Last Sunday afternoon news started spreading on Twitter and across the internet that controversial Atlanta pastor Eddie Long had died - aged 63. What made the news so shocking was the mystery and secrecy surrounding his recent weight loss. While people had long speculated that Mr. Long was in poor health, over the last year or so the church refused to directly address these rumors and Mr. Long grew more seclusive and deflective.
On August 12, sensing the need to make a public comment, Eddie posted a video on Facebook explaining that his weight loss was the result of a holistic diet that consisted mostly of eating raw vegetables. He explained that he was kicking the “slave diet” of fast food.
Regrettably, Eddie’s physical decline not only continued to worsen, but grew harder to ignore prompting him to issue the following public statement on September 6th, “I am recovering from a health challenge that I trust God to deliver me from… At this time my family and I are requesting that you respect our privacy. I truly appreciate your prayers and support for me, my loved ones and my beloved New Birth Church Family.”
While rumor is that he ultimately died from an aggressive form of cancer, Eddie Long’s death came as a shock to many because of what he said from the pulpit on October 9th. During the service (which I have linked on C316.tv) he told the congregation, “I've been on a journey and just recalibrating myself… Like I said, I had some health issues and God has healed me. The manifestation is coming through and we stand in that.”
Though many have wondered why there was so much secrecy surrounding his illness and why he wouldn’t have been open with a congregation that deeply loved their pastor, personally I am not surprised in the slightest. You see Eddie Long held to a theological position we call the “Prosperity Gospel” or also known as “Health and Wealth”.
For years Mr. Long taught his people that poverty and illness only manifested in a person’s life from a lack of faith. God’s will was that you be healthy and rich - which not only explains why his extravagant lifestyle was not only accepted by his church, but seen as necessary. If the pastor wasn’t rich, how could you expect God to bless you with riches? This is why news of his sickness was hushed… It contradicted his theology.
In one sermon he even went so far as to say the following, “The doctor can X-Ray you and say, 'You got cancer.' And then you go home and let God see you, does Christ have cancer? If Christ don't, you don't have cancer. All you need to do is get a picture of what he looks like. Because, if you can see Him you become like Him.” I guess, in the end and with all things considered, you could definitively say by his own words that Eddie Long was not Christ-like.
This morning I want to tell you an honest, but hard truth about following Jesus. And because it doesn’t exactly tickle the ears it’s not something you’re likely to hear at a lot of churches… The reason the “Prosperity Gospel” that men like Eddie Long and Joel Osteen teach is toxic is that it runs counter to the truth of Scripture. As a matter of fact, it’s totally unbiblical.
You see the hard reality about the story of the Bible is that it presents example after example of people who are clearly right in the center of God’s will and plan for their life; and yet, from a practical, temporal standpoint their life absolutely stinks…
People who love God, are following God, are being used by God, are pleasing to God, are in God’s will but who’s lives are still incredibly difficult, painful, and trying. For an example look no further than Jesus… Being in the center of God’s will meant He was beaten and crucified.
Friend, the truth is that God’s will for your life might include health, but it might just as easily include sickness or chronic pain. Sure, God’s will might include success and financial prosperity, but if we’re being honest it might also be characterized by business failures and poverty. Sure, it’s true God’s ultimate will is to provide you eternal life, but never forget His will at some point requires every one of us face a certain death!
It’s why this Prosperity Gospel heresy leaves people disillusioned… Following God is hard and the road He might lead you down could be painful. I know it’s a tough pill to swallow, but the truth is that difficulties, trials, storms, and disappointments can be God’s will.
And yet, while being in the center of God’s will can lead to a wonderful life or a terribly difficult experience, we’re going to see this morning that whether we recognize it or not there is always a divine purpose behind the will of God.
Genesis 21:14-16, “So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba.
And the water in the skin was used up, and she placed the boy under one of the shrubs. Then she went and sat down across from him at a distance of about a bowshot; for she said to herself, ‘Let me not see the death of the boy.’ So she sat opposite him, and lifted her voice and wept.”
Honestly, it’s hard to paint a more depressing, heart-wrenching situation. Forced to leave the safety of Abraham’s home for, as we discussed last Sunday, much larger reasons than themselves, Hagar and Ishmael are sent away with only a ration of “bread and water.”
