Summary: When we try to do things our way instead of relying on God's promises, we only make a mess of things.
My dad was the king of shortcuts. While others stuck to the major roads, he took the back streets to avoid busy intersections throughout Tokyo where we lived. My dad had such a knack for finding these shortcuts that even the Japanese members of his congregation started to ask him the quickest way to get places. We all love shortcuts, but the fastest way to do something isn’t always the best way. Grilling hamburgers on the hottest setting, for example, won’t get dinner on the table more quickly, it will just burn the meat and actually delay supper. And while taking the shortcut under the rail overpass might work in your car, you shouldn’t try it with your tractor trailer (show picture of trailer stuck under bridge overpass).
In our continuing sermon series about Abraham we’re going to learn that when it comes to the journey of faith there are no shortcuts. Nevertheless Abraham and Sarah tried taking one, and the results were disastrous. Let’s see what happened, and look at what God did about it.
Abraham had now been in Canaan for ten years. That made him 85 years old while his wife Sarah was 75. They were still without children, but in our sermon last week we heard God reassure Abraham, with a blood covenant even, that he would be the father of many. Now while God had said that Abraham would be the father of many, he never said that Sarah would the mother of many. Could it be then that God was going to give Abraham children through someone other than his wife Sarah? This thought may have been going through Sarah’s mind when she approached her husband and said: “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her” (Genesis 16:2).
Now what Sarah proposed was the custom of the day. If you were unable to give your husband a child, you could offer him a servant to sleep with and then adopt the child that was conceived. What do you think about Sarah’s plan? It took great humility to suggest it, for what woman would willingly deliver her beloved husband into the arms of another? Sarah perhaps thought she was just being a practical team player. Ten years had already passed and neither she nor her husband were getting any younger. There must be another, quicker way to achieve their goal of having children so that God’s promise could be fulfilled.
But what Sarah proposed was not God’s will, for it did not conform to his plan for marriage. Only those who are married to each other should share each other’s bed—no exceptions, period. Oh, but Sarah was only trying to help God’s plan along. And anyway this is what everyone else did. Plus Abraham, that hall-of-faith believer, didn’t protest. And that is disappointing isn’t it? As the head of the house and spiritual leader of the family, Abraham should have thanked his wife for her concern, but then assured her that God would keep his promise. They just needed to stay the course and remain faithful to each other.
But Abraham did nothing of the sort. He welcomed Sarah’s servant Hagar into his bed and the results were predictable. When Hagar realized that she had become pregnant, it wasn’t just her belly that puffed, so did her head. She looked down on Sarah because in one try she had accomplished what Sarah had been unable to do in spite of years of trying. So Sarah complained 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” (Genesis 16:5). Abraham’s response was equally pathetic: “Your slave is in your hands. Do with her whatever you think best” (Genesis 16:6). So Sarah did. She mistreated Hagar. How, we’re not told, but it was bad enough that Hagar fled the household and set out for her homeland, Egypt, even though she was pregnant and would have to cross a barren desert to get there!
Let’s pause to apply this situation to our own. Like Abraham and Sarah we live in a society that doesn’t particularly encourage God’s plan for marriage. I’ve even heard of parents who tell their children to move in with their boyfriend/girlfriend to see if, as they put it, they are compatible for marriage. Others look at moving in together as something that’s just practical. Why pay rent on two places if you’re already hanging out so much together? But moving in without first a public declaration of life-long love and commitment is not God’s plan. It’s a perceived shortcut to happiness and stability, but it won’t deliver. That living together time is more often than not a hiding period as you try to put your best foot forward to impress the other. But then that often changes after marriage. Your new spouse now has what he or she wants. They can settle in and be the person they really are, a person you never knew they were. And because you practiced only a half-hearted commitment while living together, when things get tough in the marriage, you figure it’s just easier to bail. But that’s not so easy nor is it cheap. It will only cause more heartache and headaches. Better to do things God’s way. First look for a partner that shares your Christian faith. Then do everything by the book. Don’t tempt each other to cross over the line by spending weekends together. Save sex for after marriage.