Did you ever try to run away from home as a kid? I didn’t. But as an adult, sometimes I’ve wanted to run away from life. That’s how Hagar felt when she ran away—both times.
Running-away plans rarely get past the leaving part. A destination is something to sort later. That raises the question: would a map or a compass help more?
Hold that thought.
Hagar’s story: starts with a map, ends with a compass
Hagar did her mistress Sarai’s bidding then endured such harsh treatment that Hagar fled from Abraham’s camp. Do you recall what God asked Hagar the first time she ran away? “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” (Genesis 16:8, emphasis mine)
Hagar answered only where she’d come from. She kept silent on where she wanted to go.
She wanted to return to her homeland of Egypt—and she had a rough mental map of how to get there. We can piece that together because of the Bible’s details about her encounter with God by a spring. It was along a trade route that followed an arable strip of land, a green splinter in the desert, between the northeastern border of Egypt and Amalekite territory. Hagar would have known that route and where to find water along it.
In contrast, the second time she fled from Sarai and Abraham, Hagar had no mental map. Although Bible scholars say she headed in basically the same direction, she wandered aimlessly in the desert (the Wilderness of Shur) until she and her son ran out of water.
She needed a compass.
Her plight mirrors ours today.We live in a culture that loves to map out a route and follow it to our anticipated destination, yet much of life consists of not knowing exactly where we’re going or how to get there. Click To Tweet
Deserts and the shifting sands of our lives
In his excellent book Shifting Sands: A Guidebook for Crossing the Deserts of Change, Steve Donahue’s harrowing journey across the Sahara makes a strong argument for living by a compass instead of a map. In other words, there are many deserts in our lives—situations with no clear path and no predictable ETA.
Roadmaps exist for finding jobs and battling cancer: “do X and Y and you should end up at Z.” But changing careers or living with a chronic illness? Those are deserts. Shifting sands. If any roads exist, they’re obscured. You need a compass for the deserts of your life. Just like Hagar did.
In Genesis 16, God gave Hagar a compass to guide her future. He told her to name her son “Ishmael,” Hebrew for “God will hear” (or literally, “The Mighty One listens and responds”). Her son’s name would be a constant reminder that God was ahead of her, moving on her behalf. God effectively said, “I know who your child will be, and his offspring will be too numerous to count.” (He didn’t say how that would happen. That would have been a map.)
God also foreknew Hagar would flee a second time. When she did, God didn’t scold her for forgetting His promise. Instead, He rescued Hagar and Ishmael, starting with a miracle of water. And Genesis 21 says God was “with the boy” as he grew.
The world wants a map
Ever notice how a map tends to become useless when you’re lost? Yet the world still yearns for a map: “do B to gain C.” When you wish for a map, remember its limitations: the cartographer’s accuracy in drawing it, its inability to predict road and weather conditions, its potential for causing you to miss a better route.
God gives us a compass
Instead of giving us a map, God gives us something better: a compass. It functions accurately regardless of external circumstances or adverse conditions. It’s always reliable. God gives us Himself.
Father God, life can be hard, confusing, and uncertain. Thank You for being mankind’s compass, even though it doesn’t acknowledge You. Forgive me when I don’t trust Your direction. You are truly an awesome God. Amen.
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