Favouritism. Virtually everyone has experienced or at least witnessed its cruel byproducts at some point in their life. Whether it be due to physical characteristics, unique talents or capabilities, personality differences, educational background, family name or simply as a result of their country of origin, some people get favourable treatment while others are overlooked or marginalised. Perceptions of favouritism can be the source of discouragement, insecurity, resentment, enmity and even social unrest.
One of the many wonderful truths found in the Bible is that God does not play favourites. Injustice was never part of His original design for mankind. Injustice in our world is the direct result of a self-inflicted wound of cataclysmic proportions – a wound called Sin (cf. Gen. 3). This fatal wound can only be healed through a personal relationship with our Creator.
“There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of mankind who does evil, for the Jew first and also for the Greek, but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who does what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.” (Rom. 2:9-11)
God consistently goes to great lengths to look out for those who are ‘out of favour’ in the world’s eyes – the underdog, the overlooked and the disenfranchised. Not uncommonly, women are a prime target of unfair treatment in most cultures and societies. They are not only targeted by men, but also by other women. This is part of Satan’s failed effort to scuttle God’s redemptive plan for humanity (cf. Gen. 3:13-16). As a result, women are often God’s focus for special protection and rescue. The next time you read the Gospel of Luke, take note of how highly esteemed women are in the eyes of Jesus.
Two Old Testament examples are Hagar and Leah. You can read Hagar’s complete story in Genesis 16 & 21:9-21 and Leah’s story in Genesis 29:16-30:24. Both serve as edifying examples of God’s compassion and tenderness, powerfully illustrating His personal involvement in the lives of His people.
The God of the Bible is living, loving, active, eternal and transcendent. The false gods of Hagar’s and Leah’s day were merely hand-made objects, typically fabricated out of wood, stone or metal. As the prophet Elijah sarcastically jested toward the false prophets of Baal:
“About noontime Elijah began mocking them. "You'll have to shout louder," he scoffed, "for surely he (Baal) is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!" (1 Kings 18:27)
In the 21st Century, our false gods can also be made of wood, stone and metal. While we don’t call them “Baal”, they go by other more subtle names like “house”, “car”, “career”, “pleasure”, “retirement”, “investments”, “popularity”, etc. More sophisticated than the idols of old, perhaps, but dumb idols nonetheless. They are inert, decidedly unforgiving and wholly unloving. Full of false hope, they are cruel ‘gods’ in every respect.
Our God, the God of the Bible, sees, hears and responds to His followers. He is always loving and always available. Hagar and Leah both learned the vital distinction between the one true God and their false gods in the same way we always learn the most important truths about life – through hardship.
As Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar was used as a pawn in a foolish attempt by Sarah and Abraham to force God’s hand. Unwilling to wait for God’s perfect timing to fulfil His promise of a great nation (cf. Gen. 12:1-3; 15:1-21), the barren and aging Sarah compelled Hagar to act as her reproductive proxy in order to ‘get the ball rolling’, so to speak. Needles to say, their diabolical plan failed miserably, and poor Hagar and her son Ishmael became collateral damage (cf. Gal. 4:21-31). Cast aside by Sarah like day-old bread, Hagar and Ishmael were banished to die in the desert.
Thankfully, God had a different plan.
“The angel of the LORD also said to (Hagar), "I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude." And the angel of the LORD said to her, "Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael (i.e. “God hears”), because the LORD has listened to your affliction. ... So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, "You are a God of seeing," for she said, "Truly here I have seen Him who looks after me." (Gen. 16:10-11,13)
“As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation”. (Gen. 17:20)
A personal encounter with El Roi, “the God who sees”, was a mind blowing experience for this poor Egyptian slave woman. Her pantheistic pagan upbringing did not prepare her for a conversation with the Creator of the universe, who is willing to graciously engage directly with His creation. Hagar would never be the same.
We see a similar example two generations later, when Leah was spurned by Abraham’s grandson Jacob in favour of her more beautiful younger sister Rachel. Having been treated callously and unceremoniously by her own father, Laban forced Leah into marriage with Jacob through deceit. Jacob in turn treated Leah with disrespect and disdain, showing overt favouritism toward Rachel.
Leah’s life was characterised by rejection and disappointment. God specialises in reaching out to broken people like Leah – and to people like you and me. He sees our difficulties and struggles, He hears our cries for help and He responds lovingly, in alignment with His sovereign will.
“When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, "Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me." She conceived again and bore a son, and said, "Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, He has given me this son also." And she called his name Simeon. Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, "Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons." Therefore his name was called Levi.” (Gen. 29:31-34)
Each time Leah successfully bore a son for Jacob, she hoped in vain it would win her husband’s favour and love. Each time she was tragically disappointed.
After the birth of her fourth son Judah, something shifted in Leah’s heart.“ And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, "This time I will praise the LORD." Therefore she called his name Judah.” (Gen. 29:35)
After giving birth to three healthy boys without any resulting approval or esteem from Jacob, Leah finally stopped trying to please him and trying to win his love. When she gave birth to Judah, her focus was only on God.
It was God’s love and God’s approval that Leah should have been seeking all along. Once her relationship with God progressed from one of self-seeking validation to unconditional devotion, Leah was blessed by God beyond her wildest imagination (cf. Ruth 4:11). It was from Judah that the promised Messiah would come (cf. Gen. 49:8-12; Matt. 1:1-17; Rev. 5:5), not from Rachel’s sons.
God takes the humble and lowly of this world, like Hagar and Leah, and He blesses them abundantly for their redemption and for His glory (cf. Matt. 5:2-12; Luke 9:46-48; 22:24-30).
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psa. 51:17)
“This is what the Lord says: “ Heaven is My throne and the earth is the footstool for My feet. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? For My hand made all these things, So all these things came into being,” declares the Lord. “But I will look to this one, At one who is humble and contrite in spirit, and who trembles at My word.” (Isa. 66:1-2)
We serve the mighty El Roi El Shama, the God who sees our plight and hears our cries for help. Our part is to humbly acknowledge our need and trust Him to provide the answer that He knows is best for us (cf. Rom. 8:28). As it was for Hagar and for Leah, God’s gracious provision will far exceed our expectations.
“Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act.” (Psa. 37:3-5)
For further inspiration and encouragement, view this short film (13 mins) by Nicole C. Mullen and Kathie Lee Gifford: