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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Genesis 16

 

 

Verses 1-3

Genesis 16:1-3

And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife

Forestalling God’s appointed time

I.
THIS MAY BE THE TEMPTATION OF THOSE WHO YET HAVE FAITH IN GOD.

II. SUCH A COURSE APPEARS TO HAVE A RATIONAL WARRANT.

1. There was no human hope that the promise would be accomplished in that form in which they first understood it.

2. They were conforming to the common custom of the country.

3. The end they sought was worthy in itself.

III. ALL ATTEMPTS TO BE BEFOREHAND WITH PROVIDENCE IMPLY AN INFIRMITY OF FAITH.

1. They are signs of impatience.

2. It is not our duty to aid God in the accomplishment of His promises.

3. Religion hereby degenerates into fanaticism.

4. Such an interference with the means by which God accomplishes His purpose shows a want of confidence in His power. (T. H. Leale.)

Hagar, the slave girl

We might have expected that Abraham would have strenuously resisted every endeavour to induce him to realize for himself God’s promise about his seed. Surely he will wait meekly and quietly for God to fulfil His own word, by means best known to Himself. Instead of this he listened to the reasoning of expediency.

I. THE QUARTER WHENCE THESE REASONINGS CAME. Sarai.

1. It is always hard to resist temptation when it appeals to natural instinct or to distrusting fear.

2. We should be exceedingly careful before acting on the suggestions of anyone not as advanced as we are in the Divine life. What may seem right to them may be terribly wrong for us.

II. THE SORROWS TO WHICH THEY LED.

1. To Sarah.

2. To Hagar.

3. To Abraham.

III. THE VICTIM WHOSE LIFE COURSE WAS SO LARGELY INVOLVED. We mourn to see in her only one of myriads who have been sacrificed to the whim or passion, expediency or selfishness, of men. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

Carnal expedients

I. THE FOLLY OF CARNAL EXPEDIENTS. Their danger lies in many directions.

1. Look at the method of our justification and sanctification before God. God’s method is by faith, man’s by works. The one is of promise, the other by natural means. The latter is illicit, and fails; only the former succeeds.

2. In providence. You may be looking for temporal prosperity; God may design it for you: but you have no right to seek it by covetousness or injustice, and making haste to be rich.

3. In gospel labours. You expect success, but it is delayed.

4. In regard to our sufferings and our hope of heaven. Some have been tempted to slay themselves, or those whom they have loved, in the midst of terrible affliction, to hasten their admission to glory, You may not have this temptation; but you may be restless, impatient, and unresigned. Say rather, “All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.”

5. In regard to the millennium, and the establishment of the gospel on earth. What hindrances and delays there are. Many seek to christianize the world by the sword, by pandering to human ignorance and superstition, or by indulging the lusts and passions of men. We must be faithful to principle, and leave results to God.

II. GOD’S MERCIFULNESS TO THE SORROWFUL SAINT. “Thou God seest me.” It suggests two things;

1. God’s omniscience; and--

2. His kind regard of His people. Let us think of it:

Lessons

1. God’s promise and covenant can hardly keep up faith in His own, against the discouragements of sense.

2. Sensible helps at hand may be an occasion to doubt of God’s promise as being afar off. So was Hagar to Sarai (Genesis 16:2).

3. Good souls in temptations may complain of this barrenness though God order it.

4. Sense of such wants may put souls upon unlawful means to have their desires of a seed.

5. Flesh persuades to take an uncertain peradventure in sense, rather than wait for God’s promise in certainty (Genesis 16:2).

6. Temptation may carry saints not only to the motion but action of evil.

7. Such temptations may make saints do evil, for ends seeming good. So Sarai gives her to wife. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

The trial of faith--its infirmity

I. IT ORIGINATED AT A TIME AND IN A MANNER, the consideration of which may well enforce the solemn warning, “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall;”--while it painfully illustrates that other affecting saying, that a man’s worst foes may be those of his own household. This transaction took place (Genesis 16:3) after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. During all that time he had walked with God, and God had done for him great things; he had trusted in the Lord, and had been delivered. He had found God faithful to him, and had been himself enabled to be faithful to God. In particular, he had very recently received a signal pledge of the Divine favour, and a strong confirmation of the hope set before him; and never, perhaps, had he stood higher, in respect of privilege, than now. And yet, at the very time when he stands so high, he is tempted, and he falls.

II. THE TEMPTATION ITSELF IS A VERY PLAUSIBLE ONE. It bears all the marks of that subtlety which, from of old, had been the characteristic of that old serpent, the devil. Observe the spirit and manner in which the proposal is made by Sarai, and received by Abram. It is plainly such as altogether to preclude the idea of this step being at all analogous to an ordinary instance of sin committed in the indulgence of sensual passion. Most unjustifiable as was the patriarch’s conduct, it is not for a moment to be confounded with that of David, for example, whose melancholy fall was caused by the mere unbridled violence of an unlawful appetite. There is no room for the introduction of such an element as this on the occasion of Abram’s connection with Hagar. It originated in the suggestion of his faithful wife, and had, for its single object, the fulfilment of the Divine promise, whose accomplishment otherwise seemed to be growing every day more manifestly and hopelessly impossible (Genesis 16:1-2). (R. S.Candlish, D. D.)

Sarah’s sin; or carnal policy no aid to Divine plans

Unbelief is very prolific of schemes; and surely this of Sarai is as carnal, as foolish, and as fruitful of domestic misery as could almost have been devised. Yet such was the influence of evil counsel, especially from such a quarter, that “Abram hearkened to her voice.” The father of mankind sinned by hearkening to his wife, and now the father of the faithful follows his example. How necessary for those who stand in the nearest relations, to take heed of being snares instead of helps one to another! It was a double sin: first, of distrust; and secondly, of deviation from the original law of marriage, and which seems to have opened a door of polygamy. (A. Fuller.)

Sarai’s expedient

Sarai’s impulse, even if mistaken, was admirable for its unselfish abnegation of what is most precious to her sex. It was such a sacrifice as only a woman had it in her power to make. Had Abram been a polygamist, or had the adhesion of his house to the primitive marriage law been less loyal than it was, there was one obvious escape from the difficulty. It is instructive that neither Abram nor his wife thought of a second marriage. The usages of the time suggested a different mode. For a childless wife to treat the children born of a favourite slave girl as legally as her own was a resource very foreign to the notions of our western Christendom. Nevertheless, it sprang not unnaturally out of two peculiarities of society in Abram’s day. One of these was the disadvantage, amounting positively to social discredit, which attached to childlessness, at a time when the primeval injunction to replenish the earth still retained its full force. The other was the complete surrender of a serf’s legal and social rights into the hand of his master, which in the East characterized domestic servitude. Every home slave stood at the disposal of his lord for whatever service the lord might require. His very children were not his own, but his master’s. For a mistress, therefore, to seek by means of a female slave and favourite attendant what Providence had denied to herself, was regarded under such a state of feeling as neither immoral nor revolting. It was not even held to be any real departure from the law of monogamy, or any infraction of conjugal fidelity. There is no doubt, however, that it did involve a certain lowering of the original conception of marriage. It paved the way for concubinage of a less excusable description. And in the majority of cases, as in the present instance, it could scarcely fail to turn out ill. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)


Verses 1-16

BIRTH OF ISHMAEL

Genesis 16:1-16

IN this unpretending chapter we have laid bare to us the origin of one of the most striking facts in the history of religion: namely, that from the one person of Abram have sprung Christianity and that religion which has been and still is its most formidable rival and enemy, Mohammedanism. To Ishmael, the son of Abram, the Arab tribes are proud to trace their pedigree. Through him they claim Abram as their father, and affirm that they are his truest representatives, the sons of his first-born. In Mohammed, the Arabian, they see the fulfilment of the blessing of Abram, and they have succeeded in persuading a large part of the world to believe along with them. Little did Sarah think when she persuaded Abram to take Hagar that she was originating a rivalry which has run with keenest animosity through all ages and which oceans of blood have not quenched. The domestic rivalry and petty womanish spites and resentments so candidly depicted in this chapter, have actually thrown on the world from that day to this one of its darkest and least hopeful shadows. The blood of our own countrymen, it may be of our own kindred, will yet flow in this unappeasable quarrel. So great a matter does a little fire kindle. So lasting and disastrous are the issues of even slight divergences from pure simplicity.

It is instructive to observe how long this matter of obtaining an heir for Abram occupies the stage of sacred history and in how many aspects it is shown. The stage is rapidly cleared of whatever else might naturally have invited attention, and interest is concentrated on the heir that is to be. The risks run by the appointed mother, the doubts of the father, the surrender now of the mother’s rights, -all this is trivial if it concerned only one household, important only when you view it as significant for the race. It was thus men were taught thoughtfully to brood upon the future and to believe that, though Divine, blessing and salvation would spring from earth: man was to co-operate with God, to recognise himself as capable of uniting with God in the highest of all purposes. At the same time, this long and continually deferred expectation of Abram was the simple means adopted by God to convince men once for all that the promised seed is not of nature but of grace, that it is God who sends all effectual and determining blessing, and that we must learn to adapt ourselves to His ways and wait upon Him.

The first man, then, whose religious experience and growth are recorded for us at any length, has this one thing to learn, to trust God’s word and wait for it. In this everything is included. But gradually it appears to us all that this is the great difficulty, to wait; to let God take His own time to bless us. It is hard to believe in God’s perfect love and care when we are receiving no present comfort or peace; hard to believe we shall indeed be sanctified when we seem to be abandoned to sinful habit; hard, to pass all through life with some pain, or some crushing trouble, or some harassing anxiety, or some unsatisfied craving. It is easy to start with faith, most trying to endure patiently to the end. It is thus God educates His children. Compelled to wait for some crowning gift, we cannot but study God’s ways, It is thus we are forced to look below the surface of life to its hidden meanings and to construe God’s dealings with ourselves apart from the experience of other men. It is thus we are taught actually to loosen our hold of things temporal and to lay hold on what is spiritual and real. He who leaves himself in God’s hand will one day declare that the pains and sorrows he suffered were trifling in comparison with what he has won from them.

But Sarah could not wait. She seems to have fixed ten years as the period during which she would wait; but at the expiry of this term she considered herself justified in helping forward God’s tardy providence by steps of her own. One cannot severely blame her. When our hearts are set upon some definite blessing things seem to move too slowly, and we can scarcely refrain from urging them on without too scrupulously enquiring into the character of our methods. We are willing to wait for a certain time, but beyond that we must take the matter into our own hand. This incident shows, what all life shows, that whatever be the boon you seek, you do yourself an injury if you cease to seek it in the best possible form and manner, and decline upon some lower thing which you can secure by some easy stratagem of your own.

The device suggested by Sarah was so common that the wonder is that it had not long before been tried. Jealousy or instinctive reluctance may have prevented her from putting it in force. She might no doubt have understood that God, always working out His purposes in consistency with all that is most honourable and pure in human conduct, requires of no one to swerve a hair’s-breadth from the highest ideal of what a human life should be, and that just in proportion as we seek the best gifts and the most upright and pure path to them does God find it easy to bless us. But in her case it was difficult to continue in this belief; and at length she resolved to adopt the easy and obvious means of obtaining an heir. It was unbelieving and foolish, but not more so than our adoption of practices common in our day and in our business which we know are not the best, but which we nevertheless make use of to obtain our ends because the most righteous means possible do not seem workable in our circumstances. Are you not conscious that you have sometimes used a means of effecting your purpose, which you would shrink from using habitually, but which you do not scruple to use to tide you over a difficulty, an extraordinary device for an extraordinary emergency, a Hagar brought in for a season to serve a purpose, not a Sarah accepted from God and cherished as an eternal helpmeet. It is against this we are here warned. From a Hagar can at the best spring only an Ishmael, while in order to obtain the blessing God intends we must betake ourselves to God’s barren-looking means.

