GENESIS -SERIES NR 15 : Family planning
Scripture : Genesis 16
Certainly one of the severest daily struggles which all Christian-believers experience is the inner conflict of ON THE ONE SIDE the abstract, invisible, intangible promises of the Lord written in an ancient Book, and ON THE OTHER SIDE our visible, tangible, palpable circumstances.
The unsaved person does not know this struggle and his life is not really that complicated. The unsaved person – in whom the Holy Spirit has not yet worked, and who has not been changed – lives every day as his head dictates and his heart feels, and according to the influence of the environment and the world which work in him. Inwardly he only has his fallen human heart and nature which he follows without any major problems.
The life of the saved person in Christ is much more complicated. Yes, he still has his fallen sinful human heart and nature BUT a huge change has taken place: The fallen human nature does no longer dictate his life, because God the Holy Spirit took possession and control of his life. In his inner man there are now two voices: The Holy Spirit of Christ and the fallen sinful human nature (“flesh” the NT calls it). The Spirit is in control, but flesh is continuously wanting to take over. In addition, the Spirit urges the Christian to live from the promises of God, and to make THAT the foundation of his life. However those are promises written in the Bible. Flesh wants the person to live from the visible, tangible world and circumstances. Flesh wants to draw the believer away from God’s promises. While the Spirit draws the believer TO those promises. What a conflict! An inner dissension. The Apostle Paul describes it in Romans 7 and Galatians 5.
Now it often happens like this: The inner conflict sometimes becomes too much for the believer, who then wants to make a plan with the circumstances = those things which feel more real than the vague, abstract, remote truths of Scripture. Usually we clothe our own plans with a little piety, for the sake of the conscience. “Refined sin” one might call it.
In Genesis 16 we deal with true believers who, through plotting and scheming, were trying to take God’s plans into their own hands. Genesis 16 tells about little faith, but also a wonderful merciful God who listens and observes despite the blindness and deafness of His people. And consequently, we too are brought to a crisis with Genesis 16!
Actually, Genesis 16 is looking at the Abram-history through the perspective of his wife, Sarai. Because remember: She was the channel through whom God’s promise had to be fulfilled. God gave Abram wonderful promises, and Abram believed Him for it. The promise of descendants as numerous as the stars had to come into fulfillment through Sarai. She had to bear Abram a son. And it was just there where the rub began. It was obvious that Abram – because he believed God – would begin to keep an eye on Sarai. When will the signs of pregnancy become evident? And that in turn, began to irritate Sarai. It was already 12 years since the Lord had given His promise. Twelve years!
Sarai thought logically and believed in practical solutions! She was very aware of her and her husband’s age. She was fully aware that she was not able to become pregnant. It was simply biological facts. She would have to start doing some family planning herself. How else would the Lord’s promise be fulfilled? Perhaps the Lord gave her the brain to make plans and perhaps He wanted to work through her ingenuity. She did not leave the Lord out of the picture. Listen what she said to Abram: “The LORD has kept me from having children.” Yes she believed that the Lord is sovereign. It almost sounds like a confession of faith. But when she began to work out her family-planning, she did not consult the Lord!
Sarai’s plan was very practical and lawfully in tact. She simply gave her servant to Abram as wife. In the ancient middle east it was the regular custom. Should a child be born out of such an arrangement, it would lawfully be Abram’s child and Sarai could later take over as mother. The slave-girl was literally only used to bring a child into the world. And in that way God’s promise could be fulfilled! Sarai was actually only helping God to keep His Word – that’s all. She could not be blamed that she was gifted to be such a practical woman!
Abram appeared to be weak. He was impressed with Sarai’s ingenious plan. He agreed with her: “Yes God’s plan needs a little help. After all, it is for a good cause. A nation’s future is at stake. It is just the means to an end” – a view with which satan has gained many victories.
Abram then took the Egyptian slavegirl, Hagar, to be his wife, and she became pregnant. And that was the start of Abram’s problems. And indeed the world’s problems right up to 2018. Because the present day struggle between Jew and Arab found its origin here.
Mrs Hagar then began to rule the roost and Mrs Sarai felt humiliated. She felt that she had failed as a woman. She became angry and frustrated.
It is significant – as this suspense story progresses – that we hear very little about the living God. Actually, nothing at all. The family planning arrangement failed, and the initial layer of godliness was gone, and now it was nothing but envy and tension.
The way Hagar was dealt with is dreadful. It certainly does not belong with people who confess the Name of the Lord and belong to Him and who follow Him. At first Hagar was merely a breeding-tool and then she was chased away. She was cruelly abused. Yes, it was in line with the culture of the time, but the culture was just as corrupt and sinful. A culture can be extremely wicked and destroy people’s human dignity. And without a doubt will come under the judgment of God. If being a Christians we cannot blindly follow the culture of our time. Culture is not bad in itself, but where it deviates from the principles of Scripture, it cannot be followed. Every culture must gratify the criticism of the Scriptures.
