God Sees You- Even When Nobody Else Does: Genesis 15-17, 21

Abraham, Sarah and Hagar

My husband, Brad, and I have been reading through a “Bible in a year” plan. It’s a Chronological study of the Bible, so we just finished Genesis, and I am always in awe of how God reveals more and more of himself to us as we spend time in his word- even when we are reading things that we have read many times before!

That was my experience reading the story of Abraham and Sarah this time around. I have spent the last year studying scripture and seeking the Lord, as he has been calling me to do more difficult, scary things that the culture around me doesn’t always want to accept. I am a woman in ministerial leadership, and unfortunately, the church as a whole, has not always been the kindest and most receptive to women stepping into the same callings that they encourage men to embrace.

It’s probably not a shock to hear that the culture that existed during Old Testament times was not super friendly to women. A woman’s value was found in sex. Coming to the marriage union as a virgin and then producing offspring- specifically sons- were the primary contributions that women made to society. This is a bit ironic to me, as someone who works in the world of pregnancy, because a mother always contributes an X chromosome during conception. It is the man who gives the second chromosome- either an X or a Y, determining the biological sex of a child. Of course, Abraham and his generations did not understand this, so this was a woman’s primary function. That brings us to “Father Abraham.”

Look, I know that Abraham is the father of Judaism. We call him, “Father Abraham,” and everyone sings his praises, but as I read through Genesis this year, I must confess: I wasn’t a fan. I know, I’m always the button-pusher, that’s probably going to get me burned at the stake, but this whole thing made me very uneasy.

So, we have Abraham, who is God’s chosen one, and he is interacting with God. God tells him that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars. Abraham is confused. I would be too- he has no children and he and Sarah are not exactly of reproductive age. God is telling him he’s going to have this extensive genealogy, but Abraham is thinking…my heir is currently one of my workers. This makes no sense, right? But God makes a covenant with him, and this is a huge deal. This is not just God telling Abraham that he will do something, he is sealing this commitment in blood. Abraham should have the full assurance that God will deliver.

But, here’s where it gets messy. Sometimes God gives us just enough information to make us antsy. That’s what happens here. Abraham now has this covenant with God, and he knows that he is to be this patriarch of many, but he also has one wife, and she is not young and she is not fertile. Sarah, his wife, is VERY aware of both of things. Can you imagine the level of insecurity, indignity, and discouragement she must have been experiencing? The one thing that her culture told her made her valuable was the one thing that she could not do. She had not, and there was no evidence that she could ever, produce offspring. I imagine she so desperately wanted this to be true for her husband, but the world around her had told her that she was less than. She had failed him. God had promised her husband this thing that SHE could not deliver on.

So rather than wait on the Lord, they took matters into their own hands. Hagar was Sarah’s servant, and she was essentially sex trafficked for the purpose of forced procreation. Yes, I know that sounds extreme. I know that is a pretty heavy accusation to levy against Father Abraham, but the reality is that if the exact same thing happened today, that is what we would call it. The difference is that this was not an unheard of practice in that day and age simply because women were seen as valuable mostly in terms of their sexual and reproductive contributions for the men around them. However, if we had a woman today, who was in a foreign place with no support system, completely dependent upon a couple with whom she lived, and that woman was told by the couple that she had to have sex with the man so that he could create a child, would we really consider that consensual sex and willing reproduction? Now let’s add into that equation that in Hagar’s case, she is not just a dependent woman, she is a servant- a slave. Let’s just get real here: There is no option to say no. On top of this, Sarah intends to CLAIM THIS CHILD AS HER OWN. In Genesis 16:2, Sarah tells Abraham, “Go in to my servant, it may be that I obtain children by her.” Guys. “I obtain children by her.”

So the plan here is quite literally to use Hagar sexually, then use her womb, then take possession of her baby and steal her motherhood as well.

This is FATHER ABRAHAM and his beloved wife SARAH, the mother and father of the Old Covenant. We put these two on such a pedestal, talking about their faithfulness and relentless pursuit of the Lord, and that is not wrong, but so many churches, teachers and pastors just completely overlook this part of the story. Or maybe they mention it, but they gloss over it as Abraham and Sarah not having enough faith. This is so much more than not having enough faith, though. Not only did they not have enough faith to wait on the Lord, but they were willing to exploit a woman- they were willing to exploit one created in the image of God himself, in order to pursue having “offspring that number the stars.”

It gets worse though.

