Monday, October 28, 2013

Even If One Came Back From the Dead

What must it have been like to stand in the presence of God?  To realize you weren't dreaming or hallucinating but that in a twinkling, the veil between the visible and the invisible had parted to give you a glimpse of heavenly things in the form of an angel of the LORD, sent straight from the throne room with a message to you?

Just the thought strikes fear, awe, reverence, and a little bit of jealousy in me, all at the same time.  I would like to believe such an encounter would radically change my life, that it would erase any doubts that flicker through my mind on occasion.

And perhaps that is why I am still quicksand-stuck in Genesis with the story of the slave woman, Hagar, who was not worth much in the eyes of humanity but who suddenly found herself not only blessed to be living with God’s chosen people but also to be the recipient of God’s tangible presence—not once but twice.

The first time Hagar ran from Abraham and Sarah’s presence, “The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert” (Gen. 16:7).

In these verses describing the encounter, the Hebrew word for “LORD” is transliterated as “Yĕhovah.”  Jehovah. “Lord and master.”  “The existing one.”  The God of the Abraham and God's holy people in whom He placed His name forever.  This was the God she met with out in the wilderness.

As Blue Letter Bible states, Jehovah is “the promised name of God…While YHWH is first used in Genesis 2, God did not reveal Himself as YHWH until Exodus 3” when God told Moses to tell the Israelite slaves, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, ‘The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you” (Ex. 3:15).

The Jehovah God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob came to save His people.

This same Jehovah God was the one to visit Hagar, already pregnant with Abraham’s seed, although not with the child of promise.  When Hagar responds to Him, “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me’” (Gen. 16:13).

Here, her words seem to express a belief in Jehovah God in that she confesses with her mouth the LORD as God.  At this point, although the Scripture doesn't say it directly,  I have always believed her return to the camp serves as evidence of her submission to Jehovah as her Lord and Master.

Yet, two facts make me wonder if the submission were only lip service to this Jehovah God and not a submission of the heart to Him as her Master and Lord.  First is the fact that Ishmael grows into a young man who cruelly mocks young Isaac, an evil attitude that had to come from somewhere.  Could it be that he had picked up on his mother's ill will toward Sarah and Isaac? Had she even complained to the boy of how Abraham and Sarah had mistreated both her and him?  Second is Hagar’s subsequent stony-faced,unrepentant exit from Abraham’s camp and refusal to call on the name of the Lord even when such hard heartedness would almost certainly lead to the death of her son.

This idea seems even more likely considering the second time she leaves Abraham’s camp by force and meets with God in the wilderness, she does not meet with Jehovah.  Instead, Scripture records, “And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven and said unto her, ‘What aileth thee, Hagar? Fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is’” (Gen. 21: 17).

Here, the God who comforts her is the Hebrew word for “'elohiym.”  This is God in the plural sense, as in God the creator of Genesis 1-2.  This is not Jehovah God.  

It is interesting that God chose to come to her and Ishmael as Elohim, not as Jehovah.  While both words for "God" are used thousands of times each in the Old Testament, I strongly believe this shift in who God presents Himself as is extremely important.

But why did God come to Hagar as Elohim and not as Jehovah?  

I honestly can't say for certain, and no other commentator I've consulted has thought this detail important enough to even mention.  Yet, I wonder if it was because since God is the One who sees into our hearts, He had already seen Hagar's lack of faith in Him.  He already knew that in her heart, she had rejected Him as "Jehovah," as Lord, Master and Savior of her life and, as such, He came to her not as her Lord and Master but merely as the One True God of the universe who is the God of all creation...even those parts that reject Him as Lord.

If this is true, then Hagar's exile from Abraham's camp and entrance into a wilderness was merely a fulfillment of what had already happened in her heart.  This physical exile from God's people simply reflected what had already occurred in Hagar's soul as she had already spiritually rejected and exiled herself from God as her Lord and Master, as her savior.

This view of Hagar's heart seems to hold more validity when one considers how Scripture concludes the passage on Hagar: "Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.  God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt" (Gen. 21: 19-20).

Unlike with the first encounter when God spoke to Hagar and she followed by confessing Him as LORD Jehovah God, this time, Hagar says nothing at all.  She does not confess Him with her mouth.  She does not give thanks.  She does not demonstrate awe that He is a "God who sees."  Instead, Scripture simply says she fills up her skin with water and gives it to her son.

Elohim hears Ishmael's cry.  Elohim calls to Hagar.  Elohim opens her eyes. Likewise, Elohim is the God who is with Ishmael as he grows up...not Jehovah.  

God's protection to both Ishmael and Hagar, then, is either an example of them being blessed because of Abraham's faith in God OR, equally likely, that this is an example of "common grace" versus "saving grace" where God extends common grace to all humanity, even those who reject Him as master and Lord of their lives.  

Finally, the v. 19 description of Ishmael living in the desert as an archer seems to portray him as a self-made man, not one reliant upon God for his daily bread.  And, that last sentence in v. 20 showing Hagar return to her pagan, idolatrous roots--the land of Egypt--to procure Ishmael a bride seems most compelling.

Perhaps this is why Paul refers to Hagar as being a symbolic figurehead for all those enslaved by the law and sin, saying, "Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children" (Gal. 4:25).

Two visits from the Lord.  And yet, it doesn't seem to have been enough to change Hagar's heart. It's terribly sad and scary at the same time, how hardened our hearts can become,  Yet, Jesus spoke of the same thing in the New Testament story where the rich man in hell begs for Lazarus to be sent to his family and Abraham responds, "‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’”(Lk. 16:31).

It's not a miracle, a dead man walking, the audible voice of the Lord, or even an angel that saves our souls.  It is the Word of God taking root in our hearts that will work the miracle of salvation.  No other inexplicable phenomenon is needed or will even transform us if we merely believe with our heads but fail to submit with our hearts.

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