Encouragement Series: God turns “what if” into a “so what!”

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God is in control. He commands us not to worry, we have no reason to fear. All of the “what ifs” that echo in our mind directly oppose how we have been told to live. God shuts that all down, He already conquered each and every one of those “what ifs”. Living life God’s way turns all of those situations into a “so what”! This series starts after Easter.

I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).

Cease meddling with God’s plans and will. If you touch anything of His, you mar the work. You may move the hands of a clock to suit you, but you do not change the time; so you may hurry the unfolding of God’s will, but you harm and do not help the work. You can open a rosebud but you spoil the flower. Leave all to Him. Hands down. Thy will, not mine. -Stephen Merritt

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7)

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The world would have us believe that there is a lot to worry about. We only need to watch the batch of commercials aired by any television station to see this- every one of those advertisements is designed to prey on an insecurity, a desire, or a fear.

What if I am weak? What if I get sick? What if I am embarrassed? What if people don’t like the way I look, or the car I drive, or the clothes I wear? What if I’m too tired to make it through the day? What if I am harassed by my peers, assaulted, or cooped up in a corner? What if I can’t afford to pay my bills, retire, take care of my family? What if…what if…what if? The “what-if”s are a long list. But one verse wipes every one of those “what-if”s away.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

The literal translation of this verse gives a startling emphasis to it, and makes it speak for itself with a force that we have probably never realized. Here it is: “Therefore I take pleasure in being without strength, in insults, in being pinched, in being chased about, in being cooped up in a corner for Christ’s sake; for when I am without strength, then I am dynamite.” -A.B. Simpson

God turns every “what if” into a “so what” because with Him- you are dynamite!

George Matheson, the well-known blind preacher of Scotland, said: “My God, I have never thanked Thee for my thorn. I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross; but I have never thought of my cross as itself a present glory.

“Teach me the glory of my cross; teach me the value of my thorn. Show me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbows.” -Streams in the Desert

The Bible is filled with examples of how God turns a “what if” into a “so what” and in this series we’ll read about a few of them. We’ll start with a shepherd who, with a few flat stones, slays a giant.

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You may have heard about David and Goliath, but let’s get to know them in greater detail, and let’s explore the conflict and how, through this conflict, the Bible teaches us the art of battling giants. We’ll all face them, giants who during our conflict appear to be more prepared, better positioned, and better protected. Here’s how it all began:

The events between David and Goliath are told in 1 Samuel 17. The conflict is between the Israelites, led by Saul, and the Philistines. Each group occupied a hill and the Valley of Elah lay between them. (1 Samuel 17:1-3). The Philistines had a front man, a huge warrior, a giant- and this giant was prepared for anything and anyone. The Israelites were in need of a plan because Goliath, this hulk of an opponent, had challenged them.

A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels;  on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him.

Who was Goliath? Matthew Henry writes “He was of the sons of Anak, who at Gath kept their ground in Joshua’s time (Josh. 11:22), and kept up a race of giants there, of which Goliath was one, and, it is probable, one of the largest.”

How tall was Goliath? David records his height at “six cubits and a span”, which is 9 feet, 9 inches. He was tall. You knew when he was coming. The ground probably shook when he walked. He was so tall he had a vantage point that was unchallenged.

What did Goliath’s armor include?   Art, as well as nature, made him terrible. He was well furnished with defensive armor (1 Sam. 17:5, 6): A helmet of brass on his head, a coat of mail, made of brass plates laid over one another, like the scales of a fish; and, because his legs would lie most within the reach of an ordinary man, he wore brass boots, and had a large plate of brass about his neck. The coat is said to weigh 5000 shekels, a vast weight for a man to carry, all the other parts of his armor being proportionate. But some think it should be translated, not the weight of the coat, but the value of it, was 5000 shekels; so much it cost. His offensive weapons were extraordinary, of which his spear only is here described, 1 Sam. 17:7. It was like a weaver’s beam. His arm could manage that which an ordinary man could scarcely heave. His shield only, which was the lightest of all his armor, was carried before him by his esquire, probably for state; for he that was clad in brass little needed a shield. (Adapted from Matthew Henry, Commentary)

So Goliath was tall, foreboding, and equipped to do terrible damage to his opponent. He was challenging the Israelites. Twice a day for 40 days, Goliath came out between the battle lines and challenged the Israelites to send out a champion of their own to fight him and decide the outcome of this conflict.

