Genesis 16: 1-16
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
Yes, their names are spelled correctly in our sermon theme and text. Abram and Sarai. It is not until the next chapter that God make the name changes to Abraham and Sarah as a seal of his promise. God changes Abram’s name to “Abraham…father of many.” And God then changes Sarai to “Sarah,” the “princess,” who will be the mother of kings to come. But Abram and Sarai had not reached that point yet in their spiritual life. We read today the distasteful event about two sinful believers. Abram and Sarai Had an Impatient Faith. The evidence of this is that they tried to force their solutions on God for his plan to succeed. The tragedy of their sin is that their actions brought problems, not fulfillment.
To their credit Abram and Sarai believed God’s promise when he said, “One who will come out of your own body will be your heir” (15:4). But that link between Abram and the promised Savior was still missing. Some 10 years had gone by since God had first made the promise that their descendants would be as uncountable as the grains of sand on the sea shore. God had reinforced his words with another picture more recently. In the previous chapter, chapter 15 we read: “Now look toward the sky and count the stars, if you are able to count them. … This is what your descendants will be like.” We are told “Abram believed in the LORD, and the LORD credited it to him as righteousness.” (15:5-6) Faith was present. But Satan slithered in as he is so good at doing and tempted Abram and Sarai to become impatient with God.
Do you ever get impatient? Do you ever cut corners in a project so that you can get done faster? Do you ever get impatient with others because they are slower than when you do it? Do you “take it out of their hand” so to speak, and do it yourself so that you can get to other things? But if you do that as a grown-up, how will your child ever learn how to do the task? But now the bigger picture. Do you ever grow impatient when God doesn’t seem to be answering your prayer request in the time frame that you feel that he should answer? Do you ever feel that he fails to listen to you and keep his promises of help? Do you end your prayers with the faithful words “your will be done, God” but add, “but do it my way now?”
Sarai said, “See now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children.” From what follows it is apparent that she let her human reason take hold and concluded that there must be a problem that was keeping God from fulfilling his promise. That problem, she decided, must be her physical inability to become pregnant. So, she proposed to solve the problem the way the world around her did. But what Sarai proposed was not God’s will, for it did not conform to his plan for marriage. Only those who are married to each other should share each other’s bed—no exceptions, period. But Sarai was only trying to help God’s plan along. And anyways this is what everyone else in her society did. Plus, Abram, that hall-of-faith believer, didn’t protest. And that is disappointing isn’t it? As the head of the house and spiritual leader of the family, Abram should have thanked his wife for her concern, but then assured her that God would keep his promise. They just needed to stay the course and remain faithful to each other and to God.
But Abram did nothing of the sort. Sarai’s solution was this: “I can’t have a child. I have a maid servant who is my property. Therefore, a child she has with my husband as the father is my child. In this way my family will be built.” So, Sarai told this plan to Abram, “Please go to my servant girl. It may be that I can build up a family through her.” And Abram welcomed Sarai’s servant Hagar into his bed. Abram and Sarai didn’t trust God alone to make good on his promise. They felt that they needed to help him. They became impatient. They tried to force their solution for God’s plan to succeed.
The solution defied God’s declaration about marriage of one man and one woman, and only these same two for a lifetime in a sexual union. Even though the Holy Spirit doesn’t say “And Abram and Sarai and Hagar were guilty of sexual impurity,” the results of their actions, and all such actions of polygamy make it clear that the deed was sinful. Their actions brought problems, not fulfillment.
The problem was the strained relationship between everyone involved. Hagar, when she became pregnant, looked down on barren Sarai. When Hagar realized that she had become pregnant, it wasn’t just her belly that puffed, so did her head. She looked down on Sarai because in one try she had accomplished what Sarai had been unable to do in spite of years of trying. Hagar had the child that connected Abram to descendants now, especially to the special descendant to come, or so she thought. Can’t you almost see pregnant Hagar with a smirk as Sarai watches her rub her protruding womb. Can’t you hear Hagar’s putdowns of Sarai in the conversations in the servants’ quarters?
Grief and disappointment are invited into heart and home when God’s directives for marriage are sidestepped. When Sarai can’t take any more are Hagar’s insolence, what does she say to her husband? “This wrong that I am suffering is on account of you. I gave my servant girl into your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked down on me. May the Lord judge between me and you.” Was Sarai’s plea a respectful request? Or did Abram feel at the moment like he is dodging flying knives. His wife has just told him, “This is all your fault. I did a good thing and you let Hagar thumb her nose at me. God will stand behind me if we were before him in court right now. Do something!” What a horrible result happens when believers let sinful worldly practices for marriage intrude into what is right and wrong.
Abram wimps out of the matter. “Do to her whatever seems good to you.” Was he thinking: “You created this mess. I only did what you suggested. You take care of it yourself.” Sarai did handle the matter. She “dealt harshly with” Hagar for her insolence. As a result, Hagar chose to run away, to brave the desert road all alone back to Egypt where she was from. It wasn’t a wise decision, but she still did it.
On the journey “The Angel of the LORD found Hagar.” This was God’s way of telling us, “I came to her.” “The Angel of the LORD” is not a created angel, but the second person of the Trinity himself physically appearing in some way to people on earth to carry out an action. He would do so as a burning bush a couple centuries later when talking to Moses. Twenty some centuries later he would assume a permanent human form when the messenger was born miraculously to a Jewish peasant girl.
The Savior commanded Hagar to return because the discipline she was going through was part of God’s plan for her. His promise to Hagar was the assurance that he had not abandoned her. He also had a wonderful promise in store for her. For the sake of Abram, God would richly bless her. Her son became the beginning of much of today’s Arab people. But God also gave a caution to Hagar. Her son would be a wild and independent man. He would not want to settle down, but run free. He would live in hostility toward his relatives and neighbors.
Hagar invented a new name for the LORD, “You are a God who sees.” She recognized that the LORD had treated her in mercy. And she seems to have humbled herself to Sarai as this incident closes. But what a mess had resulted from Sarai’s impatience toward God. What a mess resulted from Abram going along with a plan that had decided that God needs sinners to help keep his promises. And what animosity happens when servants are insolent to those in authority and resent the discipline that results. But God’s forgiveness and kindness are not deterred by such sins.
God’s promise to you and me is that he will do all that he has said to bless us at the time and in the way he has decided. The Son who did come from Abram’s and Sarai’s bodies was the one God promised to link them to the Savior from their sins. Both Isaac and Jesus came by miracles of God’s doing when he decided the time was right. And we have received the blessing God said Jesus would bring. Our debt of sin to the holy God is canceled in red from Jesus’ blood. Our entrance to heaven has been earned by Jesus’ “yes” to every command of God and “no” to every temptation from the Devil. At the cross he paid for all the times we have been impatient with God and complained he didn’t know what he was doing. Jesus took all of our sins away. We are now children of God in him. May the prayer of each of us be: Oh Lord, teach me to be patient in my faith for receiving the blessings you promise. And as I wait to be with you in heaven, guide me to live always trusting in your Word completely. Amen.