Elon, North Carolina
Today, we come to a fascinating chapter in the Book of Genesis. We will only get to the first four verses of the chapter today but it is very interesting. It is full of applications for us today. It is relevant. Before we look at it, we need to do some review, because We have taken a few weeks off in our study. This chapter is very different from some of the previous chapters that we looked at.
In Genesis 14, we saw Abraham on top of the world. He was popular. He defeated a military enemy. He rescues some POWs. He said no to the King of Sodom and gave tithes to another king. Genesis 15 focused on Abraham’s faith. He believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness. He was declared righteous in God’s eyes.
The Abraham we see in this chapter is very different from the Abraham we have seen in the last few chapters of Genesis. In this chapter, we do not see victory; we see failure. In this chapter, we do not see belief; we see unbelief. In this chapter, we do not see Abraham’s faith, we see his faults. We see sin. We will see Sarah’s sin and Abraham’s sin. Sarah doesn’t fully trust the promise of God. She abuses Hagar and then mistreats her. Abraham commits a sexual sin.
He was justified in Genesis 15 but he was still a sinner. He was not perfect. When we get saved, we are still sinners and remain sinners until we die. Abraham is at one of his lowest points in this chapter. Abraham shows a lack of faith in this chapter, as well as a lack of leadership in the home.
This chapter gives us a glimpse into the domestic side of Abraham. We get to see what the Abraham’s home life was like and how he interacted with his wife. What we will see is a little shocking but unfortunately no different from what we see in many homes today. We also see God testing Abraham in this chapter.
After God called him, He tested him. If he did that to Abraham, He probably does that to us as well. In what way is God testing you? It is worth thinking about. Abraham at this point has experienced five tests since he entered the Promised Land and this one will not be his last one. Let’s review his other tests.
Abraham’s Five Tests
The first test was a famine. God called him to this land but a severe famine broke out. What was he to do? How was he to respond? He failed that test and fled to Egypt.
His second test was when he got to Egypt. This test did not involve famine but fear. Abraham was afraid for his personal safety. He was afraid that someone would kill him over his wife. She was a beauty to kill for. How would he respond when asked about her? He failed that test. He lied and said that she was his wife. Right now Abraham is 0 for 2.
His third test was a family feud. They had so many animals and limited resources to take care of them. Fights started to break out. Abraham passed that test with flying colors. He became the peacemaker. Instead of trying to be right, he did what he could to smooth over the situation. He told them that they should not fight but divide up the land. Abraham even let Lot pick first. He gave us all the perfect example of how to settle disputes and how to resolve conflict.
His fourth test was bitterness. His nephew Lot was captured by Kedorlaomer and his armies. He is a slave. He is a prisoner of war. Lot cheated Abraham. He took the best land and didn’t even ask Abraham what he thought about it. Her was selfish. Now Lot is in trouble. Will Abraham forgive his nephew or hold a grudge? Abraham passed this test. He took over three hundred of his men and ambushed Kerdorlaomer at night and rescued Lot.
Today, we come to Abraham’s fifth test. The chapter begins with a problem. Abraham’s faith is tested again. It was not tested by a famine but by infertility. The chapter begins with these words, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children” (16:1). God made a promise to Abraham. The question is would he be willing to wait for it. There is a difference between believing a promise and waiting for it. Abraham believed the promise. We saw that in Genesis 15.
He believed and it was counted for righteousness. Abraham had a vision of God. He appeared to him. He spoke to him and made a special covenant with him. He made Abraham some promises. One of those promises is that Abraham would have a son. He would have offspring. He would have descendants. In fact, he would have so many that he would not be able to count them all. He believed the promise. He just got tired of waiting for it.
Proverbs 13:12 says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Ten years went by, which is a long time, and there was no son or daughter. It got rather embarrassing after a decade went by. Everyone around him had kids. Even his servants had kids but he had none. Abraham received this incredible promise from God and told people about it. Every year, people kept asking, “Is your wife pregnant?” They got tired of waiting for an answer, so Sarah finally comes up with a plan to solve the problem.
“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her” (16:1-3)
Sarah’s plan was for Abraham to sleep with a slave and get pregnant through her. We need to point out three things about this plan.
1) It was Sarah’s idea.
