Questions for the New Year: Two Prompts from Genesis 16

By: Brian Harris

As the end of year approaches, let’s take a look at Genesis 16.  

Genesis 16 is one of the more troubling passages in the Hebrew Bible, dealing as it does with Abram and Sarai’s initial attempt to deal with their childlessness by having a child through Sarai’s servant, Hagar.

Though the plan originates with Sarai, when she sees that Hagar is pregnant she feels very differently about it, a reminder that there is usually a significant gap between theory and practice in all matters of the heart.

This is not Sarai or Abram at their finest – Abram giving his consent for Sarai to abuse Hagar so horribly that she flees into the desert where she would have faced certain death had she not been able to find a water spring where she pauses from her flight. It is here that an angel of the Lord encounters Hagar and asks two penetrating questions – questions which are as pertinent for today as they were 4000 years ago. Genesis 16:8 informs us that the angel asked:

Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?

Hagar might have been a servant (effectively a slave) but her name is known to the angel, as is her position in life: “Hagar, servant of Sarai…” It is a quick reminder that faith is personal because God knows us both by name and location, and us includes us if we are without power (Hagar) or with it (Sarai).

But it is the two questions I especially want us to notice:

  • Where have you come from?
  • Where are you going?

For Hagar, the answer would have seemed easy: I have come from a place terrible beyond the describing of it, and I am going to who knows where – probably death.

Our answers might not be as desperate as Hagar’s. But what would you answer if the angel asked these questions of you. I’m writing this as a year draws to a close, so it is a good time for some reflection and introspection. Where have you come from? Where are you going to?

Don’t rush to an answer, lest your reply is shallow and you treat the questions dismissively. Think about them.

Try the first one.

Where Have You Come From?

Where have you come from? Now push back on your answer. Who have you forgotten? What have you left out? Perhaps you can categorise your answer into three sections:

Lord, this is where I have come from, and for this I give you grateful thanks. You have been good to me, and I want to name the people and places and circumstances that you have helped me with. Thank you!

Lord, this is where I have come from, and I find it very difficult. Please help me… help me to move forward, to manage my rage and anger, to face my resentment, to deal with my disappointment, to forgive, to know the right response…

Lord, this is where I have come from, and for this I ask for your forgiveness. I like to delude myself that I am always in the right, but the shadow that is so much a part of me arises (often when I least expect it), and I am reminded that while you breathed life into me (thereby giving me infinite dignity for I am made from the breath of God), you built me from the dust of the earth, and I am frail and vulnerable – actually, often I am just muddy and horrible – small minded, petty, self absorbed. Lord have mercy. Thank you for the forgiveness found in Jesus.

Where Are You Going To?

Now the second: Where are you going to? Do you know? Again, push back on your answer. Perhaps break it into three categories.

Lord, these are my hopes… List them. In Matthew 7:7 Jesus encourages us to be bold: Ask, and you will receive. Seek, and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. Is there anything holding you back from asking – disappointment, or cynicism, or fear or excessive doubt? Why not pray, “Lord despite my many fears and questions, I dare to dream and I dare to hope and I dare to commit my dreams and hopes to you.”

Lord, these are my fears… These are usually easy to list. There might be some very specific fears or insecurities that you have. Perhaps dare to pray, “Lord, you know my fears. Some are exaggerated and I hide behind them, allowing them to cripple me. Some are very realistic – you know my struggles. Help me to move towards my hopes despite my fears.”

Lord, what do you want me to do? Where do you want me to go? Who do you want me to become? What might an obedient response to these questions look like in the coming year? How will you know what God’s answers are? “Lord, in this year, help me to hear and respond to your voice. Help me to see what you are saying to me” (Habakkuk 2:1).

Lots of questions flow from the two the angel asked: Where have you come from? Where are you going to? My prayer for us is that as we grapple with them, we come to Hagar’s conclusion in Genesis 16:13: “You are the God who sees me”. And then she adds: “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

May the coming year be a time of seeing the One who sees you and me.

Article supplied with thanks to Brian Harris.

About the Author: Brian is a speaker, teacher, leader, writer, author and respected theologian who is founding director of the AVENIR Leadership Institute, fostering leaders who will make a positive impact on the world.

Feature image: Photo by Cristian Escobar on Unsplash 

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