Why does Hagar call God 'the God who sees' (Genesis 16:13)?Genesis 16 recounts the story of Hagar fleeing to the wilderness and being met by God. Hagar was an Egyptian servant of Abraham and Sarah. She was cast out of her home and was stranded in the wilderness when God appeared to her, showing her kindness and care. Hagar called God "the God who sees me" (Genesis 16:13, NIV) or "a God of seeing" (Genesis 16:13, ESV) because He saw her struggle when no one else was around. "She said, 'Truly here I have seen him who looks after me'" (Genesis 16:13). Hagar was a servant woman with no social status, displaced from her home country, her religion, and her gods, and yet she was still noticed by God.
When God called Abraham (then known as Abram) out of his country to a place He would show him, God promised to "make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing" (Genesis 12:2). Abraham obediently went, taking his wife Sarah (then called Sarai) and his nephew Lot with him. They went to the land, went to Egypt during a famine and then returned to the land, Abraham and Lot separated, and Abraham even rescued Lot from captivity to a foreign king. When Abraham refused a reward for rescuing Lot and others, God assured Abraham, "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great" (Genesis 15:1). But Abraham still had no child. He asked, "O LORD GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" (Genesis 15:2). God told Abraham that his own offspring would be his heir. God invited Abraham to number the stars if he could and said Abraham's offspring would be similarly innumerable. Abraham "believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6).
Yet, after having been in Canaan for ten years, Abraham and Sarah still had no children. So Sarah gave Abraham her servant, Hagar, as a surrogate according to a practice of the day to have a son for her. Sarah's plan worked, and Hagar conceived and began flaunting her pregnancy (Genesis 16:4). Sarah began treating Hagar harshly, to the point where Hagar fled to the wilderness (Genesis 16:5).
It is here in the wilderness that an angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar, saying, "Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?" (Genesis 16:8). The angel tells Hagar to return to Sarah and submit to her, and he promises to bless the child in her womb: "Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction" (Genesis 16:11). Hagar responds, "You are the God who sees me…I have now seen the One who sees me" (Genesis 16:13, NIV). Hagar recognizes that it was the God of Abraham who has looked after her and seen her in her struggling and in her fleeing. He chooses to provide for her and bless her by giving her a son and multiplying her offspring (Genesis 16:10). God had made no promises to Hagar like He had to Abraham and Sarah, yet He still saw her affliction and showed Himself faithful to her.
The God who saw Hagar is the same God who sees us. Psalm 139 is a wonderful encouragement of this truth. Hebrews 13:5–6 encourages, "for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'" Our God sees all, and He sees and cares for us individually and personally. He is El Roi, the God who sees. What a comforting truth for all who are His children by faith (John 1:12; Romans 4; Galatians 3:23–29).
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