WHENEVER WE TRY TO PLAY GOD WE MAKE A MESS OF THINGS — BUT GOD CAN SHOW MERCY
Easy to go down the wrong trail when studying the Scriptures. We are warned against twisting Scripture to suit our own purposes – politicians quote the Bible this way all the time –
For example, our Big Idea today could be: “Never listen to the counsel of your wife” – but that would be way off base … definitely chauvinistic … definitely contradicted by my own personal testimony of a multitude of excellent counsel I have received from my wife …
So what is God communicating in this text?
1) Don’t give in to the temptations of:
– Presumption (look at the scheming of Sarah = playing God) and
– Passivity (look at how Abram fails to take the leadership in his home)
Abraham is not as mature in the faith as we might expect him to be at this point
2) Don’t turn and run when the pressure is on or imagine that you are outside the scope of God’s deliverance and mercy – story of Hagar
Hughes: first marital triangle in biblical history. Here we have the multiplication of rejection, anger, hurt, jealousy, and vicious cruelty. Life complicated itself exponentially, and there was no resolution.
S. Lewis Johnson: Refutes philosophy: God will help those who help themselves
Sarah and Abram tried to help God and help themselves; took matters into their own hands; didn’t turn out well; didn’t advance God’s agenda at all
Two Scenes to this Narrative:
– Interaction between Sarah and Abram – impacts Hagar
– Interaction between Hagar and the Angel of the Lord
The Angel of the Lord is the only hero in this story
(:1) PROLOGUE – PRESENT REALITY
A. Fulfillment of God’s Promise Looks Hopeless
“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children,”
Had been in the Promised Land for 10 years … was 75 years old … still not child
Famine in Chap. 12 was a threat to the land promise
Here in Chap. 16 Sarah’s barrenness was a threat to the seed promise
Ligon Duncan: God is sovereign and we have a hard time accepting that. . . The problem is when God’s sovereignty conflicts with our desires.
Parunak: From the perspective of the book, it stands as a roadblock to the promises that God has made. In 15:2, Abram raises this issue with the Lord. Here, the narrator observes it. This shift has the effect of making the problem much more prominent. First Abram raises it: “Lord, how am I going to have a seed?” Now the narrator picks it up, as though in a background voice: “That’s right, folks. How is he going to have a seed?” It is now not just Abram’s problem, but a major problem with the plot, which centers around the divine promises.
2 Options come to our fleshly thinking:
– Maybe God doesn’t see my situation
– Maybe God doesn’t care to take action
B. Other Options are Available
“and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar.”
Sarah looks around and considers her options
Abram had considered a solution that involved his servant Eliezer as well – but the difference was that he consulted the Lord in that situation
Calvin: The faith of both of them was defective; not indeed with regard to the substance of the promise, but with regard to the method in which they proceeded; since they hastened to acquire the offspring which was to be expected from God, without observing the legitimate ordinance of God.
Where did Hagar come from?
Deffinbaugh: The probability is great that Hagar was a gift from Pharaoh to Abram, a part of the dowry for Sarai: “Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels” (Genesis 12:16).
Alan Carr: He is still reaping the harvest he sowed in Egypt! (Note: You never go into sin and come out clean! There is always some reminder, some evidence that you were there! That is the Law of Sowing and Reaping, Gal. 6:7-8.)
I. (:2-6) INTERACTION BETWEEN SARAH AND ABRAM –
PLAYING GOD MAKES A MESS OF THINGS
A. (:2) God’s Promises Never Depend on Fleshly Fixes
1. Poor Perception Leads to Presumptuous and Precarious Plans
a. Poor Perception
“So Sarai said to Abram,
‘Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children.’”
Our Discernment Alarm needs to be going off when we hear this faulty interpretation of reality
Sarah’s theology was faulty
What was Sarah’s view of God?
– Do we view God as some type of Scrooge that plots to prevent our dreams from becoming reality?
– Do we view God as someone who forgets about His promises or is unable to overcome obstacles?
What is our view of God?
– James 1 – loving heavenly Father who longs to give good gifts to His children
– The God who is faithful to keep all His promises and all powerful to control all things
– The God who sees my situation and cares deeply about me
b. Presumptuous and Precarious Plans
“Please go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children through her.”
Petitions her husband to follow her presumptuous plan
Culturally acceptable plan in this day and age – didn’t make it right
Hagar from line of Ham, not line of Shem so this would never work – had not thought it through from every angle
Constable: Sarai tried to control the will of God by seizing the initiative from God (cf. Genesis 3:17). She and Abram chose fleshly means of obtaining the promised heir rather than waiting for God in faith (cf. Genesis 25:21) . . . Resorting to fleshly means rather than waiting for God to provide what He has promised always creates problems. This story also shows that human failure does not frustrate God’s plans ultimately.
Deffinbaugh: In my estimation Sarai did not act in faith, but in presumption. Her primary concern seems to be with the social stigma upon her barrenness. She may well have persisted in her proposal until Abram gave in. Faith never tries to force God to act, nor to act in God’s place, nor to accomplish what is supernatural in the power of the flesh.
2. Presumption Ignores the Counsel of God
“And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.”
