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And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

Genesis 17:9-14
Wildflower Bouquet | Camp Okoboji Iowa | May 2021

I’ll admit, I wondered how to handle this particular part of the Abraham narrative. I know we’re all mature people. We don’t need to snicker in the corner when we talk about circumcision. But circumcision is no longer a requirement for God’s people – any more than observances of Old Testament rituals and laws (cf. Acts 15:28-29). Furthermore, this practice has been replaced – or better yet, subsumed – by baptism (Colossians 2:11-12).

Two words from Matthew Henry’s Commentary on this passage do strike me, however: “The covenant of grace is from everlasting in the counsels of it, and to everlasting in the consequences of it.” In other words, the idea of God’s grace is no new idea, originating even in the times of Abraham. It springs from eternity, from the heart and character of God. And this covenant of grace is eternal in its consequences: God’s grace impacts every aspect of our lives throughout all eternity.

The idea that God somehow had to start over when Adam and Eve sinned springs from a very short-sighted vision and human-limited understanding of God’s nature. God knows all things. There are no surprises with him. He saw it all coming. That means he knew Adam and Eve would sin. He knew he would call Abraham. He knew Isaac would be born. He also knew Jesus would be born. And live. And suffer. And die. And rise. And come again.

God has no Plan B when it comes to the eternal glory of his grace. It was part of his plan from before the beginning. And our eternity will be filled with praises to his glorious grace (cf. Ephesians 1:3-6). God is all about grace. It’s part of his character. And it’s what brings us to him and sustains us along the way.

It is so very encouraging to me also that this covenant extends not only to Abraham and his son Isaac who will be born to fulfill God’s initial promise to Abraham and Sarah. It also extends to Ishmael and all who are brought into Abraham’s family are part of it. This grace is broad. That might mean there is room in the grace of God for me! And if there is room for me, might there also be room for you?

For your personal meditation and reflection on this Lord’s Day

Psalm 1
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 31:23-24
Love the LORD, all you his saints!
The LORD preserves the faithful
but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the LORD!

Psalm 61:1-3
Hear my cry, O God,
listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.

Psalm 91:1-6
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Psalm 121
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.

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When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

Genesis 17:1-2
Deception Pass | Whidbey Island, Washington | May 2021

I walk by faith. Each step by faith. To live by faith I put my trust in you. So goes the children’s song. So was the command of God to Abraham: “Walk before me faithfully and be blameless.” So went the life of Abraham. So goes life for one who believes in Jesus. After all, Jesus’ inaugeral sermon was “The time has come. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel.”

So what does it mean to walk by faith? If we take seriously the life of Abraham we will learn much. First of all, it involves a lot of waiting. Abraham and Sarah have waited for a long time for the birth of a son God had promised. They will wait 13 more years. Walking faithfully involves waiting. Waiting, hoping, and trusting are braided together in a life of walking with God in faithfulness.

If we are waiting we are anticipating something. Something specific. In this case it is the fulfillment of the specific promise of God to Abraham: “You will have a son.” He is not waiting for merely a good feeling. He is not waiting for a spiritual sense of peace. He is waiting for a son. A promised son. And he will continue to wait.

Faith also looks beyond human obstacles to God’s plans. Abraham and Sarah are both well past the age of child bearing. It may or may not qualify for Sarah to become pregnant. You might even wonder how they would even manage to conceive. Abraham and Sarah do not let these stand in the way of God’s promises taking flesh in the birth of the son who will be born to them. Faith looks for real fulfillments of real promises no matter what path that takes. No matter how difficult the fulfillment of the promise appears.

Faith also follows where God leads. Here the words of God may confuse us. God tells Abraham to walk before him faithfully and be blameless. That doesn’t sound like following God. But to walk before God is to be aware of his presence as we go from day to day. That will surely shape the decisions we make, and the way we live.

Abraham will wait a long time. But the son will be born. He will also face a grave challenge to his faith when he takes Isaac to the mountain God would show him. Such is the walk of faith.

We have been given a promise by God. It is centered in Jesus who fulfilled all the promises of God about the coming Savior. God calls us to wait, hope, and trust in him. He calls us to walk faithfully before him. That will take time. But he is faithful and true. And he will be with you the whole way.

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When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”
Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

Genesis 17:1-7
Deception Pass | Whidbey Island, Washington | May 2021

“This distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the very unique contributions of us Lutherans. I mean it, no one else has it so clearly expressed as we do.” My seminary professor instilled that on us early in our studies. Another professor, when speaking of C.F.W. Walther’s Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel said, “I think he knew his students pretty well. I took that as a word of grace. The book convicted me deeply. I wasn’t sure I could ever be faithful enough to preach or serve as a pastor. He told us, in effect, that no one is qualified by himself. The pursuit of that proper distinction is a lifelong effort.

