THE FIRST BIBLICAL RECORD OF DOMESTIC STRIFE
BACKGROUND: Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran; Sarai (Sayr-I) could not have children: “Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.” < Gen.11:30 (NIV)>
GOD’S PROMISE: [at Haran] “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” < Gen.12:2 (NIV)>: [at Shechem] “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.” < Gen.13:16 (NIV)>: [at Bethel] “a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” < Gen.15:4 (NIV)>
THE HUMAN REACTION TO GOD’S PROMISES: God promises and Satan immediately plants the seed of doubt. Questions enter the mind – How will this happen considering the circumstances? How long will it take? Why is there no further communication? Why is God silent for so long? Perhaps God wants me to take action now, maybe I should try this alternative, or do this instead. God’s promise is absolutely different to our desire! God does not will that I should fit Him into my desire or plan!
God had not revealed any specifics of the promise to Abram; Abram believed what God had said, but as time passed he began to doubt. He knew of Sarai’s barrenness – was there an alternative? Did it have to be through Sarai that God’s promise would be fulfilled? How do we get around this problem? There is an acceptable social alternative, so why shouldn’t we choose this route? And so the minds of both Abram and Sarai begin to wrestle with the circumstances.
SARAI’S PLAN <16:2-3>: God’s promise had not yet been fulfilled to Sarai, nor did she see any possibility of her bearing children; “The Lord has kept me from having children” <16:2>; She suggests her plan to Abram, and both desired to have a son more than anything else, and Sarai’s frustration was beyond expression, creating all the human ingredients for a solution to the problem. An attractive slave girl, a legal social loophole, worldly reasoning, and a carnal resolve. The result – a decision so snarled and twisted that 4000 years have not unraveled it; “Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.” <Gen 16:2 (NIV)>. It is evident that whenever God introduces a new chapter in the history of mankind, we are faced with the original temptations and sin of Adam; “So …… Sarai …. took Hagar and gave her to her husband” < Gen.16:3 (NIV); cf. Gen.3:6>. Sarai’s decision and their exploit was no doubt acceptable within the social custom of their day, but God’s desire for man was one wife (monogamy) as was stated in regards to Adam and Eve <cf Gen.2:24>.
We see the similarities of this in our day and age: a church congregation is decreasing in numbers – there seems to be no blessing or fruit for their labour; or a believer is spiritually barren – spiritual life is at a low level; so a “Hagar” is brought in – a decision is made to attract the community; Some worldly method is adopted and executed to escape the spiritual doldrums. The results are fantastic, but unfortunately of the wrong kind – not what God had planned and a price has to be paid for the human effort and plan.
THE OUTCOME: The result of any polygamous marriage situation – envy, scorn and mocking; “When she [Hagar] knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.“[Sarai] < Gen.16:4 (NIV)>.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THINGS GO WRONG? ACCUSATIONS! – the natural first response: “You are responsible”… “It’s your fault” <16:5> – we blame someone else for our blunder. We all do the natural thing: someone had to take the blame for the situation that evolved in Abram’s household; someone else usually has to take the blame for our wrong decisions, and when things go wrong we do and say unkind things and hurt others. What is on the inside comes to the outside cf Jer.17:9>. Sarai blames Abram and mistreats Hagar; and Hagar flees the home <16:6>.
Every member of Abram’s household was doing the natural thing: Abram surrenders his headship to Sarai; Abram sleeps with Hagar; Sarai is upset and resentful; and Hagar, unable to endure the stress, runs away.
The test of God’s silence is very difficult to endure, and here we see the results: Hagar fails as a servant; Sarai fails as a wife; Abram fails as a man and head of his household; and both Abram and Sarai fail as a godly example to Hagar. We too can fail in our service as God allows others to cross our pathway; instead of being a godly example, we use and abuse them for our gain, and then watch them run away. Their mind filled with all the wrong ideas of what Christianity should be as we totally misrepresent God to them and they turn back to their old way of life.
HAGAR’S DILEMMA: <16:7-10> Hagar has no where to go but back where she came from, and on her way back to Egypt, is found by the angel of the Lord; God steps in before she is forever lost to Egypt: “Where have you come from, and where are you going to? “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.” <16:8>. Go back – return, is God’s command; “Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”…..I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” <16:9>. If obedient to God’s command, He promises to bless her descendants (similar to Abram’s blessing ).
