Enjoy this first session preview where we’ll learn all about The Desert, and don’t forget to sign up so you get access to the bonus charts and map in the study guide!
The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered. Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” – Genesis 16:7-10
Welcome to The God Who Sees. Over the course of the next few weeks, you and your group will look at the stories of Hagar, Ruth, Boaz, David, and Mary of Magdala in the Bible and examine why they are so important today. But before we start out on that journey, we first need to take a look at where many of these events will take place: the desert.
When you hear the word desert, images of the Sahara, the Gobi, or the Mojave might spring to mind. You may picture an arid place of desolation and cracked earth. The deserts in Israel — which cover a full two-thirds of the country’s landmass — at first glance seem to fit this description. But there is life in those deserts! There are streams of water that are hidden. There is plant life that you don’t expect to see. There are birds receiving sustenance from some source. What’s more, these deserts serve as key geographical locations in Scripture.
Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, and John the Baptist — to name just a few — all spent significant amounts of time in the desert. It was there, in those dry, difficult, and seemingly desolate places, that many of them encountered God. It was in the deserts where many of their lives were transformed and they received a new mission from the Lord.
You probably have not spent a lot of time in physical deserts like these characters. But you have certainly witnessed your share of desert experiences. Times of spiritual dryness, struggle, fear, anxiety, loneliness, doubt, and even depression. Times in your life that you would rather forget. But also times when you most depended on God to get you through this life and most clearly heard his still, small voice speak into your life.
The desert can surprise you. The desert can change you. The desert can transform you. The desert is where God will meet with his people — including you.
Consider one of the following questions:
How would you describe your primary goal or hope for participating in this study? (In other words, why are you here?)
— or —
- What are some “desert” or “wilderness” seasons that you have gone through in your life? What did you learn from those experiences?
Watch the Video
Play the video segment for session one. As you watch, use the outline below to record any thoughts or concepts that stand out to you.
- What is unique about the deserts and wilderness areas in Israel?
- The Judean desert is close to the city of Jerusalem (about thirteen miles away).
- You can’t read the Bible without running into the words desert or wilderness almost all the time. (The words occur nearly 300 times in Scripture.1)
- The topography of Israel is varied and beautiful. Galilee, in the north, is an agricultural area. There are palm trees in Jericho. A mile away, you are at the Dead Sea.
- When you look at stories in the Bible, you might expect people had to walk for miles to get to the desert. But the deserts were in close proximity to the cities and villages.
- The wilderness areas in Israel look barren at first glance, but there is life in the desert.
- There are streams of water that are hidden. There is plant life there in the desert that you don’t expect to see. There are birds that are getting sustenance from somewhere!
- There are crevices in the hills of Israel where streams are suddenly created during the rainy season. These dry riverbeds, known as wadis (Hebrew nahal), can be dangerous when the storms come. If you’re in a wadi when that happens . . . you’re a deadie.
- What we need to know as backstory to the deserts and wildernesses that we read about in Scripture is that they were dry and arid but they also had good routes for people to go through them.
- The characters we read about in the Bible generally didn’t go into the deserts unless they were running from law (hiding out) or seeking solace with God.
- David hid in the desert when he was on the run from King Saul (see 1 Samuel 23:14).
- John the Baptist sought solace with God in the wilderness and spent most of his life there. He was the “voice of one calling in the wilderness” (Matthew 3:3) who prepared the way for the coming of Jesus, the promised Messiah.
- There was a fantastic explosion around ad 6 of people looking for God in the wilderness. More than sixty-five monasteries were built out in the middle of nowhere.
- What is the spiritual significance of the deserts that we read about in the Bible?
- The deserts in Israel seem void of human life, but we know from stories in the Bible that people survived there. It’s also depicted in Scripture as a spiritual place of exile.
- Given this, it is interesting that the people whom God spoke to in the desert became great leaders. We see this in the story of Moses and the Israelites wandering around in the wilderness for forty years. God used that time to speak to his people.
- Moses told the people, “The Lord your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have not lacked anything” (Deuteronomy 2:7 nasb).
- Just as there are hidden streams that support life in the desert, there are things hidden in our hearts that God unearths during desert seasons. God was using the Israelites’ time in the desert to captivate their attention. All the distractions were taken away.
- When we are in a desert season, we can be assured God is with us in the midst of it all.
- God speaks to us during the worst times in our lives—what we call our “wilderness journeys.” In every story in the Bible where people were exiled, were in a wilderness, or were in a desert, there were miracles that took place.
