Summary: The story of Sarai, Hagar, and Abram is really a story about how people deal with issues of faith . . . especially when our faith is being tested by God’s providence.
God’s Providence: Whose Son are You?
Yesterday, as I was reviewing the scriptures in Genesis, I noticed something that hadn’t struck me before. It’s a bit off the point, but I found it curiously funny. Let me review part of today’s reading and then add the next couple of lines.
“. . . Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his (second) wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.” It’s this next part that gets me: “When she (meaning Hagar) knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.” (Gen. 16:4-5)
Don’t you just love that kind of reasoning? The real problem is between Hagar and Sarai, but Sarai blames Abram who simply did as his wife suggested. But wait, it gets even better as we see what many would consider the typical husband’s response in such situations.
“Your servant is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.”
Loosely translated, that means, “I can’t deal with this. Go do whatever makes you happy.”
It’s stories like this in the Bible that constantly reassure me that they’re REAL stories about REAL people. Human nature hasn’t changed very much in the last ten thousand years. If there is a moral to this part of the story, it’s probably, “Be careful what you ask for.”
But to return to my sermon topic, the story of Sarai, Hagar, and Abram is really a story about how people deal with issues of faith . . . especially when our faith is being tested by God’s providence.
The Definition of God’s Providence: “Providence is the continuous activity of God in His creation by which He guides and governs it for His people’s good and His own ultimate glory.”
When it comes to our understanding, one of the most difficult aspects of God’s providence is His sense of timing. The other difficult part to grasp is God’s methods . . . the people, the places, even the events that occur that often challenge our deepest faith that there really is a God. And even more – that God really does have a plan, a divine and wonderful plan in which all His children are redeemed and reconciled to Him. As much as we may think we understand, we have each known those lonely and dark hours when we can’t seem to make any sense of it all.
I heard a story years ago that was reportedly true. It took place at Stanford Hospital. A small child named Liza was suffering from a rare disease. Her only hope of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her five year old brother. Apparently, her brother had miraculously survived the same disease and had acquired the necessary antibodies to combat his sister’s illness.
To the best of his ability, the doctor explained the situation to Liza’s brother and asked if the boy would be willing to donate his blood to save his sister. The boy hesitated for just an instant then took a deep breath and said, “Yes, I’ll do it if it will save my sister.”
After all the preparations, the boy was lying in a bed next to his sister as the transfusion continued. Soon he began smiling as he watched the color returning to his sister’s cheeks. Then his own face grew unexpectedly pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, “Will I die quickly when my blood is all gone?” That is what it means to have a heart filled with unconditional love. It is also what it means to know the heart of God through the sacrifice and victory of Jesus Christ. God’s providence, His plan for our redemption, was conceived and is daily unfolding from such love.
The prophet proclaimed, “God moves in a mysterious way; His wonders to perform.”
The story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar is a story for people who wonder where God is when nothing seerems to make sense; when there are promises but no apparent fulfillment. It’s a reminder that God does have a plan, and it is not up for negotiations. It’s a plan that’s tailor made for each individual person – Jew or gentile, slave or free - and it’s a plan born of God’s irresistible love and intention to gather all of His lost sheep back into His fold.
It’s also a story of the relationship between one father and two mothers. There’s a story about a Junior High science teacher who lectured on the properties of magnets for an entire class. The next day he gave his students a quiz. The first question read like this: “My name begins with an “M,” has six letters, and I pick things up. What am I?” Half the kids in the class wrote, “Mother.”