Gallup came out with the results of a recent poll this past week that is of interest to us. They found that
“A record-low 20% of Americans now say the Bible is the literal word of God, down from 24% the last time the question was asked in 2017, and half of what it was at its high points in 1980 and 1984. Meanwhile, a new high of 29% say the Bible is a collection of “fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man.” This marks the first time significantly more Americans have viewed the Bible as not divinely inspired than as the literal word of God. The largest percentage, 49%, choose the middle alternative, roughly in line with where it has been in previous years.”
Jesus said the road was narrow. You want to be in the “the Bible is literally God’s Word” group.
I cite this poll because I wonder how Abram and Sarai would have responded to it. Imagine a guy with a tablet and skinny jeans asking Abram and Sarai, “So, ten years ago God told you guys he would give you a child. You’re 85 and 75 years old and still no child. Do you think God meant that literally, or just symbolically – as in maybe lots of people would look up to you?” If our chapter is any indication they would have been in the middle group, “We believe the Bible is inspired by God but not all is to be taken literally.” It seems that they were not taking God to be literal when He promised to give them a child. This chapter shows the disaster that comes when we don’t believe God’s words and act out of unbelief rather than faith.
The central person in this chapter actually is a woman named Hagar. She is Egyptian and she is the slave of Abram’s wife, Sarai. Hagar became pregnant by Abram and she bore him a son named Ishmael. While not the the son God promised to Abram, God nonetheless blessed Ishmael greatly.
Abram is 85 years old in this chapter and his wife Sarai is 75 years. It has been 10 years since God promised them a child. Sarai gives Hagar to Abram to try and build a family through her. A pregnant Hagar ends up running away and in doing so runs into God. After that desert meeting with God Hagar returns home and gives birth to Ishmael.
This chapter reads like a daytime talk show script. Its right up there with Geraldo Rivera getting his nose broken and just about any Jerry Springer episode. Think about it: “Woman finds God after running away pregnant with her octogenarian master’s child.” Lets go through it in 4 sections.
- Hagar’s Pregnancy (1-4a)
- Hagar’s Flight (4b-6)
- Hagar’s God (7-14)
- Hagar’s Faith
HAGAR’S PREGNANCY (1-4a)
Hagar’s pregnancy is the result of unbelief: Sarai’s unbelief. Sarai did not believe that God was going to give her a child. So she does what is actually quite common for all of us: she takes matters into her own hands. She takes control by doing what was quite common in her day: she gives her slave to her husband so that through her slave she can have a family. Two generations later their grandson and granddaughter in law would do the same thing (30:1-3). While the child born to Hagar would not be Sarai’s biological child, it would be her legal child and regarded as such. It would be hers’ and Abram’s heir.
Why did Sarai try to build a family when God said He would give her one? Playing on Psalm 127 we could say, “Unless the LORD builds the house Sarai labors in vain.” Her decision, and Abram’s acquiescence, end up creating a lot of complications.
HAGAR’S FLIGHT (4b-6
Hagar runs away because she is abused by Sarai. Hagar despised Sarai, which frustrated Sarai to no end. Can anyone blame Hagar though? She was shoved into the arms of the 85 year old Abram. Now she’s pregnant and dealing with morning sickness and everything else of a pregnancy, all while knowing her child legally won’t be “her” child. I’d despise Sarai too.
But then in true daytime talk show fashion Sarai blames Abram for this problem, verse 5 says, “….” Where is Proverbs 31 when you need it? If only “the wife of noble character” had been written in Sarai’s day:
“Her husband has full confidence in her…she brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at days to come. She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue. Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Instead, Sarai was not a woman who feared God in that episode; she brought harm to her home, was clothed with weakness and disgrace, was afraid of the days ahead, didn’t speak with wisdom but rather promoted doubt of God’s word.
Compounding her fault, and just like Adam in the Garden, Abram weakly and callously shrugs and tells his erring wife to do whatever she wants with Hagar. So with Abram’s support she goes and starts mistreating Hagar. The same Hebrew word is used in 15:13 when God said the Egyptians would “mistreat” Abram’s descendants. When that actually came true 400+ years later we read in Exodus 1:12-13 that the Egyptians”mis treated” the Israelites. Same word. Here, Sarai begins to mistreat Hagar. I’m sure Hagar hated her even more.