The problem? Well, the Israelites do not happen to have a 10 foot tall armor clad giant in their camp, and they are afraid. In fact 1 Samuel 17:24 says “Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.” The Israelites fled in great fear- full of “what if”s: “what if Goliath leads an army to trample us?” “what if we have no one to fight Goliath and we fall to the Philistines?” “what if we never get off this hill?”

Joshua 1 9

So there they were, Saul Israelites on one side of the Valley of Elah and the Philistines on the other. Goliath, the 9 foot tall giant beckoning from the Philistine camp, challenging the Israelites to  a one one one fight to end the conflict, and the Israelites had no one to send to accept that challenge. Who can stand?

Along came David, a young shepherd boy who was sent by his father to deliver food to his brothers, soldiers in the Israelite camp.

He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry.  Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other.  David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were.  As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it.  Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear. (1 Samuel 20-24)

Goliath surely made the Israelites feel small as he towered over them, taunting them, challenging them to a fight that they were not prepared for and did not believe they would win.

When uncertainties make you feel small, remember that God is more than just a friendly ally. He is a trusted warrior who will go out ahead and battle your giants. As you grow in your faith and in grace, he will conquer your insecurities about your looks and abilities as you grow to realize that you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). He will conquer your lack of confidence in conversation by giving you the proper words to say through his Holy Spirit. He will fill you with security by giving you his righteousness. Then, when you’ve walked through the challenge, you’ll know it was God who won the war, and you can give him all the glory. (NIV Women’s Study Bible)

Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.” (1 Samuel 17:25)

Who will stand? The king offered a pretty enticing award; riches, prestige, a beautiful wife, and no obligation to pay taxes. It’s almost as if you can hear the carnival music, “step right up and  slay this giant and claim your prize”. It was a top row prize too! Remember the top row of the carnival booths, where all the full size stuffed animals were? Remember walking around the circus or carnival and seeing someone carrying a 6 foot tall giraffe and wondering what feat they had accomplished to win such a trophy?

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David clarifies the offer of what the man who defeats Goliath will receive, and the men around him confirm that “The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel” (1 Samuel 17:25).

David’s older brother Eliab overhears the conversation and lashes out at David, accusing him of leaving the few sheep that their family owned alone in the wilderness while he came down to gawk and watch the battle. David again asks for clarification as to the reward for conquering Goliath and again the men tell him. Saul gets wind of David’s presence and questions and sends for him (1 Samuel 17:26-30)

 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” (1 Samuel 17:31)

 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” (1 Samuel 17:32)

David had no martial arts training, no prize fighter skills, no body armor. David was a boy, and Goliath was a man who had been a “warrior from his youth”. David had no credentials, authority, or business fighting Goliath, or did he?

 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock,  I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.  Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.  The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.” (1 Samuel 17:34-37)

David was armed with the strength of the Lord, who had rescued him from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear. David took back his sheep from the lion and the bear. He fought forces much stronger than he was for what he knew belonged to him. David stood up, and fought for justice- for his property, for his life, and now for God.

David isn’t embarrassed to tell Saul that he is a shepherd. David owns who he is, he is authentic and truthful. David tells Saul that his credentials, his authority, and his business in fighting Goliath is the Lord. David says “so what” to the obvious “what if”s that Goliath represents. What if my adversary is better trained than I am? What if my adversary is better equipped than I am? What if my adversary has a better position that I do? What if my own supporters turn against me? And David says “so what”.

Notice the characteristics of David that he shares with Jesus? David is a good shepherd. He takes care of the sheep, protects them, and is willing to lay down his life for them. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). David is a young man, from humble means. He faces adversity, and mocking; in the case of David from his brothers. He really has no visible qualifications or distinctions to take on the task before him, but does so because of his faith in God. David stands up.

David knows that Goliath is no match for the strength of the Lord, regardless of his size, stature, or warrior training.  Tomorrow we’ll read about how David prepares to fight his giant, and I can’t wait to share with you the part about the armor!

So, let our faith be more than anthems
Greater than the songs we sing
And in our weakness and temptations
We believe. -Lyrics from We Believe by the Newsboys

Philippians 4 13

David, a shepherd boy, has called out Goliath, a 9 foot tall Philistine warrior, and agreed to fight him based on his faith in God, who has protected him from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear (1 Samuel 17:34-37).

Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head.  David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them (1 Samuel 17:39).

