If you grew up going to Sunday school, no doubt you’ve heard many stories about Abraham and his family. You’d be hard pressed to find a Sunday school curriculum that goes through the stories of the Old Testament that doesn’t include the stories of Abraham, his wife Sarah, and his son Issac. They are such a central family in the Bible, it would be very odd to leave them out.
But on that same token, there are some members of Abram’s family that we do tend to leave out. Abram’s second wife and his oldest son don’t get the same limelight as Sarah and Isaac, but they are very much part of Abram’s family and they are key elements of the Biblical account of Abram’s story. And as you might have now guessed, they will also be the focus of this next chapter in our study of the life of Abraham.
Now before we jump into this today, I want to remind you of three key facts. If you’ve missed a couple messages over these past several weeks, here’s what you need to know about Abram in order to really understand this chapter today.
#1.When we first met Abram in back Genesis chapter 12, God promised Abram that his descendants would become a great nation. In fact, over the past couple chapters, God has reaffirmed that promise several times – stating that Abram’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky – they would be like dust – so much that you could never count them all! That’s the first key fact to remember.
#2. Abram was currently childless. His wife Sarai had been unable to become pregnant, and so to-date, they had no children. That’s fact #2.
#3. Abram was getting pretty old. We’ll see at the end of this chapter that Abram was now 86 years old. And I know that people lived longer back then, but still – Abram is no spring chicken anymore.
So these three facts set the stage for today’s chapter. God had promised Abram a son, Abram currently had no son, and Abram is starting to get old. With that in mind, let’s turn to Genesis chapter 16, verse 1.
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not been able to bear children for him. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar. 2 So Sarai said to Abram, “The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.”
And Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal. 3 So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian servant and gave her to Abram as a wife. (This happened ten years after Abram had settled in the land of Canaan.)
4 So Abram had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant.
Now this is not the first time that we’ve seen something in Abram’s story that seems, to put it mildly, very unusual to us. The idea of Sarai telling Abram to go and sleep with her servant in order to have children – that just does’t seem right to us. Most of us wouldn’t even imagine such a scenario.
But in that culture at that time, this was not all that unusual. Archeologists have found some different laws of the land at that time actually stated that if a man’s wife couldn’t produce offspring for him (within two years I believe one inscription said), then the man could take a servant as a surrogate mother and have children through her. Then the child of the servant would legally be counted as the original wife’s child.
And so in that culture, Sarai’s proposal was not all that unusual. It would be totally socially acceptable for Abram to try to have a child with Hagar.
But being socially acceptable doesn’t make something right.
Right from the beginning of time, starting with Adam & Eve, God had established that marriage and thus families were to be composed of one man and one woman. This is God’s design – this is how God knew that families work best. And even as we look through the Bible, we see that anytime this pattern isn’t followed, there are always negative consequences. We see that with Jacob and his four wives, we see that with David and his seven wives, we see that with Solomon and his hundreds of wives. Ignoring God’s design and and God’s plan always leads to negative consequences – and we’re going to see that with Abram as well.
But at the same time, I also want to mention that by this point, it doesn’t seem that God had specifically forbidden multiple wives. Even though God had established the pattern of marriage to be one man and one woman, most of the Biblical teaching regarding that would still come a little later. So I want to be a little bit careful about painting Abram and Sarai as being blatantly disobedient to God here.
The Bible never comments on the rightness or wrongness of their actions here – it just records what they did and the consequences that follow. So I’d like to give Abram and Sarai the benefit of the doubt. Let’s put ourselves in their position, shall we?
Remember, God has promised that Abram will have a son. He’s said that very clearly. But at this point, God has made no mention of Sarai having a son. So now, years after God’s original promise, they might be thinking that maybe God never intended for Sarai to have Abram’s child? As Sarai is getting older, the chances of her having a child are growing less and less every day. She’s about 75 years old now – and if she hasn’t been able to have a child yet, what are the chances that she ever will? They know that it’s God’s will that Abram will have a child, but perhaps it’s not God’s will for Sarai to be the mother? God hadn’t specifically said one way or the other – and since surrogate mothering was a thing back then, maybe that was God’s will? And so perhaps that’s why she says in verse 2:
“The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.”
Now I don’t know for sure that that was their motivation or thought process – that’s just a possibility. Again the Bible doesn’t give us all the background information, so I’m just giving them the benefit of the doubt.
But if that’s the case, the question remains, were Abram and Sarai wrong to do what they did? It could certainly be argued that they were just trying to carry out God’s will.
Can you be wrong – can you sin – while trying to carry out God’s will? If you know that God wants “this” to happen (whatever “this” is), can we be wrong in doing certain things to make “this” happen?
Certainly, I think we can be wrong. And I think we often are. Let me explain what I mean.
You see, God’s will is not just an end goal. God’s will involves more than just where we end up – it also involves how we get there.
One of the pioneer missionaries to China, Hudson Taylor is famous for saying:
”God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supply.” ~ Hudson Taylor
I think that’s very true as far as God’s provision goes, (that God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supply), but I think that also gives us a fuller picture of how to define God’s will. God’s will is God’s work being done in God’s way. It’s both what God wants done and also how he wants us to do it.
