IN SEASON AND OUT
When life gets tough, have a beer.
That’s my advice. Only, I’m speaking in a Biblical sense, with a Biblical language: beer is the Hebrew word for well, a place you draw not fermented hops but water. So let me put it in straight English: when life gets tough, have a well.
When you dry up, have a place that replenishes you.
I live in the wetlands, so to speak, where almost every tree is planted by streams of living water. Most of our water problems stem from having too much: roots get waterlogged, culverts engorge, storm drains overflow, rivers spill their banks, mountains give way, cherries burst their skins, mold breeds in basements, rainwater finds every broken seam on every rooftop and turns gyprock into mush. A drought means I’m not allowed to soak my lawn more than twice a week in high summer, and a severe drought means I’m not allowed to do that at all. But not once in my life has a drought meant I might not drink. It’s never even meant that I might not shower, or water my peonies, or wash my clothes or my car. Not once has my life ever grown tenuous, fragile, marginal, for lack of water. There’s always been enough, and more.
But a beer, a well, was the lifeblood of Near Eastern people. It still is. A tapped source of sweet cool water flowing beneath sun-scorched earth could turn wasteland into homeland. A well was hidden life in a world of death, or not so sudden, prolonged and agonizing death, a withering from the inside out.
You could live without many things — markets and livestock, entertainment and ease of transport. What you couldn’t live without was a good beer.
Which is also true spiritually. We need a place of replenishment. We need a place to quench our thirst, to water our dryness. We need a place that gives life when all around us is desert.
BEER LAHI ROI
Hagar was the Egyptian handmaiden of Sarai, the wife of Abram (later to be named Sarah and Abraham). Life has gotten a little tough for her, if ever it was easy. Handmaiden was just a polite way of saying that Hagar was Sarai’s personal slave. Her chattel. And Sarai took full advantage of that: first, forcing Hagar to bear Abraham’s child on her behalf, and mistreating her for the very thing she was commanded to do. Hagar’s attitude doesn’t help any.
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had bore him no children. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to do what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her husband the be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”
“Your servant is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.” (Genesis 16:1-6)
In a strange way, Hagar is the reverse image of a distant future: generations later, the Hebrew people Abraham’s descendants, will en masse be slaves to the Egyptian people, chattel to Pharaoh, brutalized and hard pressed. The roles will be inverted. But here, the father and mother of our faith come off as taskmasters. They sow to the wind cruelty that, centuries later, their offspring will reap in the whirlwind. And like the Egyptian Hagar, the Hebrew people will seek refuge out in the desert.
But any desert without a beer is a death trap. So Hagar goes to a spring in the desert. She finds a beer. Here’s what happens:
The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring and hat is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, where are you going?”
“I am 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 so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.”
The angel of the Lord also said to her:
“You are now with child.
and you will have a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
for the Lord has heard of your misery.
He will be like a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward all his brothers.”
The angel of the Lord is not prone to long speeches. He’s not given to either harsh scoldings or tender consolations. He deals in tough questions and stark truths, which can their own form of scolding and consolation. He begged be with a question — or two, to be precise: “Hagar, where are you coming from, and where are you going?”
She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered. (Genesis 16:7-14)
Hagar can answer the first. She is fleeing. She is doing anything, even a rash and hopeless thing, to get away from a bad situation. She simply fired up the old Ford in the middle of the night, with it’s engine that won’t hold idle, its rusty panels and bald tires, its one window that rolls up cockeyed to the frame; she tossed in a suitcase with a few tatty clothes, a grainy photo of her mother, and a stick of salami and headed out for anywhere that’s not here. No plan at all other than to get out of Dodge.
I often ask people in distress, “Where are you coming from, and where are you going?” And I usually find they can answer, easily, the first question (though often they want to evade the question all the same), but rarely the second. Most people who are overwhelmed by circumstances know where they have come from. They can name in vivid detail the situation, person, job, town, marriage — whatever — from which they are desperate to get away.
They just can’t say what’s next. The recent past, and then some, they see in a sideview mirror: objects that closer and larger than they actually are. The past looms huge. But the future is opaque. A whiteout. A black hole. A vanishing point. They have hopes, thin and tentative, or thick and obsessive, but little clarity.
The angel of the Lord asks two questions at the heart of the matter. Many hundreds of years hence, Jesus will have virtually the same conversation with another lonely and evasive woman at another well: the Samaritan woman, escaping at high noon to a spring in the desert. She too has a clear idea of where she’s coming from (five husbands, and the man she lives with is not her husband), but no idea where she’s going — what’s next, how to dial out, how to backpedal to innocence, how to mend a life broken into a thousand little pieces. Jesus helps her with all that. He offers her a different kind of beer, a deeper well, where living water flows, nourishing and replenishing always. (John 4:1-26)
In the case of the angel of the Lord and Hagar, as with Jesus and the Samaritan woman, He just sends her back. The angel tells Hagar to return to Sarai, to step back into submission. This would be bleak news, except Hagar doesn’t appear to receive it as such. Our parting glimpse of her is a woman deeply hopeful, freshly resolved, maybe even cheerful. She almost, it seems, whistles and skips her way home.
Well, for one, the angel makes a promise: she will have a child, a son. Only, it’s a promise that’s more bad news than good: he will be like a “wild donkey of a man,” hating and hated by everyone. I know that parenting standards have shifted over generations, but it’s hard to imagine any mother relishing news of this kind: “Little Ishy is going to be churlish and stubborn and have no friends and get into fights his whole life.” Even a much tougher breed of mother than our age is producing could have been cheered by this.