The evil consequences of Sarah’s scheme were apparent first of all in the tool she made use of Agur the son of Jakeh says: "For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear. For a servant when he reigneth, and a fool when he is filled with meat; for an odious woman when she is married, and a handmaid that is heir to her mistress." Naturally this half-heathen girl, when she found that her son would probably inherit all Abram’s possessions, forgot herself, and looked down on her present, nominal mistress. A flood of new fancies possessed her vacant mind and her whole demeanour becomes insulting to Sarah. The slave-girl could not be expected to sympathise with the purpose which Abram and Sarah had in view when they made use of her. They had calculated on finding only the unquestioning, mechanical obedience of the slave, even while raising her practically to the dignity of a wife. They had fancied that even to the deepest feelings of her woman’s heart, even in maternal hopes, she would be plastic in their hands, their mere passive instrument. But they have entirely miscalculated. The slave has feelings as quick and tender as their own, a life and a destiny as tenaciously clung to as their God-appointed destiny. Instead of simplifying their life they have merely added to it another source of complexity and annoyance. It is the common fate of all who use others to satisfy their own desires and purposes. The instruments they use are never so soulless and passive as it is wished. If persons cannot serve you without deteriorating in their own character, you have no right to ask them to serve you. To use human beings as if they were soulless machines is to neglect radical laws and to inflict the most serious injury on our fellow-men. Mistresses who do not treat their servants with consideration, recognising that they are as truly women as themselves, with all a woman’s hopes and feelings, and with a life of their own to live, are committing a grievous wrong, and evil will come of it.

In such an emergency as now arose in Abram’s household, character shows itself clearly. Sarah’s vexation at the success of her own scheme, her recrimination and appeal for strange justice, her unjustifiable treatment of Hagar, Abram’s Bedouin disregard of the jealousies of the women’s tent, his Gallio-like repudiation of judgment in such quarrels, his regretful vexation and shame that through such follies, mistakes, and wranglings, . God had to find a channel for His promise to flow-all this discloses the painful ferment into which Abram’s household was thrown. Sarah’s attempt to rid herself with a high hand of the consequences of her scheme was signally unsuccessful. In the same inconsiderate spirit in which she had put Hagar in her place, she now forces her to flee, and fancies that she has now rid herself and her household of all the disagreeable consequences of her experiment. She is grievously mistaken. The slave comes back upon her hands, and comes back with the promise of a son who should be a continual trouble to all about him. All through Ishmael’s boyhood Abram and Sarah had painfully to reap the fruits of what they had sown. We only make matters worse when we endeavour by injustice and harshness to crush out the consequences of wrong-doing. The difficulties into which sin has brought us can only be effectually overcome by sincere contrition and humiliation. It is not all in a moment nor by one happy stroke you can rectify the sin or mistake of a moment. If by your wise devices you have begotten young Ishmaels, if something is every day grieving you and saying to you, "This comes of your careless inconsiderate conduct in the past," then see that in your vexation there is real penitence and not a mere indignant resentment against circumstances or against other people, and see that you are not actually continuing the fault which first gave birth to your present sorrow and entanglement. When Hagar fled from her mistress she naturally took the way to her old country. Instinctively her feet carried her to the land of her birth. And as she crossed the desert country where Palestine, Egypt, and Arabia meet, she halted by a fountain, spent with her flight and awed by the solitude and stillness of the desert. Her proud spirit is broken and tamed, the fond memories of her adopted home and all its customs and ways and familiar faces and occupations, overtake her when she pauses and her heart reacts from the first excitement of hasty purpose and reckless execution. To whom could she go in Egypt? Was there one there who would remember the little slave girl or who would care to show her a kindness? Has she not acted madly in fleeing from her only protectors? The desolation around her depicts her own condition. No motion stirs as far as her eye can reach, no bird flies, no leaf trembles, no cloud floats over the scorching sun, no sound breaks the death-like quiet; she feels as if in a tomb, severed from all life, forgotten of all. Her spirit is breaking under this sense of desolation, when suddenly her heart stands still as she hears a voice utter her own name "Hagar, Sarai’s maid." As readily as every other person when God speaks to them, does Hagar recognise Who it is who has followed her into this blank solitude. In her circumstances to hear the voice of God left no room for disobedience. The voice of God made audible through the actual circumstances of our daily life acquires a force and an authority we never attached to it otherwise.

Probably, too, Hagar would have gone back to Abram’s tents at the bidding of a less authoritative voice than this. Already she was softening and repenting. She but needed some one to say, "Go back." You may often make it easier for a proud man to do a right thing by giving him a timely word. Frequently men stand in the position of Hagar, knowing the course they ought to adopt and yet hesitating to adopt it until it is made easy to them by a wise and friendly word.

In the promise of a son which was here given to Hagar and the prediction concerning his destiny, while there was enough to teach both her and Abram that he was not to be the heir of the promise, there was also much to gratify a mother’s pride and be to Hagar a source of continual satisfaction. The son was to bear a name which should commemorate God’s remembrance of her in her desolation. As often as she murmured it over the babe or called it to the child or uttered it in sharp remonstrance to the refractory boy, she was still reminded that she had a helper in God who had heard and would hear her. The prediction regarding the child has been strikingly fulfilled in his descendants; the three characteristics by which they are distinguished being precisely those here mentioned. "He will be a wild man," literally, "a wild ass among men," reminding us of the description of this animal in Job: "Whose house I have made the wilderness, and the barren land his dwelling. He scorneth the multitude of the city, neither regardeth he the crying of the driver. The range of the mountains is his pasture, and he searcheth after every green thing." Like the zebra that cannot be domesticated, the Arab scorns the comforts of civilised life, and adheres to the primitive dress, food, and mode of life, delighting in the sensation of freedom, scouring the deserts, sufficient with his horse and spear for every emergency. His hand also is against every man, looking on all as his natural enemies or as his natural prey; in continual feud of tribe against tribe and of the whole race against all of different blood and different customs. And yet he "dwells in the presence of his brethren"; though so warlike a temper would bode his destruction and has certainly destroyed other races, this Ishmaelite stock continues in its own lands with an uninterrupted history. In the words of an authoritative writer: "They have roved like the moving sands of their deserts; but their race has been rooted while the individual wandered. That race has neither been dissipated by conquest, nor lost by migration, nor confounded with the blood of other countries. They have continued to dwell in the presence of all their brethren, a distinct nation, wearing upon the whole the same features and aspects which prophecy first impressed upon them."

What struck Hagar most about this interview was God’s presence with her in this remote solitude. She awakened to the consciousness that duty, hope, God, are ubiquitous, universal, carried in the human breast, not confined to any place. Her hopes, her haughtiness, her sorrows, her flight, were known. The feeling possessed her which was afterwards expressed by the Psalmist: "Thou knowest my down-sitting, and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thoughts afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. Thou tellest my wanderings; put Thou my tears in Thy bottle; are they not in Thy book?" Even here where I thought to have escaped every eye, have I been following and at length found Him that seeth me. As truly and even more perceptibly than in Abram’s tents, God is with her here in the desert. To evade duty, to leave responsibility behind us, is impossible. In all places we are God’s children, bound to accept the responsibilities of our nature. In all places God is with us, not only to point out our duty but to give us the feeling that in adhering to duty we adhere to Him, and that it is because He values us that He presses duty upon us. With Him is no respect of persons. the servant is in his sight as vivid a personality as the mistress, and God appears not to the overbearing mistress but to the overborne servant.

Happy they who when God has thus met them and sent them back on their own footsteps, a long and weary return, have still been so filled with a sense of God’s love in caring for them through all their errors, that they obey and return. All round about His people does God encamp, all round about His flock does the faithful Shepherd watch and drive back upon the fold each wanderer. Not only to those who are consciously seeking Him does God reveal Himself, but often to us at the very. farthest point of our wandering, at our extremity, when another day’s journey would land us in a region from which there is no return. When our regrets for the past become intolerably poignant and bitter; when we see a waste of years behind us barren as the sand of the desert, with nothing done but what should but cannot be undone; when the heart is stupefied with the sense of its madness and of the irretrievable loss it has sustained, or when we look to the future and are persuaded little can grow up in it out of such a past, when we see that all that would have prepared us for it has been lightly thrown aside or spent recklessly for nought, when our hearts fail us, this is God besetting us behind and before. And may He grant us strength to pray, "Show me Thy ways, O Lord, teach me Thy paths. Lead me in Thy truth and teach me: for Thou art the God of my salvation; on Thee do I wait all the day."

The quiet glow of hopefulness with which Hagar returned to Abram’s encampment should possess the spirit of every one of us. Hagar’s prospects were not in all respects inviting. She knew the kind of treatment she was likely to receive at the hands of Sarah. She was to be a bondwoman still. But God had persuaded her of His care and had given her a hope large enough to fill her heart. That hope was to be fulfilled by a return to the home she had fled from, by a humbling and painful experience. There is no person for whom God has not similar encouragement. Frequently persons forget that God is in their life, fulfilling His purposes. They flee from what is painful; they lose their bearings in life and know not which way to turn; they do not fancy there is help for them in God. Yet God is with them; by these very circumstances that reduce them to desolateness and despair He leads them to hope in Him. Each one of us has a place in His purpose; and that place we shall find not by fleeing from what is distressing but by submitting ourselves cheerfully to what He appoints. God’s purpose is real, and life is real, meant to accomplish not our present passing pleasure, but lasting good in conformity with God’s purpose. Be sure that when you are bidden back to duties that seem those of a slave, you are bidden to them by God, Whose purposes are worthy of Himself and Whose purposes include you and all that concerns you.

There are, I think, few truths more animating than this which is here taught us, that God has a purpose with each of us; that however insignificant we seem, however friendless, however hardly used, however ousted even from our natural place in this world’s households, God has a place for us; that however we lose our way in life we are not lost from His eye; that even when we do not think of choosing Him He in His Divine, all-embracing love chooses us, and throws about us bonds from which we cannot escape. Of Hagar many were complacently thinking it was no great matter if she were lost, and some might consider themselves righteous because they said she deserved whatever mishap might befall her. But not so God. Of some of us, it may be, others may think no great blank would be made by our loss; but God’s compassion and care and purpose comprehend the least worthy. The very hairs of your head are all numbered by Him. Nothing is so trivial and insignificant as to escape His attention, nothing so intractable that He cannot use it for good. Trust in Him, obey Him, and your life will yet be useful and happy.


Verses 4-6

Genesis 16:4-6

When she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyed

The evils of abolishing social distinctions

I.
THOSE WHO ARE SUDDENLY RAISED IN THE SOCIAL SCALE ARE TEMPTED TO PRIDE AND INSOLENCE.

II. THOSE WHO HAVE TAKEN PART IN THE ABOLISHING OF SUCH DISTINCTIONS ARE THE FIRST TO COMPLAIN OF THE EVILS CAUSED THEREBY.

1. They complain of their troubles so as to excuse themselves.

2. They often make rash appeals to Divine justice.

III. THE RECOGNITION OF ORIGINAL RIGHTS IS THE BEST WAY OF DEALING WITH SUCH EVILS.

1. This is a better course than the immediate imputation of such evils to those who have caused them.

2. Meek submission becomes true might in the end.

IV. THE EVILS BROUGHT ABOUT BY SUDDEN AND VIOLENT CHANGES IN THE SOCIAL STATE ARE NEVER FULLY REMEDIED. (T. H. Leale.)

Lessons

1. Nothing more proud than a beggar set on horseback, and a very ape, if you place him up aloft, begins to bridle the matter and take upon him marvellously.

