Genesis 16:1-16 “Helping” God
Abram is getting a son! But there are complications. “Why” you ask; because Sarai tries to help God out.
Have you ever felt that God was moving too slow? I know I have. One of my favorite sayings when feeling this way was to ask God if maybe He needed to wind His watch. I have had to work VERY HARD on getting rid of this attitude. My reasons for needing to change this attitude are the same ones Sarai comes up against today. When we rush God, or try to help Him out, we wind up in a WHOLE HEAP of trouble!
I used to think about this story as Sarai getting tired of waiting for God’s promise. Today I was impressed to think of it a little different. What I never considered before was Abram talking about the promise God made to him in front of and to Sarai.
Abram was given a promise but Sarai’s name wasn’t mentioned in it, yet. How many times did he initiate sexual intimacy with Sarai saying, “This is the time it will happen.”? How many times did she receive confirmation from her body that she had “failed” once again? Having a child wasn’t only Abram’s heart’s cry but Sarai’s too. Was she tired of hearing about Abram’s promise and then seeing the disappointment on his face each month? She was desperate and oh so empty!
I don’t believe that Sarai suggested her plan to “help God” easily. She and Abram had been living in Canaan for ten years already. I’m assuming this is ten years after returning from Egypt. Ten years of Abram sharing his promise from God. Ten years of hearing about their future. Ten years of disappointment on her part. Abram hadn’t lost sight of God’s promise but Sarai didn’t have a personal one to cling to, yet.
If Sarai is like any other woman, she didn’t relish the thought of “sharing” her husband with another woman but her desperation overrode any ideas of jealousy. This was a practice that didn’t originate with Sarai and it had “worked” for others. Sarai had convinced herself that this was her only chance to be a mother.
I’m not going to claim to understand the role of servant and master in this instance, nor on any other for that matter. But Sarai apparently owned Hagar’s body. She got to direct everything that Hagar did. From her getting up in the morning to the physical use of her body. So Sarai made a plan that Hagar would have no choice but following. Of GREAT note here is that Sarai DIDN’T ask for God’s opinion on her plan.
Abram made the same BIG mistake we just mentioned Sarai making; he didn’t ask God His opinion of Sarai’s proposal. “And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” (verse 2b). Did you notice though that he didn’t have relations with her until they were “married?” Hagar became his wife. This gave her certain rights that a servant wouldn’t have. But she was NOT his primary wife. That place was reserved for Sarai.
I wonder what Hagar thought about this whole proposal. Did she willingly go along with Sarai’s plan or was she reluctant? Her attitude changed towards Sarai. She didn’t see Sarai as her master anymore. She saw herself as better than Sarai because she was able to conceive a child. Barrenness was the big “chink” in Sarai’s “armor.” The one place Hagar could hurt her and Hagar made use of it. Did Hagar believe that she should be first wife because she was able to provide Abram with a child? Would Hagar be expected to surrender her child to Sarai to raise or would she be tasked with raising the child herself? The family dynamics were a MESS now.
And who does Sarai blame for the mess? Abram. “May the wrong done to me be on you!” (verse 5a). She admits that SHE gave Hagar to him but takes no responsibility for what happened after that. I wonder what God would say to Sarai’s statement, “May the Lord judge between you and me!” (verse 5c). Who would God hold more responsible? Sarai, who didn’t know if she had a part in God’s promise to Abram or Abram because he listened to his wife instead of seeking God’s input. I say some of the blame lies at Hagar’s feet too. Her attitude towards Sarai is cruel, but I only say this IF she was a willing participant in this arrangement.
Abram’s solution is to return Hagar to servant status instead of deal with the tension between the two women. He lets Sarai do whatever she likes to Hagar instead. I can understand Sarai’s pain at Hagar’s treatment of her but her retaliation with cruelty back didn’t solve anything. Hagar’s child would still be Abram’s child. And Abram would still acknowledge the child as his own. At this point all three of them expected this child to be the heir. I wonder if Sarai’s treatment of Hagar took the health of the child into consideration. Was she hoping to cause Hagar to miscarry? How would Abram have dealt with that if it happened? Did Abram put any boundaries on Sarai’s behavior? It doesn’t look like it from the statement he made to Sarai concerning Hagar; “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please” (verse 6).
God never took His eyes of this situation. He knew the hearts of all the parties. He watched Abram as he listened only to Sarai’s thoughts on this matter. He waited as the “family” got ready for another wedding. I’m certain this didn’t happen overnight. He knew when Abram took Hagar as his wife and allowed the union to produce a child. He listened as Hagar prodded at Sarai’s weakness. And he observed Sarai’s treatment of Hagar in return. He didn’t put his stamp of approval on ANY of this but He also didn’t step in and stop it. What He did instead was to continue to love each of these individuals and to bring them back into His will.
For Hagar, God reminded her of her place in the family but also promised to elevate her child. For Sarai, he specified his promise to Abram to include her. And for Abram, He clarified His promise even further. There would be consequences for their actions that nations are still paying today, but God never went back on His word or changed His plan to conform to their ideas.
God has a plan for each of our lives. He doesn’t force us into His mold and He doesn’t usually yank us back by the hair when we stray too far from it. But He does shepherd us in the right direction. Sometimes that shepherding is more forceful than other times, but in ALL “course corrections” you can be certain that He will not abandon you in the middle of it. Nor will He adapt His plan to fit yours or mine. Our deviations have consequences though. The consequence for God was Jesus’ substitution work when man took a wrong turn. That consequence is the only thing that makes it possible for us to enjoy the completion of His plan in our lives.
The two biggest lessons I’m taking from today’s reading is: 1) God really doesn’t need my help, only my obedience and 2) I’m never so far from His will that He can’t bring me back WHEN I listen.
Father God, I’m sorry for the consequences I have evoked in my life and those that I have been in contact with when I deviate from You plan. When I try to “help” instead of “wait” I get into a LOT of trouble. I know I have been spared many consequences and I’m VERY grateful for that! Remind me of this lesson and my own lessons when I’m again tempted to rush ahead and do things my way instead of seeking Your direction.
Thank You Lord Jesus for making a way that I can finally see God’s plan come to be in my life. Without You NOTHING but death would await me. Thank You for giving me life!
Holy Spirit, thank You for the lessons today and the different perspective on this story. I had never thought deeper than Sarai trying to “help” God out. I never stopped to really wonder why, until You opened that avenue of investigation. I firmly believe You are the initiator if not author of my “bench questions” list.