Who am I? Am I defined by whether I am married? Whether or not I have children? What I contribute to the community around me? If I focus on these things then my worth depends on my circumstances and what I do, rather than who I am. Do I have intrinsic worth?
In the church, where the attention is often on what women should or should not be allowed to do, it is encouraging to look at how God sees women. Throughout the Bible, women are present — their lives and words form the Scriptures — and God values them. God wants to hear their voices. He sees them, and being seen and heard is something we all need.
God Values Hagar
One woman in the Bible who inspires me is Hagar (Gen. 16). Usually, the narrative of Abram and Sarai is told from their perspective, and in this narrative, the hearer is invested in wanting the main characters to have the long-promised child. We may identify with Sarai’s longing for a child and feel sorry that she is so desperate that she asks her husband to sleep with her maidservant. And when Hagar, the maidservant becomes pregnant, Sarai is angry with her husband and with Hagar. But what if we view the story from Hagar’s perspective? She had no agency or voice, no one asked her what she wanted. Hagar was an outsider, a foreigner, and a slave, someone who was used so that Abram and Sarai could have a child. After being forced to become Abram’s wife, she conceives and is then taunted, ill-treated, and excluded by Sarai. The traditional telling sees Hagar as a villain, but that is not how God sees her. When Sarai treated Hagar so harshly that she ran away, an angel of the LORD met her. No matter how she was valued — or devalued — by others, she mattered enough to God that he sought her out. God met her where she was and called her by name. God values each of us, as we are, where we are. He values you.
God Hears Hagar
The angel of God spoke to Hagar. He called her by name and, even though he knew the answer, he asked her a question. This amazes me. God wanted to hear her voice! He wanted her to tell her story in her own words, so he asked her, “Where have you come from and where are you going?” (Gen. 16:8). God waits and listens to her as she explains that she is running away from her mistress. I admit, I struggle to understand why she is told to return to her mistress. It seems like a bad idea to send her back — but without the protection of that home, painful as it was, she would have been pregnant and alone in the desert, without food or care. As she faces this terrible fate, Hagar is given a promise which transforms her situation. She is told that her son will be named Ishmael, which means, “God hears,” because “the LORD has heard your cry of affliction” (Gen. 16:11). “And he will be a wild donkey of a man” (Gen. 16:12). This phrase is often portrayed as a curse by modern readers, but the NET Bible suggests that this was not a negative meaning. “The wild donkey lived a solitary existence in the desert away from society. Ishmael would be free-roaming, strong, and like a Bedouin; he would enjoy the freedom his mother sought.” We do not know the full extent of what was said, but we do know this encounter was transformative. Hagar had been running away, and now she was willing to return, knowing that God cared for her enough to listen to what she had to say.
God wants to hear our voices. He wants to hear your voice.
God Sees Hagar
After God listened to Hagar, she gave a name to God, saying, “‘You are the God who sees me’ [‘El Roi’ in Hebrew], “for she said, ‘Here I have seen the one who sees me!’” (Gen. 16:13). We can feel invisible when people do not take notice of us; to know that we are seen is profound. I believe it is for this reason that God wanted her to tell her story, despite knowing it perfectly well. It was through being listened to that Hagar knew that God saw her. It was through being given time to tell her story that Hagar knew she was not invisible. Knowing God saw her gave Hagar courage.
The well where the angel found Hagar was called Beer-lahai-roi, which means “well of the Living One who sees me.” Hagar, a foreigner, an outsider, a woman who was not valued, is the only person in the Bible to give a name to God. Like Hagar, God sees us; we are not invisible to Him. He sees you.
Valued, heard, and seen. That seems like the wrong order. There is an old saying that “children should be seen and not heard.” But being heard is what makes us know we are seen. God hears us. He wants to hear us tell our story. God sees us. We are not invisible. This is because God values us. We are loved and valued for who we are, not because of what we can do. This gives me strength to face whatever I have before me.
Thank you, God, that you know me and see me, and you want to hear my voice.
Photo by Bojan Milinkov on Shutterstock.
 See the NET Bible notes on Genesis 16:11.