Where is the prayer and the seeking of the counsel of God?
Deffinbaugh: Abram’s failure was not in listening, but in heeding her instructions without weighing their implications
Parunak: 3 Principles:
1.The wife is more likely to be deceived than the husband.
1 Tim 2:14, drawing on the woman’s own confession in Gen 3:13.
Recall that the NT associates the fall always with Adam, never with Eve.
2. She inherits from Eve a tendency to rebel against her husband and seek to control him:
Cf. 3:16b, interpreted in the light of 4:7 (see previous notes).
Here we see Sarai exhibiting the tendency of 3:16b.
3.The man must obey the injunction of 3:16b and lead the wife, obeying the Lord above all.
• Luke 14:26, we are to hate our wife in comparison with the Lord.
• This is not just a NT principle; Deut 13:6-11 requires the Israelite to give up a wife who has fallen into idolatry.
B. (:3-6) The Consequences of Fleshly Choices Lead to Compounded Sin
1. God’s Timetable Can Be Perplexing and Frustrating
“And after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan,”
Sarah was 10 years younger than Abram
2. The Carrying Out of Fleshly Fixes Yields Fleshly Results
a. Execution of the Plan
“Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. And he went in to Hagar,”
Emphasis here is not on sexual wrongdoing – this is not a case of couples swinging or Abraham indulging in sexual lust
Deffinbaugh: It is ironic how the tables have been turned. In chapter 12, Abram’s unbelief caused him to agonize while Sarai was in Pharaoh’s palace. Now, Sarai, due to her proposal, is left to ponder what is going on in Hagar’s bedroom.
b. Results of the Plan
“and she conceived;”
No problem with fertility on Hagar’s part – but did not play out as Sarah had hoped and anticipated
3. Unintended Consequences Compound the Pain
“and when she saw that she had conceived,
her mistress was despised in her sight.”
Didn’t see this coming – when we play God … we lack God’s vision – we are not “The God who Sees”
Hagar: false pride; gloating; making things difficult for Sarah
Borgman sermon: Tension in the Tent –
Solomon comments on this tension: Prov. 30:21-23 (origin of the Top Ten lists – but here he quotes only 4 items)
4. Sin Easily Snowballs – Sarah’s Scheme Backfired – What a Mess!
a. Sarah’s Attempt at Deflection of Blame
“And Sarai said to Abram, ‘May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms; but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the LORD judge between you and me.’”
This is all your fault
b. Abraham’s Attempt at Washing His Hands of Accountability –
Passivity vs. Taking Spiritual Leadership in the Home
“But Abram said to Sarai, ‘Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight.’”
Deffinbaugh: Abram did not change his course either. He should have learned that his passivity was not piety. Letting Sarai have her way was relinquishing his leadership. He was the accomplice to sin by refusing to resist it or to rebuke Sarai. Sarai’s stinging rebuke served only to cause Abram to retreat further. He did not acknowledge his sin, nor did he confront Sarai with hers. Instead he persisted in allowing Sarai to have her own way. . .
Bill Gothard came to Dallas to speak to 2600 pastors. There he made a statement that was condemning to all of us. He said that, by far, the greatest complaint of pastors’ wives was that their husbands were failing to take the spiritual leadership in their homes.
Hughes: He hid behind the conventions of the Code of Hammurabi (Law 146), which stipulates that if a concubine claims equality with her mistress because she bore children, her mistress may demote her to her former status. Abram impotently abdicated any responsibility for the situation, or for that matter for poor Hagar who had recently become his wife
c. Sinful Treatment of Hagar by Sarah
“So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence.”
Parunak: “humbles” Hagar. The verb is the one used to describe what Egypt does to Israel (Gen 15:13; Ex 1:11-12), and it is a prohibited action toward defenseless people (Ex 22:21-24). This is what a man does to a woman in taking her (Deut 21:14; 22:24).
Out of sight is not always out of mind
Fleshly solutions lead to tension and aggravate the situation rather than providing long term solutions
It is dangerous to Play God
II. (:7-14) INTERACTION BETWEEN THE ANGEL AND HAGAR –
THE GOD WHO SEES SHOWS AMAZING MERCY IN THE MIDST OF OUR MESS
A. (:7) Divine Intervention
“Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness,
by the spring on the way to Shur.”
Difficult journey across barren wilderness; stopped at one of the few points where she could obtain water; gearing up for final leg of her journey
Parunak: Ex 15:22 — the region just beyond the border of Egypt into which Moses brought Israel after the Red Sea. The point of this detail is that Hagar is heading back home, toward Egypt.
This is the first reference in the Bible to an angel, and in particular to “the angel of the Lord.” We meet him again in Gen 22, and numerous times later, in Exodus 3 (Moses at the bush), Numbers 22 (Balaam), Judges 2 (Israel), 6 (Gideon), 13 (parents of Samson), 2 Sam 24 (David), 1 Kings 19; 2 Kings 1 (Elijah), etc.
Who was this angel of the Lord?
