Waiting has been described as “the most bitter lesson a believing heart has to learn.” Waiting for a new job, waiting for a prodigal to come home, waiting for test results...Longing for a child can be a particularly heavy, unopened package to try to hold. When you are trying to get pregnant, each cycle can feel like a failure or another disappointment. For Sarah, it went on for approximately 480 months. 480 repeated heartbreaks. 480 times her body told her no. 480 times she had to tell Abraham this month isn’t the month.
And then as she aged, the cycles just stopped coming, and it was as if her fate had been sealed. No more blood meant no more chances, and no more hope for a baby.
Whether we like it or not, the culture of the day dictated that it was Sarah’s responsibility and duty to bear children—as many as possible, and preferably boys. No doubt, becoming a mother had been ingrained into her from childhood. Yet, even though she had wealth, beauty, and status, she didn’t have the one thing she desperately wanted. So, in her desperation, she acts.
Let’s start today by picking up Sarah’s story by reading Genesis 16:1-6.
Either in an attempt to remedy her own situation, or out of fear of being divorced, whatever the reason, Sarah introduces the idea of Abraham taking her younger Egyptian maid, Hagar as a surrogate mother/second wife. One of my commentaries says this: “To speak aloud to her husband the words, ‘The Lord has prevented me from having children’ (16:2) would surely have meant heart-wrenching anguish for Sarah, and to purpose that he have a child by Hagar would further have reinforced her own sense of incompleteness, whatever her demeanor before Abraham may have been” (“Just Wives”).
I wonder if Sarah had hope that Abraham might say no, that his affection and loyalty would be proven strong, and that he might adhere to the calling he had claimed. No matter what Sarah did or did not silently wish for, Abraham accepts the offer.
According to some scholars, this proposed role for Hagar was socially and culturally acceptable. Although it may have been common, and perhaps even permissible for others, it was not what God was asking Sarah and Abraham to do. Similar to Abraham leaving Canaan for Egypt, we see no evidence of God instructing Sarah, no example of Sarah asking God what to do, and no sign of Abraham seeking God’s wisdom on taking a second wife. It was another series of acts stemming from a shortage of faith that caused deep wounds, and inevitable repercussions.
Anyways, Hagar not only gets pregnant, but within the first try or two. Just what Sarah wanted, right?
Once Hagar fulfills her role, she is the one receiving the praise and attention. Everyone now knows that “Abraham isn’t the one with the problem.” Sarah takes a major backseat to young, exotic Hagar, and her growing belly.
Sarah’s plan has worked exactly as she intended, and yet, it’s not at all what she wanted.
As Hagar was once a friend, hair consultant, and possibly even a confidante, she now is a bitter rival who has everything that Sarah so desperately desires and disdain grows between the two. (16:4-6) Daggers are thrown from each camp. Hurtful comments, snide looks, cut-downs at the dinner table, again; scripture doesn’t clearly lay this out—but it got bad enough for Hagar to flee.
You know how it goes: people on the sidelines hear hushed rumors, but no one really knows what to say or do. Words are slung here and there, at this social gathering and to that mutual friend. No matter what, Hagar and Sarah’s relationship will never be the same. But amidst the cattiness and hurt feelings, their God remains the same.
Commentator Abraham Kuyper calls this a time when “Grace intervenes in the pathetic state of affairs.”
Let’s keep reading in Genesis 16: 7-16. What happens to Hagar? Who does she meet?
What does the Angel of the Lord instruct her to do?
What does Hagar call the Lord?
The Hebrew phrase used here is El-Roi, and can be translated as ‘the God who sees me.’
Even though it’s about Sarah this week, I can’t imagine skipping past this. Hagar, the Egyptian slave girl, pushed into a role she didn’t ask for, is seen by God. Not only that, she is one of the few women in the Bible who can claim a meeting with the Lord God himself.
Sarah and Hagar were two women, isolated in the wilderness, within the midst of circumstances beyond their control. Circumstances that each would most likely have planned much different had they been able to chose for themselves.
Two women, one God. El-Roi, ”the God who sees.”
Liz Curtis Higgs describes Sarah as: “a woman unwilling to fully submit to God. We love him, we serve him, but yet we find it difficult to trust him completely, to accept his plan for our lives, to rest in his sovereignty…We pray, then move forward without waiting for an answer. We do the right, Good Girl things and hope no one notices our desperate need to control every aspect of our lives.”
Anybody?? I’m really hoping I’m not the only one feeling the zinger of conviction here. Sometimes our packages come from a need to control. We want to trust, but we want to have a say, too.
We want to believe in the impossible--things only Jesus can do--but we also want to be able to keep holding it in our hands.
God didn’t give up on Sarah, even after the way she treated Hagar. He still loved her as His adopted daughter and had plans for the future of His kingdom to take place in her womb. And He has big plans for us, too.
Psalm 106:15 (NKJV) tells us “And He gave them their request, But sent leanness into their soul.” Have you ever pushed ahead for something and got exactly what you wanted only to have it become sour?
- How are you like or unlike Sarah? Are there any things that seem to mirror your own life or walk with Christ?
- What are some things that are culturally or socially admissible that you feel God is asking you to examine? Maybe on the surface they appear okay, or maybe only slightly unacceptable, but you feel a stirring from God to push back or pull away from them.
- God used Sarah in spite of her failings and impatience. How can God use you in spite of your imperfections?
- Do you believe that in spite of every pain, every disappointment, that the Lord can and still wants to use you?
Like Hagar in verse 16:8, what is something God is calling you to “return to” or “stay in”? How could the Lord best produce Christlikeness in you?
Hebrews 7:25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
Praying for you and for me, that as we wait we are drawing near to Christ—trusting Him with those packages yet to be opened.
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