Series: Abraham - Part Five
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
March 5, 2017
We are at Genesis 16. Going on in our study of... Abraham. Seeing the good and the not so good of Abraham’s life as Abraham learned how to live by faith in God. God giving Abraham to us as an example of what it means for us to live by faith in God.
We are at chapter 16. Diving right into the text. The Proposal.
Read with me at verse 1: Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said 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.”
Have you ever asked yourself: “What was I thinking?” Usually, after we’ve done something really regrettable that going into it seemed brilliant. That’s where Abram is in chapter 16.
Abram has what he thinks is a problem. Abram is about to do something that he thinks is really brilliant to solve that problem.
Let’s make sure we’re together on the problem.
The Bible can be divided into two basic sections. Everything before God calls Abram in chapter 11. And, everything after God calls Abram.
Chapters 1 to 11 are the foundation for everything that comes next. In contrast to Who God is and God’s creation being good and what God is doing in His creation - in contrast is the hopeless disaster we make of things with our sin.
God calling Abram is a new beginning. A renewal of the hope that God first shared with Adam and Eve back in the garden. With Abram God is choosing a people - choosing a family - choosing a line of descendants through whom God will bring about blessing and salvation - even for us.
God appears to Abram and makes an agreement with Abram. What theologians call the… Abrahamic Covenant.
Put briefly - the 3 parts of the Abrahamic Covenant are…
Land - meaning a place to dwell with God in security. The Promised Land.
Seed - meaning innumerable descendants - a great nation of great influence
Blessing - meaning God is going to bless Abram’s descendants and through them bless all the nations of the world. Which is the fulfillment we experience in Jesus Christ our Savior - descendant of Abram.
The key that opens the door to all of that - including the incarnation birth of Jesus and our own salvation - is... children. Or at least a child.
Abram is old and getting older. He and Sarai had been married since back in Ur. They’d been married a lot of years without having children. Sarai is old and getting older. Paul tells us in Romans that Abram considered the dying of his own body and the death of Sarah’s womb. Her days of bearing children are long over with. (Romans 4:19)
We saw last Sunday - what’s online if you’d like to listen to it - we saw in chapter 15 as Abram is contemplating all that - God reaffirms His promise to Abram. An amazing conversation initiated by God in which God helps Abram to understand that the omnieverything sovereign God of creation is more than able - and will - accomplish what God has willed to accomplish.
In that conversation God tells Abram that the child is not going to be someone adopted by Abram or legally related to Abram but the child is going to be biologically a direct descendant of Abram.
So what’s Abram’s problem?
Verse 1 begins “Now” - meaning with all that in mind - Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. And that to Abram is the problem.
Verse one is specific. Sarai is Abram’s wife. Meaning she’s the one who hasn’t borne Abram any children.
It’s not hard to imagine that Sarai is feeling a tad pressured here. The wedding in Ur was a long time ago. Culturally she’s suppose to produce children - especially male children. And she hasn’t. She’s failing at her task as a wife. It’s not a stretch to imagine that her barrenness may have strained her relationship with Abram.
She’s probably aware of God’s promises to her husband. She’s failing God.
Even deeper - Sarai probably lived with a personal heartache of desiring children of her own - children to be a mother to - feeling incomplete as a woman.
Every day she wakes up to this reality - this expectation and failure. Every day she feels her inadequacy as woman.
That’s a problem - for Abram - for Sarai.
So, Sarai comes up with a proposal.
Sarai has a maid - Hagar. Hagar may have been a servant that Pharaoh gave Abram back when Abram messed up in his faith - headed off to Egypt rather than trusting God to provide for him - bent the truth considerably while trying to pass off his wife - who’s his half-sister - but still his wife - tries to pass off his wife as his sister to save his neck - and Pharaoh and the Egyptians ended up getting nailed by God with plagues. Remember all that?
Point being that Hagar is from Egypt. Not from Abram’s family line like Sarai. She’s definitely not his wife. But in a twisted way of looking at things Hagar is part of God’s blessing to Abram.
Meaning we have to give Sarai credit. Maybe she said something to herself like: “God made tremendous promises to Abram. To do all that my husband needs descendants. God has prevented me from having children. This is a God thing. But, God never said that Abram’s descendants would come from me. Maybe Hagar is the means.”
Culturally the people of that day wouldn’t have seen anything immoral about Abram taking on Hagar as a wife and having children by her. No one is going to look down on Sarai or Abram or Hagar. This is a perfectly acceptable solution to Sarai’s barrenness.
