Hagar and the Areopagus

“Puns are the highest form of literature” said Alfred Hitchcock (apparently) and puns are definitely an important part of the communication of the Bible [1].  The difficulty with a pun is knowing whether it works, especially across language, so let me stretch out my long bow for a possible pun.

Genesis 16 shows a interesting interaction between God and Hagar.  It is interesting for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it is the first time a woman gives a name to God.  And rather strangely, it is a name that is unique to this passage.  Secondly, she is also the first (and only in Genesis?) to receive promises on the level that she does.

A Punny Name

But back to the name.

“So she called the LORD who spoke to her: The God Who Sees, for she said, “In this place, have I actually seen the One who sees me?””(Genesis 16:13 HCSB)

“He is the God who Sees” we are told by Hagar in 16:13.  The main point being that God has seen her in her hardship, she has not endured this alone, and we must not lose sight of this main point as we embark on a thought experiment as to what else could be going on here.

This name is unusual for a number of reasons.  The Lord is the one who is described  as the one who “speaks” to her, not necessarily “sees” her.  Though seeing her is not outside the realm of possibility.  Secondly, it is, as I mentioned above, unique.  No-one else has used it and no else does use it.

Which has got me wondering about the pun that is used.  The hebrew of the “God that Sees” is the “God that is ra’i“, as in pronounced “ra” more or less.  Hagar is an Egyptian, heading back to Egypt, to the world she knows.  A world that is ruled by the God “Ra”.

So could it be that Hagar is working out that what she thought was God “Ra” is actually Yahweh, the God of Abraham?  She is using language that she is familiar with to to express her new understanding of God.

Let’s assume that my long bow of an assumption is true, I mean really go with me on this, what do we learn from this?

Analogue in the Areopagus

Several posts ago I mentioned the importance of preaching analogue and not digital.  The point being that people have differing understandings of the Christian message and we build on that to help them to know it better, whether they are Christian or not.

It is exactly what Paul does in Athens.  He does not need to convince the Athenians that they need to worship, but rather he takes their understanding of God and extrapolates the Gospel from it.  In Acts 17:23 we see:

“For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23 HCSB)

There has always been a legalistic whisper in the back of my head that asks “why doesn’t Paul rebuke the Athenians for idolatry, instead of using it to explain the Gospel”?   On one hand he would be right to do so, but not helpful and loving.  He, like Hagar, is using what they know of God to explain more of what God has revealed.

So, feel free to break my long bow, but it has been an interesting thought experiment.

[1] E.g. the way ‘house’ is used in 2 Samuel 7.


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