2. It teacheth that adversity is better borne than prosperity of many one.

3. It showeth the end of evil counsel, Sarah is beaten with her own rod. (Bp. Babington.)


Verses 7-12

Genesis 16:7-12

Hagar, Sarai’s maid, whence camest thou?
--

Providence and the outcast

I. PROVIDENCE FINDS THE OUTCAST AND MISERABLE.

1. There are occasions in human life when the providence of God specially manifests itself.

2. Providence finds us for a purpose of mercy.

3. Providence is minute in its care and knowledge.

II. PROVIDENCE TEACHES THE OUTCAST AND MISERABLE.

1. Lessons of reproof.

2. Lessons of instruction and guidance.

III. PROVIDENCE INSPIRES HOPE IN THE OUTCAST AND MISERABLE.

1. The lowest and most despised have some purpose of Providence to serve.

2. All who have consciously felt the action of a Divine Providence have some memorial of God’s goodness. (T. H. Leale.)

The angel’s message to Hagar

In this very gracious appearance of the angel to Hagar, it is possible, I think, to detect a two-fold design. Through her connection with Abram, this handmaid had been providentially elevated into a position which carried on the one hand duties, and on the other honour.

1. In the first place, it was her present duty to return and place herself again under the heavy hand of Sarai, in order that Abram’s son might be born and nurtured in Abram’s home. This, therefore, was the hard command, which in the first instance the angel was commissioned to deliver. God’s revelations commonly attach themselves to the working of men’s own minds. It is impossible not to suspect that, as she sat to rest after her hasty flight, Hagar’s conscience was already whispering words like these before the angel appeared: “Return to thy mistress and submit thyself!” But if any such feeling worked dimly in her own mind, it would certainly have failed to send her back, had it not been sharpened by this imperative command from heaven. On the other side, God graciously encouraged Hagar to such an unwelcome duty, by revealing the honours which her relationship to Abram would bring along with it. When God blesses any man, that blessing proves itself like the consecrating oil on the Jewish high priest: it flows from the head down to the skirts of the garment. In recompense for a mistress’s cruelty, Hagar was to become the ancestress of a mighty race, which for countless generations has ever since dwelt in the presence of all its brethren. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)

Hagar in the wilderness

I. HAGAR’S DISTRESS. Affliction and solitude often give persons time to think, and arouse a desire to pray. Misery is a voiceless prayer, which God understands.

II. GOD’S MESSENGER. An appearance of the Lord at Hagar’s time of need and distress.

III. GOD’S MESSAGE.

1. A rebuke.

2. A command.

3. A promise.

CONCLUSION: We see then in this narrative a valuable lesson as to God’s Providence, and the way in which God is personally interested in the welfare and destinies of men. Moreover, the narrative suggests a kind of parable of God’s grace. We may see in it the principles of God’s dealing with sinful and sorrowing men.

1. He sees their misery and sin.

2. He visits them in their distress.

3. He hears their prayers. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)

Lessons

1. Christ was the angel of Jehovah sent to the Church in old times. As here (Isaiah 63:1-19; Matthew 3:2).

2. God finds sinners usually when they lose themselves.

3. God’s finding of them is usually when souls are brought to great extremity.

4. God sometimes meets sinners when they are flying to his enemies (Genesis 16:7).

5. God will have order and relations owned when sinners’ servants may reject them. Sarai’s maid.

6. God expostulates in displeasure with sinners for being where they should not be, leaving the place of calling and flying to other places. Here, servants, learn your duties.

7. Souls, when God expostulates with them, are brought to acknowledge their errors and sins (Genesis 16:8).

8. God counsels sinners in His way when He bath convinced them. Return.

9. God will have domestic order maintained and servants to submit to governors, and suffer sorrow, rather than sin, and leave their places (Genesis 16:9; 1 Peter 3:18). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Hater in the wilderness

We have here a dramatic incident in the early Hebrew history. An Egyptian handmaid belonging to Sarai, the wife of Abram, was found by the angel of the Lord near a fountain of water in the wilderness. The angel’s greeting is a recognition; he names her and defines her in three words: “Hagar, Sarai’s maid!” he says, and the girl hears the searching voice and looks up to see a face of commanding majesty and sweetness. “Whence camest thou?” the angel demands. Was not the question superfluous? Do not the words already addressed to her show that the angel needed no information? If he knew her name and knew that she was Sarai’s maid, he knew whence she had come. But questions are often wisely asked, less for the benefit of the questioner than of the questioned. For many a man, drifting on in a course of evil conduct that he has never stopped to define, it would be a good thing if someone, by a pointed question, could, get him to say out, in plain words, just what he is doing. If he would only honestly state it to himself, he would shrink from it with horror. Always when one is going in questionable ways it is well to pause and put the thing he is doing into a clear proposition. I am engaged in some business transaction and a good angel stands by my path and asks me, “What are you doing?” If the operation, though nominally legitimate, is really fraudulent, and if I, though sometimes a little too eager for profits, am not an ingrained rascal, it may be good for me to have the question put to me in just that way. For, on reflection, I shall be forced to answer: “I am endeavouring to get the money of my neighbour without giving him a fair equivalent.” And, having been brought to put the matter into such plain words, I shall be forced, if I am not a rascal, to withdraw from the operation. Not only for clearing away the haze that often obscures an unworthy purpose, but also for removing the fog in which good purposes are sometimes involved, a pointed question may serve us. There are those whose intention to do right, to live the highest life, is rather nebulous. There are men who really mean to be the servants of Christ, but they have never said so, even to themselves. Their intention lies there, cloudy, crepuscular, in their mental horizon, but it is there. It influences their lives, not seldom; it ought to have far more power over them than it has, and would have, if it could only get from themselves a frank and clear statement. If some question could be put that would lead them to say right out in words what they mean to be--to objectify their purpose in language, so that they could look at it and understand it--the process would be most salutary. There is a deceitfulness of sin that sometimes hides from a man his own deepest and purest purposes; and if these could in some way be clearly discovered to himself, it would be a great service to him. Whether a man is good or bad at heart it is well for him to know the truth about himself; and any question, whether it come from the lips of angel or of mortal, that helps him to a clear self-revelation, is no doubt divinely spoken. Hater answered the angel’s question, “Whence earnest thou?” honestly. “I flee from the face of my mistress, Sarai,” she said. The girl was running away from home. It was a home by no means perfect, according to our standards, from which she was bent on escaping. But this home from which she had gone forth, in spite of all the enormities wrought into its structure, was about the best dwelling place on the earth in that day. She was turning her back on a better society, a purer life, a larger opportunity than she could find anywhere else in the world. This was the fact to which the angel’s question, “Whence earnest thou?” at once recalled her. But this was not all. There was another question. “Whither wilt thou go?” the voice demanded, Hagar was going down to Egypt. And what was there in Egypt that could give her peace? It was a land of darkness and moral degradation; a land where the soul of man was held in hopeless subjection to the things of sense. This, then, is the simple fact that the angel’s questions bring into the light of the girl’s consciousness. Hagar was running away from the household of Abram, friend of God, and she was going down to Egypt. She was leaving a very light place, for a very dark one. Behind her were perplexities and discomforts, but great hopes also, and inspiring associations; before her was no relief for her trouble and no hope for her future. It was more than doubtful whether she would ever reach Egypt; she was far more likely to wander in the wilderness and perish by the way; but the goal, if she reached it, showed no prize worth striving for. It furnishes us a pertinent analogy. For there are other wanderers, in other wildernesses, to whom some good angel might well put the questions that Hagar heard by the fountain Lahai-roi, “Whence camest thou, and whither wilt thou go?” I suppose that I may be speaking to some whose feet are pressing the shifting sands of the wide wilderness of doubt. Their religious beliefs are in an unsettled and chaotic condition. They are only certain of one thing, and that is that they are not certain of anything. They are agnostics. Now there are subjects on which most of us can well afford to be agnostics. An agnostic is one who does not know. Well, there are quite a number of things that I do not know, and it seems to me the part of wisdom to say so. There are not a few subjects concerning which the Lord of light has seen fit to leave us in darkness. But while there are subjects of this nature, about which we do well to confess our ignorance, there are other subjects of which faith ought to give us a strong assurance. Agnosticism does well for certain outlying districts of our thought, but not for the great central tracts of religious belief and feeling. The navigator may acknowledge without shame that he does not know the boundaries or the channels of those Polar seas where man has never sailed; but you would not take passage with a captain who declared that he knew nothing of the way out of the harbour where his vessel lay, and nothing of the way into the port to which you wanted to go, and did not even know whether there were any such port. Just so in the religious life. All wise men know that there is much that they do not know; it is the beginning of wisdom to discern the limitations of knowledge; but the theory that all is uncertainty in the religious realm; that there is no sure word of promise, no steadfast anchor of the soul, no charted channels, no headlands of hope, no knowledge of a port beyond seas, is a bewildering, benumbing, deadening theory; out of it comes nothing but apathy and despair. This land of doubt is a wilderness, treeless, verdureless, shelterless, a dry and thirsty land where no water is. This is a truth--if it is a truth--that admits of no argument. It is a fact of experience; if none of you know that it is true, then it is true for none of you; if any of you do know it, you do not need to have it proved; the simple statement of it is enough. To all such wanderers, I bring the question of the angel to Hagar in the wilderness, “Whence camest thou?” You were not always in this wilderness; whence did you come? Do you not look back to a home from which your thought has wandered, a house of faith in which you once abode in confidence and peace? I am speaking now in parables, remember; it is not of the literal home where your father and mother dwelt of which I am speaking, but rather of that edifice of sacred thoughts and firm persuasions and earnest purposes and joyful hopes in which your soul was sheltered and comforted in the days of your childhood. Was there not for you, in those earlier days, a spiritual tabernacle of this sort, a house not made with hands, in which you found protection and peace? Was there not, I ask you, in the Christian faith of that past time, not only a comfort and a solace, but an inspiration, an invigoration, a bracing energy that you do not find in the dim and dismal negations of the present time? O wanderer, astray in the bleak wilderness of doubt, whence camest thou? But this is not the only question. “Whither wilt thou go?” Tarry here you cannot: here is no continuing city. Agnosticism is not the end, barren and profitless as it is. The road that you are travelling leads down to Egypt,--to “a land of darkness as darkness itself, and where the light is as darkness.” You have turned away from the old faith of Christian Theism, and there is nowhere for you to go but to Pantheism or to Atheism. And these are only different names for the same benighted land. There is no light in either of them. They will not satisfy your heart. They will not satisfy your imagination. They will not satisfy your reason. And if the mental darkness into which they conduct us is so dense, what shall we say of the moral darkness in which they envelop us; of the blotting from our sky of every star of hope; of the quenching of that torch of Bible truth by which our feet are guided through this land of shadows; of the extinguishment of our faith in the infinite love of God, which is the inspiration of all our holiest endeavours? No, my friend, I tell you truly, you who have lost your hold on the great spiritual verities and are wandering in the wilderness of spiritual doubt, you cannot tarry where you are; you must go further; and every step you go in the path that you are now travelling takes you nearer to a region where there is no ray of light or hope, a land of darkness and of the shadow of death. Can you not see, is it not clear, that you would better turn your face toward the spiritual home from which you have been wandering? Perhaps the old spiritual house in which your youth was nurtured may need enlargement in its intellectual part. Enlarge it, then l There is room on its strong foundations to build a house of faith large enough for the amplest intelligence. If there are gloomy corners in it into which the light ought to be let, let in the light! If there are chinks through which the bitter winds of a fatalistic dogmatism blow, stop them! If there are poisonous vines that have fastened on its walls, strip them off! It is the faith that we cherish, and not its flaws, nor its parasites. It is a precious faith, a glorious hope, a mighty inspiration that the old Bible offers still to those who will take it in its simplicity and rest in its strong assurances. (Washington Gladden, D. D.)

