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..