In Genesis 16, Hagar, an Egyptian servant of Sarai, is drafted into Sarai’s plan to marry Abram, Sarai’s husband so that she can birth the child Abram has been promised. Sounds like a horrible episode of a reality TV show, right?
As can be expected, things do not go well for Hagar, Sarai or Abram. The repercussions of their arrangement are still felt today.
Hagar was used, not loved, by her husband. In fact, verse 6 records:
But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.
Abram referred to his second wife as his first wife’s servant instead of owning the consequences of his own poor decision. This put Hagar in such a bad position that she eventually ran away. Abram’s unwillingness to shield her from the wrath of Sarai left Hagar vulnerable and unprotected. Things were so bad that she went pregnant and alone into the wilderness. How desperate must this pregnant woman have been to have taken such a drastic course of action?
Sarai suffered as well. She now felt that she had to contend for the affections of her longtime husband. She now felt inferior to the younger, fertile Hagar. She now questioned what role she would have in Abram’s life now that Hagar had become pregnant with the promised child. All of these extra concerns because of a poor choice.
I can imagine that Sarai also lost a friend. I imagine that she had become quite cordial with Hagar prior to this situation. After all, she recommended her, of all their many servants, to be the mother for Abram’s child. But, when Sarai felt uncomfortable about the arrangement, all of the former niceties went out the door and she subjugated Hagar as a slave rather than a concubine. The Ryrie Commentary says that this was a common practice of that day, “as attested in legal codes and marriage contracts of that time,” and that Sarai’s demotion of Hagar “was Sarah’s legal right.”
NOTE: If you have a relationship that functions solely based on contractual rights and terms, you can expect the tenor and temperature of the relationship to be cool.
Abram suffered in the arrangement too. He was now the man caught in a power struggle between his wife of many years and his concubine. Any sign of tenderness or concern for Hagar was likely taken as a sign of disloyalty by Sarai. Hagar probably grew attached to Abram as well. After all, they had married and engaged in the very intimate marital act of sex. Abram also had a divided lineage from this point on. Abram was a loving father but the day came when the toxic, combustible environment created by Abram’s decisions and tenuously held together with careful pretenses could no longer hold up against the reality of the situation.
But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.
The story of Genesis 16 is a rather sad one that made the lives of three people very hard, not to mention the lives of their progeny. It makes me think about how important it is that we not “get ahead of God.” In truth, we are never ahead of God but sometimes we think we can use our own ingenuity and creativity to help us get what we know God wants us to have. This is a misstake.
If we get to points where we are unsure of what direction to take, it would be better that we stay on the course God placed us on than to try some half-baked idea that we haven’t run past Him. It doesn’t matter that it’s what “everyone else is doing.” It may not be right for you. Instead, position yourself for success by 1. deciding up front that you will do things God’s way and 2. positioning yourself to hear from Him by seeking Him out—through His Word, through worship, through prayer, through wise counsel.
God has no problems getting you to a certain destination. In fact, the older I get, the more I believe that life is not really about the destination, but about the person you are becoming along the journey.