It’s simple, really. The Law always condemns. It gives no quarter. It kills. It shows us our sins. Abram must realize this on some level. For when he encounters God almighty, he falls on his face. Some would say this is showing respect for a superior. But Abraham does not do this before Pharaoh. This is deep humility, and must be on some level an admission of his deficency.

But God has good news. This is the gospel: God loves us first and unconditionally. He showed that love by sending Jesus who is in no way deficient. And through faith in Jesus we are declared to be righteous. He is our sufficiency.

But what of this command here: Abraham is to walk in obedience with God. This is not merely an exercise in humility for Abraham. This is how he lives out his identity under God’s grace and within the covenant God is making.

Covenant and Kingdom helps us express our relationship with God. In a sense you could say that Law/Gospel is the center of God’s covenant with us. Living that out is in the realm of God’s rule and reign (kingdom).

Abraham is to live in such a way that he will represent God and express God’s reign and rule for all to see. How will he do that? That is what will continue to unfold in this saga of faith.

Whatever else we may learn here, we must recognize that God has a claim on us because of his love. He calls us to a life of faithful obedience. The more we learn about God’s character, the better we will be able to express that in our daily lives.

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When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. – Genesis 17:1-2

Splash of Red | Whidbey Island, Washington | May 2021

You’ve been given a precious gift. What is the proper response? You’ve been highly honored before your peers. What is the appropriate posture? You’ve encountered something gravely fearful, but utterly good. What do you do? Abraham, Isaiah, Peter, and even the crowd who came to arrest Jesus all did the same thing. They showed utter humility. Either falling to the ground, or in the case of Peter, saying, “Depart from me. I am a sinful man.” Would that we would learn that attitude.

I believe it’s true: We have forgotten what it means to fear, love, and trust in God. We have a friend in Jesus. He is kind and compassionate. He is merciful and full of lovingkindness. These all make possible loving and trusting God. But Abraham falls on his face when God speaks a word of promise to him again. Isaiah says, “Woe is me. I am ruined” (Isaiah 6:6). Job finally has to repent in sackcloth and ashes when he encounters God fully. 

Perhaps we have not encountered God in quite that way. Maybe we read words on the pages of scripture and learn truth apart from actually encountering God. In fact, however, not every revelation of God is identical for each person. I didn’t see Jesus walk on water. I haven’t had a vision of God with the train of his robe filling a smoke-filled throne room. God has not fluffed up a cloud for a God to man talk with me. 

But I have looked over the chasm of sin and death, and realized that were it not for God’s grace, I would have no hope at all. I have had to repent in tears for things I’ve done that I would never want others to know of. I have had to speak the words of the confession, “I a poor miserable sinner confess unto you all my sins and iniquities…” Not because they’re in the order of worship. But because I felt it deeply. 

There will come a time when Abraham bargains with God over the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. There has already come a time when Abram reminded God that he had no son, even though God had promised that he would have descendants as numerous as the stars of the heavens. Peter will leave his own sin at the cross and go on to a bold witness for the crucified and risen Savior. Isaiah says, “Here am I, send me!” Job had his fortunes restored. 

The place of utter humility on our face before God is not meant to be a permanent place. We need to go there to the extent that God convicts us of our sins. But we need, also to hear God’s call to walk with him faithfully, and live to his honor. And trust his promises. He will not fail you. Or me. Or anyone who puts her faith in him. 

In the end, our posture will be hands raised in joy and praise to God for his glorious grace. That will be quite a day!

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When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:1-8

Leaning into the Light | Smoky Mountain National Park | April 2021

When they unveiled the name of the new ballpark in Arlington, Texas some 20 years ago, the name they chose was anything but creative. The Ballpark in Arlington was its name. Part of that reason, I believe, was because they didn’t have an immediate naming sponsor for the stadium. Another reason – stated publicly – is because they wanted people to know that the Texas Rangers ball club was located in Arlington, Texas. Not Dallas. Not Fort Worth. Not Austin. Not San Antonio. And surely not Houston!

Sadly, the then-new field has been retired and a new ballpark has taken its place: Globe Life Field. Arlington is no longer in the name. I loved the look of the Ballpark in Arlington. Classic. Baseball. Stadium. But not the feel. Hot. Blazing, blistering, brutally hot. Temperature on the field in the summer reached to over 120 degrees. That’s hot! Perhaps they should have called it The Hot Ballpark in Arlington.