Appearance of God Himself in person of His son
– Vs. 10 – speaks in first person making exact promise God made
– Vs. 13 – Hagar recognized this was God Himself
Interesting – appears to a woman … one outside the family of God’s chosen people
Reminds us of Jesus meeting with Samaritan woman by the well in John 4
“found her” – God takes the initiative to find the lost in their time of greatest need and offer mercy and comfort and deliverance
B. (:8) Divine Interrogation
“And he said, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?’”
Parunak: the purpose is not to gain information, but to put the person questioned on the spot.
Trying to bring her to point of repentance
“And she said, ‘I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.’”
Deffinbaugh: Running away does not change relationships, nor does it remove responsibility. Jonah, even in the belly of that fish, was still God’s prophet with a message for the Ninevites. Hagar continued to be Sarai’s maid, and it remained her duty to serve her mistress.
C. (:9-10) Divine Instruction
1. (:9) Tough Command
“Then the angel of the LORD said to her, ‘Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.’”
Harsh treatment is not a justification to remove oneself from the realm of legitimate authority.
We need to learn to submit in difficult circumstances and trust in the God who sees all and can deliver and vindicate us.
1 Peter 2:18-20
2. (:10) Tender Promise
“Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, ‘I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they shall be too many to count.’”
D. (:11-12) Divine Interpretation
1. (:11) Child of Promise
“The angel of the LORD said to her further, ‘Behold, you are with child, And you shall bear a son; And you shall call his name Ishmael, Because the LORD has given heed to your affliction.’”
Familiar formula of God’s magnificent promise
Ishmael = God hears
This woman has no claims on the mercy of God; yet God responds to her suffering
God undertakes for the broken-hearted
2. (:12) Child of Problems
“And he will be a wild donkey of a man, His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; And he will live to the east of all his brothers.”
Living to the East in the Bible typically not a good thing
Ishmael is father of many of the Arab people
There will be ongoing conflict
Parunak: lit. “a wild ass of a man,” the desert donkey, fiercely independent. A figure of independence and self-will throughout the OT (cf. Job 39:5-8; Jer 2:24). He will not submit to any authority.
Compare the angel’s words with Hagar with the initial promise to Abram in 12:1-3.
• Both include a command, though the commands are very different: Abram is to “leave his father’s house,” while Hagar is to “return to her mistress.”
• Both include the promise that they will become great through their offspring. This is the most similar point.
• Both include a description of the relation of their seed to others. Abram’s seed are to be a blessing to all nations, but Hagar’s will be a source of universal contention and strife.
E. (:13-14) Divine Identity
1. (:13) Name of God = The God who sees
“Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘Thou art a God who sees”; for she said, Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?’”
The Transcendent God sees the affliction of the lonely and broken-hearted – He sees me;
Has some concept of the Holiness and Justice of God – dangerous for a sinful woman to have seen this God; humbled here; in awe at God’s mercy to a nobody
Waltke: only place in Bible where a human being is represented as conferring a name upon God
Parunak: an abstract noun meaning “seeing.” It leaves open the question as to who is doing the seeing and who is seen — Probably, as her following explanation shows, the ambiguity (God who sees; or Hagar who sees God) is intentional. God has seen her, and she now realizes that she has also seen him. Hagar’s insight is to recognize that this high God, who is also the creator of all things, is in addition in personal contact with his people. He is not distant and hidden, but accessible.
Ligon Duncan: the idea of God ‘seeing’ in the Old Testament is identical with the idea of God ‘caring.’ If He sees, then He cares.
2. (:14) Name of Well = The well of the living one who sees me
“Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.”
Borgman: this encounter is memorialized right there in the wilderness
(:15-16) EPILOGUE – PRESENT REALITY
A. (:15) Fulfillment of Promise to Hagar
“So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son,
whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.”
Repented and returned to Sarah; didn’t resolve all of the tension
How did Abram come up with this name? Hagar must have related her encounter with the Angel of the Lord
Application to Abram and Sarah – Don’t play God; constant reminder of need for faith = God hears
B. (:16) Time Stamp
“And Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him.”
Promise is getting old – When will God act?
Ligon Duncan: But I want you to see that after all these machinations, after all these attempts on the part of Abram and Sarai and Hagar to work out their situation, that with regard to the fulfillment of the promises of the covenant, Abram is right back where he started from. He has not taken one step forward towards the fulfillment of God’s promises towards him since the beginning of the chapter. Many troubles, many sorrows, but not one step forward in the progress of redemption because God is going to do things His way.
Ligon Duncan: Galatians 4:21: “Tell me, you who want to be under the law, do you not listen to the law for it is written that Abraham had two sons. One by the bondwoman and one by the free woman.” And the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh and the son by the free woman through the promise. Now Paul goes on to expand that and continue that thought through the very end of that chapter, down to verse 31. But I want you to concentrate on that last phrase in verse 23. The son by the bondwoman was born how? According to the flesh. And the son by the free woman through the promise.
Now Paul is pointing there to the fact that Hagar’s giving birth to Ishmael was the result of the design of the flesh. The will of man, indeed, the sinful will of man produced Ishmael, whereas Isaac was the product of Abraham and Sarai’s trust in the covenant promises of God. So Ishmael is the product of Abram and Sarai’s failure of trust in the Lord.