Abraham found his life in a very complex situation that became a problem. The predicament began with a good idea that went sour. This was not a problem that Abraham will easily remedy. It is a sour situation that produced fruit of which Abraham would live until he died. It is an unpleasant situation Abraham’s descendants would live with after Abraham had gone. It was the Sarai, Hagar, and Abram dilemma. It produced Ishmael.
ABRAHAM, THE FRIEND OF GOD
by Delbert Young
The Sarai, Hagar, Abram Dilemma
Scriptures: Genesis 16:1-3, Genesis 16:3, Genesis 16:4-6, Genesis 16:7-9, Genesis 16:10-14, Genesis 16:15-16
Have you ever found yourself in an entangled situation that rapidly became a problem? Have you ever had a good idea that went sour fast? Did the lives of others become involved in your problem or perhaps did your life become involved in their problem? Did it end up producing something that only caused trouble? This is what this lesson is about. The idea, the problem, and the solution of this chapter are applicable to our lives if we will but learn from Abram’s dilemma.
Genesis 16:1 Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.
Genesis 16:2 And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.
Genesis 16:3 And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.
1. the LORD hath restrained me from bearing
Was this a bad idea? No the idea was not the problem as the next paragraphs will show. The thing that went sour and turned the idea into a problem was the way the idea was handled by the people involved. The creator of the idea–Sarai–believed it would make things better. Sometimes, as in this situation, a good idea can make things worse if people cannot behave properly. It’s not the idea’s fault. It was an acceptable idea.
In ancient days a woman was seen as worthless and thought herself meaningless if she could not bear children. She was told that God did not love her. She was told she was cursed of God if she could not bear a child. Barrenness of a woman was actually legal grounds for divorce. From a woman’s childhood she dreamed of the day she would bear her husband a child. In today’s society a woman who cannot birth a child may become depressed, but she definitely is not scorned and rejected by society. Neither is she taught that she is worthless and unloved by God. And today barrenness definitely is not grounds for divorce. In Sarai’s day things were different.
Sarai was 75 years old and had birthed no children. She had resigned her ability to do so. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says,
“In the legal custom of that day a barren woman could give her maid to her husband as a wife, and the child born of that union was regarded as the first wife’s child. If the husband said to the slave-wife’s son, ‘You are my son,’ then he was the adopted son and heir. So Sarai’s suggestion was unobjectionable according to the customs of that time.”1
We may suppose that the idea of a surrogate mother today is new. That is obviously not accurate. Nothing is new under the sun (Ecc 1:9). Also to our thinking this idea was wrong and perhaps sin. But it was not wrong in the day of Abram. In fact it was the responsible thing for a barren wife to do.
2. and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife
Abraham took Hagar as a wife. We may think that the Law of Moses says that a man could only have one wife. That would then show how the Lord God felt about a man having multiple wives. That is not accurate either. I can’t find that ordinance in the Law of Moses. David did not know about that law. Solomon surely did not know about it. The Lord never addressed anyone (that I am aware of) for having more than one wife. Does that mean that I think a man should have more than one wife? No, that is not how I think! This would not be my life style. Most states today have laws against such a lifestyle. We do find some direction concerning this in the New Testament. If a man is an overseer (1Ti 3:2) or a deacon (1Ti 3:12) or an elder (Tit 1:3) in the church then he can only have one wife. (The passages referenced have nothing to do with divorce.) However, I am not aware of a scripture that says that it is a law of God for a man not have more than one wife at one time unless he is an overseer, deacon, or elder in a local church. I could be missing something, but I do not think I am.
Allow me to make clear my point. It is not against the scriptures for a man to have more than one wife at one time. A man cannot be an elder, deacon, or overseer in the church if he has more than one wife at a time. I personally cannot understand why a man would want more than one. I personally think it unwise, but cannot fine where it is a sin. I must interpret scripture by scripture and not by man’s opinions. So what Abraham did, David did, Solomon did, etc. concerning having more than one wife was not sin.