Nature and office of angels

1. The nature of angels is spiritual (Hebrews 1:14). This characteristic ranges over the whole chain of spiritual being from man up to God Himself. Being spiritual, they are not only moral, but intelligent. They also excel in strength (Psalms 103:20). The holy angels have the full range of action for which their qualities are adapted. They do not grow old or die. They are not a race, and have not a body in the ordinary sense of the term.

2. Their office is expressed by their name. In common with other intelligent creatures, they take part in the worship of God (Revelation 7:11). But their special office is to execute the commands of God in the natural world Psalms 103:20), and especially to minister to the heirs of salvation Hebrews 1:14; Matthew 18:10; Luke 15:10; Luke 16:22).

3. The angel of Jehovah. This phrase is specially employed to denote the Lord Himself in that form in which He condescends to make Himself manifest to man. For the Lord God says of this angel, “Beware of Him, and obey His voice; provoke Him not, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in His inmost” (Exodus 23:21), that is, My nature is in His essence. Accordingly He who is called the angel of the Lord in one place is otherwise denominated the Lord or God in the immediate context (Genesis 16:7; Genesis 16:13; Genesis 22:11-12; Genesis 31:11; Genesis 31:13; Genesis 48:15-16; Exodus 3:2-15; Exodus 23:20-23 with 33:14, 15). It is remarkable at the same time that the Lord is spoken of in these cases as a distinct person from the angel of the Lord, who is also called the Lord. The phraseology intimates to us a certain inherent plurality within the essence of the one only God, of which we have had previous indications (Genesis 1:1; Genesis 1:26; Genesis 3:22). The phrase, “angel of the Lord,” however, indicates a more distant manifestation to man than the term Lord itself. It brings the medium of communication into greater prominence. It seems to denote some person of the Godhead in angelic form. (Prof. J. G. Murphy.)

Hagar

1. In the story of Hagar and her slave-wifehood we have an emblem of the Mosaic Dispensation, which God interposed parenthetically during the long waiting of His Church for the coming of Christ (Romans 5:20; Galatians 3:19).

2. “Hagar is a symbol of the expedients we make use of to win for ourselves what God seems unwilling to bestow--expedients not always glaringly sinful, but, though customary, yet not the best possible. And this episode warns us that from a Hagar can at best spring an Ishmael” (Dods).

3. This narrative solemnly calls us to guard against two apparently opposite sins which Abram and Sarai committed in the matter of Hagar, and which often meet still as temptations to the believer--the sin of distrust, and that of presumption.

4. In the appearance of the Angel of Jehovah to Hagar we have a beautiful example of God’s tenderness towards the erring, and of His gracious readiness to forgive.

5. From Hagar’s subsequent submission to her mistress we learn that while it is not in nature to rejoice in trial and persecution on their own account, yet so soon as we become persuaded that it is the Lord’s will that we drink of this cup, and that there will be an abundant recompense hereafter, it does become possible for us to “glory in tribulations also.”

6. Let us write upon our hearts this name of the Lord: “Thou God seest me.” To do this is the sum of all religion, the centre of all security, and the source of all happiness. The God who sees us, and who permits us to look upon Himself, is the Angel of the Covenant, our Divine and Human Redeemer. May our eyes meet His every day! (Charles Jerdan, M. A. , LL. B.)

The angel’s questions

In calling Hagar “Sarai’s maid,” he seems tacitly to disallow of the marriage, and to lead her mind back to that humble character which she had formerly sustained. The questions put to her were close, but tender, and such as were fitly addressed to a person fleeing from trouble. The first might be answered, and was answered: “I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai.” But with respect to the last, she is silent. We know our present grievances, and so can tell “whence we came,” much better than our future lot, or “whither we are going.” In many cases, if the truth were spoken, the answer would be, from bad to worse. At present, this poor young woman seems to have been actuated by mere natural principles, those of fleeing from misery. In all her trouble, there appears nothing like true religion, or committing her way to the Lord: yet she is sought out of Him whom she sought not. (A. Fuller.)

Submission enjoined

The angel did not say “fight it out and let the strong one win.” He advised submission, and this is the first instance in which such advice is given in the Scriptures. It is a great Christian law we know, but it is early to find it in Genesis! “Submit yourselves one to another for the Lord’s sake,” is a lesson which reads well in the church; but Hagar heard it not under a Gothic roof, half-chanted by surpliced priest, but” by a fountain of water in the wilderness, in the way of Shur,”--she the only hearer, the angel the priest of God! A good church, too, in which to learn the lesson of submission. I see Hagar taking a draught of the fountain, and trudging home again on weary feet; going back to work among the sharp thorns, and to have words keen as stings thrown at her all the day long. A sorry fate, you say, to be pointed out by an angel! But wait. You do not know all. Who could bear all the ills of any one human life without having some help, some light, some hope? A wonderful word was spoken to the woman--“I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.” As if he had said--“If thou didst know thy destiny, thou wouldst think little of Sarai’s mocking; it is but a momentary pain; bear it with the heroism of silent patience.” And, truly, this same angel speaks to us all. He says, “If you will walk in the way of the Lord you shall have blessing after sorrow, as the flowers bloom after the rain; persecution you cannot escape, nor slander, nor cruel words; but your light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh out for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. One hour in heaven will banish every sad thought of earth; submit, be patient, and return not evil for evil.” Oh, listen to the angel; it is God’s angel: it is God Himself. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Water in the desert

The following extract from Mr. Burleigh’s graphic account of the march of the British columns from Korti to Metammeh and the Nile, gives a picture of the deprivation of water in the desert, which plainly shows what our soldiers have had to endure in this particular. “We started about three a.m., and succeeded in reaching Abu Halfa Wells at noon. We had turned into a ravine in the Galif range to get to the springs. Our first sight of them was dreadfully disappointing. At the foot of a low ledge of rock near a clustering of dying down palms in a black basin of mud lay a little pool of pea-green water, covered with scum. The pool was not more than 20 feet long and 10 feet wide, and a sounding taken with a pole showed it was not over 10 inches deep. The murmur of satisfaction with which we were prepared to greet the blessed water died away in our throats, and we all sadly gathered around the soupy substance that was to serve horse and man for drinking purposes. Inwardly many of us vowed never again, if we lived, to grumble again at the quality of the London supply. Our guide excitedly shouted there was water enough for all, and that it was of excellent quality. Slipping down from his camel he made for a hole three or four feet deep, in which lay, limpid and cool, ten or twenty gallons of good-looking water. A stern sense of duty had impelled Colonel Barrow to place guards over the pool and this well hole, so that the apparently scant supply might be equally distributed, and our guide was driven off. He went, however, but a few feet away, and began digging a hole in the sandy gravel with his hands, and soon unearthed a flow of muddy water. Then it was our faces all brightened, for surely the little watercourse was full of hidden drink. Pannikins, canteens, water bottles, and horse buckets were soon at work, and the men took their turn at dipping and drinking the greenish liquid. The taste was not unpleasant, in spite of its old turtle-soupish appearance and consistency. Before all, it was water, and we drank large draughts until our thirst was quenched. The horses received two bucketfuls each, which they quaffed even more greedily than ourselves. Had we given ten to each animal I believe they would have swallowed every drop and whinnied for more. The clear water in the well was left untouched for the sick, and we found that as we drew from the pool, and reduced its depth a few inches, that quite pellucid springs began to flow in, refilling it almost as rapidly as we used it. The steady drain and the constant dipping into our own tank disturbed the mud, so that in a short time the green tinge merged into brown, and ultimately into black, such as you see in the London gutters after heavy rain. With an unquestioning faith in its virtues we continued to drink the thickened water, inwardly blessing the Arabs for not having poisoned the wells by throwing dead cattle into the pool. That afternoon and night the whole force had abundance of beverage, and coffee and tea flowed once more around our bivouac fires.”

God’s presence with His people

“I have read,” says an old divine, “of a company of poor Christians who were banished into some remote part, and one standing by, seeing them pass along, said that it was a very sad condition those poor people were in, to be thus hurried from the society of men, and made companions with the beasts of the field. ‘True,’ said another, ‘it were a sad condition indeed if they were carried to a place where they should not find their God; but let them be of good cheer, God goes along with them, and will exhibit the comforts of His presence whithersoever they go. God’s presence with His people is a spring that never fails.’”

The beautiful man

A little boy, the only child of a poor woman, one day fell into the fire by accident, during his mother’s absence from the cottage, and was so badly burned that he died after a few hours’ suffering. The clergyman of the parish did not hear of the accident until the child was dead. He went, however, to try and console and comfort the mother. To his great surprise he found her very calm and patient and resigned. After a little conversation she told him how that God had sent her wonderful comfort. She had been weeping bitterly as she knelt beside her child’s cot, when suddenly the boy exclaimed, “Mother, don’t cry; don’t you see the beautiful man who is standing there and waiting for me?” She told the clergyman that she thought it must have been the Lord Jesus. The angels in heaven care for, wait upon, and minister unto Christ’s people below.

Goodness of God in affliction

A Sunday school teacher with the movable alphabet put together the sentence, “The Lord is good to all,” and required his class to repeat it. One little fellow refused. The teacher asked his reason. He said because it was not true. “God is not good to father nor to me. He has taken my little brother away, and father is home crying about it.” The teacher explained that God in love had taken the little brother to a better home, and would take him and his father to join him if they loved the Saviour. The child said, “Oh, I’ll go and tell father,” and at once ran to him with his lesson and comfort. It consoled and benefited both father and child.


Verse 12

Genesis 16:12

He will be a wild man

The national character of the Arabs foretold

I.
THESE WORDS CONTAIN NOT A MERE CONTINGENT PROMISE, BUT A SPECIFIC PREDICTION OF FUTURE EVENTS. A bare announcement of what would be the physical, moral, and social condition of the person or persons to whom the passage refers.

II. THESE WORDS ARE INTENDED TO APPLY, NOT MERELY TO THE PERSONAL HISTORY AND CHARACTER OF ISHMAEL, BUT TO THE HISTORY AND CHARACTER OF HIS OFFSPRING. Some of the terms employed and some of the things affirmed are not only unintelligible, but absurd, if they are to be understood of Ishmael rather than of his offspring; for in what sense can it be affirmed, that “his hand was against every man, and every man’s hand against him”? Individually, that strife at all events would very soon be brought to an end. How, either, could it be affirmed that he should “dwell in the presence of all his brethren,” if a single dwelling, and that a tent in the wilderness, were the only thing intended to be set forth?

III. THE ARABIANS ARE THE DESCENDANTS OF ISHMAEL.

IV. THE ARABIANS HAVE EXEMPLIFIED IN THEIR WHOLE HISTORY AND CHARACTER ALL THE PECULIARITIES MENTIONED IN THIS PASSAGE. The term here employed is singularly strong in relation to the first part of the subject. That subject is divided into three particulars: the first, declarative of their freedom; the second, of their hostile dispositions; the third, of their numbers and their power.

1. Here, I say, you have a declaration concerning their freedom: “He will be a wild man.” The language is peculiarly strong; and literally, the affirmation is, that Ishmael should be the same as the animal described in the thirty-ninth chapter of the Book of Job. There the word is literally rendered “the wild ass”: and we read, “Who hath sent out the wild ass free? or who has loosed the hands of the wild ass? whose house I have made the wilderness, and the barren land his dwellings; he scorneth the multitude of the city, neither regardeth he the crying of the driver; the range of the mountains is his pasture, and he searcheth after every green thing.” No terms could have been employed, more fitly or more vividly describing the roaming liberty, or, if you will, licentiousness of the entire Arab nation, whether you regard their internal condition or their external relation.

