Genesis 16-17 – Our impatience, God’s faithfulness
Father, as we read today, help us to heed the warning of this story. Please stop us when we try to force you to act and forgive us for our impatience. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
Today, let’s read the chapters one at a time. Please start with Genesis 16.
Up until now, we have not had a glimpse into Sarai’s heart or attitudes. Whether she has been bitter all along, or whether the waiting simply got to her, we don’t know. But in today’s reading, she has had her fill of waiting. She determined there must be another way to get a baby. God took too long.
You can’t blame her really. It’s been ten long years of living in a tent in this land God promised her husband. I get impatient waiting ten minutes for a hamburger. Sigh. She probably got really excited for a while. After all, God said there would be a baby from Abram’s body. That surely meant her. But now, well, she’s 75 years old, and it just doesn’t look like God is going to come through on that promise.
So, she comes up with a new plan.
It makes me so sad when I consider where Sarai probably gained her Egyptian maidservant. Remember the way God rescued Sarai from the Pharaoh in Egypt? (12:17-20) His fierce protection of her should have proved to Sarai that she was part of the promise. But instead, she blamed the Lord, and in a sense, went back to her Egyptian bondage. She tries to force God to fulfill the promise through Hagar, the Egyptian.
Oh, the consequences of impatience.
When Hagar became pregnant, she despised Sarai. Of course she did. This baby would be raised by Sarai. Hagar was nothing more than a means to an end.
Then it simply gets worse. Sarai blames the situation on Abram and dares to call the Lord in as a judge between them. Seriously? What would the Lord say? No one sought his advice on this little plan, neither Abram nor Sarai. It was a decision borne of impatience.
Jealousy turns to cruelty.
One sin leads to another, and we fall down a slippery slope. I don’t think Sarai really thought this through. Once Hagar was pregnant, her jealous anger only grew, and she began to mistreat the mother of her “promised” baby. Hagar saw no choice but to run away.
God sees the hurt.
Hagar may have run into the desert, but God knew exactly where she was. He sent his angel to find her. He gave her the chance to tell him what happened to her, and then he told her what to do. “Go back to your mistress and submit to her” must have been difficult for Hagar to consider (vs. 9). But the angel followed the directive with a promise that sounded like the one she had heard Sarai repeat for years. “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” (vs. 10)
Could this be? Could there be a promise for her too?
With tears undoubtedly spilling down her face, she listened to details about her baby. It’s a boy. His name is to be Ishmael which means “God hears.” God has heard what’s happening to you. Your son will be a wild man who will live against his brothers.
Whether she absorbed all of the information didn’t matter, because she heard loud and clear “The Lord has heard of your misery.” (vs. 11) It emblazoned in her heart so firmly that she gave a new name to the Lord: The God who sees me (El Roi Raiti). She even named the well where God found her: Beer Lahai Roi, well of the Living One who sees me.
Now she knew God is real, and that He sees her and understands her. She knows there’s a promise for her child too. Now she can face anything. She returned to Sarai and gave birth to a son. Abram believed her and named him Ishmael.
It’s not as difficult to obey God once you are convinced that He’s real.
Please pause and read Genesis 17.
Time went by, and Ishmael grew up. Abram probably decided Ishmael was the promised child. After all, the promise Hagar said she heard from the Lord seemed to match the one Abram heard – except it might have bothered him that the angel mentioned Ishmael’s brothers. He must have wondered where those brothers would come from.
Then, when Abram turned 99, God appeared to Abram. The word of the Lord came to Abram several times in his life, but this is the second time that God appeared to Abram. The last time was 24 years ago, when Abram came to the promised land (Genesis 12:7). Now God appeared and declared Himself to be God Almighty, El Shaddai. Abram fell to his face.
I can only imagine what I will do when I come face to face with God Almighty. You might want to pause and listen to the song, “I Can Only Imagine.”
The message from God was intense, and full of information.
First – a new name
God gave Abram a new name: Abraham, meaning “father of many”. There’s that question that has been nagging him – is there going to be another son, or is Ishmael going to have many children? God didn’t explain, He just reiterated the promise of so long ago. This time He added that this will be an everlasting covenant.
Second – a sign of the covenant
God asked Abram to bear a physical sign of his faith in the covenant with God. He was to be marked as a follower of God Almighty by circumcision. He was to circumcise all of the males in his household, whether his offspring, or simply a servant, young or old.
Third – a birth announcement
Finally, God renamed Sarai, as well. Her name will be Sarah, meaning “princess” instead of “my princess.” The scripture does not explain her name change, but I wonder if it was a subtle way to say that Sarah was not solely Abram’s – she belonged to God. He had chosen her to bear the promised child.
Abram fell facedown again, but this last statement from God seemed crazy. How could a baby be born to a 90-year-old woman? Abram’s response shows his disbelief, and maybe his effort to try to help God remember they had a child already. “If only Ishmael might live under you blessing.” (vs. 18)
God remained unruffled. The time had come for the promise to be fulfilled. God promised to bless Ishmael, as Abraham asked, but He made it clear: Sarah will give birth to a son this time next year, and you are to name him Isaac. His faithfulness had nothing to do with Abram’s faith.
Abraham had the sense to not argue with God. As soon as God left, he gathered all the men in his household, and they were all circumcised. The embers of his faith began to glow.
I wonder when he told Sarah to prepare a nursery?
Questions for thought:
- Group Discussion: Each of the characters in today’s story struggled with God. Sarai was angry with impatience. Abram had given up on God’s promise, so he didn’t bother asking for guidance. Hagar was simply used and abused and ran away. But God chose to interact with all three and make promises to all three. What does that say about God’s character?
- Application for your life: Which person do you identify with? Abram, Sarai or Hagar? Why?
- For further study: Deuteronomy 10:12-22; 30:6, and Romans 2:28-29 speak of circumcision of the heart. Circumcision is symbolic of cutting away sin and living a life marked as God’s.