David has no earthly preparation or protection for this battle with Goliath. He was not a trained and skilled warrior. He did not have body armor or a shield carrying front man, like Goliath did. So Saul dresses David for the battle, suiting him up in Saul’s own tunic and a coat of armor and bronze. But David stumbles around in these items because he isn’t used to them.

Remember the first time you put on roller skates? Trying to stay upright, trying to move forward, feeling like your feet and legs might betray you at any time. Now imagine going in that same condition to run a marathon. It’s ridiculous. And that’s that situation David was in.

Saul likely rattled off a host of “what if”s: “What if Goliath tackles you?” “What if he hits you with his club? Or his hands? Or kicks you with his enormous feet?” “What if you get pummeled by his shield carrying front man?” “What if, what if, what if”. And David answers with a resounding “So what”. “So what if Goliath comes at me, I am armed with the armor of the Lord”.

Saul believed that David needed this earthly protection, but David knew better. David knew that earthly protection is not needed in a battle fought by God. David takes off the worldly gear and decides to be himself.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off.  Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine (1 Samuel 17:40).

Those that aim at things above their education and usage, and covet the attire and armor of princes, forget that that is the best for us which we are fit for and accustomed to; if we had our desire, we should wish to be in our own coat again, and should say, “We cannot go with these;” we had therefore better go without them (Matthew Henry).

Proverbs 21

David, the shepherd boy, rejected worldly armor and protected with spiritual armor approached Goliath, a 9 foot tall warrior.

Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David.  He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him.  He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.  “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!” (1 Samuel 17:41)

David proclaims his authority and continues toward Goliath.

David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.  All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that theLord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” (1 Samuel 17:45-48)

David rushed toward his opponent. He didn’t pause, hesitate, or stand still. David ran quickly to the battle line, sure of himself and the protection of the Lord over him. And without any hesitation, David uses his only weapon, a stone.

As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him.  Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. (1 Samuel 17:48-51)

David teaches us:

  • That God uses who He calls. In this case a shepherd boy.
  • That God empowers those He calls with what they need. In this case, a flat stone.
  • That God uses us best when we remain authentic- true to who we really are. In this case, David rejected worldly armor and walked right up to the giant with a sling and a rock.

Who will you choose to listen to? Will you listen to the voice of your peers, who tell you that you have no authority? Or the voice of leaders, who tell you that you have no protection for what you are about to do? Or the voice of the giant, who laughs at you and taunts you? Or, will you listen to the Voice of Truth, who says “do not be afraid”? Choose to listen and believe the Voice of Truth and boldly approach your giant.

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Goliath, despite all of his warrior training, his towering presence, his suit of armor, and his strength, was no match for this battle. David’s rock, propelled by a slingshot and directed by God, hit Goliath on the head and takes him out. Giant down.

See how frail and uncertain life is, even when it thinks itself best fortified, and how quickly, how easily, and with how small a matter, the passage may be opened for life to go out and death to enter. (Matthew Henry)

David completes Goliath’s slaying by cutting off Goliath’s head with his own sword. David had no use for a sword in the battle, and didn’t bring one of his own. His triumph was marked by using his enemy’s sword. David is more than a conqueror.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:37).

David’s victory over Goliath was typical of the triumphs of the son of David over Satan and all the powers of darkness, whom he spoiled, and made a show of them openly (Col. 2:15), and we through him are more than conquerors (Matthew Henry)

What happened to the Philistines, who relied wholly upon the strength of their champion?

Matthew Henry explains “When they saw him slain, they did not, as Goliath had offered, throw down their arms and surrender themselves servants to Israel (1 Sam. 17:9), but took to their heels, being wholly dispirited, and thinking it to no purpose to oppose one before whom such a mighty man had fallen: They fled (1 Sam. 17:51), and this put life into the Israelites, who shouted and pursued them (David, it is probable, leading them on in the pursuit) even to the gates of their own cities, 1 Sam. 17:52. In their return from the chase they seized all the baggage, plundered the tents (1 Sam. 17:53), and enriched themselves with the spoil.”

So while the Philistines were fleeing, running screaming for the hills, what happened to David?