So Sarai does - what was culturally accepted - but must have been extremely difficult for her personally. She proposes to give up her monogamous relationship with her husband in order that he might have a child by Hagar and thus move forward with fulfilling God’s promise.
Let’s be clear. What Sarai proposes makes a whole lot of sense. But has one simple - basic - flaw. It’s the Ben Franklin clause: “God helps those who... help themselves.”
We can hear Sarai. Maybe because we’ve said this to ourselves. “I can see where God is going with all this. I can see what He’s doing. So, I need to step up and take it to the next level. Nothing’s impossible with God. So I’m going to move forward praying and trusting that God will bless my efforts and accomplish His will.”
That was the problem with Abram and Sarai and her proposal. They knew where God was going. God had just revealed that to them. Again. And in even more detail. And “now” they even saw the problem - at least from their perspective. Sarai’s barren. What Sarai came up wasn’t a bad idea. Actually it’s a pretty good idea. Even seemed to fit within God’s plan.
But the problem was they weren’t waiting on God to do His authoritative omniwhatever God thing.
We may know where God wants us to go. But, we need to rely on God to get us there. His timing. His way. There is a danger we face of getting ahead of God. A disaster if we do.
There’s a problem. Sarai comes up with a proposal - her solution. Which leads to The Conflict.
Let’s go on in verse 2: And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.
The end of verse 2 tells us that “Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.”
We need to be really careful in how we process that.
(cartoon) “...So I was reading this magazine while I stood in the checkout line at the grocery store - Oh, I got the ice cream you like, by the way - and there was an interesting article that I didn’t have time to completely finish because the man in front of me only had a few items. But one statistic in the article caught my eye - once I found my reading glasses that I thought I’d left in the bank but then found in the bottom of my purse (I really need to clean and organize my purse) - anyway, this statistic said that women speak about 20,000 words each day compared to men who speak only 7,000 words.”
It’s interesting how men and women react differently to that cartoon.
As Sarai’s husband - being the Godly head of the home - exercising sacrificial leadership - loving his wife and caring about her needs - Abram had better have listened to his wife. Done everything he could to hear the concerns of her heart - to understand her proposal.
Sarai is God’s anointed partner - help meet - for Abram. A Godly women who’s seeking to do God’s will. God does speak to us through our wives. And that’s a huge blessing for us as husbands. We are foolish if we do not listen to the heart of our wives.
Where Abram got himself into trouble was that he listened to the voice of Sarai without listening to the voice of God. At the very least he should have said, “Sarai. I hear what you’re saying. But first, let’s take your proposal to God Most High and together we’ll seek His guidance on what we should do next.”
That is a hard thing to think about. Hard, because if you’re like the rest of us there are times when we’ve messed up by getting ourselves ahead of God. Times when we’ve had to learn painful lessons and work through consequences. People have been hurt because we’ve acted based on what we longed for before seeking out God’s will. That’s hard think about.
Going on in verse 3 - because Abram listened to his wife Sarai - After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan - 10 years since God’s original promise was given of a child - Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian - who took Hagar? Sarai - took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant - who’s servant? Sarai’s servant - took her - and gave her - who gave her? Sarai gave her - to Abram her husband as a wife - which is a basic statement of function - she gave her to him so that Hagar could perform the wifely function of having children.
Verse 4 tells us that Hagar conceives. Which means that the problem of getting pregnant is now painfully obvious for everyone to see. The problem is with Sarai not Abram.
Hagar - when she discovers she’s pregnant - Hagar looks with contempt on Sarai. The word “contempt” in Hebrew (qalal) has the idea of “mocking” - making fun of someone. Trash talking. Hagar made Sarai the ongoing punch line of the jokes going around the tent. Put her down every chance she had. Hagar trying to take the number one wife spot for herself.
Verse 6 tells us that Sarai treats Hagar harshly. The word “harshly” in Hebrew (anah) has the idea of “humiliation” - abusing someone to the point of debasing them - cutting them down. One can only imagine the cruelty that must have been involved. Sarai so humiliates Hagar that Hagar flees the household.
First there’s the conflict between Sarai and Hagar.
The second consequence is the conflict between Sarai and Abram.
Sarai blames Abram because of Hagar’s attitude. “May the wrong done to me be on you.” It’s your fault. You did this to me.
And she’s right. Which makes this even more painful to hear. If Abram had taken them to God first - this conflict - this drama - this pain could have been avoided.
Verse 5 - the phrase: “May the Lord judge between you and me” is the same thing Laban will say to Jacob when they - in anger - went their separate ways - total distrust - a complete breakdown of the relationship between Laban and Jacob.
