In Genesis 15 God addressed two fears plaguing Abram: First, God dispelled his fear that the promise he’d have a son might fail to materialize. Before then addressing his fear that he would somehow fail God - that he’d fail “to inherit the land” God had given him.
As we noted last Sunday, while God would never fail and Abram always would, Abram’s failures mattered not because God’s promises were never predicated upon his performance. It’s radical, but the reason God’s grace will never fail is that you always will! Paul would write in Romans 5:20, “Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more!”
That said… While it’s important you understand God’s grace is the only thing that can save and sustain you in the place of your failures, you should also remember a failure to obey God’s commands will still yield very natural consequences in and through your life. God’s grace saves and sustains His plan, but it does not insulate you from consequences.
This morning we’re going to see that instead of trusting and waiting for God to accomplish His work of providing them a son, His way and in His timing, Abram and Sarai make a tragic decision when they attempt to accomplish God’s work apart from His direct involvement. And yet, though God’s grace would remain sufficient and His promise sure in spite of their failure, we’ll see the consequences of this poor choice will be severe and far-reaching.
Genesis 16:1-3, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. 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.’ And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan.”
The context for our scene is simple… For starters, Abram and Sarai are old. Consider that in Genesis 12:4 we’re told they leave Haran at the ages of 75 and 65 (in Genesis 17 we’ll discover Sarai is 10 years Abram’s junior). Now we’re informed in verse 3 that they’ve “dwelt ten years in the land” meaning it’s safe to reason at this juncture Abram is 85 and Sarai 75.
Aside from the fact this places Sarai at the tale end of her childbearing years (according to Genesis 23 she’ll die at the age of 127 which indicates women were likely able to conceive much longer because of the increased life-expectancy), we also understand they have been sitting on this promise that they’ll have a son for 10 long years!
Can you imagine that? Even with God’s reassurances that His promise was still intact, like we saw in the previous chapter, 10 years is still a long time to wait, especially when you believe time is running out! How many more years could Sarai realistically get pregnant?
Aside from this… You also have to keep in mind barrenness came with a nasty stigma. In ancient times because they lacked the medical understanding as to why some women have a difficult time conceiving, most saw the inability for a women to be fruitful as being evidence God was punishing them for some hidden sin. It was the only logical way they could explain why some women had no problems conceiving while others struggled mightily.
Since this was her plight, Sarai faced all kinds of ridicule. People talked bad about her behind her back. They gossiped about what sin she may have committed to draw the ire of the gods. For all points and purposes, Sarai was seen to be a failure as both a women and more specifically a wife. Note: Culturally speaking, this fundamental inability to have a child would provided the husband with justifiable grounds for divorce.
Now before we look at the particulars of our text, for just a minute, I want you to first consider the raw, desperate, human emotions that would have led Sarai to make this specific proposal to Abram. For approximately 50 years, while in Ur, she and Ab did everything they could possibly do to get pregnant. She tracked her cycles, monitored her ovulation, tried different sex positions, home-remedies, even took medicine, but to no avail.
More in likely, with each passing year, Abram and Sarai slowly began to resigned themselves to the reality they’ll probably never have a baby. There is no doubt they’re disappointed, but it’s ok… Over time they’d come to peace with it. But then something amazing happens… Abram has this life-altering encounter with God who not only promises they’d have a son, but tells him his son would become a great nation God would use to bless the world.
“We’re back on baby!” And yet, what follows isn’t what they would have expected… Imagine, for the next 10 years, every time she and Ab knocked boots, what happens? He’s expecting she’s pregnant! God had made a promise so why not believe this was finally the time!
How brutal it must have been for Sarai to eventually crush Ab’s spirit a month later when it had become clear she hadn’t conceived? And if that dynamic wasn’t savage enough, this cycle of sex, excitement, anticipation, and disappointment lasts for 10 draining years! Is there any surprise Genesis 15 opens with Abram worrying that God’s promise he and Sarai would have a son might never come to fruition? I’m sure she shared the same angst.