So they do. Abraham has (non-consensual) sex with Hagar, and they produce a child- Ishmael. And Hagar is not stoked. It doesn’t seem like she WANTED to bear a child for her mistress…in fact the text says that she “looked at her with contempt” (Gen 16:4). Sarah doesn’t like this attitude- she wants Hagar to be celebrating this and she isn’t- so Sarah approaches Abraham about it. He tells her that since Hagar is her servant, she can deal with her as she sees fit. He’s done his duty. He had sex with her, he conceived the child, and now it is no longer his problem to deal with. And scripture tells us that she dealt so harshly with Hagar that this pregnant woman tried to flee, until an Angel of the Lord spoke to her and sent her back.

Here’s what I love though.

Even though Abraham and Sarah- God’s earthly representation- had mistreated Hagar, God SAW her. He heard her. In fact, In Genesis 16, after the Angel of the Lord tells Hagar to return to Abraham and Sarah, he assures her that she will have a son named Ishmael, because “the Lord has listened to your affliction.”

Did you catch that? God HEARD HER, when Nobody else heard her. God SAW HER, even when nobody else saw her. When his own beloved one, Abraham acted against her, GOD did not leave her, he did not forsake her and he never abandoned her. In fact, He promised her that her offspring would also be so numerous they could not be numbered. Ishmael was HERS. Not Sarah’s, but hers, and her offspring were to be so many that they could not be numbered.

God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who had chosen and made a covenant with Abraham, was assuring Hagar, the lowly, sex-trafficked, pregnant slave girl of this. I love it so much. So does Hagar. Can you imagine how validated she felt in that moment? The relief, the peace, the acceptance of just being seen and heard must have been overwhelming.

Sarah gave Hagar’s body away to be used.

Abraham used her.

Sarah rejected and mistreated her.

Abraham never defended her.

She was completely alone, and pregnant.

BUT GOD. He is the one who stays. He will never leave us, never forsake us, never abandon us.

Hagar goes back, and Sarah conceives Issac- a miraculous conception in and of itself. Evidence of God’s supernatural ability to deliver on his promises- a redeeming and validation of Sarah’s value. We learn that the covenant is meant to be carried by Issac, not Ishmael, as God’s promise was designed to exist within the context of His miraculous intervention and not of the exploitation of Hagar.

And Still yet, God never forgot Ishmael.

The story picks back up in Genesis 21, with Issac being weaned. Sarah is still bitter and unkind regarding Ishmael. I wonder, sometimes, what life must have been like for these two women trying to coexist, raising these boys with such contempt between them? It must have been so difficult to live in circumstances like that. The environment must have been fraught with tension because Sarah reaches her boiling point because the little boy, Ishmael, is laughing.

Y’all. That’s it. A little boy was laughing. And he was LITTLE. We’re later told that he was small enough that he was strapped to Hagar’s back. I’ve got three boys of my own at home- ages 12, 7 and 6. I could MAYBE handle having one of the little two strapped to my back for a short period of time. Maybe. Possibly. My 12 year old is taller and stronger than I am. A LITTLE BOY WAS LAUGHING.

And Sarah demands that they be cast out. CAST OUT INTO THE DESERT WILDERNESS. Can you imagine this situation? The incredulity? The helplessness of Hagar, when Abraham hands her some bread, a skin of water, her son and just sends her on her way out into the wilderness?

Genesis 21:13-16 is one of the most heart-wrenching texts for me to read in all of scripture. There are a few that really hit home for me, as a mother, and this is one of them. “When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, “Let me not look on the death of the child” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.”

Put yourself in Hagar’s shoes for a moment. Everyone has abandoned her. Everyone has betrayed both her and her son. She has been used, exploited, abused, mistreated, cast aside and now, cast out. She believes that they are both about to die, and she cannot bear the idea of watching her son die. Can you blame her? Abraham and Sarah forced her to create this child, whom she now dearly loves. A child she has raised, who has also been cast aside because now the favorite, the chosen one, Issac, has been born. She is so alone. She is so broken.

Genesis 21:17-20 goes on, “And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from Heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? (Seriously? Do you not see this hot mess?!) 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.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow…”

WOW. God heard the boy. What was the boy saying? He must have been praying for his mama. Children are so smart. He had to have known, seen and observed what was happening around him. This “wild boy,” with a tender heart, bending the ear of the Lord on behalf of his mama, changes the story.

And God is with them. God never leaves them. He walks right with them, hand in hand, step in step when the whole world and the entire culture was walking away, turning their backs on and exploiting them.

