‘Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also.’ This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain. (Hebrews 12:26–7)
God will shake the things that can be shaken, so that the things that are unshakeable may remain.
For many people in the country it has seemed that foundations have shaken. What was known before and relied upon is changed, and there is no certainty of the way ahead or of the future. Similarly for us as Christians, there has been change and shaking of much that seemed very stable, and we’re caused to discover more and more the things that cannot be shaken. In the words sung by Andrew and Rhian immediately before this word was first given in the Greenock church: ‘You have been faithful … You have been so, so good.’ And that is of course what we know cannot be shaken. It’s just God Himself.
I come back to a story in Genesis that I love: the story of Sarah’s slave-woman Hagar. Abraham has taken Hagar to be his concubine, that he might have a child. He won’t be the child of promise, but Sarah and Abraham have tried to take matters into their own hands. Hagar begins to mock Sarah when she knows she is going to have a child, and Sarah is so cruel to her that she runs away.
The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?’ ‘I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,’ she replied. The angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.’ Then he added, ‘I will give you more descendants than you can count.’ And the angel also said: ‘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. 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 …’ 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?’ So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means ‘well of the Living One who sees me’) … So Hagar gave Abram a son, and Abram named him Ishmael.
Assuming that she must have told Abraham just what had happened, I wonder how Abraham felt when he heard how God had spoken to Hagar, and if he felt bad that he had let Sarah be so cruel to her.
Hagar wasn’t perfect, and therein lies comfort for us. She was partly responsible for her troubles, but not wholly. The main responsibility lies on Sarah. But Hagar had been very unwise; she had been very cruel to mock at Sarah her mistress because Sarah couldn’t have a son and she herself was going to have a child. But she is now in a desperate plight. She is a slave, she’s a victim, she had no say in the matter; she was just dictated to. And now, having run away because she had been so cruelly treated, she’s alone and doesn’t know what to do. She finds a spring of water in the wilderness; and there we have this lovely incident where the Angel of the Presence, whom we believe to be Christ Himself, sees and speaks to her.
He says: ‘Where are you going?’ In other words: ‘Hagar, what are you doing?’ Hagar explains, and the Angel says to her: ‘Return; submit,’ and He speaks to her of the son she is going to have. She is beside a well of water, so she’s not going to die of thirst there in the wilderness. She’s able to get back to Abraham and Sarah. But she’s not the same person, for she has met with God.
I think we can identify to some extent with Hagar, in her loneliness, her need, and her imperfection. God finds her, and speaks to her. He lets her know that He has heard her cry, and that is what she has to call her son: ‘the Lord who hears’. He had heard her the instant she cried. And she now knows God by this name that means ‘the well of the Living One who sees me’. In her need God found her, God sees her. Is that not all we need? Just the assurance: ‘O God, You see me.’
Sometimes if we can’t physically run away from our circumstances we try inside ourselves to escape from it all, but we can’t. It may be something like a thorn that is continually piercing and bringing a cruelty into the deeps of our spirit, a cruelty of life, and we can’t escape … until in a moment we wait by the well of living water, and we know where that well is, even God. We wait – but glorious moment, when suddenly out of the silence He speaks. Sometimes He doesn’t even speak, but we just know: ‘O God, You see me. You hear. That’s enough.’
The years pass for Hagar, and she finds herself in a very difficult plight again when her son Ishmael is about seventeen. Isaac the son of Abraham and Sarah has just been weaned, and Ishmael (perhaps a bit like his mother seventeen years earlier) is now mocking Isaac. Sarah is incensed, and tells Abraham: Send her away.’ This time God speaks to Abraham, who is very grieved, and He says: ‘Do it. I will be with him. But send him away.’ And with a heavy heart Abraham does so.
But what was Hagar’s heart like? This time it’s not just Sarah’s cruelty that has made her run away; it’s actually God who has told Abraham: ‘Send her away.’ This time she’s just wandering in the wilderness, and there’s no well of living water. Having put the boy in the shade of a bush, she goes a little distance away and bursts into tears; she doesn’t want to watch the boy die. But God heard the boy crying, and the Angel of God called to Hagar: ‘Hagar, what’s wrong? Don’t be afraid. God has heard the boy crying as he lies there; go to him and comfort him.’ Her plight seemed even worse this time, but sometimes it’s when we’re at our greatest extremity of real need (not imagined need) that God speaks. And on each occasion you notice that He comes looking for her. She’s not a saint; nor has Ishmael been. It’s not like Elijah, such a mighty man of God, when God found him in the wilderness and fed him. Hagar we can identify with more in some ways: so ordinary, but so suffering, so badly treated, and it seems being shut out by God until out of the darkness He speaks, and then He opens her eyes and she sees the well of living water.
Is that not what He does for you and me, when it seems at times there is no water to be found in the wilderness, and there is a peculiar aloneness such as was Hagar’s lot. Who could help her? The ones responsible for her had sent her away. But wandering there she was seen and found of her God, given the well of living water, and cared for. Does He not do as much for you or me, the least of His children? Does He not see us? Does He not come searching, until He finds us? ‘Even in the darkest valley I will fear no ill: You are right beside me, Lord.’ He was right beside Hagar and found her wandering, to leave her never lonely – that’s why Christ came, to leave us never lonely again, but to cause us to find that which cannot shake. There in the beginning of the Old Testament right to the end of the New Testament is the goodness and the faithfulness of the same God that we worship today, and that we need to find for ourselves, as Hagar did. She said: ‘Now I know, I call Him the Living One who sees me.’
I close with an extract that really speaks of the heart of that which cannot be shaken, and that is the friendship of God:
… to have seen evermore revealed behind the complicated troubles of this strange, mysterious life, the unchanged smile of an eternal Friend, and everything that is difficult to reason solved by that reposing trust which is higher and better than reason: to have known and felt this, I will not say for a life, but for a single blessed hour, that, indeed, is to have made experiment of Christianity. (Wm Archer Butler)
That is to have reached the heart of it, and the heart of God.
To have seen, in this our very present life, the unchanged smile of an eternal Friend, is to experience Christianity. As an old Scots saying has it: It’s better felt than telt. There is no exchange for the actual divine moment of the touch of God, and the lingering of Him by us. And we know: ‘Thou God seest me.’
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