Then… In light of the last 10 years of frustration, imagine one night her husband crawls into bed and tells her that God had just taken him outside and reaffirmed His promise that his descendants would be like the stars in the sky. Ab’s giddy with excitement… It’s business time! This will be the night! God has just renewed His promise. They’re going to have a son. So… They shake up the sheets, engaging in a bit of hanky panky, do the deed, and Ab walks around on cloud nine for the next few weeks thinking for sure Sarai’s pregnant!
I wonder how awful a moment that must have been when Sarai realizes she isn’t pregnant and is going to have to burst Ab’s bubble? Aside from the dashed hopes she must have experienced herself, breaking the news once again to a husband struggling to hold fast to God’s promises… Honestly, it’s not hard to see why Sarai decides to concoct this plan.
I have no doubt that at this point in her life Sarai blames herself. She even tells Abram “the Lord has restrained me from bearing children.” “Ab, it’s not you - it’s me. I’m standing in the way of God’s promise and you deserve to have a son I can’t give to you. Why don’t we have Hagar be a surrogate? You sleep with her and if she conceives the child will be mine.” Note: This idea of a surrogate was not only a legal practice, but culturally it was completely normal and accepted. It’s actually become a fairly common practice in our society as well.
Genesis 16:4, “So Abram went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when Sarai saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.”
Is anyone shocked this idea of encouraging your husband to have sex with a young Egyptian babe so you can have a baby backfires? And yet, while the obvious is the obvious, it still seems bizarre how quickly Sarai turned on her own plan! Abram making whoopee with Hagar only for her to immediately conceive should have been mission accomplished. I mean what resulted was exactly what Sarai desired to have happen; and yet, sadly it ends up yielding the opposite result. Instead of happiness that she and Abram were going to have a child, out from Sarai’s heart flowed indignation… Hagar “became despised in her eyes.”
Why such a visceral reaction? I’m convinced Sarai reacted this way because it confirmed what she longed feared. As mentioned, Sarai’s believes the reason she’s barren was because “the Lord had restrained her.” It’s what motivated this particular plan. And yet, you have to imagine there had always been a little doubt in her mind that just maybe she wasn't the problem and that it was Abram who had an issue. “What if the sheriff was not up to the task? What if Ab’s little Red Ryder was just shooting blanks? What if his soldiers were simply to weak to march?” Well… Now that Abram’s successfully knocked up Hagar and a baby is on the way, any and all doubt is gone. Indeed, Sarai was barren!
Here’s the irony as it pertains to her statement “the Lord has restrained me from bearing children.” It was completely true! Sarai was barren and her barrenness could be directly attributed to a divine intervention. And yet, here was the problem and why she ends up making a ghastly decision… Sarai failed to consider why the Lord was restraining her?
Understand… Because it was important to God’s plan that the son of promise be born through a miraculous work of God and not the byproduct of the natural flesh, the “Lord had,” was, and would “restrain her” ability to “bear children” until the time came for God to act! Amazingly, it should be pointed out this “restraining” would continue for 10 more years until it was so absolutely impossible for her to conceive naturally that when she finally did have a son everyone knew it was a supernatural work of God! Note: Sarai would be 90 years old!
It’s important you realize the problem with Sarai’s outlook and what ultimately led to this terrible plan really boiled down to the fact she failed to recognize the Lord had a purpose for her barrenness. Contrary to the idea this was God’s judgment, the truth was that this affliction was essential to accomplishing the larger plans God had for her life.
You see Sarai made this unfortunate mistake because she doubted God’s goodness and failed to trust that her situation had a much larger meaning and divine purpose. Her barrenness (while such a difficult burden to bear as a women) was not God’s punishment, but was instead the mechanism for a greater blessing God had in store!
And yet, because she failed to trust that God had a plan, she took matters into her own hands… “If God won’t give me what I want when I want it, then I’ll do it my way.” Sadly, what resulted wasn’t happiness, but a torment greater than her initial barrenness. Keep in mind, what made this entire approach so egregious is that Abram and Sarai were seeking to accomplish a work of God on their own - without God’s involvement!
