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Last week, we looked at the beginning of Genesis 16. We said that this chapter doesn’t show Abraham’s faith. It shows his faults. It shows his sin. Abraham commits a sexual sin in this chapter. We do not see faith in this chapter. We see unbelief. In this chapter, we learn from his mistakes.
The chapter began with a problem. What was her problem? Infertility. She couldn’t have any kids. Sarah is the first person in the Bible who had a problem with infertility. The very first verse of the chapter says, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children“.
That is not a big of a deal today. Many couples do not even want to have kids but in that day but in that day this was a disgrace. There was a stigma placed on childless couples in the Ancient Near East. That is because children were looked on as a blessing, not a curse. Today, they are seen as just a nuisance. In biblical times, they were viewed differently and were greatly desired.
We can all relate to Sarah. We all have problems. We may have marriage problems or money problems or car problems or in-law problems. It is not wrong to have problems. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble”. The question is, How do you deal with your problems? Abraham and Sarah dealt with them the wrong way.
Her solution was to use a surrogate to have a child. That doesn’t sound so bad to us. The problem is that this involved adultery. She suggested that Abraham have a child through one of her slaves. Notice what Sarah says, “Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her” (16:2). The plan wasfor Sarah to get a baby through a surrogate.
Hagar got pregnant and delivered the baby but it was considered Sarah’s child. Instead of having the baby, she would adopt one. It is the first example in the Bible of surrogate motherhood and adoption. Sarah told her husband to commit adultery in order to have a child and Abraham went right along with the plan without any questions.
Last week, we looked at two lessons that we learn from this plan. We say that what is legal is not necessarily moral. What the law says that you CAN do is not necessarily what you SHOULD do. In this chapter, we see that Sarah’s plan worked. Hagar got pregnant. She became the first surrogate mother in Scripture. Sarah and Abraham finally had a baby through Hagar but this was not God’s plan at all.
The second lesson we saw is that the ends do not justify the means. It is a very prevalent philosophy today, even among some Christians. That was the philosophy of Dietrick Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was the German Christian pastor who was involved in an attempt to kill Adolf Hitler.
He was either involved or associated with people who were trying to do this. The goal was good but Christians should not be involved in assassination attempts. They should not be involved in murder plots, even if the ends are good. This is a classic passage to show that the ends do not justify the means. There are many other lessons that we can learn from this plan that apply today. Some of these are quite interesting.
More Lessons from Sarah’s Plan
1. Good intentions are not enough.
Sarah’s intentions were great but her actions were wrong. Many cultists are sincere. They think they are doing good deeds. The Muslim fanatics who want to rid the world of infidels are sincere. The Apostle Paul was sincere when he persecuted Christians but his zeal was misdirected. As the saying goes, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions”.
The Pharisees were sincere but sincerity is not enough. Jesus said “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:15). The Bible says that “zeal must be ACCORDING TO KNOWLEDGE” (Romans 10:2).
2. It is possible to be deceived about the will of God
Abraham and Sarah thought they were doing the right thing. It worked. it seemed to be a good idea at the time. It was perfectly legal. It was socially acceptable. Other people did not have a problem with this but God did. This was not God’s will.
This is rather depressing. We can think we are doing the right thing and be out of the will of God. There are some people who live in sin and think that they are in the will of God because they have peace.
Society has told them that their lifestyle is not wrong and they have told themselves that as well but they are deceived. Many prosperity preachers think that God’s will is always accompanied but material blessing but that is simply not true. It can be a sign of God’s blessing but is not always a sign of it.
Big churches are not always a sign that God is blessing them. They can be but you can have a large church that is not a good church. How do we avoid being deceived about the will of God? We have to know the Word very well and we have to ask God what is the right thing to do. That is what Sarah did not do.
3. We should not always listen to our spouse.
How was Abraham led astray? He took some bad advice from his wife. He listened to the voice of Sarah (16:2). That is the same expression that is used in Genesis 3. Adam listened to the voice of Eve (3:17) when she handed him the forbidden fruit. Does this mean that husbands should never listen to their wives?