2. Secondly, we are assured not only of their freedom, but also of the singular hostility of their disposition: “His hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him.” During the lapse of three thousand years, they have by turns assaulted all their neighbours, and been assaulted by them. At this present moment they seek not the alliance of the great or the small, the rich or the poor; they care not who wins or who loses in the strife of the world, if they can remain--the hated of the whole family of mankind besides. What is sacrificed or what is gained is to them matter of perfect indifference if still they may frown upon a world they deem their foe. This has been the case, while all other nations have passed through the phases of slavery and of freedom, of poverty and of wealth, of luxury and of hardihood, of disaster and of danger. Still the Arab is the same.

3. Thirdly, these words exhibit to us their numbers and their power. “I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.” Not an easy thing this, to affirm concerning any individual, in the early period of time to which reference is made. Few, indeed, could ever have attained to such distinction, because there are but few nations who ever arrive to any great degree of honour; much less to such a state of renown, as to secure observation in the pages of inspired truth, or in the general history of the world. Yet if you have been called upon, at all events, to point out those individuals, perhaps the very last you would have fixed upon would have been the son of that poor outcast slave, without a father, without a friend, without a prospect excepting the wilderness for his home. Yet these wanderers in the desert and amongst the rocks were the objects and the sources of surprise and of terror to their early neighbours. It was they who first gave to commerce its gold, its spices, its gems. It was they who furnished to the navies of Tyre that for which they were renowned. It was they who gave to monarchs that by which they decorated their halls and their palaces. It was they who gave to arms honour and renown, while with one hand they seized on the fertile plains of Egypt and with the other laid hold on the mountains of Assyria. Thus during successive ages did they continue dwelling in the presence of all their brethren; whether the Babylonian or the Macedonian, whether the Persian or the Roman swayed the destinies of the world, the Arab occupied the same position, and exerted to a great extent the same power. In later days, however, they came forth under another form, and their course was followed by far deadlier consequences. They lifted up in one hand the Koran, which they regarded as at once the product and the instrument of their great prophet, who said he came from God; with the other they brandished the sword, while nations trembled and fell. They passed off to the east--rushed through the turbid and impetuous waters of the Euphrates and the Tigris--and laid prostrate the millions of India, even to the walls of China. Theypassed to the north, swept the sacred shrines and hollow mummeries of Palestine; laid prostrate the cities and temples and towers of Greece--rushed through the Bosphorus--reared the tokens of their power, and at length became consolidated into a mighty empire, in the eastern part of Europe. They passed to the west--overflowed the plains of Egypt with more resistlessness than the waters of the Nile--dashed along the coast of Barbary--rolled away to Central and Western Africa--overleaped the pillars of Hercules and the barriers of Spain--planted the crescent on the walls of Grenada--illumined darkened Europe with a ray of science--and then returned, leaving the marks of their science and their power in arithmetical characters, used in every one of our schools. And so their history, so unique and so marvellous, has been interwoven with the history of all people, to gather from them all some increasing attestation of the truth of this book, the pillar on which our hopes rest; and resting where we can defy the dashing of every wave, assured that we are in the truth of Him, “in whose hand our breath is, and whose are all our ways.” (J. Aldis.)


Verse 13-14

Genesis 16:13-14

Thou God seest me

The retrospect of a special Providence

Hagar had heard the voice of the Lord, and had distinct evidence of His providential care and regard.

I. THAT IT IS A REVELATION OF GOD. “She called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me.” The doctrine of a general Providence affects us languidly; the impression of it is vague; but there are times in our history when the events are so remarkable that it is as if God had spoken. His finger is plainly seen. This revelation of God had three aspects.

1. It was severe. Hagar was reminded of her fault, and exhorted to instant duty.

2. It was soothing. It is because God “has heard out affliction” that He speaks to us.

3. It produces the impression that God knows us--

II. THAT IT SHOULD EXCITE AMAZEMENT AND GRATITUDE. (T. H. Leale.)

A particular Providence

1. Difficult to believe. We think of God in heaven, and forget that He is also on earth.

2. Sufficiently attested by examples in Holy Scripture.

3. Made clear and certain by the history of our Lord’s work on earth.

4. Realized in the history of every believer. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)

God’s continual presence

“Thou God seest me.” Pause for a moment to contemplate the force of this impressive thought. Life is spent beneath the eye of God. In every part of His dominion, in all the worlds He has formed, His never-closing eye is present, His creative power is felt. The beams of His all-observant thought surround us. God, said the Greeks, is “All Eye.” It is not the feeble and changing glance of fickle guilty man, but it is the pure and perfect scrutiny of the Eternal God, “in whose hand our breath is.” “Thou God seest me.” Then it is not a vague and general observation, but a particular and minute notice--the sinner in his guilt equally with the Christian in his devotions--the peasant in his cottage equally with the prince on his throne. Not the actions only, but the principles, “me”--all that constitutes our essence, all that forms our character, the interior recesses of the spirit, the hidden motives of the heart, the secret springs of the character. This thought may be one--

1. Of grandeur. With respect to God--His infinite dominion--His immense survey. With respect to man--his dignity--his responsibility--his destiny--he must, some day, come immediately before this Being.

2. Of terror. We are never safe. Sin cannot be even thought of without being known. Think of this when temptation invites. There is no darkness which can hide from God.

3. Of consolation in sorrow. He sees with a Father’s eye which fills with compassion. He knows all the trouble of our spirit and our desires to be purer and better.

4. Of hope in danger. He sees, not to increase our misery, but to help and save. He sends His Covenant Angel to succour this desolate woman. None need despair, since God thus helps the outcast and the miserable. (Archbishop Secker)

Belief in the Divine omniscience the foundation of a true and earliest life

This text may be regarded as--

I. THE BASIS OF A LIVING CREED.

II. AN INCENTIVE TO A USEFUL AND BEAUTIFUL LIFE. Two things are essential to such a life--

1. Sincere love of the truth.

2. Earnest practice of the truth.

III. A RESTRAINT WON A SINFUL COURSE. Let these words, “Thou God seest me,” preserve you from--

1. Unhallowed thoughts.

2. Selfish motives.

3. Formalism and hypocrisy.

4. Despondency and unbelief. (J. R. Goulty, B. A.)

The eye of God

Does it not seem both strange and sad that these familiar words should suggest a feeling akin to terror in so many human hearts? How appalling does it seem to reflect that there is no possibility of escape from its relentless, inexorable vision! Yet there was a time when such a thought as this would have awakened only feelings of pleasure in the human mind and heart. When Adam came into the world fresh from the hand of God, nothing could have been further from his thoughts than to regard this consideration as suggestive of terror. On the contrary, he found true deep joy no doubt in just such a reflection as this. But the moment man sinned, and fell by sin, in nothing were the lamentable consequences of the fall so apparent as in this. The eye of God, that before seemed to cast rays of beneficent sunshine on his path, now seemed to shoot a hot and scorching thunderbolt into his soul. He felt that he must needs find a hiding place from that eye. Surely it would be simply impossible to do what many of us do if we really believed in our hearts, and were dwelling on the thought, “Thou God seest me.” You never knew a thief that perpetrated a felony before the very eyes of the officer of justice, and knowing that he was being observed. And should we dare to break God’s law, and defy His Majesty, if we really believed that God was looking at us? or would men indulge in the miserable hypocrisies with which they seem to succeed sometimes in stupefying their own consciences, if they really believed that God both saw them and saw through them? Men get into such a way of playing a part before their fellow man, that it would seem as if at last they grew to feel as if they could overreach and impose upon Almighty God. But they cannot! Always, and in all circumstances and conditions, in my best moments and in my worst, in public and in private, within, without, “Thou God seest me.” What does He see? My brethren, let us in answer lay proper stress upon that little but, to each of us severally, important word me. It is the real “me,” the actual self, that God sees. First there is the social self. The fine gentleman that moves in good society, with his company manners, endeavouring to make himself particularly agreeable to all around him. Well skilled is he to repress all that the world in which he moves--not less hypocritical than himself--would be disposed to frown on. He avoids what is coarse, abjures what is in bad taste, checks any display of the selfishness that may be natural to him, may even exhibit not a little self-control, should he be crossed by some petty annoyance. If he is proud, he has the sense not to show it; and strangers think him wondrously affable. This social paragon is so well veneered that you almost begin to think he is not veneered at all, and the superficial glance of society discerns only a charming exterior, and an amiable and estimable ornament for itself. But what does God see? Peradventure a whited sepulchre, a disguised savage, far less to be excused for the latent savagery of a selfish, passionate, licentious, and rapacious nature than the naked savage in the wild, who never wore any veneer except war-paint, is to be excused for his. And as for this conventional presentment of self God sees it not, or only sees it to see through it as the flimsiest of disguises. It is not this respectable sham that God sees, but the real actual self, whatever he may be. “Thou God seest me.” Yet again there is the commercial self--not quite such a paragon of perfection as the social self. There is much less veneer about him, and much more exposure of some inner substance, which, whatever its true nature, is not always very smooth or very pretty. Yet it passes muster, because there are so many more all around it that are its moral counterparts. A little greedy, a little avaricious, a little selfish and unscrupulous the man may be; but then, you know, that sort of thing is to some extent expected in business; and against these little failings how much of sterling merit is there to be set! First, there is the great merit of solvency! You are a substantial man, and can always pay twenty shillings in the pound; and in these days of rascally bankruptcy there is no small virtue in the eye of the commercial world. Then again you have never condescended to any vulgar form of swindling. You would scorn the idea of doing anything that could by any means expose you to the action of law, or induce commercial ostracism. A respectable man of business, that is what the world sees. Is that the real self, or only the self that has to do duty at the office? Is that the thing that God sees when He looks at you? or is it only another and less attractive counterfeit presentation of self that He sees through and through? Don’t let us attempt to blind Him, for we cannot. “Thou God seest me.” The secret things of dishonesty, the idolatry of Mammon, the indifference to others, the selfish eagerness to make capital out of their ruin, the readiness to lie without a blush, if only there is no particular chance of the lie being detected--all this, and a great deal more, may be included in the “me,” without interfering much with my commercial reputation, provided I can make it pay. With Mammon once on my side, there is not much to be feared from unfriendly criticisms in most commercial circles; but what does God see? But we must come nearer home. There is the domestic self, whose faults and failings are perhaps even more apparent than those of his commercial presentment. Your wife knows more of your real moral character, probably, than do those with whom you transact business. Your children too--for children are always sharp observers--may have noticed many a little failing about you that you would not like published in the drawing room or in the counting house; but then domestic affection is very apt to be blind. So even here we don’t get at the real self. We see perhaps the respected father, the idolized husband; but what does God see? Perhaps a father who slapped his child’s hands for stealing a lump of sugar, when he had that very day put a hundred pounds into his pocket by “operating” ingeniously upon the market, or by perpetrating some other act of skilfully disguised fraud; or thrashed his boy for telling a lie, when he himself had told at least a dozen that day in his own counting house. Alas! we don’t get at the real man even when we find him at home. But God sees more than either wife or child, or servant or friend. “Thou God seest me.” But we, must go further still. There is the ideal self, which, like a familiar spirit, we ever carry about with us--a presentation of self to self, in which we are careful to ignore or excuse all that is evil or faulty, and to magnify all that is good. How rare a thing is it for any man to entertain a really poor opinion of himself, whatever mock-modest expressions we may use? Or I might put it thus: How many of us would be able to stand behind a hedge, and hear with anything like a feeling of equanimity our faults and failings described with accuracy by a neighbour? Yes, I believe that most of us have an ideal self that we confuse with the real, and for which we have always a kindly feeling; but it is not this that God looks at. His eye is fixed, not on the phantom, but on him who creates it; not on the ideal, but on the actual. “Thou God seest me.” He sees our thoughts, detecting the secret springs of motive from which our actions flow. He discerns at a glance what our life purpose is, and which way it flows. He sees our religion, and knows whether or not it is more than skin-deep. And He sees our actual irreligion; how, it may be, some of us in this church tonight have desecrated our nature by closing it against God. We have barred the door against the Divine Visitant, and He saw us doing it! The eye of God pierces through every barrier, and discerns it all. “Thou God seest me.” What does He see? The past as well as the present; the series of years gone by, as well as the marks that they have left upon our character today. In the completeness of our history, as well as in the real character of our moral condition, it still remains true, “Thou God seest me.” And yet, seeing all this as no one else can or does see it, the wonderful thing is He loves us still. Poor, wandering, desolate soul! What a sudden rush of joy must have possessed her as she thus learnt for the first time, not as a mere religious or theological theory, but as a blessed fact, that truth which lies behind all other truths--the Fatherhood of God! And He sees us too, and sees us, as He did her, with a Father’s eye, and loves us, wanderers though we may be, with a Father’s heart; and He who took an interest in Hagar, takes an interest in us. “Whence comest thou?” Ah! who shall answer that question, and trace the history of our being up to its hidden source? Yet do we know something of the answer to the question so far as regards the race. When comest thou, O fallen man, who hast lost all contact with God, and wanderest aimlessly on from day to day, having no hope, and without God in the world? Let us never forget it, however low thou mayest have fallen, however far thou mayest have wandered, thy first home was Eden, thy first experience the revealed love of thy Father--God. “Whence comest thou?” Let us turn from the race to the individual, let us apply the question to ourselves. Whence do we come? In early years we were baptized in the Triune Name, and were branded with the Cross of Christ in token of allegiance to Him; and can we doubt that He who called the little ones to Himself, and laid His hands upon them, and blessed them, met us with His blessing in those early days? Have we turned our back upon our birthright privileges? and are we, as it were, going away further and further from all that we had a right to enjoy? Do we come from the comparative innocence of childhood? from the purer associations, the holier aspirations, of our earlier days? from the better influences of Christian homes? from the favourable atmosphere of religious society? “Whence comest thou?” Have you left all that is best and purest in human life behind you? Has your progress been all in the wrong direction? And whither wilt thou go? Perhaps you have never paused to reflect where those wandering steps of yours are taking you. Like Hagar, you have wandered on without any definite idea as to where your wanderings were to end. Whither wilt thou go? The world, with all its fading pageants, its flimsy inanities, invites your steps. It offers pleasure, but not joy; excitement, but not happiness; intoxication and stupefaction that shall benumb your nobler faculties and check your aspirations, but no satisfaction; stagnation, but not peace. How little has it done for you in the past! and in the future it can do still less. Its capacities of gratification diminish with each passing year. Yes, whither? Is there no welcome for thee in thy Father’s house? no greeting of love? no feast of joy? Is He thy foe, that thou shouldest fly from Him thus? (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)

