There once lived a man named Abram. We all know at least part of his story. 75 years old and content with his life, God suddenly shows up and asks him to go. To walk away from everything familiar (except his wife) and start walking toward his destiny. But without any specific details. And Abram goes. Along the way, he and God spend time talking. God continues to make a promise – you will become the father of many. It seems like a crazy promise – He is promising to a man continuing to age with a wife who becomes too old to bear children.
And in Genesis 16, Sarai realizes the dream is impossible when she focuses on her physical disability and current life situation. 1a – “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children.”
She lets go of heavenly hope and decides to “help” God. She convinces herself that if God really meant for them to have children they would have them by now. But they do not.
So she takes her eyes off God and looks to what she has available. 1b – “And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar”.
And she comes up with a plan. 2a – “So Sarai said to Abram, ‘See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.’”
I have a servant who is able to have children. This will be the child God promised us.
And you would think after at least ten years with God that Abram would flash a caution sign or advise her to stop and pray. But no. 2b – “And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai.”
He does not stop to give thought to her idea. He does not stop to go talk to God about if this is the right direction to go. He just says “yes, dear” and proceeds.
He and he new wife consummate their marriage, and pretty quickly what Sarai hoped would happen did. 4a – “So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived.”
And then things do no go so well. 4b – “And when she [Hagar] saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.”
Now I, a meager servant, have given your husband the one thing you could not. I, of no reputation or status, am going to produce for your husband the promised son. Who are you now to be the boss of me?
And Sarai suddenly realizes the big consequences of her impulsive decision. Because they meet her right where she is and hurt her in her deepest and most vulnerable parts. Because she has to come face-to-face with it every day, probably giving as much hostility as she received.
So she turns back to Abram, her husband, and blames him. 5 – “Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The Lord judge between you and me.’”
It was my bad decision. But it is all your fault. Why did you agree to do this? Why did you not try to talk me out of it? Because now your other wife is unreasonable. Now your other wife is out of control. Now your other wife is causing big problems. And I, your original (and favorite) wife, need you to fix everything.
And Abram backs away slowly, wanting to walk away entirely from all the craziness – and crazy women – around him. 6a – “So Abram said to Sarai, ‘Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.’”
And Sarai figures this is her chance to remind her maid who is in charge and who is not. There is no grace. There is no forgiveness. There is no redemption. There is hostility. There is punishment. There is humiliation. 6b – “And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence.”
So Hagar runs. With nowhere to go and no one waiting for her, she runs. Where is she going to go? She does not know. What is she going to do? She has no plan. So she winds up in the wilderness. Sitting “… by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur” (7). She is probably looking to her left and right, in front and behind her, considering all her options. No matter which direction she goes, there will be nothing good waiting for her. Her life will not be different – she will probably always be a laborer in the service of someone. Only now she will have to take care of herself and a child. A child she did not ask for. A child that legally is not hers. A child that belongs to a man who will never really love her.
And she is lost. She is confused. She is despondent. She is alone.
And then suddenly she is not. “Now the Angel of the Lord found her…” (7). God came into the wilderness and met her right where she was – lost, lonely, and longing. Because she has no plan – “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai” (8b).
God knows she needs stability. She needs direction. She needs acceptance. So God asks her to do the one thing she probably does not want to do. 9 – “The Angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.’”
Go back to the woman who mistreated you. Go back to the woman who despises you. Go back to the woman who musters no compassion for you. Go back and face everything that was not your choice head on.
And go back, knowing I am not asking you to do something you are not strong enough to do. I am going to give you the strength to face each day with dignity, with hope, and with happiness. Not only that, you are not going in vain. 10-11 – “Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, ‘I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.’ 11 And the Angel of the Lord said to her: ‘Behold, you are with child, And you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, Because the Lord has heard your affliction.’”
God sees you. God knows your situation. And God is promising here and now to take care of you and your son. He will not be forgotten. He will not be unloved.
And Hagar is probably speechless. Has anyone ever seen her? Cherished her? Cared about her? Maybe not. But now she is. By the God of her master (and now husband) Abram. So she celebrates Him. 13 – “Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, ‘Have I also here seen Him who sees me?’”
And she decides to be obedient and go back. She has no guarantee that Sarai will treat her any better. She has no protection from her husband Abram. But she has the one thing that makes it worth her effort – El Roi (14), “You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees”.
We do not know how she and Sarai got along. We do not know how Sarai treated the boy. We do not know if Abram ever tried to bring peace.
We do know Hagar went back and gave birth to her son, Ishmael (15). And we know God was with her every day.
It is like a soap opera within the pages of Genesis. Drama, division, and divisiveness. But within the chaos are some important lessons for us.
So what lessons can we take away?
- Do not try to make God’s plans happen your way. God has a divine timing for everything He wants to bring to pass, and within that timing He is working all things out for you. You cannot speed it up or rush Him. He has everything under control. When He is ready to move, He will move. Until then, He is asking us to sit back patiently and trust Him completely.
- Do not agree to plans or go ahead with the plans of others before considering the consequences. For every action there is either a positive or negative consequence. Stop and pray, asking yourself if you can live with the results of the choice you make. Can you live with the bad results of your hasty and unwise choice?
- Stop blaming others for your mistakes and accept responsibility. If you make a choice, own it. If you go along with someone else’s bad idea, own it. Your choices are yours. You can be persuaded, sure, but ultimately the choice is yours. You decide where you go and what you do. Accept responsibility for your choices.
- Beware of pride. Be careful of getting too full of your ideas, too overconfident of your abilities, and too focused on your status. What you think you want may be unsatisfying in the long run. How you want to get it may cause additional problems. Think carefully before you act, for when you act of your own will, you have to live with the outcome.
- You cannot run away from your problems. You can try to run in a different direction, but your problems will not disappear. A lot of times they actually follow you, causing problems and bringing destruction with them. What you stay and deal with becomes a non-issue and a testimony in your future. What you run away from chases you and will eventually overtake you.
- God knows exactly where you are. Wherever you are, God is with you. He sees every step. He knows every decision. And He is waiting to help you with your affliction / problem / issue.
- The wilderness is the place where your obedience is tested. When you feel alone, abandoned, or abused, God will use that situation to test you. He will use that place of decision to give you the opportunity to choose your direction – to follow Him or to go your own way. Choose wisely.
Hopefully Sarai learned some, if not all, of these lessons. Never again did she try to make God’s plans happen in her way or on her terms. She had to live with Hagar and Ishmael every day, hopefully seeing each as a reminder of God’s grace and forgiveness over her foolish and rash choice. I am sure she had moments when she had to swallow her pride and apologize profusely to her husband for her stubborn and willful ways that brought tension to all of them.
She learned, and God later blessed her with her own son.
What is your favorite or funniest Sarai moment?
What is the biggest lesson you learned as a result?
Marie Fremin. 12/25-12/26/16