In Genesis 15 God confirmed his promises to Abram that he would have a child from his own body and the promised inheritance would not be given to his servant, Eliezer. Further, after 400 years of oppression, Abram’s offspring would inhabit this land. Abram believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness. However, even more time continues to pass by and Abram still does not have a child. In Genesis 16 the narrative turns to Sarai. She is still barren. She still has no children.
Sarai’s Plan (16:1-3)
In verse 2 we read about Sarai’s plan. She says to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” Sarai has an idea to be able to hurry God’s plan along. Since she is unable to have a child and God promised that the child would be Abram’s own flesh and blood, Sarai tells Abram that he should have the child through her Egyptian servant, Hagar. Now this was a common practice in the ancient Near Eastern culture. We point this out just so we realize that Sarai’s idea is not off the wall, as much as it might violate the sensibilities of our culture thinking today. But this does not mean that Sarai’s idea was the right idea. Even though this was a common solution in that day that does not mean that this is the appropriate course of action.
The language of this narrative tells us that this is a disastrous decision because the wording mirrors the fall as recorded in Genesis 3. Just as Eve failed to believe the promise of God and sinned, so Sarai is cast in the same light as failing to believe in God’s promise and taking matters into her own hands. When Adam was condemned for his sin, remember that God said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife” (Genesis 3:17). Notice how Genesis records what Abram did. “And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” (16:2). Further, when Eve sinned by eating the fruit, the scripture says, “She took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband” (Genesis 3:7). Notice how Genesis records what Sarai did. “Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband” (16:3). The picture painted is one of faithlessness and sin. Just as Adam should not have submitted to Eve regarding the fruit of the tree, so Abram should not have submitted to Sarai’s plan. As in the failure of going to Egypt in Genesis 12, we do not see Abram or Sarai consulting God in this plan. Instead, Abram and Sarai try to solve their own problems. They think they are going to help God out with this plan.
Waiting For God’s Promise
It is the four letter word that ever person has learned to hate: “wait.” We do not want to wait. Friends, we make such a mess of our lives because we are unwilling to wait for the promises of God. Rather than looking forward to the joy to be experienced when Christ returns, we selfishly fight to fulfill our own desires, plunging ourselves into sin and despair. We create problems for ourselves because we are looking for everything to give us joy in this life rather than waiting for the joy that God gives through Christ to be received in eternity. We want solutions now and refuse to wait. We have been ingrained with this thinking by technology and culture. My daughter sent a letter to a pen pal and could not understand why there was not a response in the mailbox the next day. We live in a time where we get results immediately. There is no waiting. We were watching a television show and my daughter could not understand why we were skipping the commercials. I could not explain to her the concept that we were watching something “live” and you could not fast forward. So why wait? We will bring heaven to earth. Thus we live in a way trying to make this world paradise and our goal rather than looking at this life as a temporary stop on the way to the promised land of eternal life with the Lord. We cannot reconcile hoping in this life and hoping in God. We cannot live for both worlds. We must wait for the promises of God. We are waiting for our blessed hope (Titus 2:13). We are waiting for the coming of the day of God (2 Peter 3:12). We are waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus (Jude 21). We are eagerly waiting for Jesus to save us (Hebrews 9:28). We must wait.
Please also observe who can lead us astray from faith in the Lord. Our family, who we think are helping us in our walk with God, can be turning us away from a life of faithfulness. Eve helped Adam stumble. Sarai brings Abram to stumble. We are not to shortcut faith. We are not seek paradise on earth. We must recognize that it may be our spouse, parents, children, close friends, or relatives that are actually encouraging us to move away from God. In our desire to please our spouse or family member, we may do something that does not show faithfulness to the Lord. This was the time that Abram should have said to Sarai that they would not commit to this plan but would wait for the Lord to fulfill his promises. We are going to serve the Lord, not serve ourselves. We must wait for the Lord and be spiritual, faithful anchors in our family as wives, husbands, children, parents, and friends.
Problems and God’s Intervention (16:4-16)
Out of our lack of faith come serious problems. Hagar, being able to conceive, now looks with contempt upon Sarai who is barren. So Sarai goes to Abram with her problem (16:5). The slave, Hagar, is being contemptuous to her master, Sarai. Sarai tells Abram that this is his problem because he went into Hagar and now she has conceived. Abram does not do much about this. He tells Sarai that Hagar is her slave and she can do what she sees best to her. So Sarai severely mistreats Hagar. In fact, the Hebrew word used to describe how Sarai treated Hagar harshly is the same word used in Exodus to describe how the Egyptians dealt harshly with the Hebrews. Sarai treats Hagar so harshly that Hagar runs away. Problem solved, right? Now Sarai and Abram will happily ever after, right? No. Now it is time for God’s intervention.
The angel of the Lord comes to Hagar who is in the desert and asks her where she has come from and where she is going. When we see angels appear this way in the scriptures the implication is why are you here because you should not be here. The angel is not asking this as a point of information. The angel knows why she is there. Hagar explains that she is running away from Sarai. The angel of the Lord tells Hagar to go back to Sarai and submit to her. We might be shocked by this instruction. We are also in a society that does not believe a person needs to submit to anyone. But the Christian life is about submission from beginning to end. Waiting for the Lord means submitting to the Lord and to others.
But submission to God is never a negative, bad thing as it is sometimes portrayed. God is going to bless her. This blessing is seen in how the conversation begins. Bruce Waltke, a biblical scholar, makes the observation that this is the only place in all ancient writings where deity addresses a woman by name. God is already overturning cultural and social norms of that time. In a time when women were considered property and this woman in particular is a slave, the angel of the Lord calls her by name, tells her to return and submit, and she will be blessed.
The blessing is found in verse 10. Please notice what this blessing sounds like. God will multiply the offspring of Hagar so the they cannot be numbered for multitude. This blessing is similar to the blessing God gave Abram in Genesis 15:5 where the Lord said his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. This is an interesting prophecy because Hagar is an Egyptian and now the nations are going to be blessed, just as God promised Abram. God’s blessings would not be restricted to Israel.
The angel tells Hagar that the child’s name will be Ishmael, which means God hears. The Lord has listened to the affliction of Hagar. Verse 12 describes that Ishmael’s descendants would live by their own resources and would not be enslaved. Further, they would fight among themselves. These prophecies came true as the descendants of Ishmael are the Arab people today. God keeps his promises.
Now listen to the response of Hagar. She calls on the name of the Lord and proclaims her joy that this is the God who sees me. This is the God who looks after me. The name of the well is now called “The well of the Living One who sees me.” Hagar returns to Sarai, submits to her, and bears the child Ishmael when Abram was 86 years old.
Please consider the message of hope that is found here for difficult times. This is unbelievable grace to an outcast Egyptian slave. The Lord is God who sees and looks after me! God even sees and gives hope to an outcast Egyptian slave. Do not think that God does not see you and will look after you also! This hope for difficult times is what encourages us to not live for today or live for this world. The God who sees me gives me the hope and the faith I need to live for the world to come when Christ returns. The God who sees me in my distress gives me strength to wait for the promises of God and not to seize things for my selfish, fleshly desires. Who am I that God would see me and look after me in my pain and distress? Yet this is what our amazing gracious God does. God gives hope to the world, to the distressed and outcast that through Jesus you can rise up from your afflictions and be blessed by the Lord for eternity. Your life on earth is only the beginning of your walk with God. This is a moment in the wilderness on the way to the promised land. Do not shortcut faith. Do not try to take the easy way out with sin. Wait for the Lord. Be eager to see his promises for Jesus is the same today and forever and will bring you home to him. Wait for the Lord.