She was young and pregnant. Though the father of the baby was a very good and wealthy man, he would not have been her choice. He was, after all, quite elderly and she…well, she was his wife’s maid.
In a plot reminiscent of daytime talk shows, it was the man’s wife who had begged him to impregnate her young maid! Yes, it is true! The elderly couple had always imagined they would have many children, even believing this to be God’s desire as well. And, yet, the years had flown by, and now they were very old, and alas, still childless.
If, the wife reasoned, her husband was to produce a child with her maid, they could raise it as their own, and their dreams would at last be fulfilled! So they had approached her with their request. The elderly mistress had expressed her affection for the girl, assuring her that all her needs and even desires would be met. What a gift she would be giving them! They would be forever grateful, the child would never want for anything, and the maid would now be part of the family!
Though it sounds preposterous, this was indeed the agreement to which they had eventually come. And now, just a few short months later, Hagar found herself at a place she never expected to be; sitting in the desert beside a fountain of water; pregnant, homeless, weeping.
At the beginning, excitement and joy had reigned in Sarai’s tent! The beautiful elderly lady she served had treated her with the utmost love and tenderness. But once the girl had conceived, the situation began to change dramatically. Hagar began to look at her mistress with contempt. After all, it was she who had conceived; not Sarai! Was she actually expected to carry this baby in her womb for nine months and then become its nursemaid instead of mother? Would she really relinquish it to this elderly couple to raise? Already she could feel this tiny life moving within her womb, and it had sparked feelings she had not expected! And as her strong love and tenderness grew for the baby she carried, she became increasingly miserable. Her pain began to manifest as anger and contempt towards her mistress who intended to take this child from her arms at birth. She could barely stand even to look at Sarai anymore, much less hold a civil conversation. And as Hagar’s behavior towards Sarai deteriorated, so did Sarai’s patience with her. Baby or no baby, she would NOT have her maid treat her in such a way!
She complained to her husband, laying the blame squarely on his shoulders. Yes, it was true that she had given her maid to him in order to produce a child, but the relationship was to end there! How could he not protect his wife against the insolence that she was enduring from her maid! She had imagined that they would live blissfully together, both before and after the baby’s birth. Now she could see that this would not be so! The baby would always be looked upon as Abram and Hagar’s child, not Abram and Sarai’s, as was intended. When she confronted her husband, he had reminded her that Hagar was not a mistress, nor was she a concubine; she was Sarai’s maid. As such, Sarai could deal with her as she saw fit. So Sarai treated the girl harshly, letting her know that she, Sarai, was still Abram’s wife, and not Hagar.
So it was, that this morning the girl could take no more of the severe treatment, and had run away into the desert. And now hungry, tired, frightened, angry, and confused, she sat by a fountain of water, head in hands, sobbing.
It was at that moment that an angel appeared, startling her! “Hagar, maid of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” (Gen 16:8)
What? Had not the messenger of God just called her by name, even adding “maid of Sarai,” revealing that he already knew where she had come from? What, then, was the purpose of the question? Where had she come from? She had come from the tents of Abram and Sarai where God had placed her. Where was she going? Hmmm. Well, that was a much more difficult query. Did she even know the answer? She hadn’t even considered it before she left. She had gone into the desert, headed – away. There had been no “to” in her thought process! And now she wondered, if the God of Abram had sent her away at this time, or if she had run away on her own? “Where have you come from and where are you going?” Profound questions indeed.
Jacob, (Ya’akov in Hebrew), you may recall, encountered an angel as well, who, interestingly, also had a question. “What is your name?” (Gen 32:27). Since it is unlikely that the messenger of God did not know with whom he wrestled throughout the night, perhaps it would be profitable to study this question as well.
With very little investigation, we find that the Hebrew word translated as name is shem and means not only what you are called, but your “honor, authority, character.” Was the angel prodding Jacob/Ya’akov to consider what honor, authority, and character he had displayed up to that point? Ya’akov means “heel catcher, supplanter.” Ya’akov had come into the world holding onto the heel of his twin brother, Esau, and as an adult, had supplanted Esau in regards to birthright as well as family blessing. He truly was a “Ya’akov.”
After giving Ya’akov opportunity to review his honor, authority and character, the angel blessed him with a new name, Yisra’el, “prince of God” (sar-El) or “straight with God” (yashar-El). He “blessed” him with a NAME? Why not riches or power? Oh, but this blessing was a blessing indeed! Ya’akov had begun this wrestling match with “God and man” as heel catcher/supplanter, and had emerged transformed into straight with God! Additionally, during the battle, in the process of changing from Ya’akov/supplanter to Yisra’el/straight with El, he had been “injured,” ever after walking with a limp. Along with a character/name change had come a noticeable change in his walk as well.