Does a name mean anything to you? Do you want to buy a bottle of Soylent protein drink? Just the name is a bit off-putting. Or how about buying a quart of Ripple Milk? Why not just call it “Milk?” 

On this occasion God reveals a new name for himself. He is God Almighty (Hebrew: El-Shaddai). This is the first time God reveals this name. There is something new here. The term is quite properly translated God Almighty. This will be a revelation of God’s power. Sarah will bear a son. Remember this. So far we have seen God’s justice. We’ve seen his judgment (the fall, and the flood). We’ve seen his grace (call of Abram), and his compassion in bringing Noah and his family safely through the flood. 

Now we will see God’s power. Sarai will have a child. And to mark this promise’s reiteration, two things happen. First God exhorts Abram to walk faithfully and be blameless. Then he will make his covenant with Abram. But now Abram will also have a new name. Abram means exalted father. But Abram is now no longer just an exalted father, but Abraham, likely meaning father of many. Sarai will also receive a new name. She will become Sarah. Both names mean princess. But her name change echoes Abraham’s. 

If you ask me to pray, I will end my prayer invoking Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God has revealed himself in this manner. I don’t even understand praying “in your name.” Although perhaps it is a way to say that we are praying based on God’s nature and character. But since God has revealed his name, I believe we ought to use it…not in vain, but in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. 

He is not only the Powerful God, God Almighty,he is also the God of creation, redemption, and sanctification: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe we ought to call him by his name. 

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And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.

17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 16:15-17:8

Daffodils | Smoky Mountain National Park | April 2021

You don’t ever tell me you love me. 

Yes??? And???

Well, I’d just like to hear it once in a while.

But you know I do.

Yes, but you don’t say it any more.

Look, I told you right after our wedding that I love you. I’m telling you now, if I change my mind, I’ll let you know.

I know it’s a pretty lame joke. But, ugh…that’s not a very romantic conversation. We need to hear these things again and again. For there are many distractions and influences that cast doubt on the love even between committed married couples. In the case of saying, “I love you,” once is not enough. 

I’m convinced that God is repeating his promise to Abram, re-confirming his covenant, and giving Abram a new name because he needs to hear it again. He is now to be known as Abraham. From “Father” to “Father of many” his name reflects a reaffirmation of God’s promise and the future destiny of Abraham’s descendants. 

Ishmael’s birth – thirteen years before – isn’t the answer to God’s promise. There is one yet to come. But it’s been nearly 25 years since the Lord made the first promise. Abram and Sarai have been waiting and no child has been born. And while there is a fine line between happy talk and needed reassurance, Abram needs to hear it again. You are the man. You will be the father of many nations. Let’s start calling you who you are to be: Abraham. 

There is also an edge to this promise and reminder. God is asking something of Abraham even as he reiterates his promise. It’s as though the Lord is saying, “Since you are to be the Father of Many Nations, align your life with your name. Stick with me and and don’t depart from my ways. Live up to your name.” 

The word of God abounds with promises of God for his people. Promises to hear and answer prayers. Promises to forgive sins. Promises to lead us through difficult times. Promises to be with us always. Promises for eternal life. Promises of the resurrection and the life of the world to come. Promises that whatever sacrifices we make this side of eternity are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us. 

Times pass slowly as we wait to see the fulfillment of these promises. That’s why God has repeated them for us to hear and believe. As we wait, we who are both saint and sinner, need also to be reminded to live up to our identity as daughters and sons of God.

God has reminded us of this many times. Because once is not enough.

Selected verses from various psalms for your personal meditation and edification on this Lord’s Day.

Psalm 25:4-7

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
    teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation;
    for you I wait all the day long.

Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love,
    for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
    according to your steadfast love remember me,
    for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!

Psalm 55:22

Cast your burden on the Lord,
    and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
    the righteous to be moved.

Psalm 85:10-13

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
    and righteousness looks down from the sky.
12 Yes, the Lord will give what is good,
    and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him
    and make his footsteps a way.

Psalm 115:1

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
    for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

Psalm 145:1-4

I will extol you, my God and King,
    and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you
    and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
    and his greatness is unsearchable.

One generation shall commend your works to another,
    and shall declare your mighty acts.

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The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

11 The angel of the Lord also said to her:

“You are now pregnant
    and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
    for the Lord has heard of your misery.
12 He will be a wild donkeyof a man;
    his hand will be against everyone
    and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
    toward all his brothers.” 
 – Genesis 16:7-12

Mount Baker from Whidbey Island | Oak Harbor, Washington | May 2021

I’ve told the story on myself before. I had taken the initiative to engage a Christian counselor to help me work through some issues I was struggling with. Part of that process included – at the end – some marital counseling with both Diane and me present. 

