If I ever got a tattoo it would say “El Roi.”
In an intimately beautiful moment of Scripture, we see Hagar enter into a personal relationship with God: “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: El Roi [You are the One who sees me].” (Genesis 16:13).
Hagar was pregnant, probably struggling in her first trimester as many women do, running through the desert to escape the abuse of her mistress Sarai. She was an Egyptian slave woman who didn’t have anything or anyone. She wasn’t just physically in the desert, she was spiritually in the desert.
You’re probably familiar with her story: She was forced into a marriage with her master, Abram, and now she was pregnant with his child. This was exactly what Sarai, Abram’s wife, planned, as she did not believe God’s promise to give her a biological child with her husband. After she becomes pregnant, Scripture tells us that Hagar developed a superiority complex and looked down on Sarai. But Sarai was in authority, and with the approval of Abram, began to treat Hagar so harshly she flees to the desert.
[I feel compelled to say Hagar did sin in her treatment of Sarai, however, she was not in a position of power or status, and therefore the sins of Abram and Sarai against her caused much greater, graver consequences].
Hagar is the first person in Scripture that gives God a name. How beautiful that the Lord who made her and knows her by name records forever, like a treasure, the name Hagar bestows upon Him. I think Jesus loves the name El Roi and is inviting us to use it.
How different would it be, if Hagar called God “the One who sees” and not “The One who sees me.” The name would still be accurate—God sees all. But that wasn’t Hagar’s experience or what she cared about. Hagar might have believed there was an Egyptian god who saw all things. What made the difference was that Jesus saw her. Saw her suffering. Knew her name, her circumstances, and even her future (and the future wasn’t all sunshine and roses).
When I am in a spiritual desert, my heart longs for a Hagar experience. I want the One who made me to call me by name and speak to my current needs and future circumstances. I want Jesus to direct me back to the path of righteousness (“go back to your mistress and submit to her”) and bless me (“I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count”). Hagar has been seen; she’s been given a command and a promise (Gen. 16:9-10).
But her story isn’t over. Years later, when her son Ishmael is a child, she’s back in the desert under similar circumstances—so she calls on El Roi, right? No, she runs out of water and sits down in the desert in complete sorrow as she waits for her son, and then herself, to die of dehydration. A physical desert, a spiritual desert. But God sees, He hears, and He shows up. He calls her by name, comforts her, gives her a command, and reiterates His promise (Gen. 21:17-18).
When I inevitably find myself back in the desert, whether it is the desert of pain, grief, abandonment, depression, or even a physical desert where I long for a drink—Jesus will show up for me and be my Living Water (John 4:14). My God calls me by name, He tells me what to do, and He gives me promises of blessing. He’s El Roi.