Abraham and Sarah failed Hagar and Ishmael. But God never did.

As I was reading, studying, praying over and processing this, I was reminded that the fullness of scripture is one big rescue story. It is the story of how God rescues us, bringing us from separation into relationship with him for all eternity. It’s the story of how much God loves us, and his long-term process of bringing us back to him.

So how does this particular story fit into the greater rescue story that IS scripture? Even God’s chosen ones are imperfect. Even Father Abraham failed in a huge, epic, awful way. Righteous, Faithful, Committed Father Abraham with his Old Covenant STILL needed saving. He was still fraught with sin, even though he did not recognize it- even though he stood for and represented God here on earth in his time. He was still FAR from the perfect example that is Christ. He was still a fallible, sinful man. Sarah was still a fallible, sinful woman.

We are all in need of a Savior. None of us- not even Abraham with his faithfulness, commitment and willingness to sacrifice it all could earn through behavior, work, sacrifice or act his way into a perfect representation of what God calls us to be. There is no other solution but the blood of Christ Jesus.

We desperately need his example.

We desperately need his sacrifice.

We desperately need Him to save us- whether we are Hagar, Ishmael, Sarah or Abraham.

“None is righteous, no, not one”- Romans 3:10

** I chose to use the names “Abraham and Sarah throughout this text, even though in the beginning they are known as Abram and Sarai for the sake of consistency. Partway through the story, God gives them new names!

A Personal Testimony

“Story…I could have had a really different Story…”

All my life I’ve been told I belong at the end of the line with all the other not-quites…all the never it rights, but it turns out they’re the ones you were looking for all this time.

— Nobody, by Casting Crowns .

I was never supposed to amount to anything. That’s what society said. That’s what culture said. That’s what every sociological study indicated… the cards were stacked against me. Fortunately, God is bigger than society, culture or sociological influence.

Nobody, by Casting Crowns – https://youtu.be/1yBzIt_z8oY

I want to utilize this first blog post to introduce myself to all of you; to help you understand who I am and what has brought me to the place where I was called to write. I hope that the things I share are helpful to all of you. I hope you are drawn closer to the Lord. My heart is that you see with new, fresh eyes.

I was born to a teenage mother. My mom graduated high school pregnant with me- she married my father shortly after discovering she was pregnant and graduated high school with a new last name and baby on board. I was born a month after her 18th birthday. Next came two more babies, rapid fire, C2 was born 11 months after my birthday and C3 was born just 15 months after that. I cannot even imagine how stressful it must have been to be that young with three kids so small- for her or for my dad. He tried hard to provide and care for us, starting work at a local factory. He still works there today, over 30 years later.

My parents divorced when I was 5. I don’t even remember a time when they were together. My dad settled into his life, working at the factory. He eventually met my stepmom, and they were together all through my childhood and teen years. My mom got primary custody of us, and remarried- my first stepdad. From this marriage, my next sister, C4, was born. She was the tiniest little thing. I was old enough to understand that she was born too early, although I didn’t understand the word “premature.” I did know that she was little, fragile, and she needed to be protected.

There we were, this little ragtag bunch of C’s. My memories of the domestic violence began around this time. I also think that this may have been when the alcohol and drug use started, but I am honestly not entirely sure. I was so young, I just know that there was a lot of screaming, a lot of things breaking, and my mom crying a lot. I often felt scared, wondering why nobody was coming to help. I remember thinking, “Why doesn’t Papa (my grandpa) come make it stop?” but that never happened. It escalated, and at just 6-7 years old, I was on constant alert. When it got bad, I would herd everyone into the bedroom and lock the door. I learned to read at a very young age, and I would read to the little Cs, trying to keep them distracted from the violence and mayhem happening just outside the door.

I was always worried about my mom. I was afraid that she was going to get hurt, that something really awful was going to happen to her, but over time, I discovered that I had to protect the other children. They were little and they needed someone to look out for them. My first vivid memory is of an incident when I couldn’t have been older than 7, when my stepdad chased our car with a baseball bat. When he caught up to us, my mom was inside a gas station calling for help. He started hitting the car with the bat, so I pulled C2 and C3 into the floorboard. Then he started hitting the back windshield. I threw my little 7 year old body across my premature sister’s car seat just before it shattered. I reached down and pushed my brother and sister’s head low, trying to cover them with my arms while covering the baby with my own body. My mom and stepdad had completely forgotten that we were in the car, I think. They just kept fighting outside.

