You can shoot an arrow and while it is in the air, you can say, "Oh God, please forgive me," but the arrow will still come down. Your confession won't make the arrow disappear. It's going to land somewhere. In an earlier sermon I pointed out that sometimes smart people do very stupid things. This is true not only of us but also of the great men and women of the Bible. Although Abraham is the premier example of living by faith, that does not absolve him from doing some very foolish things. We saw it earlier in that shameful episode in which he lied about Sarah on their ill-fated trip to Egypt (Genesis 13). But that wasn't the most foolish thing he ever did. The story in Genesis 16 probably is.
1. A Very Human Mistake v. 1 - 6
Although God had promised Abraham a son, the years had passed and no son had been given. What do you do when God has promised something but the fulfillment has not taken place? Some people might give up on God, but Abraham was too strong a believer simply to walk away from the promise. Yet Abraham is now about 85 years old and Sarah is 75. Both are so far past normal childbearing years that it is simply not feasible to believe a child could come through the normal means. But perhaps God intends them to be creative. If so, Sarah is certainly up to the task.
A. The First Solution v. 1 - 3
This was not unusual in those days. NIV Study Bible - "an ancient custom … to ensure the birth of a male heir. Sarah would herself resolve the problem of her barrenness." Sarah certainly gets high marks for creativity and boldness. She also scores well for facing the problem resolutely. Abraham immediately agreed with Sarah and when she brought Hagar to him, he slept with her.
That raises an interesting question. Why did Abraham agree to Sarah's scheme? He wasn't getting any younger - God didn't seem to be moving very fast - God hadn't said who the mother would be - This was a common practice - It was Sarah's idea!
Living without Scheming
There is a lot more that could be said, but let's stop at this point and say clearly that Abraham is no longer living by faith. Both he and Sarah have decided "help God out" by concocting this scheme. "Faith is living without scheming." Signs you are walking by faith: Willing to wait - Concerned for the glory to God - Obeying God's word - Peace and Joy within.
Abraham and Sarah failed on all four counts. They weren't willing to wait, they weren't concerned for God's glory, they weren't obeying God's Word, and they had no peace and joy within. At first it may have seemed that their plan worked. But in the end, whatever we do on our own must come to a bad end eventually. Abraham is about to miserably succeed.
B. The Second Problem v. 4
Now Hagar is pregnant. Immediately she begins to despise Sarah. Who can blame her? After all, it's clear that Sarah is merely using her to get a baby for her husband. The very act that brought the child into existence drove a wedge between husband and wife. Was it adultery? Yes, even though it took place at Sarah's instigation. So now Abraham has a problem on his hands. He's got an unhappy, pregnant maidservant. But things are about to get worse.
C. The Second Solution v. 5, 6
The clever plan begins to blow up in his face. During those long months of pregnancy every relationship begins to unravel. Hagar despises Sarah - Sarah mistreats Hagar - Sarah blames Abraham - Abraham throws in the towel.
Nothing good can happen now. Talk about a dysfunctional family situation. This happened because of the deliberate scheming of a husband and wife who couldn't and wouldn't wait for God. Because they felt they had to take matter into their own hands, Hagar (who was basically an innocent bystander before this all started) and Sarah can't stand each other. Now Abraham is caught in the middle between 2 angry, jealous women-a place no man wants to be.
There is plenty of blame on all sides. Everyone is guilty of something here. But the greatest sin was Abraham's - He was the head of the family - God had spoken directly to him - He could have and should have said no in the first place - No one made him sleep with Hagar - Consider the words of Scripture: "Be sure your sin your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23) - "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows" (Galatians 6:7) - "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" (Proverbs 14:12).
The chickens are now coming home to roost. Abraham and Sarah made a bad decision that is about to blow up in their faces. Sleeping with Hagar was not God's will. Waiting for the promised child was. But a child has been conceived and there will more trouble to come.
2. A Divine Intervention v. 7 - 16
In these amazing verses we discover a world of truth about God's character. Hagar has been used and abused by Abraham and Sarah. In desperation she flees into the desert, all the while carrying Abraham's child in her womb. Alone with her fear and anger, she encounters a divine visitor-the angel of the Lord.
A. God Speaks to Hagar v. 7 - 12
The angel of Lord finds her and not the other way around. One more picture of God's grace reaching out to those in need. When the angel asks where is she is going, Hagar blurts out the truth, "I am running away from my mistress."
We might expect the angel to commiserate with Hagar and to assure her of God's protection as she travels. But instead the angel gives her some instructions that must have been hard to hear: "Go back to your mistress and submit to her."