I am struck by the difference between Abram and Job when it comes to their reaction to their wives. Turn to Job 2:9-10 with me…. When Abram’s wife came to him in unbelief and proposed a plan that required him to doubt God’s goodness he went along with it. When Job’s wife came to him in unbelief and proposed a plan that required him to doubt God’s goodness he rebuked her. Two faithless wives, two different husbands.
APPLICATION: Wives: do you encourage faith in your husband or are you an obstacle? Eve, Job’s wife, Sarai are all wives who made it harder for their husbands to believe God’s word and act in faith. In other words, if their husbands acted faithfully it was not because of their wives, but despite them. What kind of wife are you? If your husband falters and stumbles let it be despite the fact that he had a woman of faith at his side. When he stands before Jesus Christ and if he must be brought to account for his shortcomings, let Jesus point over his shoulder to you and say, “How could you NOT have acted in faith when I gave you THAT woman to be at your side?”
APPLICATION: When we try and take things into our control and stop waiting on God we complicate situations and make them worse. It was hard for Sarai to continue waiting for God to give her her own child. Now, because she just had to try and take matters into her own hands, not only does she still not have her own child, but, her relationship with her servant is ruined. She hates for what you did to her, and you hate her because she slept with your husband and because she is pregnant and you aren’t. You hate your husband for going along with it, everytime you look at him or lie down with him you know he’s been with her and “they” were able to have a child. It was hard before. Now it’s an absolute mess. The point is this: faith waits. Faith trusts God’s timing and waits. Faith doesn’t try to control what God is in control of. Staying with faith kept the path simple – hard for sure because you had to wait but it was simple. But unbelief made the path both hard and complicated. Wait in faith.
APPLICATION: We need to see how our faithless decisions affect others. Sarai’s unbelief not only made her life hard but her decisions and from her own frantic unbelief ruined Hagar’s life. We need to see that the actions we take have ramifications that other people will be affected by. Decisions we make from unbelief and doubt will not be blessed.
HAGAR’S GOD (7-14)
So Hagar runs away. And in perhaps the darkest, most bitter moment of her life, God comes to her. Read verses 7-14 with me, “….” Lets break this encounter with God up into
First, Hagar’s God is the Angel Of The LORD. This phrase is used a lot in the OT. Often it is a reference to God himself appearing in angelic form to humans. The angel of the LORD appeared to Abraham and Sarah before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah; the angel of the LORD called out to Abraham to stop him from sacrificing Isaac; the Angel of the Lord wrestled with Jacob throughout the night, the angel of the LORD appeared as a burning bush to Moses and led the Israelites through the wilderness; he appeared to Joshua with sword drawn, to Gideon and to the parents of Samson. But the first appearance of the angel of the LORD in Scripture is to Hagar.
My mind was changed this week and I think the best answer to who is the angel of the LORD is the 2nd Person of the Trinity. In other words the angel of the LORD is what theologians call a “theophany,” which is a temporary appearance of God the Son in the OT prior to his incarnation. The reason is because the angel of the LORD is clearly treated as God in nearly all the texts. For instance, Hagar knows she has just seen God, and so do all the others I mentioned after their encounter with the angel of the LORD. But the 2nd reason is because “the LORD” also often times in these texts is commanding or sending “the angel of the LORD.” For instance, turn to Exodus 23:20-23 and notice this very thing.
So Hagar runs away and runs into the angel of the LORD.
Second, Hagar’s God found her. Verse 7 says, “The angel of the LORD found Hagar….” God sought her out. Notice how verse 8 echoes the Garden, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” Again, God knows the answer to the first question and He knows she doesn’t have an answer to the 2nd question. She doesn’t know where she’s going – she’s desperately trying to get away from a bad situation. She didn’t plan anything out, calculate how much food she’d need, what town she would flee to, the money it would take, how she’d travel, etc. She just bolted without a thought of where she was going – her only thought was where she needed to get away from
Have you been there? Have you been spending your whole life running away? Running away from something is not the same as running to something. What are you running from? Hagar found out that God sees her. He always sees her. Notice verse 13, “She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are the God who sees me.” God did not change her circumstances, but he changed her perspective towards her circumstances. Seeing God changed how she saw her plight. Somehow coming to see that God saw her, knew her, loved her, blessed her, and commanded her, was all enough to transform her and make her willing to go back to what she was so desperately running from. So I ask on the one hand, “Have you been in the desert with Hagar?” But I also ask, “Have you gone back home with Hagar?” It all depends on if you met Hagar’s God out there.