The omniscience of the Deity

I. In the first place I would endeavour to lay before you the ARGUMENT FOR THE OMNISCIENCE AND OMNIPRESENCE OF GOD WHICH IS DERIVED FROM NATURAL RELIGION. We assert, then, that the doctrine of the omnipresence of God results from the truth universally acknowledged, that the world owes its existence to a Creator. Wherever we direct our view we perceive marks of intelligence and design. In every part of the universe accessible to our survey, we have therefore the most resplendent proofs that there the hand of God hath been; consequently, at that period, at least, the Divine Being was omnipresent. I make this limitation, because, to argue with correctness, it is required, that we should infer no more than the premises laid down will allow. But now it is possible, for it may be conceived, that the Divine Creator, having made all things, and, consequently, having then been present everywhere, afterward withdrew His immediate agency. Wherefore, even upon the principle of such persons themselves, when properly understood, the omniscience of God follows as a necessary consequence. For if, as must be acknowledged, everything in the universe is under the control of some one or more of these laws, it follows that in every point of the universe, the Deity is acting; and where He acts, there He is, and where He is, there He perceives.

II. Having adduced the testimony of natural religion to the omnipresence of God, we proceed to lay before you THE PROOF FURNISHED BY THE SCRIPTURES. The testimony of the text will be found clear and strong. How awful are the words of Elihu, “His eyes are upon the ways of man, and He seeth all his goings; there is no darkness nor shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves” (Job 34:21). To the sameeffect the wise man speaks in the fifteenth chapter of Proverbs and eighth verse, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place beholding the evil and the good.” See the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Proverbs and eleventh verse, “Hell and destruction are before the Lord, how much more the hearts of men.” Neither do the Scriptures represent Him as a mere spectator, but as a witness and judge who scrutinizes the thoughts and actions with all their circumstances, and makes a just and righteous estimation of them. I know and I am witness, saith the Lord. The Lord is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed. “All the actions of a man are right in his own eyes, but the Lord weigheth the spirits.” The Scriptures declare that God is the Governor of the material and moral world; consequently, as it is necessary that the Creator and Governor of the universe should be in all places of His dominion at the same moment, in order that He may sustain and guide the whole, so it is absolutely necessary that He should have a perfect knowledge of everything, without which omnipotence and omnipresence were useless. The Scriptures declare that God is the moral governor but the judge of all men; they represent Him as having given laws of the most spiritual character--that is to say, relating to the spirits of men in the most comprehensive manner. They reach to every part of our conduct, and not only direct the outward life, but give also law to the most retired thought and inward affection. Thus we are Proverbs 24:9, “That the thought of foolishness is sin.”

III. I shall close the subject WITH AN APPLICATION OF ITS SEVERAL USES.

1. Let us take occasion from the subject, to adore, with humble gratitude, the long suffering, patience, and tender compassion of our God. Does He see the first dark thought of lust or rage, and does He look on still and spare us till it be fully formed and executed? How incomprehensible, then, must be His patience.

2. Let the subject of the Divine omniscience be a prevailing motive with us to honesty and sincerity. He who can thus realize the Divine presence, cannot, dare not be a hypocrite.

3. Again, from the subject of the Divine omnipresence, let every sinner remember that God is present at the commission of all his crimes.

4. Further, the doctrine of the Divine omniscience affords abundant cause of joy to the godly. His eyes are continually upon you for good. He is perfectly acquainted with your wants, and He knows all things that are required for their supply. This qualifies Him to be the object of your trust and confidence. On Him you may safely depend.

5. Lastly, let the doctrine of Divine omniscience restrain us from every sin, and excite us to every duty, “Thou God seest me.” (J. F. Denham.)

The Divine inspection of man

I. LOOK AT THE TEXT IN A DOCTRINAL ASPECT.

1. God sees us Himself.

2. God sees us completely.

3. God sees us perpetually.

4. God sees every rational being as He sees us. The Indian, the

African: all can adopt language of text.

II. LOOK AT THE TEXT IN A PRACTICAL ASPECT. The thought of God’s omnipresence, when received into the heart, is--

1. One of the most powerful restraints from the commission of sin.

2. One of the most powerful incentives to do His will.

3. A source of true delight.

4. A remedy for the dangers and sorrows of life. (A. McAuslane, D. D.)

The angel in the wilderness

I. THE NAME OF THE LORD. “Thou God seest me,” or, Thou God of vision; “for she said, Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me?” i.e., I have seen Him that He has seen me; I have seen Him and lived. Hagar’s seeing God was God’s seeing Hagar. The vision was not merely objective, but subjective. The state of Hagar’s mind was doubtless preparation for some such interposition. Lamenting her sin, weary, desolate, praying for help. Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.

II. CONNECT THE REVELATION WITH THE PERSONAL HISTORY. Hagar saw the Lord, received His word of grace into her heart, obeyed His commandment. The faith which initiates practical obedience is a progressive blessedness. When we know that God has appeared unto us, when we have looked into His countenance in the light of His reconciling love, when we feel assured that our life is under His eye, that it may be in His hand, then bondage is liberty, submission is delight, patience is growing expectation. (R. A. Redford, M. A.)

Hagar in the wilderness

This self-interrogation of Hagar is suggestive of three things.

I. IT SUGGESTS A SOLEMN FACT IS HUMAN HISTORY. God sees us.

1. The very nature of God implies this.

2. The Bible teaches this.

II. IT SUGGESTS A SAD TENDENCY IN HUMAN NATURE. Hagar’s question implies a fear that she had not been sufficiently conscious of this fact.

1. The signs of this tendency.

2. The causes of this tendency.

III. IT SUGGESTS AN URGENT OBLIGATION IN HUMAN LIFE. A sense of God’s continual presence will--

1. Restrain from sin.

2. Stimulate to virtue.

3. Strengthen for trial.

4. Qualify for the full mission of life. (Homilist.)

Omniscience

I. THE GENERAL DOCTRINE. God sees us.

1. This may be easily proved, even from the nature of God. It were hard to suppose a God who could not see His own creatures; it were difficult in the extreme to imagine a divinity who could not behold the actions of the works of His hands. The word which the Greeks applied to God implied that He was a God who could see. They called Him θεος‚ (Theos); and they derived that word, if I read rightly, from the root θεψσθαι (Theisthai), to see, because they regarded God as being the All-seeing One, whose eye took in the whole universe at a glance, and whose knowledge extended far beyond that of mortals. There were no god if that God had no eyes, for a blind God were no God at all.

2. Yet, further, we are sure that God must see us, for we are taught in the Scriptures that God is everywhere, and if God be everywhere, what doth hinder Him from seeing all that is done in every part of His universe?

3. But lest any should suppose that God may be in a place, and yet slumbering, let me remind him that in every spot to which he can travel there is not simply God but God’s activity. Wherever I go I shall find, not a slumbering God, but a God busy about the affairs of this world.

4. I have one more proof to offer which I think to be conclusive. God, we may be sure, sees us, when we remember that He can see a thing before it happens. If He beholds an event before it transpires, surely reason dictates He must see a thing that is happening now. Read those ancient prophecies, read what God said should be the end of Babylon and of Nineveh; just turn to the chapter where you read of Edom’s doom, or where you are told that Tyre shall be desolate; then walk through the lands of the East, and see Nineveh and Babylon cast to the ground, the cities ruined; and then reply to this question--“Is not God a God of foreknowledge?”

II. Now I come, in the second place, to the SPECIAL DOCTRINE: “Thou God seest me.”

1. Mark, God sees you--selecting anyone out of this congregation--He sees you, He sees you as much as if there were nobody else in the world for Him to look at.

2. God sees you entirely.

3. God sees you constantly.

4. Supremely.

III. Now I come to DIFFERENT INFERENCES for different persons, to serve different purposes.

1. First, to the prayerful. Prayerful man, prayerful woman, here is a consolation--God sees you: and if He can see you, surely He can hear you.

2. I have given a word for the prayerful, now a word for the careful. Some here are very full of care, and doubts, and anxieties, and fears. Don’t give up in despair. If your case be ever so bad, God can see your care, your troubles, and your anxieties.

3. And now a word to the slandered. There are some of us who come in for a very large share of slander. It is very seldom that the slander market is much below par; it usually runs up at a very mighty rate; and there are persons who will take shares to any amount. Well, what matters it?