- God is a God of miracles. He has not forgotten us in the desert season we might be living through right now. He will never leave us or forsake us (see Deuteronomy 31:6).
- God is El Elyon, “from everlasting to everlasting.” Our covenant in Yeshua, through whom all good things come, will never been broken because of our circumstances.
III. What do we learn from the story of Hagar’s experience in the desert?
- Hagar is an interesting character in the Bible because her story is so complex. Her name means “forsaken,” but it can also mean “to flee.”
- Names have great meaning in Scripture, but it doesn’t mean the person had to forever carry the history of the name. As we will see as we study the story of Hagar, even though she fled from Sarah, the Lord never left her or abandoned her.
- Not much of Hagar’s backstory is given in the Old Testament except a mention that she was an Egyptian slave given to Sarah (see Genesis 16:1). Her story is tragic at first.
- God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would become the parents of a great nation. But Sarah got tired of waiting. So she literally pushed Hagar into her husband’s arms and said to him, “Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her” (Genesis 16:2).
- Immediately after Hagar became pregnant, Sarah complained to Abraham. He responded, “Your slave is in your hands” (Genesis 16:6). In other words, “She’s your problem.” He did not come to the rescue of the woman that he had impregnated.
- Hagar and her son, Ishmael, were cast out of Abraham and Sarah’s family when Isaac was born to them. We then read, “When the water in the skin was gone, [Hagar] put the boy under one of the bushes” (Genesis 21:15).
- Hagar put Ishmael under a bush and walked away so she didn’t have to witness him dying (see Genesis 21:16). We can only imagine her desperation in this environment.
- But then we read, “God heard the boy crying” (Genesis 21:17). God saw Hagar in the desert. He came to her and provided water for her and her son.
- God provided for Hagar and Ishmael’s physical needs and again promised to make Ishmael into a great nation (see Genesis 21:18). No matter what happens, we can trust that God sees us in the middle of the most desperate time of our lives. He does see.
- What is significant about the name that Hagar gives to God?
- It is interesting to note that Hagar, a female Egyptian slave, was the one who got to name God. There is no hierarchy with God. He says everyone is a priceless treasure.
- When we talk about Hagar and the promises that God made to her concerning Ishmael, there is an important theme about intimacy with God in a desert that we should not miss.
- The Hebrew word for desert is midbar. There are no vowels in the Hebrew language, so the name is written MDBR. Hagar named God “the God who sees me.” But she named her son Ishmael, which means “the one who hears God” or “God hears him.” God sees and hears.
- The word medaber in Hebrew, spelled the same way (MDBR), means “to speak.” So, the same word for desert in Hebrew is the same word for speak. No matter what we are going through in life, God is speaking to us in the desert. It’s the same word!
- Hagar’s experience in the desert has several applications for our lives.
- Paul tells us that we “are being transformed into [God’s] image with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We are going from glory to glory, from strength to strength, but there will still be some wilderness seasons in the meantime.
- We have to trust that God sees us in our desert (midbar) and speaks to us in the midst of it (medaber). When we are suffering, we focus on ourselves, but what we should do in the midst of a valley is trust God and worship him (see Job 13:15).
- The story of Hagar and Ishmael reveals that God’s promises are for a thousand generations (see Deuteronomy 7:9). All God’s promises in him are yes and amen (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). We have to choose in our desert experiences to serve the Lord.
- In the Bible, deserts represent a number of different things that are negative in nature, such as the punishment awaiting rebels (see Psalm 68:7), neglectful leadership (see Jeremiah 12:10–11), and a warning of divine punishment (see Isaiah 32:11–16). But what are some of the positive things that deserts represent in Scripture?
- Read Exodus 3:1–6. Moses had fled to Midian after killing an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew. It was there, in a wilderness near Mount Horeb, that Moses had this encounter with God. What did the Lord say about the ground on which Moses was standing? Why do you think God chose to appear to Moses in the desert?
- The name that Hagar gave to God was El Roi, “the God who sees me.” She gave her son the name Ishmael, which means “the one who hears” or “God hears him.” Based on what you know of Hagar’s story, what is the significance of these names? What do they imply that Hagar had recognized about the God of Abraham?
- Hagar went through a literal “desert experience” when she was forced to leave Abraham’s family and fend for herself in the desert of Beersheba. But we often find ourselves in our own desert experiences—difficult seasons in which we wonder if God sees us and cares about our situation. What does the story of Hagar reveal about how God meets us in those times? What encouragement do you glean from her story?
Review the outline for the video teaching and any notes you took. What’s your most significant takeaway from this session?
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