Shortcutting the Will of God
Scripture: Genesis 16:1–16
Shortcutting the Will of GodGenesis 16:1-16
Sunday, June 23, 2013
Pastor Randy Smith
Robert Wood Johnson, the former chairman of Johnson & Johnson, was known to be a terror when he inspected his plants. On one such unannounced visit, the plant manager was given a 30-minute tip prior to Johnson's arrival. Hastily he had things spruced up by taking a shortcut and ordering several large rolls of paper transported to the roof of the building. When Johnson arrived, he was furious. His first words: "What in the world is all that junk on the roof?" How were they to know that the boss would arrive in his personal helicopter? (Reader's Digest, March 1980).
There are times when it is wise to take shortcuts. There are other times when it is definitely not. We need wisdom to tell the difference between the two. Thankfully, God has made it easy for us in the big matters that deal directly with observing His revealed will. How do we obtain money? Whether or not we cheat on a test? The type of person we marry? How long we should stay married? What we should look for in a good church? What we should teach our children? Shortcuts in these and many other areas can be disastrous. This morning we will see Abram has to learn this lesson for himself.
In our study in Genesis we have already observed that Abram was given a promise from God. He would be given a biological son, and his offspring would exceed the number of stars. Abram left almost everything to travel to the land of God's choosing. Now ten years have gone by and none of God's promises have been fulfilled. So instead of Abram continuing to trust God and wait upon Him, Abram takes matters into his own hands. Abram takes a shortcut.
What I would like you to see from this morning's message from Genesis 16 is the devastating results that occur when we seek to shortcut God's revealed will for His children. We dishonor the Lord through unbelief and we bring terrible pain, at times years of layered and unfolding pain, into our lives and into the lives of those around us.
1. The Problem (verse 1a)
Let's begin. Once again, the problem that Abram and Sarai are facing looms large. Moses, our inspired author states it plainly for us at the very beginning of the chapter: "Now Sarai, Abram's wife had borne him no children."
I know there are ladies in this church who have or are presently struggling with the inability to bear children. It is a very painful trial that would enable them to identify with Sarai possibly more than others. Yet in a sense we can all feel her pain of being unable to bear children. Add to the emotional pain the social stigma that was unnecessarily and cruelly placed upon barren women in that particular culture. No doubt Sarai and Abram were subjected to repeated humiliation and tempted to anger, jealousy, doubt and despair. "So your God is going to give you a child? Right!" After all, God promised them a child ten years ago and they weren't getting any younger. Sarai was 75 and Abram was pushing his mid-80's.
Last week in chapter 15 we learned that God made a covenant with Abram and His descendants. Animals were killed, cut in half with each half opposite the other. God alone passed between the pieces signifying that God would keep His word lest He be treated like those slain animals. His word was that Abram would be a father of a great nation. Despite all this, in seeking a shortcut, Sarai makes a proposal. Let's go to the second point.
2. The Proposal (verses 1b-4a)
As the remainder of verse 1 indicates, Sarai "had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar." You do not have to be a mind-reader to know where Sarai is going with this one. Abram is about to make one of his biggest mistakes. It is going to happen with the Egyptian servant Hagar whom he brought back from Egypt when he made another big mistake years prior in chapter 12 for leaving the Promised Land and going there in the first place.
Verse 2, "So Sarai said to Abram, 'Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.'"
So basically Sarai is saying this: God has promised us a child; He obviously has not lived up to His end of the bargain. It is His fault that I am not pregnant. "[He] has prevented me from bearing children." We have waited long enough, and it's time to take these matters in our own hands. After all, the promise was that Abram would be the father of a great nation, but God never specified whom the woman would be. We are all consenting adults (heard that one before). Everyone else is doing it (heard that one too). So here is the plan: Hagar has the child. She gives the child to me. We dump Hagar and our happy family of three moves on with our lives.
Good plan? Horrible plan! Sarai is violating the clear promise of God and is acting in sheer unbelief because the timing of the plan is not unfolding to her approval. We learned in Genesis 2 that God created and ordained marriage to be between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24). Sarai is suggesting not only adultery, but possibly even polygamy. This is whacked out! Sarai is like the father of the bride giving away the woman to be with, of all people, her own husband! It also reminds me of another story from those early chapters in Genesis. Two trees there, two women here. Like the two trees, one acceptable and the other forbidden. And like Eve offering the forbidden fruit to her husband, Sarai offering the forbidden woman to her husband. Adam listened to his wife and in this case, the end of verse 2, "Abram listened to the voice of Sarai."