When a man has an affair, usually it is his idea. When a husband has an affair, it is usually a secret and his wife does not know about it. This was Sarah’s idea. Sarah tells her husband, “Go sleep with another woman!” Abraham was not motivated by lust.
If Abraham came up with the idea, you would think it was motivated by lust. An old man wanting to sleep with the young exotic slave girl but notice what the text says. Genesis 16 does not say that Abraham TOOK his slave into his tent. It says that his wife GAVE her slave to Abraham. There’s a big difference.
We are used to thinking of Sarah as the one with a meek and quiet spirit. That is how I Peter 3:6 describes her but we see Sarah in a different light here. She is the one in charge here. She is the one making decisions. She is the one with the plan and the one who tells Abraham what to do. Abraham is the one who says “Yes dear, whatever you say”. He doesn’t question her or contradict her.
It is almost as if Abraham doesn’t have any thoughts in his head. Abraham is real passive here. He is more of a pushover than a patriarch here. This may have been Sarah’s idea but Abraham went along with it. They did not get in a fight and argue about this. They were united. They both thought this was a good idea. Instead of the wife submitting to the husband, the husband here submits to the wife.
2) Her motives were actually good
Sarah has a good desire. She wants to have a child. God promised Abraham a child. She believes that promise. They did their part to try to have a child. They waited a long time for that child and had not gotten one yet. She realizes that she is the reason why they cannot have children. It was the job of the wife in the ancient world to provide children. She is the one who is infertile (11:30). It is almost as if she said, “God had has kept me from having kids but I do not want that to stop you from receiving what God promised you.”
Sarah is completely selfless. She is willing to step back and let her husband have a child through someone else. Sarah did not want Abraham to be without an heir on account of her fertility problem. God said that Abraham would be the father of the child. That is what God told Abraham in Genesis 15:4 but He never said that Sarah would be the mother.
3) It was perfectly legal to do this.
We know from extra-biblical sources that this was a common practice in the Ancient Near East. People did this kind of thing back in those days. If you could not have a child, you could have one through one of your slaves. It seems very strange to us but it was not at all strange to them. We have to read this in light of the day in which they lived.
This was one way to solve fertility problems in ancient Mesopotamia. We even see it later in the Book of Genesis. We see that in Genesis 30. There were twelve tribes of Israel. They came from the twelve sons of Jacob. Not all of those sons came from Leah and Rachel. Some of those sons were born through surrogates. Rachel’s handmaid Bilhah had two sons for Jacob, which became two tribes (Dan and Naphtali). Leah’s handmaid had two sons for Jacob, which also became two tribes (Gad and Asher).
What was wrong with Sarah’s plan?
There were several reasons why this plan was terribly wrong, even though it was legal to do, was socially acceptable in that day and was well-intentioned. Even though Sarah may have meant well, this was wrong for three reasons.
1) God was never consulted.
It is not wrong to be concerned about something or to have a plan to fix it but we ought to ask God about it. I Peter 5:7 says, “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” We need to bring all of our worries and anxieties to God. Abraham and Sarah did not do that here. They didn’t talk to God. They just came with a plan, like they did when there was a famine. They had a plan then and it involved going to Egypt. They took matters into their own hands without asking God what he thought of it.
In the last chapter, Abraham had a plan that his servant Eliezar would be the heir of his house but he talked to God about it and God said that will not happen. He will not be your heir. Here, they have another plan and this time, God is not consulted. The Bible says, “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed” (Proverbs 11:3). They did not do that here. They do not talk to God and he does not talk to them in this entire chapter. God does not speak to Abraham in this chapter but he does speak to Hagar.
2) It involved a lack of faith
How was this a lack of faith? They looked at circumstances, rather than at God. God made a promise. They believed the promise but for some reason God was not coming through so they had to help God out a little. They play God. In fact, as the chapter begins, Sarah blames God for being infertile. She said to Abram, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children'” (16:2).
It is almost as if she said, “God is the one who is supposed to be in charge of conception but since He is not doing His part. He is not making it happen, like he said He would, so we will make it happen. We will do it ourselves. We really do not need God to have a child.” This is based on the philosophy “God helps those who help themselves”.
3) It involved adultery
Sarah’s motives were right but her methods were wrong. They involved adultery. Sarah tells Abraham to commit adultery. That was Sarah’s solution to their infertility problem. Abraham takes up a concubine and sleeps with someone other than his wife. Earlier in the book, Abraham gave away his wife to the Egyptian Pharoah to be a part of his harem and now he sleeps with an Egyptian slave girl.