The point here is that neither Sarai nor Abraham did anything wrong. In fact Sarai did what her society expected. She was a responsible person attempting to give her husband a child. She also desired to raise a child. Sarai was old. She believed physically she could not become pregnant. She did had a servant girl named Hagar who was not married. Sarai did what would be considered honorable and loving by her society. Sarai allowed Hagar to birth a child fathered by Abram. Sarai was to raise the child. Abraham would have an heir. That was the idea.
Abraham had no objections. Why should he? This was the acceptable lifestyle in his society. Hagar became his wife. This is a point obviously missed by most who teach this passage. Verse 3 says,
Genesis 16:3 And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. (KJV)
Hagar became Abram’s wife. When we think about it, Sarai actually was very sacrificial and unselfish in her idea. Hagar was presented a position that would be very high in the community. That position would be of near equality with Sarai. Hagar would be Abram’s wife just as Sarai was Abram’s wife. In exchange Sarai would get the child. Abram, 85 years of age, would have an heir. Abram agreed.
3. I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her
Was this arrangement bad? Today we say yes, but we know how the arrangement worked out. Today most teaching is that Abram was trying to take the promise of God into his own hands. When we look at the scriptures we can’t find that in the context. The context teaches that Sarai wanted a child. She said, “I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her.” Sarai wanted to give Abram a child. The word says that “Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.” He didn’t hearken to the promise thinking this would fulfill the promise. He hearkened to his wife’s request. His wife wanted a baby. He did this at his wife’s insistence.
We find similar situations today. A woman desires a child who cannot birth a child. The wife relays her desire for a child to the husband just as Sarai did with Abram. The options are discussed. Because the wife wants a baby the husband does what is necessary. They adopt or surrogate or even inseminate. Is that wrong today? Is that a bad decision? Is that a bad idea? The answer is probably no. It doesn’t sound like a bad decision, but it could be. We don’t know the end of that story as we do Abram’s and Sarai’s story.
4. Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan
We need to be cautious with our ideas. This is especially true when our ideas involve the lives of others. People will not always do what we expect them to do. People will not always do what they say they will do. Even godly people who have walked in their land of promise for 10 years can have ideas that will become foul smelling messes. Because a person is a believer with a good idea does not mean we will not find ourselves in a bad situation if we are not careful. We should always pray about ideas seeking a word from the Lord. We should always seek godly counsel when considering ideas. Neither of these did Abram or Sarai do.
Genesis 16:4 And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.
Genesis 16:5 And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the LORD judge between me and thee.
Genesis 16:6 But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face.
5. her mistress was despised in her eyes
Everyone seemed to do well with the arrangement until Hagar conceived. How long this took is not known. Once Hagar conceived she “despised” Sarai. Note that the Holy Spirit continues to refer to Sarai as “her mistress”. The Hebrew word translated “despised” is qaial (Strong’s #7043) meaning to make “light”.
7043 qalal (kaw-lal’);
a primitive root; to be (causatively, make) light, literally (swift, small, sharp, etc.) or figuratively (easy, trifling, vile, etc.):
Hagar made light of Sarai. As we mentioned earlier a woman who could not conceive and birth a child was despised by her society. Hagar projected that Sarai had no purpose. There was no reason for Sarai to be around. She could not get pregnant. What was the need for Sarai being there? Naturally Sarai angered. Sarai was insulted and belittled by Hagar. Sarai felt that she had tried to help Hagar and give her a place of status in the community. Hagar despised Sarai.
6. My wrong be upon thee
Sarai went to Abram and demanded Abram to correct the situation. She told Abram that her bad decision was his responsibility. “My wrong be upon thee,” she said. He was the husband, the man, and the leader. Sarai said the idea was wrong, but Abram’s fault for allowing it. Then Sarai said, “The Lord is going to get you Abram.” “….the Lord judge between me and thee.” Sarai brought the Lord into the problem. What did the Lord have to do with it? It wasn’t His idea. He wasn’t consulted.