Since the “Wilderness of Beersheba” is mainly desert (and for context the last few verses of the chapter will explain how the name “Beersheba” came to be), it doesn’t take long for these rations to run out leaving both Hagar and her son Ishmael in a terrible situation.
Things seem so bleak, Hagar has resigned herself to the reality she and her son were going to die. Unable to watch Ishmael’s inevitable suffering, our text tells us she “placed him under a shrub” and “sat opposite him.” Then, in her desperation, Hagar “lifted her voice and wept.”
Don’t forget this was not the first time Hagar found herself alone in a dicy situation. If you recall, back in Genesis 16, Sarah had given Hagar to Abraham as a surrogate and she conceived as was planned. And yet, upon Sarah quickly souring on the entire situation and throwing shade her direction, Hagar chooses to flee with the intention of returning to Egypt.
Amazingly, as she’s pondering her next steps, Moses tells us how the Lord appeared to Hagar by a well, instructed her to return to Sarah, but not before calming her fears by giving her wonderful promises about the future of her unborn son. In response to the entire situation we’re told Hagar “called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, ‘Have I also here seen Him who sees me?’”
My point in bringing all of this up is to emphasize the reality that Hagar knew the Lord. She had a personal relationship with the God of Abraham. Unique to so many, Hagar had literally spoken with the Lord face-to-face. What makes this important is that it indicates Hagar was a believer - what we’d consider today to be a Christian.
As a desperate and helpless Hagar “lifted her voice and wept” on account of everything that had just transpired, I can imagine her cries were directed towards heaven. In this moment of fear and vulnerability she’s making her personal appeal to “The-God-Who-Sees.”
Please keep in mind… Hagar has done nothing wrong. She’s committed no crime - no sin. As a matter of fact, for the last 13 years she’s actually been obedient to God’s command to submit herself under Sarah’s authority - which I reason came with its share of difficulties.
Hagar is a victim who’s been caught up in a situation she didn’t cause and has no control over. Not only has Sarah gotten her revenge, but it was Abraham who “cast” both she and Ishmael away! I’m sure Hagar was flabbergasted with disbelief when Abraham, this great man of faith, turned his back on his own son! How could he do such a thing?
And to make matters worse… How did Abraham justify his decision to heed Sarah’s advice? While he’d been torn on what to do because of his love for Ishmael, it wasn’t until God intervened and instructed him to listen to Sarah that Hagar and Ishmael were sent away.
Consider this moment when Abraham tells Hagar that God confirmed that she and Ishmael had to go! Not only has she been betrayed by Abraham and Sarah, but it would also appear God had abandoned her. How could a God of love allow such an injustice?
There is no way around the fact that God sanctioned this entire situation facing Hagar and Ishmael. While personally torn up by the situation, Abraham acted out of obedience to God meaning this dire situation was exactly where God’s will would have them.
I don’t think it’s farfetched to imagine that as Hagar sits there under the desert sun weeping she’s crying out, “Why God? What did I do wrong? For the last 13 years I’ve obeyed your command to submit myself under the hand of Sarah? What about those promises You gave me about my son? I trusted You? Are You really going to let me down like everyone else?”
Hagar’s situation was hopeless. She’s in the desert without water. It was now only a matter of time until she and Ishmael would be dead. At this point nothing could be done. All of her energies had been exhausted. Hagar is literally at the end of her rope. She’s beyond despair. Hagar has reached the point where she can literally go no farther or do anything.
Hagar knew God, but her situation filled her heart with doubt. She was afraid. Had God really led them into the wilderness to perish? Was God going to fail them in their time of need? Was God going to renege on His promises? I mean hadn’t God made an assurance to Abraham that He would take care of Ishmael because “he was his seed?” At this point of completed despondency all Hagar can do is “lift her voice and weep.”
Have you ever been in such a situation - a situation that challenges what you know about God - His promises? Like Hagar, you’ve done nothing to bring your pressing difficulties upon yourself - instead you simply find yourself caught up in events you have no control over. Have you ever reached that point where all you can do is cry out and weep before the Lord?
Genesis 21:17-21, “And God heard the voice of the lad. Then the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her, ‘What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad and hold him with your hand, for I will make him a great nation.’ Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink. So God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. He dwelt in the Wilderness of Paran (northwestern Saudi Arabia along the eastern shore of the Red Sea); and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.”