There are many reasons why Hagar might have disobeyed: Fear of further mistreatment - Unresolved anger toward Abraham - No desire to submit to an unkind person - Doubt about God's will.
There is no explanation given. Just go. Either you obey or you don't. God's will often like that. Sometimes the Lord leads us to make decisions that-in the short run, at least-involve personal pain and suffering. Sometimes God stays "Stay!" when we'd rather go. Sometimes he says "Go!" when we'd rather stay. But if we disobey, things will only get worse.
Portrait of a Wild Donkey
The angel offers a prophecy about Ishmael - v. 11. Focus on one phrase: Ishmael will be a wild donkey. This is not a compliment! From the angel's words we may sketch a brief portrait of Ishmael: Independent … Rough … Prone to fight … Troublemaker … Filled with anger … Most likely to go to prison. Yet God knew him and loved him and had a plan for him! His very name means God hears. To this very day there are essentially two lines in the Middle East-the sons of Isaac and the sons of Ishmael. They still struggle against each other after 4000 years.
B. Hagar Responds in Faith v. 13, 14
Hagar does something few people have ever done. She gives God a name. She calls him "El Roi"-the God who sees! "I have now seen the One who sees me." He is a personal God who attentively watches over all his children all the time. In this case, it is a reminder that even though she is out of Abraham's sight, God has never taken his eyes off her. He can be trusted-even in the desert.
C. Hagar Gives Birth to Ishmael v. 15, 16
Hagar went home to give birth to Ishmael. This speaks volumes about her faith in God. Why would she dare to go home after Sarah had mistreated her?
1. She believed she could trust God in spite of her circumstances.
2. She concluded that God's goodness outweighed Sarah's hostility.
3. She knew that if God had called her, he could take care of her.
Strange as it may seem, it was safe for Hagar to be under Sarah's cruel mistreatment in the will of God than to be out on her own and out of God's will. She had no guarantees as to how Sarah would treat her. Perhaps the mistreatment and snide comments continued for years. I tend to think they did. Human nature being what it is, it's easy to believe that Sarah's deep jealousy would continually provoke conflict.
Here is a simple application to ponder: We never solve life's problems by running away. Most of us have tried that at one time or the other. It never works. Most of the time growth comes only as we face our problems head-on.
Sarah and Abraham took her back. I'm sure Abraham wanted her back. After all, she was carrying his child. I'm just as sure Sarah didn't want her back. Nevertheless, they took her in. Did God have time for a poor servant? Did he care about a slave-girl's baby? Would the God of Israel care for an Egyptian slave-girl? Yes, Yes, Yes!!!
Hagar's presence was a stinging rebuke to both of them for their sins! They couldn't look at her without being reminded of their foolishness. Even the name Ishmael served as a constant voice from the past, reminding them that God had heard the cries of the despised servant girl.
3. Lessons from Both Sides of the Story
A. A Warning about Impatience
Abraham and Sarah wouldn't wait and then suffered the consequences of sinful impatience. More than that, the world still suffers because of their impatience as the nations of the Middle East-descendants of Ishmael and Isaac-quarrel with each other to this very day.
Psalm 27: 14 "Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord."
B. A Promise about God's Sovereignty
The name Ishmael means "God hears"; the name El Roi means The God Who Sees. What a rebuke to Sarah. What a comfort to Hagar. God hears our words and sees our hearts. Even though Isaac was the son of the promise, God also loved Ishmael and his eyes were watching Hagar in the wilderness.
Psalm 139: 7 "Where I can flee from your presence?" The answer is nowhere. If you go to heaven, God is there. If you sleep in hell, he is there. You cannot escape his presence because as soon as you get to your destination, he is already waiting for you.
C. A Reminder about Leftovers
In our focus on Abraham and Sarah is easy to forget about Hagar. She was a "leftover" and so was Ishmael. Sarah didn't want her around and Abraham couldn't afford to keep her around. So off she went into the desert with her rejected son by her side.
Yet God spoke to Hagar and blessed Ishmael. This is a mighty truth. God reveals himself to the "leftovers" of the world. Paul tells us that God has chosen the "weak things to shame the strong."
We like strength, God chooses weakness. We like wisdom, God blesses the foolish things of the world. He loves all the Hagars of the world.
As we come to the end of this amazing chapter, let's use the words of Romans 5: 20 as a fitting summary: "Where sin increased, grace increased all the more!" Abraham and Sarah paid dearly for their foolish mistake. For Hagar, humiliation was followed by blessing from God. Years later, Isaac the true son of promise would be born. There is warning and hope combined in this story. Detours do not mean dead ends. God sees and God hears. Those who wait on him will never be disappointed.