He should have known better. The divine pattern for marriage in Genesis is one man and one woman for life. It is monogamy. It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. God created a perfect world and gave one wife for Adam. He didn’t have a wife and a concubine or two wives, just one. This was a violation of the law of marriage established in Genesis.
Lessons from Abraham’s Sin
1. What is legal is not necessarily moral.
Sarah was doing what was accepted in her day. This was an acceptable way in her day of dealing with infertility. The problem is that she lived in a pagan culture. What is legal is not necessarily moral. Slavery was legal at one time but that does not make it moral. Premarital sex is legal. There is no human law that says you can’t shack up with someone but the Bible says that when you do that you sin against your own body. Homosexuality is legal. In fact, in many states today, homosexual marriage is legal but the Bible calls it “an abomination.” It is legal but it is not moral.
If you get married and what to divorce your wife because you get tired of her and because you found someone you like better, you can do this. The law allows it but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. If you get pregnant and do not want the baby, you can kill it. The law allows you to do that. Abortion has been legal in America ever since 1973 but that does not mean that God approves of the practice. Just as the blood of Abel cried out from the ground, so does the blood of all of these babies who died. A million die each year.
If you do not want to worship God, you do not have to. According to our constitution, we have freedom of religion. The law says that we are free to worship the god of our own choosing. We can worship a rock if we want to but that does not mean it is the right thing to do. What is legal is not always moral.
There is a big difference between what we CAN do and what we SHOULD do. There is a big difference between what society accepts and what God accepts. God’s thought are not our thoughts. In Abraham’s day, it was not considered wrong to have a child through a slave but God’s attitude is different from society’s attitude. There are many other practices that society accepts as perfectly normal but God rejects as sinful. Prostitution is legal is Nevada but that does not make it moral.
2. The ends do not justify the means
This is a very popular philosophy today. Many people think if the goal is good, it does not matter how you get there, as long as you get there. Immoral methods may be used. It is okay to do something bad, as long as the goal you want is achieved. If you need a good grade in school, it is okay to cheat to get that grade.
That is why Lance Armstrong and so many professional athletes use performance enhancing drugs. In their mind, the ends justify the means. Why do Muslim terrorists commit terrible atrocities in the name of their religion, cutting people’s heads off, crucifying people, kidnaping school girls? They believe that the ends justifies the means. That is why people rioting and looting in Baltimore this past week.
Harry Reid was recently asked by a reporter if he regretted accusing Mitt Romney of not paying his taxes without any evidence. He said that he did not regret it and then he added “Romney didn’t win die he?” Reid believes in this philosophy apparently. It is okay to lie about your enemies and smear them, as long as you win. The ends justify the means.
In Paul’s day, many believed in the ends justifies the means philosophy. He mentions this in the Book of Romans. People in his day said, “Let us do evil that good may come” (Romans 3:8). He said, “Those who say such things deserve to be condemned” (NLT).
Genesis 16 is one of the best passages in the Bible to refute the idea that the ends justifies the means. Sarah’s plan worked. They got what they always wanted – a baby. Abraham becomes “father Abraham” in this chapter. Ishmael becomes his first son. Abraham loved him. He had him when he was 86 years old. It looked like God answered their prayers. They named the baby Ishmael which means “God hears.”
It looked like God’s blessing was on them. The Bible says, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3). Children are a gift from God. They come from God. It looks like God is rewarding Abraham and Sarah for their actions but the Promised Seed was not to be obtained through the sin of sexual immorality. Abraham would not get it through an immoral act. The promised seed would not come through a pagan gentile idolater from Egypt.
Sarah’s plan worked but she did not get God’s best. She got second best, as many do today. She did not get the child of promise but the child of flesh. Instead, she ends up with an Ishmael when she could have had an Isaac and it came with all kinds of problems. We will look at those problems next week.
They got what they could get rather than what God could give. They got a child by natural means, rather by supernatural means. Paul said Isaac was “born by the power of the Spirit” (Galatians 4:29). Isaac’s birth involved a miracle. Sarah was completely infertile. Paul said that Sarah’s womb was dead (Romans 4:19). People still do this today. They end up with second best, instead of God’s best for them. Next week, we will look at four more lessons or applications from Abraham’s affair.