It really should not be a surprise that in this very place when hope is fading and Hagar is desperately “lifting her voice” to the Lord that “God called to her out of heaven.” As it pertains to the tough situations God’s will might lead you into, the first point that can be made is the truth that God not only hears your cries, but will respond in your time of need.
And yet, it’s important to point out how God responded to Hagar, because He responds to us in the same way… He responded through His Word. We’re told, “God called to Hagar… and said.” I hope you understand what you have in your hand is more than a book - It’s the written Word of God. Though in times past God had to speak audibly in order to communicate Himself, today this is no longer necessary. His word is always accessible!
Beyond this, notice what His word communicated… First, God said, “What ails you, Hagar?” Sadly, this English translation fails to effectively represent what God is actually saying. Understand, the Hebrew doesn’t indicate God is playing the fool (like He didn’t know what was happening), nor is God being passive aggressive over the nature of her cries…
In the original language the only word recorded is “Hagar.” You see in connecting her ailment with her name the translators are indicating that God was doing more than simply identifying Hagar - He was instead saying her name in a tone that acknowledged how this situation was effecting her. Note: The first word God spoke to her back in Genesis 16:8 was “Hagar.” I can imagine when she heard her name she recognized the voice that was speaking.
Aside from making a personal connection by acknowledging what she was practically going through, God instructs her to “fear not.” In saying this God was doing something very important… He was seeking to turn Hagar’s attention off of her present situation and onto the One in control of her present situation. “Hagar, if I see you and am willing to speak to you, even though things appear hopeless, what do you really have to fear?”
Also notice God continues by explaining why she didn’t need to fear… He says, “I’ve heard the voice of the lad where he is.” While on the surface the implication is that Hagar was unaware that Ishmael was also praying, the purpose of this statement runs much deeper.
Though much of the scene has centered upon the anguish of Hagar, off screen - under that shrub - what has Ishmael been doing? Don’t forget Ishmael is a teenager fully aware of what’s happening. He knows their situation is desperate - if not hopeless.
Beyond this… Though the son of the flesh - born on account of Abraham’s unbelief, Ishmael still possessed an incredible spiritual heritage. He’d been circumcised the eighth day. He’d listened to Abraham recount the story of his journey of faith… Told him about the day the “God of glory appeared to him” while he was living back in Ur of the Chaldeans.
I’m sure Ab relayed to Ishmael all of the promises God had made. He probably even shared with him the honest truth about his birth and the fact a promised son was still coming.
Though not specifically mentioned, because Ishmael grew up in the tents of his father, he’d been there when God came over for supper. Additionally, Ishmael personally witnessed the righteous hand of God’s judgment when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with fire.
Most notably Ishmael had seen up close God’s amazing grace demonstrated time and time again when his father Abraham failed. God’s favor and blessing never wavered. Ishmael was there to see the supernatural birth of Isaac! Aside from all of this there’s no doubt Ishmael heard his mother Hagar recount the story about God appearing to her a thousand times.
Here’s my point… While the case is closed that Ishmael knew of God, it’s not until this very passage that we have any evidence of him knowing God. So… What is Ishmael doing under that shrub? Well, first he’s listening to the cries of his mother… He can hear her tears and appeal for God’s help. But then what happens? Ishmael begins to pray!
While we have no idea what he was praying or how long he was praying for, how interesting that God responded to Hagar’s cries when He “heard the voice of the lad” only to then calm her fears with the simple words “I’ve heard the voice of the lad where he is.”
Why, of all things, would the knowledge that Ishmael had been praying serve to calm Hagar’s fears? You see I believe it’s in this moment the ultimate reason for their present difficulty came into view - the reason Abraham casting them out was pertinent to the fulfillment of God’s plan for their lives. I’m personally convinced God had led them into this desperate situation for two very important and interrelated reasons (which became clear to Hagar):
First, God placed them into such a desperate situation so that Ishmael could witness his mothers relationship with God in action. Ishmael knew they’d been given a raw deal. He knew their situation didn’t look promising. And yet, upon hearing his mom crying out and weeping before the Lord something stirred within him. What he heard was real and genuine. His mom was making a true and honest appeal to the God she’d told him so much about.
Which leads to the second reason and the ultimate purpose behind everything that had happened up to this point… In response to Hagar’s genuine exchange with the Lord, Ishmael chooses to enter into a personal relationship with God for himself.
