Genesis 16

The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry

So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. Genesis 16:2 NASB

In yesterday’s reading we saw Abram attempt to give God an alternate plan by suggesting his servant, Eliezer become his heir. God rejected that plan and assured Abram that he would have a son the old-fashioned way – through his wife Sarai. We are told that Abram believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. Now we find ourselves in chapter 16 and the issue of God’s delayed promise comes up again – this time with Sarai. It has now been 10 years since Abram first arrived in the land of Canaan. He has yet to settle down anywhere. He does not live in a city, but in tents. He has not officially become a landowner in the land that God has promised him. On top of that, he still has a barren wife who isn’t getting any younger, and no heir.

Sarai takes notice of this predicament and comes up with her own version of plan B. Now this one has always boggled my mind because Sarai’s “solution” sounds so out of character for any normal, red-blooded woman. She decides to let Abram take a second wife! Now what woman in her right mind would ever suggest something like that to her husband? I can see Abram coming up with a plan like that long before Sarai. But it probably reveals her state of mind. She so longs to provide her husband with an heir. In that culture, for a woman to be barren and unable to provide her husband with a male heir, to keep the family name going, was a curse. She was desperate. She probably saw herself as a failure. So she decides to do something about the situation. And Abram agrees to it! That is the crazy part. This man who believed is now more than willing to have sexual relations with his wife’s servant girl. And so he does.

From bad to worse

So how did this all work out for Sarai? Well, Hagar gets pregnant immediately. Which was a painful reminder to Sarai of her own barrenness. I have to believe that there is part of Sarai that was even a little put out with her husband that he agreed to this plan to easily. We’re told that Sarai despired Hagar. Sarai curses her own husband and blames him for the whole messed up affair (Genesis 16:5). Abram decides to stay out of it all and gives Sarai permission to mistreat Hagar. Which she does. So much so that Hagar takes her newborn son and runs away. Things are really turning out great, aren’t they? Sarai and Abram are at odds with each other. Abram’s second wife has run away. He has just lost the son who he had intended to be his heir. Hagar is left all alone in the wilderness with a newborn baby and no way of providing for herself. It really does go from bad to worse. But that seems to be the way things work when we come up with our own plan. When we fail to trust God and attempt to play god, we never see it work out well in the long run. Matthew Henry has this to say in his commentary:

When our hearts are too much set upon any creature-comfort, we are easily put upon the use of indirect methods for the obtaining of it. Inordinate desires commonly produce irregular endeavours. If our wishes be not kept in a submission to God’s providence, our pursuits will scarcely be kept under the restraints of his precepts. (2.) It is for want of a firm dependence upon God’s promise, and a patient waiting for God’s time, that we go out of the way of our duty to catch at expected mercy. He that believes does not make haste.

But God sees

It seems from the text that Hagar is headed home to Egypt. But on the way she is visited by the angel of the Lord. He tells her to return and submit to Sarai’s authority. That is probably not exactly what Hagar wanted to hear. It didn’t sound like good advice. But it was godly advice! The angel also assures Hagar that she is going to have more descendants than she could ever count. In other words, God is going to bless her. She is told to name her son Ishmael, which means “God hears.” God had heard her cries for help. He had heard the abuse hurled at her by Sarai. He heard and He responded. Hagar’s response was a simple, yet profound statement: “You are a God who sees.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “Thereafter, Hagar referred to the LORD, who had spoken to her, as ‘the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have seen the One who sees me!'”

In the midst of all her sorrow and pain, God saw her. And she got to see Him. That’s the way God works. He wants to reveal Himself in those dark moments of pain and sorrow. He wants to reveal Himself to us when our plans fail or when the plans others make for us prove faulty. God sees, but more importantly, He wants to be seen. He wants our eyes to focus on Him. He wants us to perceive Him and know that He is there – even when things look bleak. In spite of Sarai’s less-than-perfect plan, God was watching. He was aware and He cared. He saw and He acted. He is the God who sees. Do you see Him at work in your life? Do you see Him in the middle of your circumstances? Is He asking you to stay right where you are, instead of trying to run away from your situation? Is He asking you to trust Him? He is the God who sees. And He wants you and I to see Him work His will according to His power in the midst of our worst situations.

Father, You always see me. But I sometimes fail to see You. I don’t see You, even though You are right there beside me. I fail to see Your hand in my circumstances. I fail to hear Your voice speaking to me in my pain. Open my eyes so that like Hagar I can say, “I have seen the One who sees me!” Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men