Today, we are back to our series in Genesis: Abraham – Hearing God’s Call. We’re learning about hearing God’s promises and receiving them through faith. Our last message in the series was called “Covenant Promise” and the key verses were:
Genesis 15:5-6 (ESV) And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
God promised Abram that he would have offspring as numerous as the stars. An amazing promise. And Abram’s response was to believe that God would fulfill the promise. God counted Abram’s faith as righteousness. You see faith is necessary to see promises fulfilled and to please God and have a relationship with Him. Doubt in God’s promise, on the other hand, would cause the promise to not be fulfilled and would not please God. Just as God spoke a promise to Abram, God speaks promises in our lives. The Bible, God’s Word is filled with promises for you and I to believe God for.
Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV) Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
In other words, if you trust in God and follow His plans in everything you do, He will cause your life to prosper and you will fulfill God’s purpose in your life. God also speaks specific promises to believers through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will apply a general promise in God’s Word to your specific situation. For example, how might Proverbs 3:5-6 apply to your life? The temptation is to lean on our own understanding, to just follow our own desires and plans in life. The Holy Spirit will remind you to seek His will in every decision. Often, God’s will is different then your natural inclinations. As you trust in His plans, God will bring you success in life.
Often, it takes time to see God’s promises fulfilled in our lives. When we don’t see a promise fulfilled, we are tempted to devise our own plans to bring it about. That’s what today’s message from Genesis 16, Going It Alone, is about. Abram and Sarai became impatient with not seeing God’s promise of a son fulfilled after many years. So, they made a disastrous choice to take things in to their own hands. That choice made thousands of years ago, impacts our world today in extremely negative ways. Abram and Sarai’s decision to go it alone ultimately led to formation of the religion of Islam. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world with over 1.6 billion people and is diametrically opposed to Christianity. Yet, God gave Abram and Sarai a second chance to exercise their faith and we’ll talk about that another Sunday. So, today let’s look at Genesis 16, which will give us a negative example of not believing God.
Genesis 16:1 (ESV) Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar.
We’ll learn in verse 3 that Abram had been in Canaan ten years, but Sarai had not become pregnant. The promise of God had not been fulfilled. As we’ll see, Abram and Sarai were beginning to doubt whether God would fulfill the promise. Maybe He needed help from their plan.
Genesis 16:2a (ESV) And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.”
In those days, barrenness was often considered a curse from God. So, Sarai begins by blaming God, who made the promise of offspring, of stopping her from having children. She then came up with a plan of giving her Egyptian servant Hagar to Abram to have a child with. Although this was a cultural practice in those days, it certainly was a violation of God’s standard for marriage as being between one man and one woman. This plan was doubting God’s ability to fulfill His promise and seeking to fulfill the promise by their own plan. So, what would Abram do with Sarai’s plan?
Genesis 16:2b-4a (ESV) And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived.
Sarai tempted Abram to doubt God and he listened to and followed her plan. These verses remind us of the first temptation in the garden of Eden. Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit and he listened to her and sinned. In the same way, Abram succumbed to the temptation of Sarai and followed her plan of fulfilling the promise, rather than trusting God. And the immediate result was that …
Genesis 16:4b-6 (ESV) And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!” 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.
Basically, then Hagar became a second wife to Abram. Although there are examples of marriages with more than one wife in the Bible, the end result is always great problems. Biblical marriage as created by God is always between one man and one woman. Here we see first of all, that Hagar cursed Sarai. Then Sarai blamed Abram for her problems with Hagar. Then Abram refused to deal with the situation and told Sarai to deal with Hagar. Sarai treated the pregnant Hagar so cruelly that she fled. So, this was not a happy household. Sarai’s plan of producing a son for them through Hagar had gone very wrong. Now, Hagar, pregnant with the boy was gone. Disobedience damages relationships.
So, what caused all these problems with regard to God’s promise? Basically, the promise was not fulfilled as soon as Sarai and Abram expected. So, they took things into their own hands. They devised and followed their own plan, which also violated God’s standard for marriage. The end result was a disaster in their household and as we’ll a disaster to the world for generations to come.
What promise from God are you holding onto today? Might be a promise of a child or a promise of a healing. Might be a promise of a spouse or a promise of a ministry. Or it might be a promise of the salvation of a loved one or a promise of a job. And the list could go on and on. Oftentimes, God’s fulfillment of His promises to us take longer than we would like. If so, we have choices of giving up on God’s promise or seeking to fulfill it our way. Neither of those choices will lead to our seeing the promise fulfilled. Rather, we must continue to believe, continue to pray and continue to trust God to fulfill His promise to us in His timing.
As we continue the story in Genesis 16, we see that …
Genesis 16:7-8 (ESV) The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.”
The pregnant Hagar had been driven from her home by Sarai. She fled to the desert where the angel of the Lord found her and began to speak to her. Even though she had cursed Sarai by treating her with contempt, God still cared about Hagar. Even though her son would be under a curse. God had earlier made clear that those who blessed Abram would be blessed and those who cursed him would be cursed. And Abram and Sarai were one, as husband and wife. The angel of the Lord then spoke to Hagar and explained that …
Genesis 16:9-11 (ESV) The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction.
The first command of the angel of the Lord to Hagar was to return to Sarai and submit to her, even though she had been treated harshly. If Hagar fulfilled this condition, then the angel gave her a promise, that her offspring would be multiplied to a great multitude. The angel also instructed her to name her son Ishmael, which means that the Lord had listened to her affliction.
Genesis 16:15-16 (ESV) And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.
So, Hagar followed the commands of the angel and returned to Sarai. She submitted to Sarai’s authority in the household and told Abram the name the angel given to the son. So, Hagar would be blessed by having many offspring as the angel had promised. Yet, all was not well with this turn of events. What would become of this son, Ishmael? What would his destiny be? He was not the son of promise, but according to Galatians 4, he was the son of the flesh. What kind of person would he be? How would Sarai and Abram’s disobedience to God’s plan affect the future? The angel of the Lord prophesied concerning Ishmael’s future.
Genesis 16:12 (ESV) He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”
This prophesy does not bode well for Ishmael’s future and the future of all his offspring. A wild donkey is not tamed, it does whatever it wants and lives far from others. Ishmael and his descendants would dwell in the desert areas of Saudi Arabia and surrounding countries. Ishmael and his descendants would be in conflict with everyone and everyone would be in conflict with them. He would also be against his kinsmen, which would be the descendants of the child of promise yet to be born Isaac. So, the foolish plan of Sarai and Abram would affect not just their home, but their descendants for thousands of years.
How did Sarai and Abram’s going it alone affect us today? Ishmael is considered the father of the Arabs, particularly the Arabs in Saudi Arabia and nearby lands. Muhammad, the founder of the false religion Islam in 600 AD claimed to be the direct descendant of Ishmael. In fact, in the Koran, Ishmael replaces Isaac as the promised son, contrary to God’s Word. Today there are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world and 2.3 billion Christians. However, Muslims have the fastest religious birth and growth rates and be 2060, it is estimated that there will be an equal number of Muslims and Christians. What can change these predictions? A revival among Muslims that converts many to become Christians. That is why we continue to pray for and support missionaries that work with Muslims around the world.
So, let’s summarize the principles of this story positively. We must trust God’s promises and follow God’s plans, rather than our own. Realize that following our own plans damages our family relationships and can affect future generations. Learn to patiently wait and believe God to fulfill His promises to us in His time and His way. As we do, our lives will be filled with joy as we live in the blessings of God’s promises.