My identity was shaped from a young age. I was created to be a protector, to keep those who can’t keep themselves safe and give voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.

This trend continued all through my childhood. That relationship ended, but another one took it’s place. With each change of relationship came more heartbreak and trauma for her and more dysfunction and trauma for us. The violence increased and was often directed at us. I did all that I could to shelter the other children from the storm. When we moved locations and didn’t have bedroom doors with locks, I would shut the three little ones in the bedroom and stand guard outside of the door, trying to keep the storm from bursting through and touching them. That cost me dearly. I encountered a significant amount of violence myself because I did things like this.

The addiction issues increased over time as well. The first time I remember being alone, without an adult, for a prolonged period of time I was 11. I did the best that I could to take care of the kids and the house while she was gone, but we hit a point where I was digging in the couch cushions and hoping someone would drop a quarter at school so that we could get the food that we needed at home. DCFS and law enforcement were in and out of our home frequently, but we had learned that to say anything meant that we would be split up. I was constantly reminded that us older three may go to my dad (whom we still spent time with and visited with, but didn’t know the extent of the situation and had little power to address it due to the custodial situation) but the youngest, C4, would not. I knew that this sweet little girl needed me, and I could not abandon her- not even to protect myself. I said nothing. I lied, and I just did the best that I could within the circumstances.

My next sister, Baby D, was born when I was 14 years old. My mom had relocated to another community near us, and I had made the choice to continue living with my dad so that I wouldn’t have to leave my high school. I was active in athletics and it was important to me to stay with my team. It was probably half way through the school year before my mom was saying that she needed me. Her health had declined dramatically and she had an infant to care for. I made arrangements with my school, and I moved away to help my mother with the baby. Because of the circumstances, I was not actually attending school. I was taking classes via correspondence. My school was sending all of my work for the week to the local school, where I picked it up. I returned it by Thursday. This allowed me to stay at home with the baby and take care of the children while mom was not able. I was a sophomore in High School.

Shortly before moving to be with my mom, I had an experience that changed my life forever. I had gone through a bad breakup and was struggling with depression when a friend began to invite me to her church. She invited me to the youth group and all of their activities, over and over and over again. I said “no” so many times, until finally I said, “Yes.” I attended a Christian concert with her- a local band was performing and some of the members were from her youth group. I was in a dark place, and I figured that if I just went once she’d probably stop asking. I obviously hadn’t gotten to know her very well yet!

When I got there, everyone was so nice. Nobody saw me as the girl from the other side of the tracks, the drug addict’s daughter or as “trouble.” Nobody saw my mess. The people around me treated me like I was wonderful, and valuable. They were so happy that I was there with them. I remember looking around that group of people and thinking, “This is what love is supposed to look like. I want this. This is what I want my life to be like.”

I said “Yes” to Jesus that night. My friend…the persistent one…she made sure that I didn’t leave until I had heard the gospel. (Which I did. In the back of a minivan at 2:00 AM)

I didn’t really fully understand what I was saying “Yes” to. I knew that I was a sinner; that was a no-brainer. I knew I was lost. I knew I needed saving. I could see that I had spent my entire life trying to save other people, and I hadn’t ever given anyone an opportunity to save me. When she told me about Jesus, this wasn’t new. I had been in and out of church events my whole life-lots of church folks reach out to the poor kids- but I had never really understood what it all meant. Yes, I believed in Jesus…so what? Yes, I knew he died on the cross, and he rose again….but what did any of that have to do with me?

Suddenly, this one night, full of these loving people who embraced me for who I was, who didn’t condemn me or pass judgment on me, made it relevant. It did matter to me…because this was what Jesus gave people. I didn’t “get saved” because I wanted to avoid Hell. I wasn’t even thinking about Hell when I said “Yes.” I was thinking about love, acceptance and being truly seen for me and not for someone else’s choices, not as a product of my environment and not as trash. I was thinking about being adopted as a daughter of the King…me. This cast off. This not-quite. This barely-getting by, constantly striving, pasting on the smile and thinking of everyone else all the time young woman was a daughter of the King. That was baffling, and I wanted it. I wanted a family like THIS.

So I said “yes” to Jesus, and I became a part of that little youth group. Many of those young people are still integral parts of my tribe today. That young, persistent lady is now in ministry at a church, and she is on my volunteer team at the pregnancy center. The lead singer of the band is one of the people I trust most in leadership. When I am struggling to lead well, I can always count on him for wise counsel. That church is still my church and the pastor there is still my pastor. The couple who led the youth group are still my mentors, but they are also peers and friends. They became my family in a way that can only happen through Holy Adoption.