We often attempt to drag God into our personal messes. We use God as a threat leverage. We project, “God will get you for messing with me.” Isn’t it amazing how we can shift fault? Sarai is saying, “I may have made a wrong decision, but it is your fault that I made it Abram. You let me make this decision.” None of us would ever do anything like this, would we? Of course we do. Our nature is to find someone to blame for the dumb things we do. This is especially true when life blows up in our faces. I, as a pastor, get blamed for so many things. “Well, you said….,” I am told. Or I hear, “You should have done…. Had you done that this would not have happened.” We blame our spouses, our boss, our pastor, our children, anyone we can blame.
What is the real importance of Sarai’s pointing blame? Actually, whose fault was this mess? Was it Sarai’s because she had the idea? Was it Abram’s because he agreed and laid with Hagar? Was it Hagar’s because she was simply there and agreed? If we come to a decision about whose fault it was does that change anything? The truth of the matter is both Abram and Sarai and Hagar are in a bad complicated situation. They do not need to be divided about whose fault it is. They need to be united. They need each other to make this thing work. They need to do damage control. There are lives at stake here. Nations will come from this event. People will literally live and die because of how they handled that situation.
We don’t see the magnitude of hurt that can come when we are in a bad situation such as this. Usually situations that become sour between people injure many. All we can see at the time is our personal hurt. That was all that Sarai could see. Hagar had said some bad things about Sarai. Sarai was injured and she, just as we do, retaliated.
7. Behold, thy maid is in thy hand
Sarai says, “I gave her to you for a wife. You correct her!” Abram said, “I give her back!” The verse says, “….Behold, thy maid is in thy hand.” Abraham is saying, “You do what you want with her.” Abram wanted clear of the situation, but that was impossible. He helped birth the problem.
Were we to do a temperament study on Abram we would see that he is a phlegmatic personality according to Hippocrates theory. I call him an ox temperament in the book Fearfully and Wonderfully Made.2 A primary aspect of this ox temperament is they avoid conflict at all and any cost. Abram avoided conflict with pharaoh at the cost of Sarai (12:11-20). Abram avoided conflict with Lot at the cost of the land (13:8-11). He avoided conflict with the king of Sodom at the cost of the booty (14:21-24). He avoids conflict here at the cost of Hagar and Hagar’s baby. Abram thinks he is avoiding conflict. The conflict is not leaving, at least not for many years.
What should Abram have done? It is difficult for me or anyone to say what “the friend of God” should have done. It does seem that he should have attempted to bring peace. He was the husband of both women. It doesn’t seem he did anything. That is most often how the ox temperament functions. They don’t do anything in strife. Often this is good. Sometimes this is not good. At any rate the problem is not resolved and Sarai becomes even more bitter toward Hagar.
8. Sarai dealt hardly with her
Sarai’s temperament is the exact opposite of Abram’s temperament. This is normal for marriages. Sarai had no problem with conflict. Sarai was a lion (Choleric) personality. She “dealt hardly” with Hagar. Sarai was willing to try and allow Hagar equality if that accomplished Sarai’s purpose–a child. Hagar abused Sarai. Sarai now resumes her position as the mistress (boss) and begins to look down upon Hagar. The word ‘anah is translated “dealt hardly” (Strong’s #6031) and means “browbeating with the idea of looking down upon”.
6031 `anah (aw-naw’);
a primitive root [possibly rather ident. with 6030 through the idea of looking down or browbeating]; to depress literally or figuratively, transitive or intransitive (in various applications, as follows):
The lion type personality (Sarai) dominate. This is especially true when they know they are in control. Abram had given Sarai complete control to handle the situation as she wanted. What should Sarai have done? She was obviously mean to Hagar. Justified possibly, but in no way a solution to the dilemma. I am sure Sarai enjoyed being mean to Hagar. After all, Hagar had it coming, right? No, Hagar was not that way before Sarai’s brilliant idea. Sarai must take some responsibility. It is so easy to blame others and then become angry at those we need.