I don’t think she derived much consolation from the promise. That’s not what the story suggests. The story suggests that her consolation derived not from God’s promise but God’s presence. “I have seen the One who sees me,” she says. And God does more than see her. The story tells us He’s the God who also hears her (verse 11) and speaks to her (verse 13).
So she names the place. She names it after the spring, the well: Beer Lahai Roi. “The Well of God Who Lives and Who Sees Me.”
That’s a good beer. That’s a good well. She finds in the desert a well that heralds a God who finds her in the desert. A God who listens and speaks — words that may console, but mostly that just tell it like it is. A God who promises, but whose promises are not unmixed blessings — for Israel, His promise includes warnings of slavery and struggle; for Isaiah, it includes the certainty of hardship and failure; for Mary, it includes a sword piercing her own heart; for Peter, it includes a brutal death. And for Hagar, the promise means a son of trouble.
The promise is a mixed blessing, cold comfort in some ways.
It’s not the promise but the presence that changes everything.
It’s knowing there’s a Man for All Seasons, with you in the palace and with you in the desert, abiding with you, in tents and caves, in lonely places and in crowds, when you’re prince and ruler, or when you’re slave and housemaiden, when the child you bear is golden, destined for greatness, or troubled, destined for pain. Or when the child is not coming at all.
Still and all, there’s a God, a living God, who sees you, and hears you, and speaks to you. Who loves you. A Man for All Seasons.
You just need to find the beer where you can find the God who finds you.
Getting there sometimes involves a journey — maybe not of miles but of effort. And sometimes, like Hagar, we find our Beer Lahai Roi looking for something else, some other well, some other beer. In pastor Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God, he tells about a woman who approached him in his church one day and told him her story. For years, she was angry and disappointed with God. She searched for Him high and low, done everything that she was supposed to do— right disciplines, the whole regimen— and still she hadn’t found Him. Then one day, someone suggested she stop trying to find God and, instead, ask God to find her.
So she did.
And He did. (Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton, 2008), 161)
My sense is that, for most of us, as I think it was for the woman in Keller’s story, it’s a bit of both: we go to the well, and God’s already waiting. In the rest of this chapter, I want to look at four very reliable wells.
~ Darren’s Comments ~
If you haven’t read my three last posts from this book, it is on perseverance and how I don’t like to give up on anything. Please go and take the time and look at them dated February 11th, February 25th, and March 11th of 2022. Please, go and take the time, right now, because I’ll be here when you get back.
When I was growing up, I knew I was going to be in service for Christ, ever since He saved my soul at the age of 7. My first option failed me; see, I was going to be in the U.S. Air Force (my dream got shattered when I got glasses and just a few years later, I developed Juvenile Diabetes), and as you know, the U.S. Air Force doesn’t recruit people with glasses and Juvenile Diabetes to be one of their pilots, for if I couldn’t have that, then there would be no reason for me to enlist at all. Furthermore, I always prided myself on being different. Different in that I was going to share my faith with anyone no matter what the cost. Well, that was my intent. And I succeeded about half of the time, and the rest of the time, I miserably failed.
By then, I was only 13. And 13 is when I dedicated my life to the Lord at a Sunday evening church service where the church had a missionary who spoke. At the end of the service, there was an altar call for those who wanted to dedicate their life to the Lord. That’s all I needed as I went up. I had visions of being a missionary over in Holland, Greece, or Lithuania. However, after that Sunday evening service, I had just read “The Cross and the Switchblade” by David Wilkerson, and through the reading of that book, I rightfully began to question where God wanted me to serve.
About a year went by and that is when I received God’s calling on my life under a basketball net outside of school. However, God did not call me to any specific group of people. Yet I finished the book of “The Cross and the Switchblade” in perfect timing, I thought, so I began my journey of becoming a pastor that specializes in youth at the tender age of 14.
I had trained for 4 years of pursuing the wrong thing for the Lord, since the youth wasn’t my true calling. I would have to wait till shortly after my high school graduation and 18th birthday just a week later. God was gracious enough to let me stay under that delusion for a time, although I got a glimpse, through a dream, about 5 weeks before the considerable incident which happened that set me on the right path of fulfilling God’s will for my life. I was like that woman in Tim Keller’s book, The Reason for God, where she was at her wit’s end in trying to find God when someone suggested to her that she ask God to find her. In Running With Christ (a highly suggest you read it), you will find out that I had a significant set back to my faith until I accepted the fact that God had something different for me to do other than being a youth pastor. It took several months, in fact, years, for me to finally give up my dream of being a youth pastor. I was in need of a good beer, a spiritual well.
And I found that beer. Though struggling with doubts and fears and suffering and persecution, I found that God most often works through the pain. With incredible personal pain that includes a traumatic brain injury, I have graduated with my undergrad in Psychology and my masters in Community Psychology, worked throughout my injury to make other lives better that have a similar type of injury and the ones who care for them, and since Labor Day weekend in 2017, I started this blog because of the need to fulfill God’s command of “Go Into All The World” (Acts 1:8). You have to be willing to suffer pain in order to accomplish God’s will for your life. 1 Peter 2:21 (ESV) may be of comfort to you, for it says:
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, LEAVING YOU AN EXAMPLE, so that you might follow in His steps.”
~ Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger of TrueLifeChristianity.com ~