How interesting that following this particular story we’re told, “So God was with the lad!” The implication is that a change had occurred in Ishmael through this event. No longer was the Lord the God of Abraham nor even the God of Hagar, from this point moving forward the Lord was now the God Ishmael would serve. In a profound way this is a conversion story.
This explains why God then instructs Hagar to “arise, life up the lad and hold him with your hand” before He once again reiterates the promise that He’d “make him a great nation.” Before God could fulfill this promise two things had to occur: (1) Ishmael had to separate from Isaac, and (2) Ishmael had to have a personal relationship with God.
You see God is revealing to Hagar the purpose behind their plight. In order for God to accomplish His will in Ishmael’s life everything that happened was necessary. Being “cast out” was the only way Ishmael would become his own man. And this desperate situation they found themselves in was God’s way of fostering an environment whereby he could witness his mothers relationship with the Lord in action so that he’d call upon God for himself!
To this point the next time we see Ishmael is in Genesis 25:8-9 we read, “Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah.”
While it would have been understandable for Ishmael to have held a grudge against his father over the way he and his mom had been treated, it seems he’d come to understand and ultimately accept the fact God had a larger plan that necessitated this difficult season. Note: The only way this story would be in Genesis would be for Ishmael to tell it to Isaac.
Well, after revealing to Hagar His ultimate purpose behind their turn of unfortunate events, God still has one more powerful lesson He needed to communicate. We read that after these things, “God opened Hagar’s eyes and she saw a well of water.” Not only had God worked through this situation to accomplish His will, but this well would quench their thirst!
Understand, the Hebrew language doesn’t imply that God placed “a well of water” along her path that wasn’t previously there - that in some way Hagar had been unable to see the well because the well hadn’t existed. This is not what the passage says happened.
Instead, the miracle seems to be that Hagar was unable to see “a well” right in front of her until God “opened her eyes.” The irony was that she was dying of thirst when “a well” was within reach. The remedy to her affliction was right in front of her, but she couldn’t see it.
I don’t think it’s an accident that in Hagar’s first interaction with the Lord she’s found by “a well” and gives Him the name “You-Are-The-God-Who-Sees” - only for in this second interaction to now have God give her sight so that she could see “a well” right before her.
There is no doubt by employing these two things (the ability to see and a well) God is seeking to remind Hagar of an important reality… She’d grown afraid because she’d lost sight of the fact her Lord was the “God-Who-Sees!” Though she didn’t know why any of these things had happened, the truth is that there was no reason to fear.
And yet, what is so profound about this exchange and the point that we should pay careful attention to is that God wasn’t providing a solution to Hagar’s problem. On the contrary, God wanted Hagar to see that the solution had always been right in front of her.
I’m convinced that, beyond remembering that God knew what she was going through, when the Lord “opened her eyes” it wasn’t to simply see a well… It was to remember what the well represented - the fact her life had changed the moment she had seen God for herself!
Once again in Genesis 16 we’re told, “Hagar called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, ‘Have I also here seen Him who sees me?’ Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi” or literally “Well of the Living One seeing me.”
Hagar had been overtaken with both fear and doubt for one simple reason… She allowed her circumstances to take her eyes off the Lord. While the well was right in front of her, Hagar allowed her situation to blind her from seeing the ultimate solution. Once again how easy it is to become so consumed with our struggle that we fail to see our Savior.
Friend, when God’s will leads you down a difficult road - when you inevitably find yourself in a desert that causes your heart to flood with fear and doubt, like Hagar may I exhort you to cry out to the Lord. It’s ok to be real and raw. It’s ok to weep and even question. The truth is that you may never know who’s listening and the impact your faith may be having.
And here’s why it’s ok to cry out to God in such a place… You not only serve a God-Who-Sees, but a God who speaks! While His will may lead you into situations that are difficult and trying - circumstances that will bring you to the breaking point, it’s His Word that encourages you to remember that He has a reason behind whatever it is you’re facing.
And while it’s true He may not reveal what the purpose is like He did with Hagar, there is one thing He will always open your eyes to see… That there is a Well who’s spring runs eternal… A Well right in front of you that never cease to supply all that you need. Friend, this morning may I exhort you to take your eyes off of your circumstances so that you can see Jesus!
Matthew 14:25-32, “Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.’ And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’
And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.”