No. Not too much longer after this, God actually told Abraham to listen to his wife (cf. 21:8-13). How do you tell the difference? When is it right and when is it wrong? In this case, Abraham should not have listened to Sarah. She was telling him to sin. She was telling him to commit adultery. She told him to have an affair.
4. Sins of ignorance are still sins.
We do not know if Abraham thought he was doing something wrong or not. He may have justified it in his head. What he was doing was perfectly acceptable in his day. Many people today use all kinds of excuses to justify their sins but they are still sins.
5. You reap what you sow.
The Bible teaches that we reap what we sow. Galatians 6:7-8 says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (ESV).
The results of this plan were devastating. The lesson here is that sin has consequences. It may bring something good at the time. Abraham and Sarah got a baby from it. The Bible talks about “the pleasure of sin” but it always brings negative consequences. The consequences are immediate and lasting. Some sins have consequences that last for generations.
Whenever, we violate God’s moral law, we suffer and those around us suffer. When we sin, we often do not think of the consequences. That is what we see in this chapter. Sarah’s plan worked. It solved one problem and created ten more. It backfired in the end. It resulted in some complications. What were the consequences of this sin? It led to two things: family problems and national problems.
“When she knew she was pregnant, she (Hagar) began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me. Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” THEN SARAI MISTREATED HAGAR; so she fled from her” (16:4-6)
Consequences of Abraham’s Sin
Ishmael’s descendants became a major problem for Abraham’s descendants. We are still suffering from the consequence of this plan. We still suffer the consequence of this action today four thousand years later. The founder of Islam was a descendant of Ishmael. Ishmael became the ancestor of the Arabs and they have been a source of perpetual grief to the Jews. If Abraham would not have done this, planes would not have crashed into the Twin Towers.
It led to family problems. It led to problems in the home. What kinds of family problems? After this child was born, there was no peace in the home.
1) Parenting Problems
Ishmael was hard to raise. The Bible says that “He will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him” (16:12).
Who wants to have a child like that? His descendants were just like him. It describes ISIS today. Their hand is against every man. For Hagar, it may not have been an insult. She was a slave and her son would be free to roam like an untamed animal.
2) Marriage Problems
It also affected the relationship of Abraham and Sarah. There was tension between Abraham and Sarah after they sinned. They started arguing with one another, just like Adam and Eve did after they sinned. Sarah said to Abraham, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me” (16:5). Some husbands just cannot win. If they do what their wives tell them, they complain. If they don’t do what their wives tell them, they complain.
There was also tension between Sarah and Hagar. They used to get along great. Now there is tension between the two. There is now jealousy, envy, pride and strife.
Why? Positionally, Sarah was superior to Hagar. She was over her. She was her slave owner. She owned Hagar. Hagar was a slave and now she just gave birth to Abraham’s first son. She just went up the social ladder. She is more than an ordinary slave and she is starting to feel a little superior to Sarah who could not even have kids. The Code of Hammurabi said that a slave who bears a child is put on a level of equality with his wife (146).
Hagar may have rubbed it in a little. She may not have been ready for this change. Proverbs 30:21-23 says, “Under three things the earth trembles; under four it cannot bear up: a slave when he becomes king, and a fool when he is filled with food; an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.“
She may have been a little angry with Sarah as well. I want you to try to look at this from Hagar’s perspective. Up to this point, the story line of Genesis has been written from the standpoint of the men. Abraham has been the main character in the last four chapters but now there is a change. This chapter is written from the standpoint of women, not men. The chapter focuses on two women (Sarah and Hagar). That makes this chapter of the Bible different from most.
Hagar is treated terribly in this chapter. She did not try to tempt Abraham to have an affair with her. She was not seductive. She did her job. She is an innocent victim. Rarely do we ever try to see things through her perspective. She is made a slave. She is just a piece of property. She has absolutely no rights. Sarah tells her that she has to sleep with Abraham and she has absolutely no choice in the matter. Whatever she was asked to do, she had to do.