Matthew Henry writes ” He brought the head of the Philistine to Jerusalem, to be a terror to the Jebusites, who held the strong-hold of Sion: it is probable that he carried it in triumph to other cities. His armour he laid up in his tent; only the sword was preserved behind the ephod in the tabernacle, as consecrated to God, and a memorial of the victory to his honour, 1 Sam. 21:9. 5. The notice that was taken of David. Though he had been at court formerly, yet, having been for some time absent (1 Sam. 17:15), Saul had forgotten him, being melancholy and mindless, and little thinking that his musician would have spirit enough to be his champion; and therefore, as if he had never seen him before, he asked whose son he was. Abner was a stranger to him, but brought him to Saul (1 Sam. 17:57), and he gave a modest account of himself, 1 Sam. 17:58. And now he was introduced to the court with much greater advantages than before, in which he owned God’s hand performing all things for him.”

David was a shepherd, a psalmist, and a commander. David lived a life filled with complexities and a hunger for God. Dr. Charles Stanley explains:

Shepherd: David was anointed king long before commanding anything other than sheep (1 Sam. 16:1-13). Protecting the sheep was a job he took seriously, even killing a lion and a bear to do so. During those days, he learned to be strong and brave, and to take care of creatures weaker than himself. An early life of obedience to his human father taught him the humility he would later need in order to depend on God.

Psalmist: David’s writings reveal his hunger for God. He is open about issues like fear, depression, defeat, loneliness, and sorrow. By describing valley experiences and communing with the Father in the night watches, David provided us with intimate glimpses of the God he knew so well.

Commander: Starting with David’s encounter with Bathsheba, the king’s life was plagued by heartache, pain, suffering, and conflict. David had sinned greatly, but God forgave him and continued to use him. He ruled Israel for 40 years, and his people called Jerusalem the “City of David.” His restoration teaches us about the consequences of sin and the limitlessness of God’s grace.

We’ll visit David again later in the series and learn more about the trial David faces with Saul. That story is packed with sword throwing, attempted murder, trials, and tribulations. Up next, Hagar, one of the most interesting women in the Bible, will show us that nothing is impossible with God.

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Who was Hagar? Hagar represents every woman. Every woman who has felt rejected, insecure, and overwhelmed. Every woman who has loved and lost. Every woman who has felt like she is going it alone, trekking an uncharted path, and fearful of an uncertain future. And like every woman, Hagar is loved by God, and provided for by God. Even when she doesn’t ask, even when her faith has run out, and her spirit is waning, and she is sure that it is the end of the road for her- at that very moment, Grace shows up and changes everything!

Hagar was an Egyptian slave girl, who belonged to Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Sarah offered Hagar to her husband as a surrogate after she was unable to conceive. Hagar and Abraham conceived Ishmael, who God promised would be the ancestor of a great nation.

Hagar, a slave, childless in a society that valued mothers, had nothing of any value and a bleak future. A pregnant Hagar runs away from Sarah, who mistreats her, and is visited by an angel who clarifies the direction she should be taking. Grace showed up, defined Hagar’s path, and Hagar served God. God used Hagar, a poor Egyptian slave girl, to give birth to Ishmael.

Hagar and Ishmael remain with Abraham’s tribe until Ishmael is a teenager at which point they are freed by Abraham. Abraham frees Hagar and Ishmael because Abraham’s covenant with God made it clear that God had other plans for Ishmael.

Hagar and Ishmael wander the desert after being freed by Abraham. They run out of food and water and Hagar, not wanting to witness his death sends him ahead of her. As she is weeping God sends an angel to Hagar.

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.  Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” (Genesis 21:17).

Not only does God provide for Hagar and Ishmael, but He takes them to places they had never imagined.

But let’s start at the beginning; Hagar’s early days and her thoughts of “what if I don’t belong?”.

Hagar was so loved in her Father’s eyes…and so are you!

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The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. (Genesis 16:7)

The angel meets Hagar near a spring of water in the desert. It is an exceptional meeting in a coveted location (water in the desert). The angel meets Hagar with words of encouragement that quench Hagar’s thirst. God is the water of life.