9. she fled from her face
Hagar flees from Sarai face. She had been so hurt by the “lion” temperament that she did not want to see that face again. Hagar could dish it out, but not take it. Hagar could belittle Sarai, but not receive correction herself. She fled from her problem.
We do this. For example, people can talk about me and despise me. That is supposed to be acceptable. After all, I am the pastor and am supposed to be despised (or something like that). But when I begin to deal with the situation as the leader, many times people flee from my face. They dislike me so much that they do not want to see me again. I am much better today than I used to be, but I am still a primary “lion temperament”. We can dish it out, but we all have problems receiving correction. Rather than fix the problem we run from the problem. Probably Hagar was an “eagle temperament”. That temperament is very critical. An eagle can see anything. Hagar saw Sarai’s faults and spoke of them. Eagles and Lions clash if they do not understand each other. The lion will roar and the eagle will fly. As true as it is that Hagar would not receive instructions and left it is just as true that Sarai drove her away. Hagar ran.
Genesis 16:7 And the angel of the LORD found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur.
Genesis 16:8 And he said, Hagar, Sarai’s maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai.
Genesis 16:9 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands.
10. the angel of the LORD found her
We are given a first. This is the first time the angel of the Lord appears in the scriptures. Interestingly the angel of the Lord appears to Hagar. Most believe the (this) angel of the Lord is the Lord Jesus Christ making an Old Testament appearance. This is partially because of what He says in verse 10–“I will multiply thy seed exceedingly….” A common angel could not multiply seed.
Hagar fled to the wilderness. This is always what happens when we run from correction. We always find our self in a wilderness. If not cautious we will look around and we are out of church. We have lost or we are in the process of losing much of what we had. We find our self-heading back to Egypt instead of going on in the promise. Sadly we are taking our child or children with us. This happened to Hagar because she had to talk about Sarai and then would not receive instructions to correct the problem. We need to learn not to talk about people and to always be teachable.
11. whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go?
The angel of the Lord does not refer to Hagar as Abram’s wife. He refers to her as “Sarai’s maid.” Sometimes we think of our self more highly than we ought.
The angel of the Lord asked Hagar a two part question. From where was she coming? To where was she going? She knew from where she was coming. She was running from her authority. She was fleeing from the complex dilemma. She knew from where she was coming. But where was she going?
We all find this wilderness place Hagar found. We know what we are running from, but we don’t know where we are going. We have made a mess. We blame others. Our life is a mess. We are pregnant with something that will be a mess if the mess is not corrected. We see life’s dilemmas. People find their self saying, “If I don’t fix this I will be divorced.” “If I don’t fix this I will bankrupt.” We don’t know where to go. We don’t know what to do. It’s at this time we need to meet the angel of the Lord.
Sarai was mean. Abram did not want conflict. The people that Hagar loved and had spent years with seemed cold. They had turned on her. Where was she going? What could she do? What was the solution? The angel of the Lord gave the solution to this extremely complex situation?
12. Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands
The solution was not to run from the problem, but to return and submit. This was not the woman submitting to the man thing. That is not what Hagar was told to do. Hagar did not submit to Abram. She was to submit to Sarai. She was to submit to the original idea and the person in authority in her life. We have problems with submission at any level. Yet this is so often the solution to our dilemmas. There is some place and some one that we must return to and submit. Hagar did not like that, but that was the solution and the future for her and her child. People get angry and hurt and flee from the very place they are to be blessed simply because they refuse to return and submit. Hagar must submit to the original idea.
What was the original idea? Sarai would give Abram her maid Hagar as a wife. Hagar would have a baby. Sarai would raise the baby. Abram would have a child. What had happened was Sarai, Abram, and Hagar altered the original plan. Circumstances of anger and jealousy and embarrassment had altered the purpose and thus altered the idea. Go back Hagar and submit yourself to what your life is really about–Ishmael. Hagar owed Sarai submission for her child would not exist had it not been for Sarai. We flee often and despise often the people responsible for bringing the purpose of God to our lives. Amazing!
Genesis 16:10 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.