And even before Ya’akov, and before Abram, we encounter a question asked of the first human, Adam. After the fall, with Adam and Chavah (Eve) hiding among the trees, we hear the first question ever uttered, recorded in Scripture. Where are you? (Gen 3:9) Is it even remotely possible that the omniscient Creator did not know where Adam was? Well then, what was the purpose of His question? Perhaps it was meant to cause Adam to consider something deeper than the address of the specific tree behind which he was currently hiding! Where indeed WAS Adam (spiritually), and what had lead him to “this” place? If he was supposed to be walking with God, then what had caused him to now be hiding from Him? Yes, Adam. Where indeed are you?
What are you doing here, was the question asked twice of Elijah as he hid in a cave at Horeb. Interestingly, Elijah had just experienced many miracles performed through him! He had brought a widow’s child back to life! He had seen not only his water-soaked sacrifice consumed by fire from heaven, but also the wood and the stones of the altar! He had slain 850 false prophets, and he had run faster than Ahab’s chariot all the way to Jezreel! Each step of the way, Yahweh/GOD had instructed him as to when and where to move, and He had sent people and even raven to feed him! The prophet had even stood before wicked Ahab without fear! And yet, amazingly and inexplicably, when Jezebel sent him a threatening message, he ran for 40 days and 40 nights and hid in a cave! Yes, Elijah definitely needed to consider just what he was doing there! (You can find the stories in 1 Kings 17 – 19.)
The question of where a person is, seems to be one of God’s most frequent queries. This perhaps would suggest that it is also one of the most important questions that we should be asking ourselves as well. Before we discover that we have wandered far off of the road that leads to Him, find ourselves frightened and concealed in a dark cave, crouched in the desert waiting to die, or hiding amongst the trees consumed with shame, perhaps we should do a Spiritual MapQuest check. It would be wise to enter our starting point and our desired destination into the spiritual search engine. Are we still on track? Where are we? Do we even realize we are hiding from our God and our Creator? Where have we come from and where are we going? Have we chosen a destination? What are we doing here? What happened that got us off track? What is our honor, authority, and character (our name)? Will we allow our authority, honor, character, and walk to be transformed?
Are we closer to our destination than we were before? Or have we wandered away without even realizing it? What IS our intended destination? Have we been distracted from our goal by beguiling serpents or threatening Jezebels? Has our supplanter nature kept us from finding or progressing to the right path? Or, like Hagar, have we become embroiled in an ill-conceived scheme that replaces God’s promise with man’s “solution?” Then, definitely, a “legal u-turn” is in order! We must make a course correction if we expect to reach our desired goal! What a tragedy if we should fail to check our progress until it is too late, and we have wandered too far away to have any hope of returning to the path that leads to Him and to life eternal!
Ah, the questions posed by Yahweh and His messengers; Where have you come from and where are you going? What is your honor, authority and character? Where are you? What are you doing here?
Would the answers compel us to confess our sins and return to the Father, allowing Him to cover our spiritual nakedness with His sacrifice, as was the case with Adam? Would we walk differently and allow our character to be changed as well as our walk, as did Ya’akov? Would we, like Hagar, find it necessary to backtrack, realizing that we had run away from the path on which the Master had placed us? Would we contemplate the miracles He has wrought through us, and on our behalf, and cease hiding in fear from a mere human as did Elijah, returning to our God-given assignment?
I am so grateful that we can petition our Master and King to teach us to listen to His questions. We can be grateful that He loves us so much that He will encourage us to examine where we are on our journey, and whether or not we are indeed still on the right path. Perhaps our prayer should be that when we have veered off course, we become faster and faster at making a course correction, returning to the narrow path He has set out for us. May we respond to His queries and confess our sins, return to Him, and trust Him for provision and miracles, as He guides us, feeding us from His hand each step of the way.
And during those periods of darkness on our journeys, when we find ourselves wrestling with Him, may He transform our honor, power, and character, as He did for Ya’akov, until we no longer wish to supplant Him, but will follow close behind, as He gives us a new walk. Oh, that He will give us the strength to wrestle through the spiritual darkness and ignorance until we have come into the spiritual light and understanding, and we can thereafter recall that place in our journey as “Piniel,” the place that we saw the face of El and our lives were preserved and transformed. Oh that we would resolve that, like Ya’akov, we will not let go of Him until He has blessed us with a new name and we are from that day forth Yashar-El (Israel) “Straight with El.”
May it be so!