And I think that’s where Abram and Sarai went off course. They knew that God had promised to give Abram a child – (they knew the end goal for what God wanted done) but they weren’t careful about making sure they got there in God’s way.
Instead of walking with God, following his lead – they had chosen to take their own path – perhaps a bit a bit of shortcut, as it were. We don’t see anywhere that they consulted with God about this or that they had any indication that this was something God wanted them to do. They may have been trying to do God’s work, but they were not doing it God’s way. And so let’s see how this all turns out.
4 So Abram had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant. But when Hagar knew she was pregnant, she began to treat her mistress, Sarai, with contempt. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “This is all your fault! I put my servant into your arms, but now that she’s pregnant she treats me with contempt. The Lord will show who’s wrong—you or me!”
6 Abram replied, “Look, she is your servant, so deal with her as you see fit.” Then Sarai treated Hagar so harshly that she finally ran away.
This scenario does not seem to be turning out as well as Abram and Sarai had hoped. As soon as Hagar realizes that she is pregnant, she begins treating Sarai with contempt. You can imagine how cruel Hagar might be – being pregnant with Abram’s child – the child that Sarai was unable to give him. I can only imagine the resentment between these two woman.
And in response, Sarai blames Abram for all this – even though this was her idea. But Abram isn’t innocent either. He went along with the plan – and you can be sure that now, as Hagar is carrying his child – the child that he has waited for all his life – that Hagar is certainly the focus of Abram’s joy and delight and attention. You can see why Sarai is upset!
The situation then grows worse as Abram refuses to get involved. He doesn’t take responsibility for anything. He figures this is Sarai’s situation to deal with and he doesn’t do anything to fix the problem. He passes the buck to Sarai and tells her to deal with it. And so Sarai does. But certainly not in a constructive way! She treats Hagar so harshly that she runs away. You can imagine how well that went over for when Abram found out that his wife had chased away the woman carrying his one and only child!
This whole situation has the earmarks of human scheme gone terribly wrong. This is not the kind of evidence you see when someone is walking closely with God. These are not the results of God’s work being done in God’s way.
Walking with God produces a totally different set of results. Galatians 5:22 says…
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22
Do you see any of those things in this situation with Abram, Sarai, and Hagar? I don’t.
I kinda see the opposite of all those things. If you ever wonder if you’re really walking with God or not, just look at the evidence. It’s usually pretty clear.
As I was reading some commentaries on this chapter, I came across a great little tidbit from Warren Wiersbe. He said there are four signs that someone is walking by faith – they are walking with God and not just taking their own path. These are the four signs.
1. They are willing to wait
2. They are concerned for the glory to God
3. They are obeying God’s word
4. They have peace and joy within
I think those are spot on. When you are walking closely with God – trusting fully in Him – those four things will be true in your life.
- You’ll be willing to wait for God’s perfect timing – no matter how long you’ve been waiting already, because you know God’s ways and God’s plans are best. So you’re willing to wait for the best.
- Secondly, your greatest concern will not be your own comfort or own benefit or your own status, but you’ll be concerned for the glory of God. That is the overriding factor in all your decisions, because at the end of the day, that’s really all that matters.
- Thirdly, you’ll be obeying God’s Word – being careful to do all that God has commanded. Why? Again, because you know God’s ways are best and any deviation from God’s ways is less than best.
- And finally, you’ll have peace and joy within. You might not always have happy circumstances, but you’ll have that inner joy and peace that only comes when you know that you are doing exactly what God wants you to do. If you’ve experienced that, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Now, do we see those things in Abram & Sarai’s life? Do we see a willingness to wait? Is their greatest concern the glory of God? Are they being obedient to what God has told them? Are they filled with peace and joy?
And maybe we can’t answer all those questions for sure, but I think we have enough evidence to see that some of those things are certainly lacking in this situation.
Abram & Sarai’s attempt to accomplish God’s work in their own way, apart from God, has led to total discord in their family. Everybody is angry and upset, and their young servant Hagar, pregnant with Abram’s child, is now running away from them, trying to survive out in the wilderness alone.
But it’s right in the midst of this crisis that God intervenes. He hasn’t given up on anyone and his plan has certainly not been derailed. He’s going to use this scenario to again show his goodness and make all things work together for good. Verse 7
7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. 8 The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she replied.
9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.” 10 Then he added, “I will give you more descendants than you can count.”
11 And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress. 12 This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.”
13 Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” 14 So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered.
15 So Hagar gave Abram a son, and Abram named him Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born.
There’s two things in this passage that I want to point out. First of all, as we’ve been talking about learning to walk with God, it seems to me that of all the people in this story, Hagar is the one who ended up walking closest with God. She is showing more faith in God than Abram & Sarai did. Why do I say that?
In verse 9…
The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.” Genesis 16:9
Which, it appears, she did. And that would not have been easy.
