Jumping Ahead of God and More: Genesis 16:1-6

Early in my life, I thought that I had to pray for something particular—in other words, I had to come up with a plan to suggest to God so He could work things out in the way I thought was best. Of course, I considered what God would want as I made my plan and prayer. As I grew in faith, I changed my prayers to ask God for His plan, to let me know His will, or for me to have a lead part in executing His plan. I’m still growing in my faith, growing into have more of Christ and less of me, but I still find myself jumping ahead of God’s timing or tweaking what I’ve heard from Him. God is both loving and patient.

SETTING THE SCENE

Left: By Adriaen van der Werff , public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Right: Matthias Stom, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Which picture do you think would be more accurate as far as age and physique are concerned? I don’t know many men who have six packs at an advanced age.

How about Hagar. What do you think she looked like? Here are a few options I found.

COMING ALIVE: GOD, ABRAM, AND SARAI

GOD

  • God is not consulted as to His view on Sarai’s idea, Abram’s willingness to participate and carry out this human plan.
  • God’s plan included both Abram and Sarai. He loved, listened, and cared for both of them.
  • God also saw and cared for Hagar

ABRAM

  • My first reaction was to judge Abram using this century’s standards and culture, using my ideas of marriage vows and the proper actions of a “good” husband. As you can imagine, this judgment was pretty harsh.
  • Here are my thoughts on possible motivations for Abram to go along with Sarai’s plan.
    • Having an heir through proxy was not only a common practice, but it was legal, with the specifics of action stated clearly. Hagar was Sarai’s handmaiden, her property, and therefore, any children she had that were sired by Sarai could be claimed by Sarai as her child. To Abram, having a child for Sarai through Hagar would offer a human solution in the conundrum of Sarai’s advanced again and menopausal condition. Hagar was beneficial to Sarah and Abraham only because she was capable of making a baby—invisible as a person.
    • Abram was careful not to “interfere” in women’s business. Sarai was in charge of her household, and this was her decision. (I got mad all over again just typing that sentence. Sigh.)
    • Hagar was attractive, and Abram could enjoy the opportunity without suffering any repercussion, couldn’t he? After all, it was Sarai’s idea in the first place. (I hear echoes of Adam and Eve talking to the snake in the Garden of Eden.)
    • God had promised Abram that his heir would be his child. God had not specifically listed Sarai as the biological mother, so this action wouldn’t really show a lack of faith.
    • All of the above, wrapped into justification for the action.

SARAI

  • Remember, in this day and age, childbearing was appropriately viewed to be in God’s hands. Conversely, the inability to bear children was seen as His punishment. Ancient people often considered a barren woman accursed, and in some cases her condition served as ground for divorce. Marriage contracts of the time were based on the Code Hammurabi (ancient Babylonian code) and stipulated that an infertile wife should provide her husband with a surrogate child-bearer.
  • Sarah took matters into own hands. Like Abram, she had trouble believing God’s promise was apparently directed specifically toward both of them. The young slave girl was nothing more than Sarah’s last chance of becoming a mother. Sarah added to Hagar’s job description the task of bearing a child by her aging husband. It was common practice, and it was legal. Hagar was beneficial to Sarah and Abraham only because she was capable of making a baby—invisible as a person.
  • Sarai jumped ahead of God to ensure that she held a prominent role in God’s promise, and this action caused chaos and pain in the family. Note, that the same language is used as with Eve in garden: Eve and Sarah both “took” and “gave” some to their husbands.
  • Was Sarai worried that worried she would be divorced? Did she want to consolidate her position and power as primary wife and worried that if she didn’t take action Abram would get impatient. Did she think Abram was considering the divorce option already, so she moved to take the initiative before he did?
  • Was Sarai afraid that God didn’t see her and didn’t include her in His promises? Would this prove to be a barrier for faith in her?

I believe that a lack of faith caused problems, even though we can understand and sympathize with the barriers Abram and Sarai ran into as they tried to access their faith. They both tried to make God’s promise come about by taking over for Him, and their human efforts were not in line with his specific direction. In this case, time was the greatest test of their faith and willingness to let God work in their lives.

I also find it ironic that in this act of using another woman, Sarai joined Abram in using another for her profit (as he had done with er in Egypt). Sarai put Hagar in exactly the same—one could argue a worse—position that she had suffered under. Hagar doesn’t count as a person. She was viewed as even less than a woman because she was a slave.

And who could blame Hagar for feeling beaten down and abused? So when she discovered she was pregnant, one might say, she viewed this as her one chance for power, something she had not opportunity for as a slave. Although her legal status was unchanged, her social standing was transformed. She succeeded where Sarah failed. Not only was she validated as a woman by her pregnancy, she was carrying Abram’s child. Though her actions proved unwise, risky, and heartlessly insensitive, it was perhaps an indication of Hagar’s strong spirit that her triumph led her to scorn the barren Sarah.

  • Hagar’s reaction was to grab all she could—her one chance to prevail over her mistress, to become a wife instead of a slave.
  • Sarah’s reaction was abuse her, to force Hagar to stay under her thumb as a slave without any rights whatsoever.
  • Sarai appealed to Abram to take a stand, to choose one over the other. This was chancy on Sarai’s part, because Abram could as easily (and legally) have chosen Hagar over Sarai. For the women, it was a desperate power play.
  • And Abram played it safe. He pretended to have no say or preference. He let the women battle it out on their own. (Again, the Garden of Eden. “The woman gave it to me and I ate.”)
  • Sarah’s scheme backfired horribly. Instead of a baby, she received Hagar’s scorn. “Na-Na-Na-Na-Boo-Boo, I am pregnant, how about you?” Pregnant Hagar enjoyed one brief moment of triumph. She exalted herself over Sarah, who exploded with years of bottled-up outrage and pain. Sarah was so abusive to Hagar that the young girls feared for her life. So, she ran away.

I had no idea what song would go with today’s study, so I went to Youtube.com without a plan. And first listed was this really fun song, “When They Ring Those Golden Bells.” How could you resist these bass lead singers and the harmony! Enjoy.

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