And you should note this is exactly what legalism also seeks to do… Laws, rules, traditions, and the like create a mechanism by which Christians seek to accomplish a work that only God can supernaturally yield. Instead of trusting His work to happen as the Spirit moves and leads, sadly we establish our own rules to obey seeking to expedite the process.
You see Hagar was the work around - Abram and Sarai’s best attempt to yield what God had promised! And yet, God rejected the son that was produced. Never forget, when you give your life to Jesus and are filled with His Spirit a work of God begins in your life… And while legalism seeks to provide a way for your inclusion (rules to obey as a shortcut to Godliness), as illustrated by this story, the approach only produces an imitation God refuses to accept.
Understand… Walking in grace is a mindset that utterly rejects my inclusion in God’s work. Whereas legalism is born out of a restlessness that God’s work isn’t happening fast enough, grace rests in the knowledge that His authentic work will be accomplished His way and in His timing if I trust Him. This is why in Hebrews 4:9-11 we’re told, “There remains a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest…”
Genesis 16:5-6, “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.’ So Abram said to Sarai, ‘Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.’ And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence.”
It’s really not a surprise that when her plan eventually blows up in her face Sarai shifts blame entirely. She’s blaming Abram for going along with it… Then, to justify her own attitude, she claims that ever since Hagar’s conceived she’s been throwing shade her direction.
Oh Abram! In what universe do you honestly think sleeping with another women, even if your wife gives you permission, is going to somehow work out in your favor? In what alternate reality does sex outside your marriage relationship ever help solve marriage difficulties? When Sarai proposed this idea, Abram should have been a man and said, “No way!” He should have reminded his wife that God was worthy of their trust. Sarai wasn’t the problem. God was in control and He’d give them a son when the time was right. They needed to be patient. Instead, what does he do? Abram decides to “get naked to start the revolution!”
But it get’s worse… Now that Sarai is on the war path and is blaming both he and Hagar for this situation, does Abram man up to deal with the fall out? Nope. When he should have calmed his wife, owned the situation, been a voice of reason, and solutions-oriented, what does he do? He capitulate, “Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.”
Sadly, we read that “Sarai dealt harshly with her.” This Hebrew word indicates she was more than vindictive towards Hagar. The word means “to be occupied” or “to be busied with.” The idea is that Sarai she made it her mission - her business to make Hagar’s life miserable. This was nothing shy of unwarranted abuse! Honestly, can you blame Hagar for fleeing?
Genesis 16:7-12, “Now the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. And He said, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?’ She said, ‘I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.’ The Angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.’ Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, ‘I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.’ 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. He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.’”
Before we get to anything else we need to first discuss the identity of “the Angel of the Lord.” This word translated “Angel” literally means “messenger or representative.” The phrase signified this individual was “one sent to represent the Lord.” Also notice the definite article “the” positioned before “Angel” which is important because it tells us this particular representative was unique to all others. We don’t have “an angel,” but instead “the Angel.”
Furthermore, the conversation that occurs between “the Angel of the Lord” and Hagar only deepens the mystery. Notice “the Angel of the Lord said to her, ‘I will…’” before later justifying his intervention by saying, “The Lord has heard your affliction.” What we have here is “the Angel of the Lord” speaking to Hagar as the Lord - not necessarily for the Lord.
Realize this is not just a physical representative coming from the Lord, but instead a physical representation of the Lord. This means, as with Melchizedek in chapter 14, “the Angel of the Lord” is another Christophany or preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. Note: The capitalization of “Angel” implies the translators viewed this as such.
And this leads me to a much larger point… Don’t forget Hagar is a nobody. She’s no one special. She’s not important to the overarching story of redemption. Her only claim to fame is that she slept with Abram and got pregnant. I mean the only reason she’s even in our story in the first place is because Abram made a foolish mistake by going down to Egypt. If he’d never left the land of promise, Hagar would have never become Sarai’s handmaiden.
Also keep in mind Hagar is on the run. She fears for the life of herself and her unborn child. As such, she’s the quintessential victim. She’s been unfairly treated. She’s been unjustly targeted. She’s been abused. She’s been hurt and betrayed. She’s been abandoned. And what’s worse still is that the perpetrators claim to “walk with God!”
