Question: "Why does Hagar call God "the God Who Sees" (Genesis 16:13)?"
Answer: In Genesis 16 an Egyptian servant named Hagar encounters hard times and learns an invaluable lesson that God is the God who sees. He knows our situation, and He is in control and trustworthy.
In Genesis 15:4–5 God promised Abraham (still called Abram at the time) that an heir from his own body would have innumerable descendants. Abraham believed in the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). While we read about others before Abraham who were declared righteous, this is the first time the Bible explains how a person becomes righteous (by faith in the Lord). While Abraham believed in God that He could and would keep His word, Abraham had no idea how God would accomplish that. His wife Sarah (called Sarai at the time) figured out a way for God to keep His promise. Her idea was that Abraham could have a child through Hagar, Sarah’s servant (Genesis 16:1–2). Hagar conceived quickly, and Sarah became jealous (Genesis 16:4). Sarah treated Hagar badly—so badly, in fact, that Hagar even while pregnant fled into the wilderness to escape the mistreatment (Genesis 16:6–7).
The angel of the Lord (this is how Jesus would appear before His incarnation and before He was named Jesus) appeared to Hagar, and, after encouraging her to return to Sarah, He promises Hagar that He would multiply and bless her descendants through the child she would bear (Genesis 16:10–12). Because He saw her in a time of distress when she was hiding and journeying in the wilderness, Hagar acknowledged Him as El Roi, that is, “the God of Seeing,” or “the God Who Sees” (Genesis 16:13). This is a remarkable statement for at least three reasons. First, Hagar recognized that the One who was speaking to her was indeed God. There are a number of similar instances in which the angel of the Lord—or the messenger of the Lord—appeared to people as a man and was recognized and worshipped as God (see Genesis 22:11; 32:24–30; and Exodus 3:2 for a few examples). From these instances, it is evident that God interacted personally with people in those days.
A second reason for the significance of Hagar’s statement that He is a God who sees is that she saw God and didn’t die. After she acknowledged that it was God who appeared to her and spoke with her, she remarked with amazement that she had seen God and yet remained alive. Even during Old Testament times, this One was appearing to people and representing God to them. Everyone who recognized Him as God was amazed that they did not die—they recognized God as holy and recognized that they deserved death. Recall Isaiah’s words when he sees this same One in His glory: “Woe is me, I am undone” (Isaiah 6:5a, NASB). This shows us that from the beginning God has been reaching out to humanity even though He is infinitely above His creation (Isaiah 55:8–11), and He has done so graciously, not meting out the judgment we deserve. Of course, this grace of interaction found its ultimate expression when Jesus became a man and died on a cross to pay for the sins of humanity so that all who receive His grace by believing in Him have life with Him. Because of this, those who believe in Him can call God the Father their very own father (Romans 8:15).
A third reason that Hagar’s recognition that He is a God who sees is important is that she recognized that God cared for her—a lowly servant girl—and that He was watching out for her well-being. What an incredible truth that God loves His creatures—so much so that He would even sacrifice Himself so that His creatures could have life! When we read the Genesis narrative, we learn that God is an amazing and awesome Creator. We also learn that He cares deeply about His creatures, and He shows love to them in the most remarkable ways. How encouraging to know that, no matter where we are, He is a God who sees us, who loves us, and who wants us to know and trust in Him.