“…but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

The angel’s annunciation to Hagar is similar to announcements to Hannah, to the mother of Samson, and to Mary the mother of Jesus: all would have children with special destinies, and all are addressed personally, not through their husbands. God’s request that Hagar become a slave again and return to be degraded by Sarai seems strange: why should God respect property rights over the freedom of persons? This is particularly odd, considering the legal code of Israel, which, alone among ancient law systems, specified that runaway slaves should not be returned to their masters (Deut 23:16). But the angel’s speech here parallels God’s speech to Abram in Gen 15:13, which states that his children would be enslaved and degraded before their redemption. Both passages use the key terms that Israel uses to describe the Egypt experience. Hagar, the slave from Egypt, foreshadows Israel, the future slaves in Egypt. Her very name, Hagar, could be heard as hagger, meaning “the alien”; Hagar is an alien in Abram’s household as Israel will be aliens, gerim, in a foreign land. Hagar is to be degraded as Abram’s descendants will be degraded, and YHWH has “given heed to affliction” as God will hear the affliction of Abram’s descendants. (Tikva Frymer-Kensky)

Hagar is Abram’s counterpart. God speaks directly to her, forging a relationship independent of God’s relationship with Abram, and she responds in that way. She names God (“You are El-roi,” meaning “the one who sees me”; Gen 16:13) and the place (Beer-lahai-roi, “the well of the Living One who sees”; Gen 16:14) and then goes back to Abram’s household and bears a son, whom Abram (not Sarai) names Ishmael. (Tikva Frymer-Kensky)

Hagar’s time in the desert isn’t over, her trials and struggles continue, and she is visited by an angel again.

In the loneliest places
When I can’t remember what grace is
Tell me, once again who I am to You, who I am to You. -Lyrics from Remind My Who I Am

El Roi

Hagar this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13)

Who was Hagar and how did this “surrogate” relationship between Hagar, Sarai (Sarah), and Abram (Abraham) come about?

Hagar is Sarai’s Egyptian slave girl, whom Sarai (later Sarah) gives to Abram (later Abraham) as a wife who would bear a child that would be considered Sarai’s (Gen 16:3). Although it bears a resemblance to modern technological surrogate motherhood, this custom may seem bizarre. However, cuneiform texts of the second and first millenniab.c.e. attest to this custom in ancient Mesopotamia. (Tikva Frymer-Kensky)

As an Egyptian slave girl, Hagar was property. Forcefully separated from her family and her home she became property. She had no rights and relied on Sarai and Abram for even her basic needs. As a slave she became invisible, and became the victim of a crazy plan to give Abram child.

Was this “surrogate” role that Hagar was cast normal for the time?

The first such text, from the Old Assyrian colony in Anatolia, dates from around 1900b.c.e. A marriage contract, it stipulates that if the wife does not give birth in two years, she will purchase a slave woman for the husband. The most famous text, in the Code of Hammurabi (no. 146), concerns the marriage of a naditu, a woman, attached to a temple, who is not allowed to bear children. Her husband has the right to take a second wife, but if she wishes to forestall this, she can give her husband a slave. In the world of the ancient Near East, a slave woman could be seen as an incubator, a kind of womb-with-legs. (Tikva Frymer-Kensky)

How does Hagar see herself in the relationship?

Sarai and Abram see Hagar in this role and never call her by name. She, however, sees herself as a person and, once pregnant, does not see Sarai as superior; “she looked with contempt on her mistress” (Gen 16:4). With Abram’s permission, Sarai regains authority over Hagar. She “degrades her” (NRSV, “dealt harshly with her”), possibly by treating her as an ordinary slave (Gen 16:6). The Hammurabi laws acknowledge the possibility that the pregnant slave woman might claim equality with her mistress, and they allow the mistress to treat her as an ordinary slave (law 146). This seems to be what Sarai is doing. However, Hagar is not passive. (Tikva Frymer-Kensky)

What does Hagar do?

Rather than submit, she runs away to the wilderness of Shur, where she meets God’s messenger, who tells her to return to submit to Sarai’s abuse for then she will bear a son who will be a “wild ass of a man” (Gen 16:12). Just as the wild ass was never domesticated, so too Hagar’s son would never be subject to anyone, and would live “with his hand against everyone” and “in everyone’s face” (Gen 16:12). (Tikva Frymer-Kensky)

In the wilderness, Hagar becomes the only person in Scripture to name God. And the name this seemingly invisible slave girl gives God is “El-Roi”, which means“the God who sees.”

God sees Hagar, right in her circumstances, right in her weakness, right in her desperation. He not only sees Hagar, He sends a messenger to her to encourage her and give confirmation about the direction she should take. From her crisis of faith Hagar becomes the only person in the Scripture to name God- what a powerful honor He gave to Hagar. God chose Hagar, a servant with no rights and no identity to be the person in the Bible to give Him a name. Wait until you see what else God chooses Hagar for!

