The root cause of the strife in the Middle East, an ancient rivalry driven by jealousy, comes to light in Genesis 16 with a story about impatience and an unwise choice. The reasoning behind the choice is understandable maybe, but considering the consequences, this may be the worst choice in history. It can be blamed for multiple wars and probably for most of the terrorism in the world today. First, what was the motivation? I’d say it was to fulfill God’s promise to make of Abram a great nation–to give him offspring. There is no suggestion in this story of selfish motives on Abram’s part, like lust for Hagar the young Egyptian slave. In fact, it was Sarai Abram’s wife who had the idea and urged him to do it. So the motivation was good, right?
So what was wrong with this decision? Several issues come to mind. First, Hagar was a slave; both the fact that Abram owned her AND the fact that he took her like this is problematic. Also problematic is the fact that Abram was already married to Sarai. If not adultery, it was at the very least was bigamy (the passage does say he took her as a second wife). But even if you set all of these concerns aside, there is a problem. In fact, if Abram had been single, Hagar a free woman, and their union truly consensual, there would still be one problem with what happened.
Abram tried to fulfill God’s promise in his own way and time. He didn’t wait on God. The idea itself came from Sarai’s doubt and self-determination. In fact, Sarai actually says, “Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Notice the “I can”. Abram doesn’t appear to seek God’s will on the matter at all. He should have had some reservations about sleeping with this slave girl; he did not appear to have any other concubines. Why would he go along with this idea? Because he was tired of waiting.
It’s easy to criticize Abram for this decision. But we can see the far-reaching consequences. We have not been waiting for 20+ years for a promise which seems more impossible every year. In fact, it is very likely that we would have done the same thing, and we probably have or will do something like it. No we won’t sleep with a slave girl, but we might rush a decision without seeking God’s will or waiting for Him to lead. We might take a job, leave a church, rush into a business partnership, or make an investment because it seems like a good thing–like something that will accomplish God’s will in a way–without waiting for God to confirm the decision or even seeking His confirmation.
What’s the lesson here? Why does God tells us about this ancient mistake? I don’t think God shares stories of failure like this to shame men or entertain us; there is a critical message here: Wait on God. Let your faith endure delay and doubt. Be still, watch and listen for God to direct you and fulfill His promises. You can be confident that He will. “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 1 Thess 5:24
Reading: Genesis 16