The world still bears the burden of their good intentions.
Lesson 28 from The HOPE Study Guide
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
– Genesis 16:1–2
But how could God’s promise to Abraham be fulfilled? For Sarah to have a child seemed impossible. Rather than waiting on God, and His timing, Sarah gave her servant Hagar to Abraham, and Hagar gave birth to a child named Ishmael. Eventually, just as God had promised, Sarah also bore a child from Abraham. They called him Isaac. And Sarah became bitter toward Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham was distressed.
– The HOPE, Chapter 5
OBSERVE & CONSIDER
In previous lessons we’ve seen Abraham’s faith in God, and in God’s promise to make him the father of a great nation and to bless all the nations through him. Today’s lesson looks at Abraham ten years after God first made that promise (Genesis 12:1-3). Abraham’s wife Sarah is about 75 years old, and still she has not born Abraham a child! So Sarah gives up what is a wife’s most cherished privilege, the right to her husband’s undivided affection, and she offers her maid, Hagar, to her husband that he might have a child by her and thus “fulfill” God’s promise. And of course Abraham could have said no, but he didn’t.
Not only does Sarah’s plan create turmoil within her marriage, but the epic conflict and human tragedy that has resulted from Sarah’s foolishness is still being felt today. Hagar’s son, Ishmael, would become the father of the Arab nations of our world, and the son that Sarah would later conceive would become the father of the nation of Israel. Hardly a day goes by that the news media does not cover some violent incident related to the Israeli – Arab conflict and the dispute over the right to the land that God promised to Abraham.1
Before continuing, recall that in our study of God’s story we have observed a recurring theme. What appears from our perspective to be a disastrous event is often a necessary part of God’s higher plan to accomplish His eternal purposes. For example, in response to the arrogance of the people at the tower of Babel, God confused their language. The result was chaos, and God scattered the people across the earth. But this was also the beginning of the nations as we know them today. And ultimately God will bring glory to Himself and blessing to humankind by doing something only He can do, namely bringing the nations together to live in perfect unity and peace with God and each other.
The event we are considering today has evolved into one of the greatest conflicts in human history. Depending on your background, this conflict could easily be perceived as a struggle between those who are right and those who are wrong, between “good people” and “bad people.” But really, it is much deeper than that. As we shall see in the next lesson, God is still in control and He will use this situation to His glory! As we move on, remember these two great truths: 1) God will populate heaven with people from every nation,2 and 2) the real enemy behind every conflict is Satan.3
ASK & REFLECT
It is easy for us to ask “How in the world could Sarah do such a thing?” But Sarah had no idea of the far reaching consequences of her action. And lest we be too hard on Sarah, we should consider the thinking that led to Sarah’s action, for we have probably all entertained similar thoughts at one time or another.
Sarah knew what God had promised, but she probably wondered what part of His promise depended on her. You’ve probably heard the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” Well this might sound like a conscientious, responsible attitude, but really, that kind of perspective is a breeding ground for self will as opposed to God’s will. And once you start down the road of self determination, it is not difficult to justify your actions and believe that you’re doing right.
You can almost imagine how some people might have actually seen Sarah’s actions as noble and self–sacrificing. Besides, what she proposed was not that uncommon in the polygamist culture in which Sarah and Abraham had made their home. And up to this point God had only said that the promised heir would come through Abraham (Genesis 15:4). It was not until later that God said His promise to Abraham would be fulfilled through a son born to Sarah (Genesis 17:15-19).
- Could you see yourself doing the same thing that Sarah and Abraham did? Why or why not?
- What do you think of the saying “God helps those who help themselves?” Do you agree or disagree?
- Can you think of a situation where you knew that something had to be done, but you wrestled with knowing the difference between your part and God’s part?
DECIDE & DO
It is significant to note that up to this point in God’s story, Sarah is actually called Sarai, and Abraham is called Abram. Because of time constraints, The HOPE does not highlight this. But in the Biblical account, after the birth of Ishmael, God changes their names (Genesis 17:5, 15). The literal meaning of Sarai is “contentious woman.” The meaning of Abram is “exalted father.” But at the proper time, God changed their names. Sarah means “princess” and Abraham means “fruitful father” or “father of a multitude.”
A “contentious woman” might manipulate and connive to get things done. But a “princess” has the privilege of allowing her father, the king, to do things for her. Some people seem to make things happen by their own effort. But only God can make a person “fruitful” (Psalm 127:1-3).
Abraham (Abram) and Sarah (Sarai) knew God’s will, but apart from God’s supernatural work in them, they didn’t know His way. If you are looking for God’s way, ask Him to show you, and then wait for Him. Don’t take matters into your own hands. Beware of pursuing God’s will without God.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
Dr. Charles Stanley, Discovering God’s Will. (© In Touch Ministries, 2006). (http://www.intouch.org/magazine/content.aspx?topic=Discovering_God_s_Will_devotional#.Ug1Hf41wroY). Retrieved October 10, 2006.
1Timeline: A History of the Land. (From the April 15, 2002 Issue of The Baptist Standard; © 2006 by Baptist Standard Publishing Co). (http://www.baptiststandard.com/2002/4_15/pages/mideast_timeline.html). Retrieved November 16, 2006. Although this timeline does not extend past the year 1993, it nonetheless overviews the centuries of unrest in the Middle East.
3Ephesians 6:12. Revisit Lessons 14–17 of this Study Guide.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB