Good morning everyone. I hope you all had a remarkable week. Today we will continue our series called, “The Chosen Church: Getting to Know the Patriarchs”. This study through most of Genesis can be divided somewhat neatly into quarters, based upon the 4 main characters we will discuss - Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and Joseph. Right now we are in the first quarter, so to speak, as we focus on the life of Abraham - who was originally named Abram.
We’ve read that Abram trusted God even though he didn’t fully understand how the LORD was working in his life. He sincerely believed that God would make his family into a great nation, just as He’d promised to do. He even believed that God would bless him with biological children of his own, despite the fact that his wife Sarai was unable to give birth. Against all odds, Abram had an enduring faith in the LORD’s promises. But what methodology would God use to bring all of this about?
The following sermon is titled “Sarai and Hagar”. It features 2 competing women who each play a major role in Biblical history. Their story, and the ramifications that followed, continue to have a lasting and profound effect on our world today.
I. SARAI’S PLAN CAUSES PROBLEMS (v1-6)
As mentioned in the introduction, Abram didn’t have any children. His wife Sarai was barren. By this point, Abram had almost certainly shared the wonderful promises that God had made to him with his wife, so Sarai was keenly aware of God’s prophecy that Abram would have a child. But how? Well, Sarai had an Egyptian handmaiden named Hagar. Sarai reasoned that if Abram was able to bear children with Hagar, the LORD’s promise would be fulfilled. So she urged Abram to sleep with Hagar, a practice that was common in ancient times under these circumstances, in order to produce an heir. Abram consented with his wife’s plan without any recorded objection.
After Hagar became pregnant, tensions flared between her and Sarai. Most certainly, this was an awkward situation. Sarai felt that she was being wrongly mistreated and despised by Hagar. Perhaps Hagar expressed an attitude of superiority because she was able to have children while Sarai wasn’t. Whatever the case, Sarai asked her husband Abram to intervene. How would Abram resolve the conflict between his beloved wife and the woman who was carrying his child? Rather than getting involved, Abram reminded Sarai that Hagar was her servant - over whom she had authority. He instructed Sarai to do whatever she thought was right. So Sarai treated Hagar harshly in retaliation, and the pregnant handmaiden fled.
It is worth mentioning that Hagar was an Egyptian. Thus, it is most likely that she was acquired by Sarai while she and her husband lived in Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20). A few weeks ago we discussed this story. There was a famine in Canaan so Abram and his family traveled to Egypt where they lied about their identities to Pharaoh and were eventually caught and expelled from the country. Had they never made this wayward trip to Egypt, Hagar might not have been present in their lives. Would this have changed things? Who knows?
Another helpful insight found in the passage is for men. Look closely at the example set here by Abram. Do not get in between women who are fighting with each other. Let them resolve it. Nothing good can come from your involvement guys! Of course I am just joking, sort of...
II. HAGAR SPEAKS WITH GOD (v7-14)
During her flight Hagar stopped at a spring of water on the way to Shur, which was in the direction of her homeland Egypt. The Angel of the LORD found her and asked her where she’d been and where she was going. Surely He already knew, but was simply engaging her in conversation. When she answered, He told her to go back and submit herself to Sarai. Most certainly this wasn’t what Hagar had in mind.
The Angel of the LORD went on to say that Hagar’s descendants, through this child who was in her womb, would someday become too numerous to count. He told her that the unborn baby was a boy and his name was to be Ishmael. He even told her that this child would grow up to be a wild and adversarial man, who would be in constant conflict with his brothers. Furthermore, the Ishmaelites would someday dwell to the east of Canaan.
History has proven all of this to be true. The descendants of Ishmael are one of the many familial lines that produced the Arab people. They are prominent to the east of Israel and throughout the Middle East. Many of these Arabs practice Islam, and live with a violent, never-ending animosity toward their Jewish brothers. Interestingly, the prophet Muhammad claimed to be a direct descendant of Ishmael, though this assertion was likely untrue and done purely as a means of gaining credibility.
Hagar called the Angel of the LORD the “God that sees”, acknowledging that He had seen her anguish and had come to comfort her. She was amazed that she had seen God and lived. Notice that this was not just any angel, but rather the Angel of the LORD. Some believe that He was actually a preincarnate manifestation of Jesus Christ or perhaps of God the Father. The well where Hagar had stopped to rest was named in memory of this remarkable event.
III. ISHMAEL IS BORN (v15-16)
So Hagar returned to Abram and his family in Canaan and humbled herself before her mistress Sarai. After the appropriate number of months passed, she gave birth to a son. In keeping with the LORD’s command, the child was named Ishmael. He was Abram’s firstborn. At the time of Ishmael’s birth, Abram was 86 years old. He and his family had been living in Canaan for just over 10 years, discounting their brief stint in Egypt.
I sometimes wonder how things might have been different if Hagar would have never returned to Canaan, but instead continued home to Egypt. I suppose she would have raised Abram’s son as her own. Perhaps Ishmael would have never known his father at all, or been raised with any knowledge of God Almighty. He would have likely never met his younger brother Isaac, who was yet to be born, or any of his other siblings that followed. The entire course of history would be changed. Though she was imperfect, we should give Hagar some credit. She obeyed God and put the child’s interests first, rather than her own. She could have easily avoided the stress and humiliation by running away, but she didn’t.
It can be difficult to wait on the LORD. There are times in life when it seems that He is slow to act. Surely both Abram and Sarai felt this way. God had promised to give Abram a child, yet almost a decade had passed and still no baby. Did God forget? Maybe He changed His mind? Neither. God would fulfill His promise in the proper way and at the proper time. Unfortunately, Abram and his wife had grown impatient and were unwilling to wait any longer. The same can be said of many Christians today. We tend to be quite restless and anxious.
This story also highlights the great peril of trying to accomplish God’s will in our own strength and by our own wisdom. There is no indication that Sarai or Abram sought the LORD’s direction in prayer before making this fateful decision. Rather, they decided to carry-out God’s divine promise through their own natural means. Though they successfully produced a son, he was not the child God promised. Furthermore, their actions led to fierce and perpetual division within the family. I am afraid we as Christians today are often guilty of trying to bring about God’s will by human means. Such a strategy can never be truly successful and always causes unforeseen damage.
Finally, though Ishmael was not the promised son, still God deeply loved him and his mother. This is evident by the fact that He sought her out after she fled. The LORD loves all people and His desire is to have a personal relationship with everyone. True, Ishmael was not the chosen son through whom the covenant would be established. Nevertheless, Ishmael would become a prosperous nation in his own right. God cares for Arab people, even those who are Muslims, and we as Christians should also.