Maybe she didn’t want to sleep with an 85 year old man. She was probably much younger than he was. She was not asked what she wanted. She might have been disgusted by the suggestion but she had to do it. As soon as the baby was born, it was immediately handed over to Sarah. It was Sarah’s baby. Notice what Sarah said to Abraham “Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
This is interesting. Sarah has a problem and comes to Abraham to solve it. Once again, he washes his hands in the situation. He shows absolutely no leadership. He showed great leadership on the battlefield when he went after Kerdorlaomer. He whipped five kings against incredible odds and rescued his nephew Lot but he showed terrible leadership in his own home. Many are great leaders on the job or in the corporate world but not so great leaders when they come home.
Abraham showed no leadership when Sarah come up with the bad plan in the first place and now when a problem is created because of the situation, he does nothing. He tells Sarah to handle it. He says, “She is your slave. You deal with it. She is your property”. Abraham calls her Sarah’s slave, not his wife. She really was not his wife but more of a concubine because she remain a slave afterwards. Abraham told her to deal with the situation herself and she does.
When she abuses her slave, Abraham does absolutely nothing to stop it. Abraham and Sarah once again does what is legal, rather than moral. It was legal to have a child through a slave and it was legal in that day to mistreat a slave but that did not make it right.
Hagar became an abused slave. We do not know how bad the abuse was or exactly what Sarah did to Hagar but she did mistreat her. The text says that. This is the first example of a mistreated slave in the Bible and she happened to be an African slave. She is an Egyptian slave. The irony is that it is done by the people of God. Here God’s people are abusing and mistreating others. That is terrible.
Unfortunately, it still happens today. Sometimes, it is Christians who mistreat others. Sarah also becomes the first mean girl in the Bible. In the next book of the Bible, the tables will be turned. Here God’s people are abusing Egyptians. In Exodus, we see the Egyptians abusing God’s people terribly.
So what does Hagar decide to do? Hagar now has a problem. She responded differently to her problem than Sarah did. She runs away. She is the example today of people who run away from their problems. She does not deal with her problems. She runs away from them. She becomes the first runaway slave in the Bible. She tries to run home but Egypt was a long way home and she was single, poor and pregnant.
The Bible does talk about how to respond when you are mistreated. It says, “Do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to God’s wrath”. It also says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’
Hagar was in a bad situation and couldn’t take it anymore, so she left. When she leaves, she encounters an angel. Now Hagar has had three encounters in this chapter. She had an encounter with Abraham at the beginning of the chapter. It was a sexual encounter. She has an encounter with Sarah in the middle of the chapter, which is rather unpleasant. When she runs away, she has an encounter with an angel in the wilderness.
Why did this angel appear to Hagar in the first place? Even though, what Abraham and Sarah did was wrong, it wasn’t Hagar’s fault. She is in a very bad situation here. God reaches out to people in need. He reaches out to people who have no hope and are broken. The Bible says that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).
Hagar at this point was completely broken. She was at the lowest point she could be at. She was not only a foreigner, she was a slave. She was not only a slave, she was a mistreated slave and now she is pregnant. She was also an unwed mother. She is the first single parent in the Bible. She was a single mother. After she runs, she is not only pregnant but homeless. God ministers here to an unwed mother. God appeared to Hagar and spoke to her. What did he tell her?
God gave her two promises and one command? What did he promise her? He promised that she would bear a son (16:11) and said what his name would be (Ishmael). He promised to bless Hagar (16:10). She will have so many children that they would not be able to number them. In the midst of these promises, he also gave her one command. He commanded her to return back to Abraham and Sarah.
That must have been very difficult to do. It was a hard command. It raises a lot of questions. Should people submit to abuse? If Hagar had to return to face abuse from her master Sarah, are women supposed to abuse from their husband and domestic violence? No. Each case is different. There are times when it would be right to submit to abuse. In this case, Hagar might have died if she continued on her path in the wilderness.