Wisely, we’re told Hagar escapes to “a spring of water in the wilderness on the way to Shur.” The reason this is significant is that the “way of Shur” was an ancient trade route connecting Egypt with Canaan. Hagar is trying to make her way home. She’s headed back to Egypt.
While Hagar’s life has been flipped upside down, it’s also important we point out our text has no record of her crying out to God. Hagar is not seeking diving revelation nor is she pleading for divine intervention. And yet, we’re read that “the Angel of the Lord found her.”
Notice, in addition to finding Hagar, it becomes immediately evident He also knew her and was aware of her situation. The Lord opens, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid” before then posing to her two simple questions: First, the Lord asks, “Where have you come from?”
Right from the beginning the Lord wants Hagar to retrace the journey of her life. While things had turned sour and grown complicated in the tents of Abram and Sarai, did she really want to return to Egypt where she had been a handmaiden in the house of Pharaoh? The Lord is asking her if that was really the life she wanted to return to?
Then, He asks her, “Where are you going?” In the original Hebrew this question is more loaded than the way it translates into English. The Lord isn’t asking Hagar where she was going. Rather, He’s asking where she wants to go… Is as though the Lord is asking, “Where do you think you’re going to end up?” The Lord wanted Hagar to consider her past journey, but He also wanted her to consider her future destiny - the direction of her life.
Notice the command He then gives to her… He says, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.” Though a conflict had arisen between she and Sarai, the best place for her and her son was still the home of Abram! Running back to Egypt would only compound her problems, not solve them. Instead of running, God invites her to do something bold with her life… Trust Him with her circumstances by “returning and submitting” to Sarai.
Genesis 16:13-16, “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?’ Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; observe, it is between Kadesh and Bered. So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.”
Once again it’s obvious Hagar recognizes “the Angel” was no angel at all. As she reflects on this exchange she makes this amazing statement, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?” The implication is that she’s just had a face-to-face conversation with God and lived!
After He departs we’re read, “She called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees.” Note: This name for God has a bizarre Hebrew construct. It can be translated as “He is the God who sees me and attends to me.” The name communicates more than God being cognitively aware of her, but that He actively cared for her. Hagar also names “the well Beer Lahai Roi” or literally “the well of Him that lives and sees me!”
While in chapter 16 we have Abram once again failing and there is no doubt he and Sarai’s poor decision would carry with it severe and in many ways unintended consequences, we must close by considering what we learn from this story about God’s grace.
First, as mentioned in our introduction, it’s obvious that, even with Abram and Sarai acting in such a foolish way, God’s grace still proved to be sufficient. While there is no doubt Hagar and Ishmael would complicate matters, God’s promise to provide a son still remained sure. Once again… Even when you fail God - His grace will never fail you!
And yet, there is another manifestation of grace demonstrated in our passage I find to be particularly incredible… While there is no doubt God’s grace was made evident in and through His exchange with Hagar, consider how that grace manifested itself? God used a horrible situation in order to reveal Himself in the most profound way possible!
Take note, this is a first in Scripture. Up until this point in our travels through Genesis we have seen God’s grace demonstrated largely independent of the individuals involved; and yet, in this particular instance, God’s grace manifests directly because of the difficult circumstances Hagar found herself presently facing! Even though Hagar wasn’t seeking, by His grace God finds her and acts in response to her deepest need!
In closing… Even if you’ve stumbled into church this morning a victim, if you’re hurting, lost, and unsure where your life might be heading with zero expectations of encountering the God of the universe, I hope you know “the Lord has not only heard your affliction,” but it’s on account of these very afflictions that Jesus has left His throne in heaven in order to find you, reveal Himself to you in the most relevant of ways, and minister to your heart by His grace!
Jesus is more than “the God who sees” - He is “the God who cares!” This morning, as you consider what’s next, Jesus is asking you the same two questions He posed to Hagar… “Where have you come from and where are you going?” Understand… It is the very fact that God can use your darkest moments and your most daunting situations to reveal Himself in the most personal of ways that makes His grace so amazing!
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