And He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s slave-girl, where did you come from and where are you going?” Genesis 16:8
Where – You will recall the difference between ‘ayyeh and ‘eypoh. ‘ayyeh (short form ‘ay) is “where” as a statement of surprise, like “Why aren’t you here where I expected you to be?” ‘eypoh is “where” like “Where is the exit?” Surprise versus location. Unless we know the difference, our translation will hide something from us.
In this passage, the Angel of the Lord encounters Hagar in the wilderness. This is the first appearance of the Angel of the Lord (by name) in Scripture. That alone makes the event important. In addition, this is the first conversation between the Angel of the Lord and a woman, and even more amazingly, a woman who is not an Israelite. Hagar is an Egyptian slave. Nevertheless, Hagar, the non-Israeli bond-servant, responds to the Angel of the Lord with a faith that very few believers could muster. She obeys in spite of obvious hardship and unmerited cruelty. She trusts God when everything tells her to run away. She has more faith than her own mistress, Sarai.
Now let’s look at this question. What word do you suppose the Angel of the Lord uses? Is He asking the location of Hagar’s point of origin? No, He isn’t. He uses the word ‘ayyeh. What does that tell us? The Angel of the Lord expresses surprise that Hagar is here in the wilderness. She should be in the camp with Abram and Sarai. But that’s not all the surprise. “What are you doing here?” turns into “Why have you run away from your pain?” Hagar only knows that she is running. The surprise expressed by the Angel of the Lord is about the foolishness of trying to escape pain as a way of solving a problem. Hagar runs to the wilderness in order to get away from her troubles, but people die in the wilderness. She has exchanged one set of problems for another. Perhaps ‘ayyeh expresses the surprise that anyone would choose this solution when the real answer is finding God in the midst of the pain. The real answer is trust, not escape. The Angel of the Lord is shocked that Hagar decides her problems are so bad that she will risk dying rather than trusting in the sovereignty of God. In the end, the Angel of the Lord reveals to Hagar that she must return because God is doing something in this situation that she cannot see. This is a good lesson for all of us.
There is, however, another “where” in this verse. Hagar might be able to answer the first question. “I am running from my pain. I am running from Sarai.” But she cannot answer the second question because she does not know where she is going. The Hebrew text reads veana telechi. It could be “Where are you going?” but that translation hides something else that we need to know. The two words here are anah and halak. The first is a verb about seeking; the second a verb about walking. So, the intent of the question (is it a question?) is really “Where do you seek to walk?” And that is very close to a Hebrew idiom about the manner of life that a person leads. To walk is not about taking steps on the way to some location. It is about the path your life takes in reaching your destiny. No wonder Hagar can’t answer the second question. It isn’t about her location objective in the wilderness. It is about her inability to have any clear direction for her life. She doesn’t go anywhere because she is not seeking to walk according to the Lord. He has to give her a different path, the path of returning to her pain so that His purposes can be accomplished. She might think that she is wandering in the wilderness, but the Lord knows that she must walk in His path in order to find her way. So, He sends her home.
Two critical questions, hidden from our translated eyes. “Why are you here when you should be someplace else? Why are you running when you should be seeking?”
What about you? Where have you come from and where are you going?
Topical Index: where, ‘ayyeh, ‘eypoh, anah, halak, walk, seek, Genesis 16:8