Administrator’s Note: The following post was originally published at the personal website of Steve McKinion, who serves as Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Patristic Studies at Southeastern Seminary. Dr. McKinion has graciously given us permission to republish his excellent article at Between the Times.
Genesis 16 contains the narrative of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar. It is rife with conflict, intrigue, and drama. It is also a clear picture of God on mission.
From the beginning, Genesis has told us of God’s mission “to the nations.” His call of Abram was not one to the salvation of Abram, his family, or his (biological) descendants, but rather of the salvation of the nations. This narrative is one of the most obvious representations of that intention.
Moses informs the reader that Hagar is an Egyptian; she was from the ‘nations’ [Gen 16:1]. After the unfortunate decision by Sarai and Abram to reject God’s provision of a “seed,” even while believing his promise of one, Hagar flees her mistreatment by Sarai. Hagar was “in the wilderness, on the way to Shur.” She had fled the Land and the blessing of being in right relationship with God and Abram, and had gone into the wilderness. Moses draws a clear parallel for us with Adam and Eve leaving the land due to sin and being exiled to the wilderness. The consequence of sin is the wilderness, the place where there is no rest, only wandering. Hagar is, due to the disobedience of Abram and Sarai, suffering in the wilderness when the LORD finds her.
God then pursued and “found” Hagar, in the same as he had found Adam and Eve following their sin. And when God comes to Hagar he promises her blessing. She will have a son, and her offspring will be numerous. Ishmael is no illegitimate son, even if Abram and Hagar were illegitimate parents! Hagar was told to return to the Land, which in Genesis is the place where Life is, in the presence of God.
What does Moses intend for us to see? Obviously, he wants us to see the result of a failure to trust him to provide the promised Son. Paul tells us this is the case in Galatians. And even where there is unfaithfulness and sin, God is not content to leave sinners in the wilderness. Just as he pursued Hagar into the wilderness to see her returned to the Land, so too does he pursue the nations into the wilderness to make a people for himself from them. He is on mission in the wilderness, where people who do not know the Son of God, Jesus Christ, are wandering around with no place of rest.
Since God is on mission in the wilderness, it is only fitting that his people are in the wilderness as well. Why are content to rest in the Land, delighting in our own condition, while the Hagar’s of the world are lost in the wilderness? God is not blind or deaf to their needs. He is the God who hears and sees. But do we have ears to hear and eyes to see? I fear that too often we are pleased with the milk and honey of the Land, unaware that God is at work in the wilderness, where he has gone in pursuit of Hagar.
Christians congregate in order to be shaped by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the proclamation of Jesus to the nations, according to the Scriptures. Where there is no proclamation to the nations, there only an incomplete and therefore inadequate Gospel. To be on mission with God means to be in the wilderness, the place where he found us and where he is “finding” people everyday. May he forgive us for being fat and happy in the land, where our multi-million-dollar buildings restrict us, figuratively and financially, from going to the wilderness where the nations are. Want to build something to the glory of God? The build a road into the wilderness.