Is your life experience similar to Hagar’s? Are you running away from God because of some mistreatment by a fellow Christian, or some other unfortunate circumstance? God is calling you to turn back before it is too late. Nothing could have been harder for Hagar to do, than to go back and submit to Sarai! Nothing could be harder for you to do than to go back and face the situation from which you are running – but that is God’s command!
HAGAR’S RESPONSE: She acknowledges that God had seen her affliction; “She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” < 16:13 (NIV)>. Hagar gives a verbal expression of her faith – she acknowledges that God has seen her need and has met that need, she has now passed from “death to life”, she had seen the One who saw her. Hagar puts her faith into action – she returns to Abram’s household, submits herself to Sarai, and bears a son – Ishmael. Such action may be necessary from you today as He commands you to “Go back”
WHAT SHOULD WE LEARN? There are five things that are evident:
1. God’s promises are most often followed by God’s silence: You claim a promise of God; you hear His call and respond then there is a deafening silence and time passes while you suffer the agony of waiting.
LIVING BEYOND THE GRIND OF DIVINE SILENCE [Chuck Swindoll] “Ever felt totally removed from God’s awareness? It’s almost like you are standing at the bottom of a long stairway looking up. The light is off, and even though you knock or call out for a response, nothing happens. There isn’t even a stir. You are not alone. Many a soul struggles at this very moment with divine silence. And to make matters worse, it grinds on for days, sometimes weeks. Following a calamity, the victim crawls out, cries out, and expects overnight relief. It doesn’t come. A mate who has been there for years suddenly packs it in and walks out. The one who is left alone to face what seems to be endless responsibilities, turns to God for His intervention – for His comforting reassurance, only to be met with silence. That awful silence! Equally difficult is a lingering illness. No prayer, it seems, is effective. As the deafening silence continues from above, pain intensifies below.” [Living Beyond The Daily Grind Bk 1 p 58 – Charles Swindoll]
2. God’s silence is to test our faith. Why does God test us? Does He want to know how well we know and understand the scriptures?
“The biblical concept of testing is not to ascertain knowledge; it is a method of teaching. God’s tests are learning experiences, designed by the Teacher to share knowledge, not to determine its presence or absence.” [Through The Wilderness – Chapter 4, by Jamie Buckingham]
Are we learning by the experiences God brings us through?
3. When four walls surround us and there seems no way out, and the heavens seem like brass, wait in faith for God’s guiding. Was God taken by surprise by Abram and Sarai’s decision and actions? Did the birth of Ishmael wreck God’s plan? Our Omniscient God knows all that we will face as we wait in faith! Even if we make the wrong decisions – God understands and will provide a solution! Abram was 100 years old when the promise was fulfilled – 25 years after it was given.
“God never brings a hindrance into our lives that He does not intend to use to open another door that would not have opened otherwise.” [Through The Wilderness – Chapter 4, by Jamie Buckingham]
4. Our inability to wait on God can lead us to decisions that will have long lasting and far reaching consequences. Waiting on God can be described by a Flyer on a Trapeze – there has to be trust that the flyer will be caught.
Waiting Like a Trapeze Flyer – “There’s a special relationship between flyer and catcher on the trapeze. The flyer is the one that lets go, and the catcher is the one that catches. As the flyer swings high above the crowd on the trapeze, the moment comes when he must let go. As he arcs out into the air, his job is to remain as still as possible and wait for the strong hands of the catcher to pluck him from the air.
The flyer must never try to catch the catcher. The flyer must wait in absolute trust. The catcher will catch him, but he must wait.” [Citation: John Ortberg, from sermon “Waiting on God,” Preaching Today #199]
Waiting on God is difficult, but the result is worth the wait; and as we feel the pain of waiting and we weather the storm, God wants us to wait and trust in Him; and the words of the song comes to mind:
“Hold on my child, joy comes in the morning,
The darkest hour is gone, dawn is just in sight”
The final lesson from this account is:
If you have failed the test of faith, obey God’s command – “Go back” and submit, if submission is required.
God hears and sees even when to us He seems absent . We can trust His word and wait for its fulfillment for God knows the difficulties in our waiting in faith; He hears our cries, sees our troubles, and will accomplish what He has promised.
Are you waiting on God for some request or answer? How are you doing while you are waiting?