Lord, restore the joy I had
I have wandered, bring me back
In this darkness, lead me through
Until all I see is You. -Lyrics from Soul on Fire, by Third Day

Romans-8-28

God loves Hagar and Ishmael and He has a plan for them, just as He has a plan for each of our lives.

Hagar and Ishmael are freed at Sarai’s instigation (Gen 21:9–14). Here too their destiny is parallel to later Israel’s, for the newly freed slaves head to the desert and struggle with thirst. God then saves the dying Ishmael, not because of Hagar’s cries or God’s promises to Abram, but because God heard Ishmael’s voice (Gen 21:15–21). God’s relationship with Hagar is resealed with her son, as God’s relationship with Abram is resealed with Isaac and his son Jacob. (Tikva Frymer-Kensky)

Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away after Isaac was weaned (around age 2-3, making Ishmael approximately 16), according to God’s command. At that time, God repeated His promise that Ishmael would father a great nation. Hagar was in the desert and near death when the angel of God called to her, saying, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation” (Genesis 21:17-18).

Like Jacob, Ishmael has twelve sons. Hagar is the ancestor of these twelve tribes of Ishmael (Gen 25:12–15). She may also be the ancestor of the Hagrites, tent dwellers mentioned along with Ishmaelites in Ps 83:7 (see also 1 Chr 5:10; 27:30). (Tikva Frymer-Kensky)

Hagar was a princess, a slave, and a symbol of women who persevere through extraordinary trials and tribulations. Ishmael was born of an illegitimate union, abandoned by his father and sent into the desert, and became a leader in spite of what some would say were shortcomings. Hagar and Ishmael lived above their circumstances, all because God had a plan and Grace showed up.

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes. -Lyrics from 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman

God provides

For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:37)

Hagar was a princess, a slave, and a symbol of women who persevere through extraordinary trials and tribulations. Ishmael was born of an illegitimate union, abandoned by his father and sent into the desert, and became a leader in spite of what some would say were shortcomings. Hagar and Ishmael lived above their circumstances, all because God had a plan and Grace showed up.

Hagar struggles, as we all do. Hagar’s circumstances are sorrowful- she is a slave, loses her family, is abused, has a child under less than ideal circumstances, is abandoned by her son’s father, and left to wander the desert with her son unsure of how she will ever provide for the two of them. Hagar faces disappointment, is insecure about her future, and fears for the safety of her son. We have all been to to these places on our own journeys. But God has His eye on Hagar, as He does all of us; and God provides for Hagar and Ishmael just as He does for us. You may feel alone, as Hagar did, but God knows exactly where you are and He has a plan for your life.

Many observations can be made regarding the story of Sarah and Hagar. First, God can and often does work through ways that appear unlikely from a human perspective. Abraham miraculously became a father at age 86 and again at age 99. Isaac’s mother, Sarah, was barren. God’s promise to Abraham did not depend on human strength, and with God nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37). God used a seemingly impossible situation to make Abraham the father of the Jewish people, just as He had predicted. (Adapted from NIV Commentary, John Walton)

It is clear from this story that God works despite misguided human effort. Sarah had no business offering her servant to Abraham, and Abraham had no business sleeping with Hagar. And Sarah was wrong to mistreat her servant as she did. Yet God worked through these situations. Hagar was blessed, and Abraham and Sarah were still the recipients of the promise. God’s mercy is great, and His sovereign will is accomplished regardless of human frailty. (Adapted from NIV Commentary, John Walton)

This unlikely family story is one readers would expect to end badly. Yet God kept His promise; Isaac became the son of promise through whom the tribes of Israel would arise. Hagar’s son, Ishmael, also became a great leader. Regardless of how a situation looks from a human perspective, God continues to work both to accomplish His will and to fulfill His promises. (Adapted from NIV Commentary, John Walton)

In Galatians 4, Paul uses the story of Sarah and Hagar to illustrate the results of two different covenants: the New Covenant, based on grace; and the Old Covenant, based on the Law. In Paul’s analogy, believers in Christ are like the child born of Sarah—free, the result of God’s promise. Those who try to earn their salvation by their own works are like the child born of Hagar—a slave, the result of human effort. (Adapted from NIV Commentary, John Walton)

Never once were Hagar and Ishmael alone, never once. God had His hand on them, and He has his hand on you. Can you relate to Hagar? To her journey, her struggles, her crisis of faith? Can you see yourself in her struggles?

“Standing on this mountain top
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us
Kneeling on this battleground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful.” -Lyrics from Never Once by One Sonic Society

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