When I ended up moving in with my mom, I had my church family in my corner. I thank God for that all the time. They drove 1 hour round trip to make sure that I made it to both Youth Group and Sunday Service every week. That was an incredibly difficult season. I was caring for these little ones essentially on my own. C2 and C3 were preteens, C4 was in elementary school and Baby D was so little. The people in Mom’s community did not know us, so most assumed I was a teen mom and she was mine. Even when Mom’s health improved, the circumstances did not. The drugs in the home were stifling, it was difficult to navigate and function. There was constant pressure to become a part of that lifestyle, but by the grace of God, I refrained. I had already experienced sexual assault in these drug riddled situations, so my anxieties were high and I was firing on all cylinders.

One night, my mom was at work. Her boyfriend, who was only 6-7 years older than me, was at the house. He was high on who knows what and causing all sorts of chaos. He started slamming things, putting holes in the walls and the kids were all scared. I’d had enough, so I told him that if he was going to act like that he needed to leave. He laughed at me, then he shoved me into the wall. This wasn’t new; I was used to violence, but I asked him to come outside and talk to me since he was scaring the kids and he did. Once outside, I told him again that he needed to leave, stating this time that he was to “never touch me like that again.” I will never forget his response. He looked me up and down, like a sexual object to be used as he pleased, his eyes lingering on my hips and my chest, before responding, “I will touch you ANY TIME and ANY PLACE that I want to.” I was shocked. I remember stumbling over some version of “leave now before I call the cops” and he walked off, laughing. I was 15.

I moved out of my mother’s home for good that day. I called one of my church friends. I told him what happened, and bless his heart, he did not hesitate. He did not stutter. He never once made me feel like I could possibly be making the wrong choice. He never made me feel selfish or like I was abandoning my siblings- a guilt that has haunted me my entire adult life. He said, “That’s it. This has gone on long enough. Get the important things together, I will be there in an hour.” And he was. He picked me up that night and not only did he deliver me safely to my dad’s home, he stayed to help explain to my dad what had happened. His support may well have saved my life, changing the entire trajectory of it forever.

I never lived with my mom again after that. It was not only her choices that impacted my siblings and I, but also the choices of those around her that created the storm that was our upbringing. All of my adult siblings have struggled in some way with drugs. I am so thankful that God has protected me from that. My life has been, and continues to be, a giant, grace-filled journey back to the one who has never left me, never abandoned me and loved me when I was unlovable- because there have been seasons of my life where my own choices led me down paths I’m not proud of. I sometimes sit and reflect, and I am reminded of what my story could have been. My life has gone a much different direction because of Jesus. Because I said “yes” to Jesus, I gained more family, more love, more grace and such freedom.

I am no longer trash. I never really was. I am, and always have been, a daughter of the King. I just had to realize that.

My mother has her own story, and it is not my story to tell. I want to do my very best to honor her as I’m sharing my own story with all of you, but it is important for me to share that she has experienced trauma of her own. Her journey has not been an easy one, and hurting people hurt people. She began the process of pursuing health and healing in Christ almost 5 years ago, but anyone who has walked with an addict pursuing health and healing can tell you that the journey is a roller coaster. There are a lot of ups and downs, twists and turns. She takes 3 steps forward and then 2 steps back…but then 3 forward again. Progress is progress, healing is healing and it’s often not as neatly packaged and wrapped in a bow as we would like it to be. I ask you all to extend grace to her. Please remember that she is a daughter of the King, beloved by the Creator of Heaven and Earth. She too, was perfectly knit together in her mother’s womb. God has a design for her life, and even when she is outside of that, He is always reaching, always seeking, and always pursuing her broken heart. Love her, in her brokenness, the same way that Christ loves you in yours.

There is so much more to share with all of you about my adult life, but this is titled “my first testimony” for a reason. The truth is that Jesus set me free- free from a life that culture assumed I was doomed to. So many people thought that my life was set to just be a repeat of these same cycles, and I completely understand why they thought that..all the evidence points to that. But God. BUT GOD. He is SO much bigger than your circumstance. He’s bigger than your obstacle, your roadblock, your diagnosis. He didn’t just come to earth to save you from Hell.

Salvation is just the tip of the iceberg.

No Matter What, by Ryan Stevenson https://youtu.be/CPeY_RK7akk