Third, Hagar’s God tells her to go back to where she came from. God commands submission. There’s not one of us here who would have told Hagar what God told her. Not one. But God told her to go back and specifically “to submit.”
What do you think about that? What does this make you think about God?
APPLICATION: Be careful you don’t try to impose 21st century values on God here. He’s not obligated to modern standards of right and wrong. Its the other way around: we’re obligated to his eternal standards of right and wrong. Don’t “condemn God to justify yourself.”
APPLICATION: Be careful not to think God is like you. This is where people’s faith can start to form a crack. Do we love God because we think He’s so much like us? The whole point of Christianity is not discovering how much God and I have in common so we form this great bond, but, how different I am than God – how inferior to Him I am – and daily conforming to be more like He is.
Fourth, God promised to bless her through her son. God says she will have a son and she is supposed to name him Ishmael. Ishmael means “God hears.” God said he heard her misery – and her son is His divine blessing to her. Think of the sensory language in this chapter: Hagar learned that God both sees her and hears her.
Then God tells her a prophecy that her son would be a man of conflict. Read verse 13….
HAGAR’S FAITH (v13-14)
So after running in desperation she returns in faith. Her action of going back to Sarai is an act of faith in what God told her. What was said of Abram in 15:6 is true of her: “She believed God and it was credited to her as righteousness.” Actually, the contrast between Hagar’s faith and Sarai’s unbelief in this chapter is sharp. Sarai created this whole debacle with her unbelief. Hagar endured through it by her faith.
Hagar is what James spoke of when he connected faith with action. Turn to James 2:14-James says show me your faith and I’ll show you my faith by my deeds.
APPLICATION: God may not change our circumstances, but He is merciful to us and blesses us in ways that enable us to go through our circumstances with faith, strength and grace. Again, God didn’t say He’d change her situation, He didn’t lead her to a new city to find a new life away from Sarai. He told her to go back, and she went back very willingly. Her tone in verses 13 and 14 are very different than before.
APPLICATION: Related to the previous application….Seeing God in a situation changes how we see our situation. And how we face it. Hagar ran from her situation. Then she ran into God and it changed her. She was able to return to the situation she was fleeing from because of what she heard from God. What are you “running” from because you don’t see God clearly? What are you “in” right now that you need to seek God and see Him while you’re in the middle of it?
Seeing God clearly enables us to obey his commands to submit. Hagar fled her situation when all she could see is her situation. And her situation was bad. But she was able to go back to her situation and submit after she saw God. Later in chapter 21 when Hagar is forced to leave God comes to her again and again God helps her to “see.” Turn to 21:15-21.
I don’t mean she saw God in a “vision” or some out of body experience, although I believe she actually saw the angel of the LORD. But I mean she understood God. God’s words to her changed her mind, her resolve, her strength. It’s like when God called Isaiah and Ezekiel and Jeremiah and others and told them they were going to face extreme difficulties. They had to have a face to face with God in all His glory and majesty first. They needed to see the God who sent them before they were fit to make others see God. They needed to see God in all His worthiness so when the persecution and trials came they knew it was all worth it.
What Hagar saw was that God saw her, verse 13 she says, “You are the God who sees me, now I have seen the One who sees me.” And so she named the well where she was at “Beer Lahai Roi” which means “well of the Living One who sees me.” Life is full of circumstances.
CONCLUSION: Lessons and Silent Reflection
Here are some brief take aways. At the end lets take a moment and reflect silently together on what the LORD might have us learn today.
- God is sovereign.
- God is merciful. Many times the man of faith didn’t act from faith and deserved to have the promises revoked. But God was faithful.
- Trust God’s plan.