Suppose you are slandered; here is a comfort: “Thou God seest me.” They say that such-and-such is your motive, but you need not answer them; you can say “God knows that matter.”

4. Now a sentence or two to some of you who are ungodly and know not Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Hagar at the fountain

I. In speaking of Hagar I shall first dwell for a little upon HER REMARKABLE EXPERIENCE.

1. Observe that Hagar had outlawed herself. The untamable spirit which afterwards showed itself in her son Ishmael raged in her bosom. So, too, have we met with those who have deliberately left the ways of God and the people of God, and all semblance of goodness, because they have thought themselves badly used. They do not, indeed, care what becomes of them: they would flee from the presence of God Himself if they could.

2. While she was there, in the moment of her desperation, she was found by the angel. What was there about her that Jehovah should come out of His place to seek her? Yet He came in unexpected grace as He is wont to do. He remembered the low estate of His handmaiden, and because His mercy endureth forever, He found her by the fountain in the wilderness.

3. When the angel of the Lord found Hagar, He dealt graciously with her. Indeed this was the object of His finding her; He Game in pity, not in wrath. Blessed be God, it has happened to tens of thousands that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. When they have run away and outlawed themselves, grace has followed them, grace has convicted them, grace has admonished them, and grace has made large promises to them.

II. Now I want you to notice HER DEVOUT ACKNOWLEDGMENT. When that which we have described happened to her, she acknowledged the living God. My text says, “She called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me.”

1. She spake to Him that spake to her: after this fashion do we all begin our communion with God. Oh, when God speaks to you, you will soon find a tongue to speak to Him. What did she say?

2. She acknowledged Him to be God. “She called the name of the Lord that spake to her, Thou God seest me.” It is one thing to believe there is a

God, but it is quite another thing to know it by coming into personal contact with Him.

3. Observe that she acknowledged His observant love. She could not help acknowledging it, for it flashed before her eyes.

4. In the presence of that God she felt overpowered and ready to yield. She was so overwhelmed that no rebellion remained within her. She girds her garments about her, and she makes the best of her way home to the tent of Sarai. Her mistress is hard; but sin is harder.

III. Let me now call to your notice THE MANIFEST AMAZEMENT of this woman; for in her glad surprise she uttered a sentence which runs as follows: “Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me?” Expositors will tell you that as many senses may be given to this sentence as there are words in it; and each one of these senses will bear a measure of decent defence. I shall not go into them all, but I think I see clearly that she was amazed that God should care for her. “Thou God seest me. Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me?” Does He see me? Do I see Him? Do you not say, “Why me, my Lord? Why me?” Sit still in holy wonder, and adore and bless the Lord.

5. I think her next amazement was that she should have been such a long time without ever thinking of Him who had thought so much of her. She says, “Have I also here looked unto Him that seeth me?” “What! Have I been these years with Abraham, and heard about the God who has been looking at me in love, and have I never glanced a thought to Him?” Her ungodliness astounds her.

6. But next, she is amazed still more to think that at last she does look unto God. In effect she cries, “What! Has it come to this? Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me? Is Hagar at last converted? What a surprise it must be to rebels to be thus seized in the arms of grace and transformed into friends of the King! I ask God that such a surprise may await some who are here today. May you also inquire in amazement, “Have I here also looked after Him that seeth me?”

7. One other surprise Hagar had, and that was the surprise to think that she was alive. It was the common conviction of that age that no man could see God and live. The awakened sinner, when he is met with by the God of grace, wonders that he has not been cut down as a cumberer of the ground.

IV. HER HUMBLE WORSHIP.

1. She worshipped God heartily and intelligently, according to her knowledge.

2. She worshipped beyond her knowledge, according to her apprehension.

3. Her worship was wonderfully personal.

4. Her worship proved itself deeply true, for it was followed by immediate practical obedience to the command of the Lord.

V. We will conclude by glancing for an instant at the well which became THE SUGGESTIVE MEMORIAL of this special manifestation and singular experience. That well--we do not know what it had been called before--but that Beer, or well, was henceforth called Beer-lahai-roi, or the well of Him that liveth and seeth. Will we not all at this time drink of that well? It was a very happy thought to attach a holy name to a well, so that every traveller might learn of God as he refreshed himself. When a person comes to drink at certain fountains he reads, “Drink, gentle traveller, drink and pray.” The inscription is most suitable. It is fit that men should pray when they receive so precious a refreshment as pure water. It was specially meet that travellers should henceforth and forever pray at a spot where the Lord Himself had been, and had called to Himself a wanderer who had felt compelled to cry, “God lives, and God sees.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

What seeing God does for us

(Sermon to children.) “Thou God seest me”--a name for God found by a woman who had run away from duty. She could not run away from God. It took her back to duty to feel that God saw her (Jonah, and Psalms 139:1-24).

I. GOD’S EYE ON US MAY MAKE US UNCOMFORTABLE. Illustration: Servant girl cutting out eyes of picture which seemed to watch her pilfering. Sentinels in Portland prison. Prison with hole in door, and the warder’s eye ever there.

II. IT MAY MAKE US HAPPY. If we are in any trouble. Sad thing to feel alone. Widowed mother in trouble. Little children say, “Is God dead, mother?” If God sees, He must be there. If He is there, He must be there as Helper.

III. IT MAY MAKE US STRONG. “Can do all things through Him who strengthens us.” Some, like Adam and Eve, hide from God. Some, like David, can say, “I flee unto Thee to hide me.” (The Weekly Pulpit.)

The eye of God always upon us

I. A REFLECTION VERY PLEASING TO GOOD MEN. “Thou God seest me.”

1. This is a pleasing reflection when I fear some hidden corruption which has hindered the answer of prayer, and often deprived me of comfort, but which I cannot, after the most faithful investigation, detect. He can discern it--“Show me wherefore Thou contendest with me.”

2. This is a pleasing reflection when I feel those infirmities which make me groan. He sees grace, however small; He sees the disadvantages of my situation, the influence of the body over the mind, and of sensible things over the body; He sees that the “spirit indeed is willing when the flesh is weak.”

3. This is a pleasing reflection with regard to prayer. I often know not what to pray for as I ought; but He always knows what to give. I cannot express myself properly in words; but words are not necessary to inform Him who “knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit--my desire is before Him, and my groaning is not hid from Him.”

4. This is a pleasing reflection when I am suffering under the suspicions of friends or the reproaches of enemies. “Behold my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high. Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee.”

5. This is a pleasing reflection when I am in trouble. He knows all my “walking through this great wilderness”; He knows where the burden presses; He knows how long to continue the trial, and by what means to remove it.

II. TO THE WICKED IT IS A VERY AWFUL REFLECTION.

1. God sees everything you do.

2. He does not forget anything He has seen.

3. And to complete the terror of this consideration--all He has seen He will publish before the whole world: and He will also punish all that He has seen “with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.”

III. The reflection will be found very USEFUL TO ALL.

1. Useful as a check to sin. For can a person sin while he realizes this? Can he affront the Almighty to His very face?--Impossible.

2. Useful as a motive to virtue. The presence, the eye of One who is above us, and whom we highly esteem and reverence, elevates our minds and refines our behaviour; and we desire to act so as to gain His approbation. A servant feels this when he is before his master, and a subject when he is before the king. One of the heathen philosophers, therefore, recommended his pupils, as the best means to induce and enable them to behave worthily, to imagine that some very distinguished character was always looking upon them. But what was the eye of a Care compared with the eye of Jehovah!

3. Useful as a reason for simplicity and godly sincerity. Oh! let it banish all dissimulation from our religious exercises; and, whether we read, or hear, or pray, or surround the table of the Lord, let us remember that “God weigheth the spirits.” If we had to do with men only, a fair appearance might be sufficient; “but the Lord looketh to the heart.” And can we play the hypocrite under those eyes which are as a flame of fire? (W. Jay.)

The omnipresence of God

1. The first idea presented to us is one of wonder, admiration, and comfort. It does not so much express her awe as her surprise and delight, that the God of whom she had heard in Abraham’s family should have appeared to her in her perplexity. “Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me?”

2. I go on to observe that the omnipresence of God is salutary only when it implies watchful and personal inspection of our conduct, and personal interest in our welfare. We are under a government; we live under an immutable system of law. We ignorantly think to evade it; but the Lawgiver is all eye and all ear. We have no adequate motive for a moral life, except it be the active oversight of a moral Ruler. Every transgressor hopes to escape observation. The great majority need a power out of ourselves, independent of our own strength, resolutions, or sense of duty; yet not superseding, but quickening and aiding these motives to high moral conduct. We do not want to set aside the social esteem which follows good conduct; but this being of most precarious quality, we want to aid it by the sense of Divine approval, manifested to the individual by a personal, all-seeing Judge and Ruler. (B. Kent, M. A.)

God’s all-seeing eye

I. THAT WE ARE EACH OF US THE OBJECTS OF THE DIVINE NOTICE.

1. God sees us by virtue of His omnipresence.

2. God sees us that we may be the objects of His providential care.

3. God sees us as preparatory to the final judgment.

II. SOME OF THOSE SEASONS WHEN WE ARE PRONE TO FORGET THE DIVINE OMNIPRESENCE.

1. In discharge of the common duties of life how often may we say, “Have I here looked after Him that seeth me?” When we come to the sanctuary we expect to meet with God, for we know that He has said, “In all places where I record My name I will come and bless them.” But when the services of the sanctuary are ended, and the Sabbath is closed, and the morrow has come, and one man has gone to his farm, another to his merchandise, how prone are we to lose sight of the solemn truth, “Thou God seest me.”

2. Under the pressure of severe temptation how often may we propose this question.

3. So, too, in reference to some of the sorrowful events of human life the inquiry of nay text will apply. If you have ever been sorrowful and have not been comforted--if you have been weak, and have not been strengthened--if you have been despairing, and hope has not revived, it has not beenbecause God has forsaken you, but because you have not “looked” or sought for Him; and oh, if God had only come to us when we “looked” for Him--if He had not surprised us with many a visit, and succoured us with unexpected help, how seldom would He have come to us at all. (H. J. Gamble.)

The omniscience of God illustrated a sermon to children

I. WHO IS GOD?

1. A Being, great in power, wisdom, knowledge, love.

2. A Judge.

3. Your Father. His eye is upon you, to protect, preserve, supply wants.

4. Your Saviour.

II. WHY DOES GOD SEE ME?

1. Because He is full of goodness and mercy.

2. Because He loves you, and would make you happy, by making you like Himself.

III. WHEN DOES GOD SEE ME? At all times. He sees you when you entice others to join you in some foolish act, add while you are making the lie to hide the fault; He sees you making that lie. He sees you when Satan is busy about you, to do you some mischief, and keeps Satan away that he may not hurt you.

IV. WHERE DOES GOD SEE ME? In all places. Adam among trees. Hagar in wilderness. Jonah inside monster of deep. Daniel in lions’ den.

V. WHAT DOES GOD SEE IN ME? He sees in you, my child, a sinful heart; He sees you a child of fallen Adam, ready to follow the temptations of Satan, and to do all manner of evil. Again: God sees in you children a backwardness and reluctancy to do what He commands: and you don’t like reading your Bibles, and you don’t like coming to church.

VI. WHAT DOES GOD WISH TO SEE IN ME? He wishes to see in you repentance, that you may ask for forgiveness for the past, and help for the time to come. He wishes to see in you a prayerful heart; not a mere saying, but a thinking of the words you say. (T. J. Judkin.)