Some questions: Isn't a mark of a godly husband a man who listens to his wife? If Abram was wrong in listening to his wife in this case, when should a husband reject what his wife is suggesting? Why is the sin in the Garden placed primarily on Adam and the sin here in Canaan placed primarily on Abram? Men, what does it mean to be a spiritual leader in the home? How could Abram courageously rescue Lot from the King of Elam, but collapse like a house of cards before his wife two chapters later? Men, how could Abram be a model of the faith in chapter 15 and then an unbelieving wimp in chapter 16? Men, what would you have said and done if you were Abram's shoes?
Beginning in verse 3, "After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram's wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived." Sarai's plan worked, but in her success she failed since God does not bless dishonorable acts. Could you imagine if He did? There would be no incentive to honor or obey Him. He'd be rewarding bad behavior. It would be like Shane hitting his sister and me giving him a cookie!
3. The Pains (verses 4b-6)
Let's move to the third point and examine the consequences, the pain we bring to ourselves and others when we act outside of God's will. Let's see if we can untangle this web by considering how things turned out for our three major players.
First, let's see how things worked out for Sarai. The end of verse 4, "When she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight."
Sarai didn't foresee this one. Her shortcut backfired. Once Hagar is intimate with Abram, she naturally becomes emotionally connected to the man. And now in this competition for Abram's affections, Hagar has a clear advantage over Sarai. After all, she was carrying Abram's child. Verse 4 says Hagar "despised" Sarai. I can hear the comments already: "Hey, Sarai, I really enjoyed being with Abram." "Hey, Sarai, guess what Abram told me last night? Oops, never mind!" "Hey, Sarai, I wonder if the child will look more like me or more like Abram? What do you think?" "Hey, Sarai, could you run out to the store and get me some pickles?" "Hey, Sarai, do you want to feel the baby kick?"
I do not think Sarai was thankful for the shortcut!
In Proverbs 30 we read, "Under three things the earth quakes, and under four, it cannot bear up: Under a slave when he becomes king, and a fool when he is satisfied with food, under an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and a maidservant when she supplants her mistress" (Pr. 30:21-23). I wonder if the author had this story of Sarai and Hagar in mind when he penned this Proverb. The earth was quaking under Sarai's feet.
Let's see how things worked out for Abram. Verse 5, "And Sarai said to Abram, 'May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid [depersonalizes her - can't even say her name] into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the LORD judge between you and me."
When I came home from church on Wednesday night, I could tell the dog was up to no good in our absence. It wasn't that hard to spot. Instead of greeting me at the door with a wagging tail, she was off cowering in a corner. But once we busted her by finding Kayla's gym clothes strewn all over the floor she accepted full responsibility with her puppy dog eyes and guilt-ridden conscience. Amazingly, she didn't point her little doggie paw and blame the wind or the fish or the boogie-man for the transgression. Only humans seek to shift the blame, and we do it so naturally and so skillfully.
Abram was no angel, but after all, this was Sarai's plan. And I find it amazing that once things backfired, she had the nerve to blame her husband. He does what she suggests and he becomes the bad guy! In her mind, she is only a victim, and all of a sudden this is now Abram's fault! And to add to her offense, Sarai schemes for her husband to sleep with another woman and then when things go south she becomes super-spiritual. "May the LORD judge between you and me." Folks, four thousand years later and the times haven't changed! We are still blaming others for our sins and we are still using God as a chip when it works to our advantage.
Here are some of the classic examples. Someone can profess Christ, ignore the Bible and live in unrepentant sin, but the moment they are confronted, all of a sudden the Bible is a convenient tool to justify their actions with a verse taken out of context or to blame someone else for their sin! "But we love each other and love is the greatest virtue." "Don't you know we have freedom in Christ?" And of course my favorite, "Do not judge, lest ye be judged" (it's always quoted in King James!).
This has become a soap opera and Abram is caught in the middle between these two catty women with absolutely no way out. Through his failed leadership, he has opened the door to this vicious "love" triangle continually raging within the confines of his own home. Proverbs 21:19 comes to mind: "It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman." Abram had two of them under his roof!
The Lord forgives sin, and the Lord provides sufficient grace, but for many of our sins the consequences often remain, and they could remain for a lifetime. Like Abram's case, all we can do is repent and in God's wisdom manage the situation with His grace to the best of our ability. Abram is given the opportunity to man up and make the best of this situation. Sarai shines the spotlight on him. He has an opportunity to take control of these matters, yet sadly we read in verse 6, "But Abram said to Sarai, 'Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight.'" What a wimpy response! He's washed his hands. He's worn out. He wilts. His passivity only makes the matters worse.