Genesis 16:11 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction.
Genesis 16:12 And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.
Genesis 16:13 And she called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me?
Genesis 16:14 Wherefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.
13. I will multiply thy seed exceedingly….and shalt call his name Ishmael
A promise is given Hagar similar to that given to Abram (13:14-16; 15:5). From Hagar’s body a multitude would come. How could this not be? The father of the child was Abram who had been promised tremendous reproduction. The son that Hagar carried would be born. We are given another first. The first person named by the Lord in the scriptures is Ishmael. Isn’t that interesting? Ishmael means “God will hear”. Isn’t it wonderful that God will hear even when we are carrying an Ishmael?
3458 Yishma` e’l (yish-maw-ale’);
from 8085 and 410; God will hear; Jishmael, the name of Abraham’s oldest son, and of five Israelites:
Ishmael would be a rebel–a wild man. The literal is “running wild; the onager” meaning “beside”. Ishmael was not the promise seed. He would be next to or “beside” the promised seed–Isaac. Hagar knew that. However God would bless Ishmael.
Strong’s 6501 pere’ (peh’-reh);
or pereh (Jeremiah 2:24) (peh’-reh); from 6500 in the secondary sense of running wild; the onager:
We should be so glad that the Lord God will bless us even when we are not exactly in the promise. We are “beside” or next to the promise, but not in the promise. He will even bless our Ishmaels.
Genesis 16:15 And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son’s name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael.
Genesis 16:16 And Abram was fourscore and six years old, when Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram.
14. And Hagar bare Abram a son
Hagar returned and submitted. It appears that Sarai allows Hagar to return, but did not take the child to raise when Ishmael was born. The scripture says, “Hagar bare Abram a son.” Sarai is not mentioned as she was at the beginning of the chapter. Verse 2 says speaking of Sarai, “that I may obtain children by her.” Abram obtained a son, but Sarai did not.
Hagar went back and submitted to the original purpose. It was an Ishmael. Interestingly “Abram called his son’s name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael.” That would mean that Hagar had relayed the encounter of the angel of the Lord to Abram and Abram believed.
Were I Abram I would of have problems with Hagar’s story about the angel of the Lord. I would have thought, “This Egyptian left my church. She tells me that the Lord spoke to her after beginning all this conflict? I don’t think so.” I have problems when some people tell me “the Lord said……” It’s not that I doubt the Lord speaking. It’s that I doubt the Lord spoke to them. Especially when their conflict is with me. The Lord can and will speak to anyone. I am sure I have missed a blessing because I doubted what someone told me was the Lord. Abraham, “the friend of God” (Jam 2:23), believed Hagar and Abram named the boy Ishmael.
Gen 16:16 says, “Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael” (NIV). We truly are never too old to make bad decisions. Truly, no matter how long we have walked with the Lord we will still make bad decisions. We will cause others to be involved in our bad decisions no matter our age. There are problems we will not handle correctly no matter our age. Abram was eighty-six and will make even more messes. Because we are walking with God and in the promise does not nullify the possibility of getting in messes that produce Ishmaels.
15. What can we learn from this lesson that we can apply to our lives today?
a. We can have a seemingly good socially accepted idea that can cause serious problems for the remainder of our lives.
b. Our ideas when manifested can cause serious damage to our walk with the Lord. It can cause serious damage in the walk of our family with the Lord and especially the walk of our children.
c. Even serious believers who have altar experiences and speak regularly with the Lord can make adverse decisions that damage many. All decisions should be prayed about seeking a word of the Lord. All major decisions should be done after advice of godly counsel.
d. We should never talk about people and this is especially true of those the Lord has placed in authority in our lives.
e. People are different with different temperaments. People approach problems differently. Some people will not approach problems at all. We need each other to fulfill the purpose and must work together even though we are very different.
f. If we run from the problem we will find our self in the wilderness heading back to Egypt. The angel of the Lord will instruct us to return and submit. God will never tell us to go backward. Submission to the purpose is where the blessing abides.
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