The all-seeing eye

1. God sees your heart--what you are. Others do not see your heart; they cannot. They can only see what is outward. You cannot see the heart of so small a thing as a watch. It has a gold or silver case, and a beautiful dial, and hands such as good watches have, and you may pay a large sum of money for it; and yet its inside, which is the real watch, may be all defective and wrong. Now your heart determines what you are. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” It is what you think and feel, and wish, and purpose, that marks out what you really are. And I daresay you are sometimes thankful enough that nobody can see that; things are often outwardly so good, and yet so bad within. But God sees it all--all that we are within--all that is going on in our inmost heart. The heart is transparent to Him.It is as if it were made of glass.

2. God sees your life--what you do. Much of what is outward, as well as all that is within, is unseen and unknown by others. Many things are done secretly. I have been in institutions in which a large number of young people are being educated. Looking from the governor’s room into the common hall where they work and play and get their meals, is a window that commands the whole. He had scarcely to rise from his chair in order to see all that was going on. And they knew it. Every now and then you might see an eye turned to the window, especially if there was anything questionable or wrong going on. And sure enough there was the face at the window--all was seen by the governor! And yet, even in such a case, where there is the sharpest lookout, it is possible to elude observation; things are done which no one sees, which everybody denies, and sometimes it is impossible to find out who has been the wrong-doer. But God sees all. Nothing escapes His observation. He slumbers not nor sleeps. The most secret thing that anyone can do, lies open to Him. Every word, though spoken in a whisper, He hears. Every act, however hidden, His eye looks right down upon.

3. God sees you in the dark. It is wonderful what an idea most people have of darkness, as covering and hiding things, Now, we need to be reminded that however it may be with men, darkness makes no difference to God. He sees in the dark just as in the light; so that, so far as He is concerned--and it is mainly with Him we have to do--it is of no use waiting till night, till it is dark.

4. God sees you in the crowd. When one wishes not to be seen, he likes to get into a crowd. We speak of being “lost in the crowd.” Hence it is so easy to do many things in a crowd, which one would not do alone. Hence evil becomes so bold in a crowd. I recollect seeing a number of youths standing at a corner, in a seafaring town, going great lengths in the way of scoffing and reviling and ridiculing all that was good. A friend challenged any one of them to go out with him along a country road and say the same things there. He dared them to do, one by one, what they did boldly in the mass. I need not say the challenge was not accepted--all shrunk from it. But here, too, it is otherwise with God than it is with men. Just as darkness makes no difference, so numbers make none. Each individual out of ten thousand stands out as distinctly as if there were but the one.

5. God sees you when alone. A strange feeling of being unobserved, so as to be at liberty to do anything, comes over one when he is alone. There is such a sense of solitude that, so far as anyone else is concerned, it seems to matter little what one does. To be left alone with oneself is far more dangerous for some than to be surrounded by the most skilful of tempters. Many have found their way to prison and to ruin just through being left alone. But when one is most alone, in the most out-of-the-way place, in the remotest corner of the earth--God sees. Gehazi, the prophet’s servant, thought he was all unobserved when he hurried after Naaman, the Syrian, after he was healed, and by a lying device got money from him, which he stowed away securely, and then presented himself before his master. How he must have been startled when Elisha said, “Went not my heart with thee?” And so God says, “Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him?”

6. God sees you everywhere. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro, throughout the whole earth” (2 Chronicles 16:9). “Do not I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:24).

7. God sees you always. There is no moment when He does not see you--night or day--waking or sleeping--alone or in company. It is told of Linnaeus, the famous naturalist, that he was greatly impressed with this thought, and that it told on his conversation, his writings, and his conduct. He felt the importance of this so much that he wrote over the door of his study the Latin words: “Innocui vivite; Numen adest”; “Live innocently; God is here.” We might well have these words before us everywhere. (J. H. Wilson, M. A.)

The punctuality of Providence

We wonder at the smooth working of the machinery for feeding a great city; and how, day by day, the provisions come at the right time, and are parted out among hundreds of thousands of homes. But we seldom think of the punctual love, the perfect knowledge, the profound wisdom which cares for us all, and is always in time with its gifts. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

God’s eye

We think much of being seen of men; some of us would do anything for the sake of keeping up appearances. We should not give a penny to the offertory instead of a shilling if our neighbour could see us; we should not sell an adulterated article over the counter if a friend were looking over our shoulder. There are certain things which we do in private which we would not let our acquaintances know, and yet God knows all. We may lock our door, we may draw down the blind before we commit a sin, but God sees us: no lock shuts Him out. (H. J. Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)

God’s omniscience

Nomus, one of the heathen gods, is said to have complained of Vulcan, that he had not set a grate at every man’s breast. God hath a glazed window in the darkest houses of clay; He sees what is done in them when none other can. To God’s omnipotence there is nothing impossible; and to God’s omniscience there is nothing invisible.

God is present

Here is a young banker. When he was a boy in a country home, his mother bought for him an illuminated card with this text on it. It was framed and hung at the foot of his bed, so that every morning it was the first thing that met his eye when he awoke. By and by he went to a large city and entered a banking establishment. His father’s last words to him, as he bade him good-bye, were, “Remember your motto, Thou God seest me.” He soon rose to position, securing the unlimited confidence of his employers. Then came the hour of temptation--to enrich himself by taking a large sum of money and running off. It grew upon him and mastered him. All was ready. He stayed behind when the other clerks left the office, He turned the key of the safe and the heavy door swung open. The money was counted. It was in his hands. The deed was all but done, when the old text--the text of his boyhood--flashed out. Conscience awoke. The money fell from his hands. It seemed as if it had a voice--as if it said, “Thou God seest me,” and the agonized youth cried out, “O God of my mother, save me from this awful crime.” The money was replaced, and the young man was saved. (J. H. Wilson, M. A.)

Unconscious surveillance

Some years since a trio of gentlemen, members of a large mercantile firm, came into the office of the writer, and, under injunctions of profound secrecy, desired the favour of using the window for a few days. The privilege was readily granted, and one of their number was at once installed behind a curtain, where, with a powerful glass, he could rigidly scrutinize every movement of a certain clerk in a large building across the way. The young man, all unconscious of the vigilant, eye constantly upon him, was absorbed in his duties, making entries and receiving money; and, whatever consciousness of innocence or guilt was carried about with him, the suspicion of a rigid watch upon his actions--every movement closely scanned and weighed by his employers--doubtless had never entered his mind. The surveillance was continuednearly a week when it was abruptly terminated, and the result, whether in discovery of wrong or establishing innocence, I never learned. The incident made a profound impression upon me, suggesting, with thrilling distinctness, the solemn truth which men are so prone to forget, “Thou God seest me,” and enabling me as never before to realize how open before Him are the hearts and ways of men, their desires, volitions, actions; and that at last He shall bring every work into judgment whether it be good or whether it be evil. (Old Testament Anecdotes.)

Thought of omniscience

A man went to steal corn from his neighbour’s field. He took his little boy with him to keep a lookout, so as to give warning in case anyone should come along. Before commencing he looked all around, first one way and then the other; and not seeing any person he was just about to fill his bag when the son cried out, “Father, there is one way you haven’t looked yet!” The father supposed that someone was coming, and asked his son which way he meant. He answered, “You forgot to look up!” The father, conscience-stricken, took his boy by the hand, and hurried home without the corn which he had designed to take.

Power of the eye

Mazzini’s soul was an inner lamp, shining through him always. Here was the strength of his personal influence. You could not doubt his glance. (Thousand New Illustrations.)

Perfection of omniscience

Is this universe an unsurveyed and solitary waste? Do you fancy there is no presence to cheer it, nor eye to look upon it forever? There is an eye whose vision is spread all over this amazing scene. There is a mind present unto it in all its illimitable extent. The Eternal One at the same moment converses with its immeasurably remote extremes. There is a mind to whose intelligence all this amazing vast of worlds on worlds, and suns on suns, and systems on systems, is distinctly apparent. Every atom in this magnificent immensity, whether sinking in its depths or aspiring in its heights, whether resting on its axis or whirling on its verge, is watched by the intense and eternal scrutiny of the omnipresent and omniscient God. (Bishop Hamline.)

God is ever near

The people of God, if they read nature aright, might learn much from even her humblest page; for the bending grass has a voice as distinct, if not as loud, as the sturdy oak. Myriad voices ever testify that God is near. This truth was found beautifully realized a little while ago by one of the agents of the London City Mission, who was visiting in one of those courts where the houses are crowded with inhabitants, and where every room is the dwelling of a family. In a lone room at the top of one of these houses the agent met with an aged woman, whose scanty pittance of half-a-crown a week was scarcely sufficient for her bare subsistence. He observed, in a broken teapot that stood in the window, a strawberry plant, growing and flourishing. He remarked, from time to time, how it continued to grow, and with what jealous care it was watched and tended. “Your plant flourishes nicely; you will soon have strawberries upon it.” “Oh, sir,” replied the woman, “it is not for the sake of the fruit that I grow it.” “Then why do you take so much care of it?” he inquired. “Well, sir,” was the answer, “I am very poor, too poor to keep any living creature; but it is a great comfort to me to have that living plant; for I know it can only live by the power of God; and as I see it live and grow from day to day, it tells me that God is near.” “Thou God seest me.” A young Christian lady was laid on a sick bed. She was often unprotected and alone. One night very late, as she was lying awake on her bed, her family all asleep in their rooms around, a man was seen by her entering her door. He stopped a moment after he had gained entrance, her little night lamp shining on them both from the stand by her bedside. He saw this sick girl surveying him with perfect tranquillity. She raised her finger, pointing upward, and said, “Do you know that God sees you?” The man waited a moment, but made no reply, and then turned and walked immediately out, having opened no other door than the street door and the door of her chamber. Thus God interposed and defended her by the weakest instrument, but with the mightiest power. “Thou God seest me.” When the great Phidias had completed his reclining statue of Theseus, someone, knowing that the statue was to occupy an elevated position in the temple, and observing that the back of the masterpiece was as highly polished and as carefully completed as was the front, asked why such waste of time and energy, when no one would ever see whether it was finished or in the rough. The sculptor calmly and reverently replied, “Men may not see it, but the gods will.” Our every act is under the inspection of the living God. (Christian Age.)

One of God’s ambassadors

It presented a difficulty to the mind of the Emperor Trajan, that God should be everywhere and yet not be seen by mortal eye. “You teach me,” said the Emperor, on one occasion, to Rabbi Joshua, “that your God is everywhere; and you boast that He resides among your nation. I should like to see Him.” “God’s presence is indeed everywhere,” said the Rabbi, “but He cannot be seen. No mortal eye can behold His glory.” The Emperor insisted. “Well,” said Joshua; “but suppose we go first, and look at one of His ambassadors.” The emperor assented. The rabbi took him into the open air. It was noonday; and he bade him look on the sun, blazing in its meridian splendour. “I cannot see,” said Trajan; “the light dazzles me.” Said the rabbi, “Thou art unable to bear the light of one of these creatures; how, then, could’st thou look upon the Creator? Would not such a light annihilate thee?”

God counts

A plate of sweet cakes was brought in and laid upon the table. Two children played upon the hearth rug before the fire. “Oh, I want one of those cakes!” cried the little boy, jumping up as soon as his mother went out, and going on tiptoe towards the table. “No, no,” said his sister, pulling him back, “you must not touch.” “Mother won’t know it; she did not count them,” he cried, shaking her off and stretching out his hand. “If she didn’t perhaps God counted,” answered the other. The little boy’s hand was stayed. Yes, children, be sure God counts. (Childrens Missionary Record.)

God sees us through Christ

“Thou God seest me” is a very unwelcome thought to a great many men, and it will be so, unless we can give it the modification which it receives from belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, and feel sure that the eyes which are blazing with Divine Omniscience are dewy with Divine and human love. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 16:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/genesis-16.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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