God gave her no guarantees that Sarai would treat her any differently. Chances are, Sarai would continue to be cruel and unkind and harsh towards her. In fact, if we jump ahead a few chapters, we see Sarai later demanding that Abram send Hagar and Ishmael away. She kicks them out of the family, so to speak. So God didn’t give her any promises that He was going to change her situation. He simply instructed her to return to her mistress and to submit to her authority.
For Hagar to obey God – to humble herself and go back to Sarai and to submit to her authority again knowing that things are probably not going to get any better – that shows some pretty incredible faith in God.
I mean, do we, second or third generation Christians, raised in Christian homes, attending church every Sunday – do we have that kind of faith? When we face persecution, when we are taken advantage of, when we are treated unkindly or unfairly, are we willing to humble ourselves and to allow ourselves just to be wronged, and to simply trust and obey God? I think sometimes we can take a lesson from this Egyptian servant girl.
And that brings me to second point from these last verses: where does this Egyptian servant girl, pregnant and on the run, find that kind of faith? I think we find the answer in verse 13.
Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” Genesis 16:13
Hagar had an encounter with the Living God that day. She had seen the One who sees her. She came to realize that day that there was a God in the heavens who actually cared about her. Which was incredible, because in her world, she was a nobody! She was a foreigner. She was a woman. She was slave. A run-away slave at that! In her world, she was the most insignificant person on the planet.
But yet, this God took notice of her. He was the God that saw her. He had heard her cries. He had seen her situation. And that God revealed Himself to her and reassured her that He was going to take care of her and her son. That must have been a mind-blowing moment for her! “There is a God in the heavens who cares about me?!”
I think that’s where her faith came from. It came from the understanding that God cared about her. And if that God told her to go back to her mistress and submit to her authority, well, then that God must have a good reason why. Knowing that God cared about her gave her the faith to trust and obey – even in the midst of a really difficult situation.
As we think about our own walk with God this morning, do you ever wonder why we so often have those lapses in obedience? Why we wander away from walking with God and just start walking along on our own? Or why, like Abram & Sarai, we get tired of waiting for God and just take matters into our own hands?
Could it be that we forget just how much God loves us? That we forget how good He is and how much he truly wants the best for us? Because I think that if we truly understood just how much God cares about us, we’d never choose to do those things outside of his will. If the all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present God of the universe loves you more than you love yourself – wouldn’t you trust Him completely and want to do exactly as says? That kinda makes sense to me.
So this morning, I just want to remind you again – or perhaps let you know for the very first time – that the God who saw Hagar is the same God who sees you.
He knows what you’re going through. He knows your hurts. He knows how you’ve been treated unfairly or unkindly. In fact, he knows everything about you and about your situation. He sees you. And even more amazing, He cares. God cares about what happens to you.
I think sometimes we go to church and we hear “God loves you” and we get that in our head, but somehow it misses our heart. We don’t let it sink in. But I’m telling you this morning, “God really does love you.” He cares so much about you.
I don’t know what kind of experiences you’ve had with loving people in your lifetime. Maybe you love your mom or your dad. Maybe you’re a parent and you know what it’s like to love your children. But I think most of us have loved someone at some point in our life. And you know how the thought of someone purposely hurting your loved one – you know how that just makes your blood boil? Imagine how upset you would be if someone purposely tried to hurt your kid or your mom? You’d be furious, right?
Well, the love and concern and care that you have for your child or your mom, that’s a small reflection of God’s incredible love and concern and care for you. He is most certainly not indifferent to our hurts and our difficult situations. He see us and He cares so much about us!
He intensely desires that you would trust Him, that you would walk close to Him, so that you would experience God’s best for your life. That’s really the bottom line for why Christ came to earth. God loved us and wanted us to experience his best. John 3:16 says…
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17 NIV
Paul says the same kind of thing again in Ephesians 2:4. He writes:
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. Ephesians 2: 4-5a
When are we going to get it through our thick skulls that God really does love us!? He is the God who sees us. He sees everything we’re going through. He knows our thoughts, our fears, our concerns, our hurts – And He cares so much about us.
When will it sink into our hearts that God loves us and that the best thing we can do is to put our trust in Him?
I don’t know what kind of week you’ve had this week – maybe a good week, maybe a bad week? Maybe you’ve had a week of walking close with God – enjoying that peace and joy that comes from doing exactly what God wants? Or maybe you’ve had a week of being distant from God and living outside of his will – choosing instead to do your own thing. Or maybe you’ve had a terrible week like Hagar had – and you been hurt, you’ve been treated unfairly or unkindly… Maybe you feel like you’re wandering alone in the wilderness.
Whatever the case, I want to remind you this morning that God sees you. God has certainly not given up on you. His good plans for your life have not been derailed – by you or by others. He still loves you more than you can imagine.
The One who sees you cares so much about you and is just waiting for you to trust and follow Him.
The song that we’re going to sing in closing this morning has the repeating line ‘He’s calling us all by name.” We’re not just human #2 billion, three hundred and twenty-seven. No, God knows our name.
He calls to us like Hagar. “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
He’s calling each of us personally by name. Will you listen to his voice and put your trust in the One who sees you and calls you by name?