The phrase has the idea of, “May God watch you so that you won’t stab me in the back and I won’t stick a knife in yours.” (Genesis 31:51-53).
In other words, “May God watch your back and mine - protect us from each other.”
Abram responds by throwing Hagar - the pregnant servant - back in Sarai’s face - sticks “the other woman” between himself and his wife. “She’s your servant. I was only doing what you asked me to do. You deal with her.” That’s harsh.
The third consequence is the conflict between everybody.
There’s jealousy, anger, selfishness, pettiness, contempt, unreasonableness, harshness, rebellion, desperation - ugly emotions. Not one of them is taking responsibility for their own actions. Not one of them is facing the sin in their own hearts.
Remember verse 3 - who gave who to who? They all went along with this - willingly.
Now Hagar’s blaming Sarai. Sarai blaming Abram - and God. Abram’s blaming Sarai. Abram caves in twice - initially by failing to go to God - second by abdicating responsibility for his actions by letting Sarai choose what to do with Hagar. Attitudes and actions that demonstrate that they’re focused on themselves - moving farther and farther away from God.
This is not a happy household. There’s chaos and pandemonium. These three amigos go on living painful lives - maybe 13 more years of this pain. Not until chapter 17 is there a hint of healing.
Do you feel the love? We can almost hear Abram asking himself, “What was I thinking?”
Families can be difficult places to live Godly lives. Family can be like reality TV coming from our own home - a day to day experience of decisions and situations that come at us without warning.
The Body of Christ - the church is to be a safe place of spiritual retreat - refreshment - renewal. Love Others. Serve the Church. Like our families - church doesn’t always work that way. We get focused on ourselves. We get ahead of God.
We have got to be committed to Christ and Christ’s Body. We need to learn to wait on God together. To be committed to helping each other seek Him first - to listen to Him. The consequences are very painful - ongoing disaster - if we don’t.
Going on to verses 7 to 14 - what we see here is The Provision of God’s Grace.
Verse 7: The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur.
Who’s her? Hagar.
Verse 8: And He said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel of the Lord also said to her, “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, because the Lord has listened to your affliction. He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.” 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.” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.
That is a lot to take in.
If you look at the map - you’ll see that Abram is up at the oaks of Mamre. Hagar is heading south on the most direct route back to Egypt - back to her people.
Probably she’s stopped off at an oasis between Kadesh and Bered - which we in verse 14 Hagar calls Beer-lahai-roi. Which we believe is what this is a picture of.
Hagar is heading home through this area known as the Wilderness of Shur.
Then - going back to verse 7 - notice the title: “the angel - or messenger - of the Lord.” That title is significant. It’s important for us to understand Who that title is given to.
This is the first time in Scripture that we see this title. Comparing how that title gets used elsewhere in Scripture - studying through all those uses - it refers specifically to the preincarnate Jesus - Who comes to personally speak to Hagar.
In verse 10 - to solidify in our minds that this really is Jesus - notice in verse 10 that the Lord speaks to Hagar in the first person as God: “I will surely multiply your offspring.” Promising Hagar what can only be fulfilled by God. A promise like the one God gave Abram.
Which is huge. Isn’t it? Here - fleeing to Egypt - at the oasis in the midst of the Wilderness of Shur - as Hagar is fleeing Abram’s household - Jesus - God - comes to Hagar.
In verse 8 Jesus asks Hagar a question: “Where have you come from and where are you going?”
Which Jesus isn’t asking because Jesus doesn’t know. Jesus is asking in order to get Hagar focused on the precariousness of her position. She’s pregnant - alone - in the middle of a wilderness - on the run.
Hagar’s answer: “I’m fleeing from my mistress Sarai” give us the idea that she’s just running. Thinking about heading home without much of a plan. Probably not a whole lot of seeking out God’s will for her life.
Jesus’ question is a reality check for Hagar. To keep going the way she’s going is going to lead to disaster - Hagar’s death - the death of the unborn child.
In verse 9 Jesus tells her: “Return to your mistress and submit to her.”
Returning and submitting - which she should have done in the first place rather than contempting Sarai - because Hagar got pregnant - Hagar trying to make herself into Abram’s favored wife. Hagar should have submitted to Sarai in the first place. Now - given the love fest at home - submission is a huge step of trust in God - that He’ll work things out.
Then in verse 10 - Jesus speaking - first person - with that command also comes God’s gracious promise of blessing. Innumerable descendants. The promise of a son - Ishmael - meaning “God has heard.”
