I still remember my wife’s pregnancy with our eldest daughter, now 13. I suppose a first pregnancy is always memorable, for various reasons. One reason, I’m sure, is because of the decisions that need to be made as the new parents figure out, or try to figure out, what is required for safely raising a child. I remember putting child locks on kitchen cupboards (and then trying to figure out how to open the same cupboards!), plug protectors in all the electric sockets, and doing all we could to baby-proof our home. We bought a pram and a car seat and then spent countless hours trying to figure out how to open and collapse the pram and how to safely install the car seat. (I’m not persuaded I ever actually figured out the correct way to install the car seat, but she’s 13 now, so it worked out alright.) One of the pricier decisions we had to make concerned a baby monitor.
Some parents we spoke to swore by these devices. Some preferred audio monitors, while others preferred video monitors. We lived in a single bedroom flat at the time, which meant that our daughter slept in the same room (and, yes, sometimes the same bed!) as us. Still, we were told that we should have a baby monitor in case we were in the lounge or the kitchen while she was sleeping so we could hear or see if anything went wrong.
Other, particularly older, parents considered these quaint devices a spectacular waste of money. Parents who had raised multiple children without the aid of a baby monitor advised us to save the money and use it on other, more important needs. To be fair, many of the same parents felt that cloth nappies were quite a suitable and more cost-effective option over disposable nappies, but they felt rather strongly about the baby monitors regardless.
The question, I suppose, was, how close an eye should we keep on our daughter at all times? Most parents know the feeling of turning your back for just a second only to find that a child has injured himself, or vanished around the corner, or done some serious damage to property. We know that, as much as we would like to, we can’t keep an eye on our children at all times.
The name of God on which we focus this week—El Rai (or El Roi)—encourages us that God is quite unlike us in this regard. There is never a moment when God’s children escape his wise and loving watch-care.
Despite God’s promise of abundant offspring, Abram’s wife, Sarai, appeared to be barren. In a moment of unbelief, she suggested to Abram that he impregnate her servant, Hagar, so that offspring might be born to him. Unlike Sarai, Hagar conceived quite easily, which led to feelings of superiority and contempt toward her mistress. Sarai complained to Abram, who told her to deal with Hagar as she wished. “Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her” (Genesis 16:7).
Hagar was now homeless and pregnant. As she sat to rest at a nearby spring, the Lord appeared to her with a word of instruction (return to Sarai and submit to her) and a word of encouragement (he would multiply her offspring greatly). Hagar responded, “‘You are a God of seeing,’ for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me’” (Genesis 16:13). “God of seeing” translates the Hebrew name El Rai. When she was at her absolute lowest—when everyone and everything she knew had abandoned her—Hagar was encouraged that God saw her.
Where do you run when you feel mistreated and alone? Where do you find comfort when it seems as if those who were once with you turn against you and mistreat you? Where do you find solace when it seems as if nobody cares about your needs? As a Christian, the answer should be simple: You should look to El Rai, for he sees you when nobody else does. This is the only time in Scripture that the name El Rai is used, and we can learn a few practical lessons from this text and this name of God.
First, El Rai encourages us that Gods delays are not God’s denials. Sarai ran ahead of God because she felt that God was not seeing her. Despite the fact that God had promised her and Abram bountiful offspring, she could not understand why God was delaying and so resorted to her own understanding to help God along. Sadly, she did not embrace the truth of El Rai as Hagar did.
We need to learn that God always sees and always knows the needs of his people. He promises to meet our needs if we will but rest in him. We must not allow ourselves to lean on our own understanding because we do not immediately understand what God is doing. Doing so did not end well for Sarai. It never ends well for us. Warren Wiersbe helpfully writes, “Whenever we run ahead of God, there is trouble. The flesh loves to help God, but true faith is shown in patience. We cannot mix faith and flesh, law and grace, promise and self-effort…. A willingness to wait on the Lord is evidence that you are walking by faith.”
Second, El Rai encourages us that God is not indifferent to our misery. When Hagar uttered those words—“You are a God of seeing”—she was not formulating a dispassionate theological statement about divine omnipresence. She was, instead, rejoicing in the fact that the God who sees—the God who is omnipresent—was committed to coming to her aid in her misery. God saw her in her quiet desperation in order to reach out and help her.
When we affirm the God of the Bible as “a God of seeing,” we recognise that his seeing is intentional. He sees in order to show compassion, in order to comfort, in order to work on our behalf. His seeing is an act of covenant love. When you feel all alone—that no one cares, no one understands—remember that God sees. When you feel misunderstood and mistreated by others, remember that God sees. When you feel cast aside and wandering in a wilderness of hurt, remember that God sees. El Rai sees and is committed, in his covenant love, to meeting you in your affliction.
Third, El Rai ought to encourage you that God’s seeing is not dependent on your feelings. Our fallen nature all-too-easily rejects what we know to be true. We know that God will never leave or forsake us, but when we are in the wilderness, collapsing at the proverbial spring of water, we must remember that feelings do not determine truth. God saw even before Hagar acknowledged it. Our God is a God of seeing whether we feel seen or not.
We must embrace the truth of El Rai by faith. We need this truth most when we feel that it is not true. We must, in other words, learn to walk by faith, not by sight. It is said that trust is a choice made in uncertainty. It is when we feel uncertain that we most need to remember that God sees. It is when we feel as if God doesn’t see that we must remember that “the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him” (2 Chronicles 16:9) and that “the eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). It is when we feel as if God has fallen asleep that we must embrace the truth that “he who keeps you will not slumber” (Psalm 121:3).
As you consider the truth of El Rai, contemplate this prayer by Thomas á Kempis,
Write your blessed name, O Lord, upon my heart, there to remain so indelibly engraved, that no prosperity, no adversity shall ever move me from your love. Be to me a strong tower of defence, a comforter in tribulation, a deliverer in distress, a very present help in trouble, and a guide to heaven through the many temptations and dangers of this life.