Like Sarai, I do not think Abram was thankful for the shortcut!
Let's see how things worked out for Hagar. She is a young foreigner away from any support. The only advocate she has is Abram, the man whose child she is carrying, and he turns his back on her like a worthless commodity.
Remember how Joseph stepped up and cared for a woman named Mary despite her scandalous situation? Abram was no Joseph. Remember how Boaz provided for a Moabitess named Ruth? Abram was no Boaz. Remember how Jesus cared for a certain Samaritan woman? We'll come back to that.
Abram just gives her over to Sarai, and what do you think this contentious woman would do with her now inferior rival? The end of verse 6, "So Sarai treated her harshly." So what does Hagar do? Cruel attacks from Sarai. No support from Abram. Verse 6, "She fled from her presence." She ran away. We will see what the Lord thought of that in a moment. We have a pregnant female alone in the desert - a recipe for danger. Obviously she saw it more painful to live in this dysfunctional house.
I do not think Hagar was thankful for the shortcut either!
These were God's chosen people who were to be used by Him to be a blessing to others. They were to represent God, but they had a home that was filled with cruelty, unrelenting hurt, jealousy, vicious attacks and broken relationships. Embarrassing! Not exactly what the Lord desired or they had intended.
Galatians 6:8, "For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption." Sarai and Abram and Hagar (all three of them) are all reaping the consequences of what they thought was an expedient shortcut and an innocent baby, as it frequently is, is now caught in the middle. God gave them a promise. He backed up His Word with a covenant. They took matters into their own hands, committed a spiritual shortcut and are presently reaping corruption. It all began with people of faith distrusting God's Word. Maybe when we willingly go against God's Word which we have in our Bibles, we need to take a moment to think through the unexpected consequences.
4. The Provision (verses 7-14)
So how does this mess end? As it always ends, with a merciful and gracious God stepping into our messes and providing the assistance and assurance of His presence we need. Let's go to the final point, "The Provision."
Verse 7, "Now the angel of the LORD found her [Hagar] by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur."
Hagar traveled south as Shur was Egypt's northern frontier. Hagar was going back home. The "angel of the LORD," I believe is a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ who will be the only hero of this story. Finally there was Someone who cared about Hagar and treated this abused and confused woman with compassion and dignity.
Verses 8-9, "He said, 'Hagar, Sarai's maid [not "Abram's wife" - the Lord does not acknowledge this as a marriage], where have you come from and where are you going?' And she said, 'I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai. Then the angel of the LORD said to her, 'Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.'"
The Lord knew that as difficult as it was, the safest and right place for her to be was back with Abram. The day would come when she would be sent out by God, but for now He was calling her to repentance, to retrace her steps and place herself once again under Sarai's authority. And with this would also come a blessing for Hagar.
Beginning in verse 10, "Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, 'I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count' [from Ishmael would come all the Arabs]. The angel of the LORD said to her further, 'Behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son; and you shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has given heed to your affliction. He will be a wild donkey of a man, His hand will be against everyone, and everyone's hand will be against him; and he will live to the east of all his brothers.' Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, 'You are a God who sees [El-Roy - the only time a person gives a name to God];' for she said, 'Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?' Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered. So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael [Abram loved this boy]. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him" (Gen. 16:10-16).
When we hear this we can't help but think of another story (from John chapter 4) about a desperate woman that I referred to earlier that was confused and mistreated. She too was a foreigner sitting by a well when Jesus Christ again came also to her to minister to her deepest needs. Like Hagar, the conversation pin-pointed personal sin. Like Hagar, the conversation revealed the desperate need to listen to the Lord. And like Hagar, the conversation assured her of a safe passage and future blessing. Hagar's physical remedy was to foreshadow the spiritual remedy for the woman at the well. And the remedy was also Jesus Christ Himself.
Do you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? He is a Savior from our pain in life promising to work all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28), but He is primarily a Savior from our sin. "You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Mt. 1:21).
My friends, we all take these spiritual shortcuts. And when we do we often find ourselves over our heads. We battle the bewilderment and anxiety and fear and regret. But it is at these times when we go to the well when we are crushed and at the end of ourselves that we find a sufficient Savior ready to forgive and heal. For He is El-Roy, the God who sees. He sees our needs and despite also seeing our sins, He brings healing to the brokenhearted.