Summary: Do we need to help God out in the fulfillment of His promises to us by taking matters into our own hand?
The Life of Abram, Part 7: The Ishmael Project
In the last lesson, Abram asked the LORD for a pledge of his promise of the land. The answer he had gotten seems discouraging, especially for one whose worldview does not extend past this life. For someone with a “Live your best life now” it was no promise at all. Abram would never have title to the land, and it would be more than 400 years before his descendants would. The promise of having children was there, but they would be in hard bondage for four generations. All Abram received as far as a promise for him personally was that he would live a long life and be buried. He had already lived a long life, so how much longer this meant was unknown. He would live ninety more years and would have clear title to a cemetery plot.
However, we also learned, the promise God offered Abram was in reality far greater than any piece of real estate on this earth. Even in its most fertile areas, Palestine is no match for the fertility of our Great Plains in America. Nor were the mountains lush like we see here in Tennessee. We will see this promise to Abram become clearer as we continue through the study and what it means for us.
The covenant that Abram was to make with the LORD was an impossible one, so the LORD offered Himself in Abram’s place as surety for the covenant. Abram did not have to walk through the trench filled with blood. One day, the Lord Jesus would walk through the blood, not of animals, but of himself.
Exposition of the Text
In chapter 16, we go back to the promise of the seed from the promise of the land. It mentions that Abram and Sarai had been ten years in the land of Canaan and yet they had no children. This seems like an awful long time to wait, and I am sure we would have been equally if not more anxious than they. Usually after ten years of infertility, and we must realize that Abram and Sarai had suffered through not having a child long before entering into Canaan, a couple today would seek means of fertility. Many expensive options such as hormone shots and in-vitrio fertilization are tried to get pregnant. If these fail, then things like donor eggs and sperm and even surrogate mothers are resorted to. None of these options were available to Sarai and Abram.
What Hagar suggested was the way it could be done in their time. Sarai had a menial servant, an Egyptian by the name of Hagar. As her mistress, Hagar had to subject herself to the will of Sarai her master. Sarai who felt along with Abram that surely the LORD had another arrangement for them to have a child. By this time, Sarai had probably had gone through menopause. But Hagar was young, and old men can still father children. She could order Hagar into Abraham’s bed with the intention of her conceiving a child who would belong to Sarai because Hagar belonged to her. So this was a kind of surrogate motherhood. This method causes plenty of trouble when used today, so we should not expect the results to be any better then..
She talks Abram into the plan and the deed is done. The eighty five year old Abram gets Hagar pregnant. So far, it looks like Sarai was right. Abram would get his promised seed from the LORD, and Sarai would be the child’s mother by right of ownership. But then, a revolting development happens. A woman’s status in society was lifted when she had a child. Hagar who had been a menial handmaiden to Sarai now had status that Sarai did not have. She forgot her place in society as a slave and got what we call here in South Tennessee, “uppity”. She no longer respected Sarai, and Sarai became quite jealous of Hagar. So Sarai comes storming to Abram with her complaint. She seems to blame Abram for the whole idea, even though the idea had originally come from her. She considered herself wronged by the arrangement and asked the LORD to judge between her and Abram.
Abram is now caught in the unenviable position of having to decide between his wife and his concubine who was pregnant. He tells Sarai that Hagar belongs to her and is her problem. So Sarai treats her maidservant Hagar so harshly that she runs away. A runaway slave woman was in a very precarious position. She could have been hunted down by Sarai and killed or severely punished. However, it seems that Sarai was only too glad to see her go. But who would take a pregnant slave woman in. She was facing ostracism from society and a life of either prostitution or starvation. However, the LORD intervened in her behalf at a well. It seems that a lot of important transactions in Old Testament history happens at wells. She was about to go into the wilderness when the LORD confronts her with “Where have you come from and where do you think you are going?” Hagar lets the LORD know of the treatment she has received.