One cannot help but wonder what impression Hagar reflected of the God of Abram and Sarai and of the true faith. She was a pagan, but she knew full well that Abram and Sarai worshipped and served the Lord. Abram and Sarai acted as God’s representatives. As we do. But they were not great witnesses for the Lord towards Hagar who watched them everyday. Hagar felt ill-used. Yes, she did act in a provocative and presumptuous manner – because she was a fallen human – the same as all humans who have ever lived – but she was pagan and Abram and Sarai should have known better because they were believers in the Lord.
Sarai ill-treated Hagar, so she fled into the desert.
And then the miracle happened. The LORD appeared to her. Uninvited, out of the blue. He did not speak to Abram and Sarai, but He took pity on this pagan, aggrieved, homeless and disheartened woman.
The Angel of the Lord found Hagar.
Where the Angel is indicated with a definite article THE in the OT, it always points to Christ Jesus himself in His OT appearance before He became flesh at Bethlehem. Other places in the OT are Gen 21:17-18; Gen 22:11-18; Ex 3:2; Jdg 2:1-14; Jdg 5:23; Jdg 6:11-24; Jdg 13:3-22; 2 Sam 24:16; Zec 1:12; Zec 3:1; Zec 12:8.
In all these cases it is quite clear that this “angel” is himself God, and yet also a different person than God. He speaks as God. He identifies himself as God, He performs God’s tasks. And yet He stands separate from God! No ordinary angel of God has these attributes. “The Angel of the Lord” was therefore not an ordinary angel, but the Lord Jesus himself (in OT-form) who appeared to Hagar.
When Hagar was at the end of her endurance, the Lord started to speak to her. It is almost as if the Lord found it necessary to personally repair the damage which Abram and Sarai had caused. And He revealed himself to Hagar as the merciful God. In the desert Hagar got to know Him as the God who had a place in His heart for her also. Besides, He also promised her descendants who would be too numerous to count.
The son that Hagar would bear Abram, was Ishmael (God hears) – because the Lord heard her in her distress. Ishmael was to become the progenitor of what we know today as the Arab nations. Therefore, Arab and Jew have the same father, but different mothers. Sarai’s son Isaac, would be the progenitor of the nation Israel. Ishmael and Isaac = Arab and Jew. Today this struggle continues between particularly the Palestinians and the Jews. But the struggle originated with the disobedience of Abram and Sarai.
When the Lord gave Hagar the promises, He said that Ishmael would be a wild donkey of a man. He would be against everyone. And everyone would be against him. It did not bode well at all – as we are aware in 2018 when we look at the never-ending Middle-Eastern conflict.
Ishmael – the wild one. Ishmael – the covenant-child – born of Abram, the father of all the believers. It was a divine miracle that he was born at all. He was born based on the fact that God hears prayer. That is the meaning of his name. And yet, before his birth he was marked as a wild child. Because he was and remained the fruit of Abram and Sarai’s impatience and wilfull family-planning. Later on he would become the enemy of God’s nation.
The consequences of sin are always pain, disruption and sorrow because that is what sin means: To disregard the will of God. Wanting to be god. And it always results in tragedy. And sometimes the consequences perpetuate from generation to generation.
Genesis 16 is actually about the living God and not the people mentioned. We get to know Him in the meaning of Ishmael’s name, and the name of the well (“the LIVING One”) where God spoke to Hagar.
The Lord is the God who truly LIVES and who hears and answers people’s call for help. Even people who do not know Him and who are not redeemed saved people. Hagar was not. Ishmael was not supposed to exist, but the Lord gave him descendants and a future. He gave him the opportunity to LIVE!
But the Lord is also LAHAI ROI = the Lord who sees. He SEES! No, we do not always know that from our own experience! Often we experience Him as the SILENT God. One can see it in several of the Psalms – how the authors experienced the Lord as absent. And they told Him that! One sometimes has experiences where it does not feel as if the Lord really SEES! And like the Psalm-writers we must also learn that the Lord answers in His own time and way. Even Hagar experienced that. Between her first cry for help and the Lord’s actual answer, many tears were shed. Sometimes many questions remain unanswered. Sometimes the Lord’s answer is so different to what we expected. But in other cases the Christian-believer one day discovers: The Lord IS the living God who SEES.
At that time neither Hagar nor Ishmael nor Abram nor Sarai had the vaguest notion of HOW the Lord, in the end, would see and answer.
Many many centuries later the descendants of Ishmael would receive the opportunity to become true children of the Lord when the living God who hears and sees saw the deep distress of a dying world and sent His only Son in a manger and on a cross to provide for this distress. Yes, even until today the descendants of Ishmael can be saved in Christ – if only they could hear and understand the Gospel-message and come to repentance. Naturally I am speaking of the Arab nations. EVERYONE who receives the Lord Jesus as Saviour and repent CAN rejoice with Hagar: Lahai Roi: The living God also saw ME!
Translated by Marthie Wilson