From the time they had entered Canaan, God had promised Abraham and Sarah that their descendants would be given the land they were now in (see Genesis 12:7). The problem was that both Abraham and Sarah were well on in years and weren’t getting any younger. When Abraham first received this promise he was 75 years old (Genesis 12:4), and Sarah was ten years younger.
As the years went on, it would seem that Abraham and Sarah had decided to begin helping God out, initially by designating one of their servants as their heir. “But Abram said, ‘O sovereign Lord, what will you give me since I continue to be childless, and my heir is Eliezer of Damascus?’ Abram added, ‘Since you have not given me a descendant, then look, one born in my house will be my heir!’” (Genesis 15:2-3 NET).
This was not the plan that God had for Abraham and his descendants. “The word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir, but instead a son who comes from your own body will be your heir.’ The Lord took him outside and said, ‘Gaze into the sky and count the stars – if you are able to count them!’ Then he said to him, ‘So will your descendants be’” (Genesis 15:4-5). God had said it would be one of Abraham’s descendants. This time he even emphasized that it would be “a son who comes from your own body.”
But time kept marching on. When we arrive in chapter 16, ten years had passed since the promise God made when they arrived in Canaan. Sarah thought she could help God out. She was obviously unable to have children, having been barren all these years. She decided to give her Egyptian servant to her husband to be a second wife. In this way, Sarah would indirectly have a child by this servant (this idea is found in the Code of Hammurabi which allowed for a childless priestess to give a slave to her husband to bear a child: if that slave tried to exploit the situation, she could be returned to slavery).
Although Hagar, the slave wife, was supposed to get pregnant, the problem was that it happened very quickly. This led to problems of Hagar despising Sarah (Genesis 16:4) and Sarah mistreating Hagar, so she ran away (Genesis 16:6). God intervened and sent Hagar back. Although Hagar would have a son, Ishmael, this was not the fulfilment of what God had promised. This son of promise would be the child of both Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18:10).
Sometimes we, too, act like we know better than God. Perhaps we try to soften how one becomes a Christian by rationalizing that baptism can’t be all that important. Or that we really don’t have to turn our back on all our sin. Or perhaps it is some other area of our living as Christians.
One thing we should learn about God from the Old Testament is that he knows exactly what he is doing. Just as God didn’t need help in giving Abraham and Sarah their own child, he doesn’t need our help in changing what he has revealed in the Bible. God’s word stands on its own, whether we like it or not and whether we obey it or not.
Readings for next week:
27 July – Genesis 21
28 July – Genesis 22
29 July – Genesis 23
30 July – Genesis 24:1-28
31 July – Genesis 24:29-67