You ever hear one of these guys on the radio (usually on ESPN Saturday mornings) giving you the betting lines on games and “guaranteeing” that his picks will make you money? Now, I am not suggesting anyone go gamble money on football games. But I want to point out the terminology. It seems like everything today is a guarantee. “I guarantee it” is one of the most overused slogans in our country (I guarantee it!!). But the question I always want to ask is, “what if you’re wrong?” Because they are…lots of times. Do they lose their job? Do they get a pay cut? Nope, they just start taping next week’s “guaranteed, locked-in, easy money” choices and the cycle starts all over again. But God isn’t like that. We saw in chapter 15 that Yahweh makes promises and He guarantees them with His very life (try that prognosticators!!). No, the only area of doubt when God makes a promise lies on our end- the end that is fallen, sinful, and prone to wander into bad thinking about just about everything. So, the question is not “can God be trusted?” but rather, “will I trust Him?” Big difference, and the answer to that question changes everything, because when our trust slips, we fall into the same trap Abraham fell into. Let’s take a look.
When we attempt to accomplish God’s plans by worldly methods, complications arise (Genesis 16:1-6). Abraham is getting old. Sarai is getting old. God has promised a child. Those are the cold, hard facts. How we interpret them determines our future actions.
- There is a legitimate problem (1). By human calculations, God’s promise could not come true. But is God restricted to acting within the laws of nature? Now, He normally does. But He MADE the laws of nature! He exists outside of them. If He makes a promise, the fulfillment of that promise is not contingent upon figuring some natural way for it to happen!
- The human solution in this case runs outside the bounds of God’s Word (2-3). Sarai takes charge. God hasn’t given her a son, so maybe He has another plan, and she just has to figure it out. So she proposes a solution that is completely within the bounds of the Ancient Near Eastern culture. She has this servant, Hagar (who is from Egypt…that whole trip to Egypt is coming back to bite Abraham in a big way!). Hagar can have a son, and that son can become Sarai and Abrahams. People did it all the time. It was the norm. Big problem though. It wasn’t God plan, and love triangles never end well.
- Getting outside the bounds of God’s Word creates unnecessary tension (4). Childbearing was so important in this culture! Hagar gets pregnant and starts to look down on Sarah. This is a problem! And it could have been avoided.
- When we do things outside the bounds of God’s Word that create tension, our natural inclination is to try to make the problem go away rather than make it right (5-6). Sarai again takes the initiative….and promptly blames Abraham for the problem. She is partly right. While the plan was hers, Abraham had no business allowing Sarai to lead the family into a sinful situation. Now Sarai feels threatened, and Abraham defers to her. His concern is not with the mother of his child but with turning away his wife’s anger. This creates more trouble as Sarai is free to treat Hagar poorly. Rather than dealing with the entire situation from a biblical worldview standpoint, Abraham has become passive and pragmatic, and the first scene of this account ends in disaster.
Instead of doing things our own way, God calls us to patient hope and fervent prayer for the realization of His promises (7-16). These are more inferences from the text than they are direct thoughts, but here’s what I see.
- God delights in intervening on behalf of those who live under His promises (7-12). Sarai’s treatment of Hagar reaches a breaking point and Hagar runs away. The angel of the Lord appears to her, and at first His instruction seems callous and uncaring: “go back and submit to Sarai.” But we have to understand what is going on here. Abraham is the man of promise. His family is the place of promise. Hagar is carrying Abraham’s son. If she wants to be included in any of the blessings that God has promised Abraham, those blessings will be found with her son living under the roof of his father. But God gives Hagar a further promise. Her son will grow into the head of a massive people group. He won’t be a calm man or an easy man (read the description in verse 12). He will also father the Arab people, who will be at odds with the chosen people of God for centuries. But God will bless because the son belongs to Abraham. God delights in blessing those who live under His promises, and the same can be said of Abraham and Sarai!
- We are called to faithfully respond to God’s intervention through worship, prayer, and obedience (13-16). Note the contrast. Hagar packs up and heads home. She acknowledges that in this place she has heard from God. God has made her a promise. Her response? Worship, prayer, and obedience. So she goes home, has Abraham’s son, and patiently waits for God’s promise to her to come true. She didn’t have to wait as long as Abraham and Sarai did, but the principle remains. God had made Abraham a promise. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, it doesn’t matter how impossible it seems. If He promised it, it will happen, and our job is to respond to those promises with hearts of worship, prayer, and obedience.
Four thoughts to bring into our daily lives…
1) Hasty action springing from unbelief does not forward the divine purpose. It doesn’t matter if it is parenting, church growth, or getting the job done at work. The minute we don’t believe the promises of God, our hearts become open to alternative solutions, and the world, flesh and devil have those aplenty.
2) There is great danger in passive leadership. When one partner in the marriage relationship is struggling, the other must be prepared to support, encourage, and correct wrong thinking. Compromise of God’s character for the sake of peace must never be an option.
3) The adoption of worldly expedients will only complicate matters and dishonor God. This is NOT a warning against being proactive (see Abram’s actions a few chapters earlier in rescuing Lot), but a warning to stay inside the bounds of God’s Word and take action that is bathed in prayer.
4) There is a note of great hope in this account as God sees the distressed and shows grace to the sinful and rejected. I love this account. Hagar is not just a pawn in Abraham’s scheme, but a real person whom God sees and blesses. She does not raise up a Yahweh-fearing progeny, but God blesses her anyway. His grace and mercy towards her gives me great confidence that there are none who exist outside the possibility of His grace.