With the command comes reassurance: “the Lord has listened to your affliction.” The Hebrew word for “listened” is “Shaw-mah” which has the idea of paying very - very - careful attention to what’s being said. God is personally synced to Hagar’s humiliation. He personally tracking with where’s she’s at.
That’s God’s provision of grace - reassurance to Hagar. God personally will be there when she goes back. Her child - her son - will be okay. She’s going to be the mother of innumerable descendants - a rich blessing of heritage.
And then… Jesus goes on - verse 12: Ishmael’s going to be a wild donkey of a man. his hand against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”
Which suddenly doesn’t sound so good. And it isn’t. What’s here is an extension of consequence number three. Conflict between everyone.
Like with Abram - where God is talking about immediate descendants and looking down through ages of history - God seems to be doing the same thing here. What will the future history of this branch of Abram’s descendants - these innumerable descendant’s - what will that look like?.
The image of a wild donkey has the idea of someone roaming the deserts. They’ll live in the east - which is desert. They’ll be continually in conflict with their brothers - Abram’s other innumerable descendants through Sarai - Ishmael verses Isaac - people’s we know today as the Arabs and the Jews.
God nails it. A consequence of 4,000 years of conflict - pain - misery - distrust - animosity - that we all are caught up in today. 4,000 years of suffering that might have been avoided if Abram had just waited on God.
It’s important for us to hang to this: Even in the midst of all those consequences - all that hurt - God is gracious.
God could have let Hagar and the unborn child continue on to die in the wilderness. But He didn’t. Does God love the Arabs? Yes. Does God love the Muslims? Yes. Does God love us? Yes. Jesus - speaking to Hagar - dying on the cross - offers salvation to all who will trust in Him as their Savior.
Hagar’s response to God’s graciousness is what we read in verses 13 and 14: 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.” Therefore - because of the provision of God’s grace - God personally responding to her affliction and not destroying her - therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi - which literaly means “The well of the One who sees me and who lives” - it lies between Kadesh and Bered.
“Kadesh” means “Holiness.” “Bered” means “judgment.” Meaning she experiences the provision of God’s grace between holiness and judgment. Which is like God isn’t it? While we’re on the way to judgment - God graciously calls us back to submission to His will - to live in holiness before Him.
Verses 15 and 16 take us back to Abram The Patriarch.
Verse 15: And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.
Hagar must have returned to the household - submitted herself to Sarai - and Abram. She must have told Abram what God had said. It was Abram’s responsibility - as the head of the household - as the father - to name Hagar’s son. Abram names the boy Ishmael - according to God’s prophetic word.
Everything we’ve seen comes back to Abram - chosen of God. He’s the responsible party. The head of the home. The man God speaks to. The man God makes promises to. Everything about Sarai’s child to be born and Ishmael born to Hagar - what flows down through history to what we know and experience today - it’s all wrapped up in what God promises Abram.
Point being that even when we get off track God is not. God turns even this disaster into blessing and God is still moving forward with His plan.
Processing all that…
Most of us don’t have the kind of face-to-face dialogue with God that Abram had or Hagar or Sarai. God explaining to them in facetime the big picture of what God is going to do. But we do have what they didn’t have - God’s word - the Bible.
Psalm 119:105 tells us: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
Way back when they used to have little lamps on the ends of their shoes to light their steps at night. That’s all they needed because they weren’t moving very fast.
Today we want high beams on our vehicles cause at 90 miles per hour we want to know before we slam into something. But, if we’re walking through life what we really need to know is where the next step needs to be. If the next step is off a cliff who cares about 2 miles down the road.
So, here’s the take home for us this morning: We need to be as committed to the way of God as we are to the will of God. Which is why we need to stay committed to the Word of God.
God does give us glimpse of where the road is going. In the Bible God reveals His character and His heart. God reveals what His desire is for our families. His desires for us as Godly men and women - as husbands and wives and singles - living for Him in the places where He calls us to do life. God tells us where He’s going with mankind. Salvation and forever with Him. Calls us to be harvesters in His harvest.
The danger is - with all of our God given abilities and resources it would be way too easy to move forward into all that by our own whit, wisdom, and working.
So we need to be in the written word - prayerfully - daily - regularly - systematically reading and studying the Bible cover to cover. Marinating in it. Saturated in it. Discussing it and sharing it with others. Keeping each other accountable to it. Living under it’s authority.
And we need to be focused on the Word made flesh - Jesus.
Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5b) That’s how we need to live. With each opportunity to choose - choosing utter dependence on God. Learning to wait on Him. Letting Him show us where then next step is - even when we think we can see it.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.