God Sees and Hears. Even Sex Slaves.

We like to sanitize Bible stories, especially when they revolve around people we consider “heroes of the faith.” Like Abraham. This guy said “yes” to God’s calling to leave everything familiar without having a clue where God was taking him. He wound up in Canaan and became the father of all who believe. All the families of the earth were to be blessed through his lineage, particularly through Jesus the Messiah.

But Abraham wasn’t perfect. In fact, he was far from it. God used Abraham’s entire lifetime to shape his character and prepare him to leave a legacy to his offspring. But in Abraham’s younger years, when he first started following God, he was a deceitful sex trafficker.

He journeyed to Egypt once and lied about his wife’s identity to protect himself. The result was Sarah spending some time in the harem of Pharaoh. God stepped in and fixed Abraham’s mess, not because Abraham deserved the rescue, but because of the gracious plan of God to protect the integrity of the lineage of the Messiah. Abraham and Sarah left Egypt humiliated. And they took a slave with them.

Meet Hagar.

When Pharaoh deported Abraham,

Pharaoh ordered some of his men to escort them, and he sent Abram out of the country, along with his wife and all his possessions. (Genesis 12:20 NLT)

And Abram’s “possessions” likely included Hagar, Sarah’s personal slave. As Sarah grew more frustrated and heart-broken over her infertility, she made what would seem to us like a strange and drastic decision.

Sarai said to Abram, “The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” (Genesis 16:2 NLT)

To paraphrase… Have sex with my slave and I’ll keep her child as my own.

And of course, Abraham, being a hero of the faith and a stand-up man of integrity puts his foot down and redirects Sarah to trust God’s promises even through difficulty, right? Um, no…

So Abram had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant. (Genesis 16:4 NLT)

Today, we call this sex trafficking, and we fight it tooth and nail. If you’re Hagar, you probably don’t feel worth much. You’ve been stolen, used, and abused. Now you’re pregnant and your owners are going to own your child. What would you do?

Hagar ran.

She ran away from her owners and escaped slavery, even though it was doubtful she could survive without the provision of her pimps. God intersected with her in the wilderness and gave her the instruction to return and submit. It isn’t that God validates slavery. In fact, much of the Bible is the story of God freeing people from bondage. It’s that God is writing a bigger story that includes an entire race of people he wants to save and to redeem – the Arab people, the descendants of Hagar.

So she returns. She has a son and names him Ishmael. And Ishmael means, “God hears.” Hold that thought.

Things turn ugly between Hagar and Sarah, which is to be expected. After more than a decade, when Ishmael is entering his teen years, Hagar is banished by Sarah and flees into the wilderness with nothing. She has no home, no food, no water, no security, and seemingly no future. She’s desperate, doomed, and defeated.

Then God shows up, again, in the middle of nowhere. He “heard the boy crying” and

God opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well full of water. She quickly filled her water container and gave the boy a drink. (Genesis 21:19 NLT)

Hagar is free. We don’t know much about the rest of her story, but the Bible does tell us that she arranged for her son to marry a woman from her home country of Egypt, suggesting that Hagar had the means to travel, to barter, and to arrange a marriage.

And in spite of everything she’d gone through, there are two lessons she learned about the covenant-keeping God of Abraham – He sees. And he hears.

From our vantage point, we wish God would step in early and spare her all of the pain, but it is through the pain that Hagar hears the gospel of the God of grace and glory.

When she was alone and invisible, God saw Hagar. He knew her soul. He was full aware of her plight. Nothing escaped his attention. And God was working behind the scenes, writing her a different life story. Abraham used her as an object. Sarah saw her as a slave, as a means to her own selfish plot. God saw her as a Mom who loved her son. And God rescued and saved her, multiple times.

When she had no voice in Abraham’s household… when her cries went unheard as she was stolen from Egypt… when no one valued her at all, God heard her heart. He instructed her to name her son Ishmael – literally, “God hears.”

The whole story is scandalous. It’s covered and dripping with God’s amazing grace. He forgives and uses two human traffickers in his plan to birth a nation of people whom he will save and redeem for himself. He rescues a sex slave and makes her the proud Mamma of the Arab people, whom he loves and is saving through the Gospel a soul at a time, even today.

God always sees. He always hears. No matter your plight. No matter your past. And in Christ and through the lens of the Scriptures, we see his redemptive purpose being worked out. No one is just a sex slave to the God who loves relentlessly. And no one is just a sex trafficker, or consumer of porn or prostitution. Every soul matters and not one is beyond his gracious, redemptive reach.

Just Remember Who Is Really God, and Who God Really Is

When you read the book of Exodus, you’re reading the story of a God who is determined to free his people from bondage and slavery. No matter how hard the Egyptians fight, no matter how much the Israelites misunderstand God’s motives, and no matter how long the journey ahead might seem, God keeps on working to free his people.

Throughout the story of the Exodus, there is a phrase God keeps repeating through Moses to his people. “I am the Lord.” He continually attempts to shift the focus of his people away from their problems and back to their Deliverer.

Feeling abandoned? I am the Lord who always shows up.

Feeling powerless? I am the Lord, the all-powerful One, who fights for you.

Feeling trapped and enslaved? I am the Lord who absolutely will free you!

God has gone to great lengths to make sure you have a way of knowing who he is. He has spoken, in times past, through his leaders, prophets, and priests. He has written his signature across the stars so that this magnificent universe shouts about his creative power. He has come to earth via the incarnation, when God himself put on flesh as Jesus, the Messiah. He has inspired the prophets and apostles to record his heart and mind for us, and then guided history to preserve his word for us today.