One session had us together with Bruce speaking with Diane. He was probing some of her feelings as I sat nearby. Without warning – but not abruptly – he turned to me and asked, “Dave, what do you think Diane is feeling right now?” I had too admit, “I feel like a kid in school who’s been caught daydreaming in class.” 

“No problem,” he said. And he returned to talking with Diane. A few moments later he turned to me again. “Dave, what do you think Diane is feeling right now?” I was ready! I spouted off a few things, at least somewhat proud of myself. He made nothing of it. Puzzling.

A few minutes later he turned to me again and asked, “Dave, what do you think Diane is feeling right now?” I quietly admitted, “I have no idea.” It was an encounter with grace and truth for both of us the likes of which we’ve very seldom experienced – before or since. In her words, I showed up. And she opened her heart to me in a new way.

God shows up to Hagar at this time in the form of the Angel of the Lord. There is no little amount of debate as to whether this is an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ. Answers in Genesis explains these “theophanies” (Greek: theos = “God” + phaino = “appear”) or “Christophanies” to mean “appearances of God” and “appearances of Christ,” respectively. 

Even if these are not theophanies or Christophanies, there are three distinct actions by the Angel of the Lord in this passage. First of all, he finds Hagar. Jesus echoes this when he says of himself, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). The Angel of the Lord is certainly doing a Jesus-like thing here. 

The Angel of the Lord also “told her” to go back and submit to her master. This is a command. This is not information sharing. It is direction. Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another (John 15 for example). He commanded his disciples to make disciples (Matthew 28). He even told the once demon-possessed man, “Go back to your home, and tell all that God has done for you” (Luke 8:39). Very Jesus-like.

The Angel of the Lord also speaks to Hagar about what is to come. And it’s not all roses. In fact it’s a bit thorny. Jesus warns the man who was healed at the pool of Bethesda, “See, you have been made well. Stop sinning, or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:14). Seems very Jesus-like that the Angel of the Lord offers this warning about Ishmael. We may not like it, but there it is.

There are choices and consequences we all make and face. But we have been found by God. God’s first action is to seek and save the lost. While we thank God for his rescue, let’s not ignore his commands, nor fail to heed his warnings. 

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And the angel also said [to Hagar], “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress. 12 This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.”

13 Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” 14 So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered. – Genesis 16:11-14 [New Living Translation]

Purple Flower | Oak Harbor, Washington | May 2021

It’s a favorite among many: His Eye is on The Sparrow. The song is available by artists as diverse as Whitney Houston to Michael Jackson and Keith and Kristin Getty to Sounds Like Reign (the link above). It evokes deep emotional responses from a wide range of ethnic and cultural groups. It’s a favorite of my sister-in-law, and a song was repeatedly requested by a member of the church I served. It’s a good reminder for us all. God is watching. 

Hagar experiences this in the midst of her despair. She has fled Sarai, her mistress, because of Sarai’s unkind treatment. Truly, she is an easy target for unkind treatment. She had doled it out to Sarai herself. Sarai couldn’t become pregnant, and offered Hagar to her husband, Abram. When Hagar conceives a child she turns ugly against Sarai.

Some would say she had it coming. To be kicked out by Sarai. To be alone and pregnant. Others would say it’s never right to do wrong to a person – even if that person has done wrong. God sees all of this. There are many facets of evil, many nuances. God sees them all. Every. Single. Facet. 

Maybe you’ve wondered about God’s care for you. Perhaps you doubt that God has any clue about your plight. You may be falsely accused of inept work or inappropriate behavior. You may be the focus of judgmental scrutiny. You have have been thrown away by someone. You may even have brought that trouble on yourself.

God sees you. He takes note. He will act. He will orchestrate. He’s writing a beautiful symphony of grace with counterpoints of truth, and he has a place in it for you. 

Hagar is so convinced of this that she begins calling God by a new name. I wonder whether at least some of the edge of her prayers to God or the invocation of his name to curse Sarai was taken away by the appearance of the Angel of the Lord and his assurance: I see you. Whether or not there was an edge to remove, Hagar will now call upon the One who sees. She recognizes that God is the One who sees her. She realizes, also, that is a good thing. 

There was a well in her day, named after this event. It is named, Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). Perhaps the next time you take a drink of water you might remember that God sees you. That’s a good thing. For the One whose eye is on the sparrow has a heart for lost and hurting people. He sees. And he saves.