale water from a jug. The old woman gets angry if I am slow. So I hurry in the darkness to the well. I climb down the uneven mud steps and draw fresh water for her and the old man.
I arrive at the tent. Good. They still sleep. I set my jug down and get to work on the bread, taking the barley I ground yesterday and mixing up a loaf.
The old man enters the tent. Where has he been? I wonder for a moment. Normally he sleeps later than the woman. But he looks as if he hasn’t slept at all.
“Sarai!” he calls. “Wake up! I’ve got news.”
The old woman stirs. She drags herself up and demands water from me. I pour a cup and return to my barley loaf. I start kneading.
“What is it?” she demands.
“Sarai,” he says. I notice his voice shaking with excitement. “God spoke to me last night! He said I will have an heir of my own flesh! I will have a son! And God said my seed will be so numerous they will be uncountable, like the stars!”
I force the heel of my palm forward against the dough and pull it back. Turn. Push. Pull. Turn. I wonder if the old man is losing his mind.
Sarai speaks, “You know that Yahweh has kept me from bearing children.”
Turn. Push. Pull. Turn.
“Here. Take my slave. She’s young. She has a womb. Go into her that I may be built up through her.”
I stop kneading. I dare to look up. Both of them are staring at me, greed in their eyes. I look down, and my face is red and hot. “No,” I say to myself. I knead more furiously. They are delusional.
But that night I am taken to his tent. I do not know where the old woman is. When he is done, he tells me to leave. I stumble back to the slave tent. My thighs are wet with blood and his seed. My face is wet with tears. I don’t sleep.
Sometime later I know I am pregnant with his child. The way of women has ceased for me. My stomach rebels at the sight of food. And I am so tired.
She knows, too. She sees my exhaustion. She hears me retching, and I see triumph in her eyes.
But one night, I feel my baby flutter inside my womb. I feel hope for the first time. If it is a boy, he will be the old man’s firstborn. My son will inherit Abram’s wealth. And as the mother of the firstborn, I am now a wife, not just a slave. Ha! Who is triumphant now?
The next morning I view the old woman differently. I am the one who looks at her with triumph in my eyes. She sees me looking, and, in a fit of rage, runs to the old man screaming, “I gave that slave into your embrace, and now that she’s pregnant she looks at me with contempt. May Yahweh judge between you and me!”
I am stunned. This was her idea. She let him lay me for this. How could she feel wronged?
I hear him say, “Do to her the good in your eyes.”
What? He doesn’t care that I carry his baby in my womb? She beats me, screaming hateful, horrible things as she does. When she tries to hit my belly, I wrench myself away from her. I crawl, and when I gain control of my legs, I run.
I run blindly and wildly. I must get away. I must save my child. The night lasts forever, and I walk until I can no longer stand up. I collapse into the dust just as dawn arrives.
And I hear a voice.
“Hagar, slave of Sarai. Where are you going? Where have you come from?”
At first I think it must be someone sent by my oppressors to capture me. But I look around and see no one. The Sun God peaks his head over the horizon.
“I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress, Sarai,” I say to no one.
“Go back,” the voice says. “Submit yourself to affliction under her hand.”
I realize now that this must be the god of my oppressors. Only their god would be this cruel, like them. Only an oppressor god would tell me to go back and suffer.
But then the voice says,
“I will surely multiply your seed so that it cannot be counted because it is such a multitude.Look! You are pregnant and you will give birth to a son and you will call his name ‘God hears,’ for Yahweh has heard about your affliction.”
Multiply my seed? That is what this god told Abram! Abram said his seed would be innumerable. So will mine! And I am having a boy! And he will be named Ishmael, God hears!
The voice speaks again,
“Your son will be a wild ass of a man. His hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand will be against him. And he will live in opposition to his brothers.”
My son will be free and stubborn like a wild ass! He will be untamable. He will be under no one’s hand—no oppressor will afflict him. He will be strong and defiant and no one’s slave.
I hear these words, and for the first time in my life, I feel valued. This God sees me. I am not just a womb to be used. I am a mother of a nation.
In joy I cry out, “You are El Roi! You are the God who sees me!”
So, I return to my oppressors and their torment. But Ishmael is born and Abram loves him as his firstborn. I can’t know that more pain is on the horizon, but I realize that there is a God who knows my name. A God who is watching and listening. A God who has given me and my son a future.
My name is Hagar. I am known. I am seen. I am not alone.
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How many of us are invisible, overlooked, and treated as inferior in the church because of our gender or race? How many of us are seen only as laborers in the church, people relegated to “acceptable roles” but denied leadership? How many of us suffer oppression at the hands of those who think that, because of our gender or race, we are lesser beings who cannot serve God?
For women of all colors, Hagar’s story should be central to the canon. This narrative tells us that God is the God who sees us. God is the one who heeds our afflictions. While we may be invisible, overlooked, and treated as inferior by people in the church, God notices us. God is not hampered by prejudices. If God can make a patriarch out of an Egyptian woman, then God can transcend race and gender today.
Visible. Seen. Equal.
You are El Roi, the God who sees me.