You’re reading this, in fact, as a reminder from God about who he is. He is the God who created. He is the God who sustains. He’s the God who designs, who redeems, who saves. He’s the God who frees from slavery, who fulfills every single one of his promises. He’s the God who keeps his covenants, who sees and draws near to the abandoned. He’s the God who restores and heals.

When you’re in bondage and slavery to sin, know that God has been so gracious and so loving that he’s been willing to become your sin for you on a cross so that you might be made righteous, clean, and pure again. He’s the God who forgives when we don’t deserve it, who grants us the inheritance we could never earn on our own, who gives us eternity with him in his very own heavenly home as the ultimate deliverance from all of our suffering and our struggles in this life.

This is Yahweh we’re talking about. He is God! And he is God alone.

You’ll never fully understand him, but you can trust him. You’ll never predict his next move, but he’ll be there, often behind the scenes weaving your life into a beautiful tapestry that magnifies the glory of his grace to others.

Wherever you are spiritually today, whatever you’re going through financially or physically or emotionally, He is still God. He is still powerful and faithful and strong. And more than anything, he wants to show you his glory by drawing your focus from everything else to himself.

He’s already proven with a cross and an empty tomb that he’ll do anything necessary to draw your heart back to his.

I Shall Arise

“Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me.” -Micah 7:8

When I was rather young, I went sledding down Bowling Green’s “Hospital Hill” one snowy day with my brother and my Dad. I was so excited about taking my first run on my own, but something went terribly wrong. there was a snowdrift covering a stump and I hit it head on. The sled went down, I went up (and what goes up must come down) and I hit the ground and lay flat on my back. My wind was gone, I felt I couldn’t breathe, and I was panicking. In moments my brother and my Dad were there to check on me. But the instant they saw that I would survive, their concern turned to jubilation. They laughed! They laughed hard! And I must admit, it was probably funny.

Others often take our calamity lightly. Our pain and our suffering, to us, is always immense. We see the world from a darkened valley while the masses look on from the cliffs and mountain peaks. Our enemies especially take advantage of every opportunity to rejoice in our tragedies. But for the Christian there is a great promise – our calamities are but for a moment. Micah, the contemporary of Isaiah, knew what would befall Israel in a matter of decades. He knew of their coming captivity and the suffering they would endure under slavery to Babylon.

The nations around Israel could rejoice at her defeat, but Micah, speaking under inspiration of God gave warning to the nations. Rejoice not! We have not been destroyed, we shall rise! Darkness is inevitable, it will consume half of every day. Falling is part of life. But Micah reminds us that for all of the failures of the children of God, there will be a rising in the end. For the darkness we endure here, there is the light of God’s presence and the revelation of His promises. The future is bright, our hope endures. As children of the King, we shall rise and reign! Take courage, be hopeful, the end is not yet!

The Price of a Soul

“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:” -1 Peter 1:18-19

Do you realize that we’ve each sold ourselves under slavery to sin? We owe a spiritual debt for our rebellion that we cannot pay. Further, we cannot pay the debt of those we love either. For us to be redeemed, purchased back from the grip of hell, One far wealthier than we must pay our price. God, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, who created all that exists, paid our price. He did not pay for us in terms to which we could assign a dollar amount. Even the most precious things on earth could not ransom our soul from the cold grip of death. But the blood of an innocent Savior… that alone would suffice.

So Jesus stepped from the portal of heaven and stood in our place. The nails were driven through His ministering hands and His calloused feet. The crown of thorns was thrust through to His skull. The whip tore the flesh from His back and the blood ran down. Immanuel’s blood covered the cross of shame and flowed to the dust beneath His altar. Once spilled, our souls were purchased. Now all who will receive His sacrifice alone for salvation may have heaven, free of any charge.

Is His blood precious to you? To the world, the idea of the blood of Jesus is a scandal, a spurious thing. But to us who are saved, it is the precious blood of a spotless Lamb. In the words of William Cowper…

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

Have you been plunged into that fountain today? Trust Jesus and live eternally!

No Turning Back

”This is that Moses… To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt.” –Acts 7:39

Egypt has always symbolized the world, not in the physical sense, but in the sense of a false, humanistic, hedonistic philosophy which runs counter to the philosophy of God’s Kingdom. To the Jews in the wilderness, Egypt was looking good. Even though they had to endure slavery, they at least were enjoying momentary pleasures. Now they were forced to suffer as they followed Moses to an as of yet unseen promised land.

This story certainly has a ring of familiarity to it. Like the Jews, our hearts are often overruled by the old nature in us. We long to go back to the world where there is the promise of pleasure, fleeting as it may be. This Christian living stuff is quite tough after all! Our rally cry often becomes “Back to Egypt!”

But do you remember how the Israelites began this journey? With sure and certain death chasing them from behind they crossed the dry bed of the Red Sea. On that fateful day they had made a commitment to follow the Lord and His leader, Moses. They would get frustrated. They would experience doubt. Some would even rebel against God and He would chastise them accordingly, but there was no turning back.

If you’re a believer, the world will beckon to you all the days of your life. You’ll hear the whispered lies of the enemy saying “it’s easier to just turn back, to drop out, to give up.” Don’t listen! Don’t give Satan a foothold. Keep marching forward for though you may not see your promised inheritance yet, you have the seal of the Holy Spirit and the fellowship of the saints. “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back!”