“Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, "The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant.” (See Genesis 16) Victory produces vulnerability and Abraham had resisted the temptation of power and wealth in Chapter 14. God confirmed His covenant with him in chapter 15. So maybe he was over-confident. Heed 1 Cor. 10:12: “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall." "Abram agreed to what Sarai said." As the famine was a test in Chapter 12, now Sarah’s barrenness is a test here. God requires patience and fervent prayer (faith) for the fulfillment of His purposes in our lives, and patience has to be developed in trials. We will need patience all the way to heaven, yet as seen here, God’s people often rush ahead of Him and make costly mistakes. “He that believes does not make haste.” (Isa. 28.16) Note that in both trials, famine and barrenness, Abraham did not pray and seek the Lord. He was very much like Adam was with Eve in the Garden temptation – spiritually passive and submitted to his wife’s counsel and to worldly customs. “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2 NLT) Dr. Robert Lewis says men are to be spiritual leaders and are to reject passivity, accept responsibility, lead courageously and expect God’s reward (not temporal rewards).
“When she (Hagar) knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.” Conflict breaks out between Sarah and Hagar and between Abraham and Sarah, and Hagar flees. "Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up- a maidservant who displaces her mistress.” (See Prov. 30:23) Note what the flesh (vs. the Spirit) produces that is seen here: “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, envying.” (See Gal.5:19-21)
“The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; the LORD has heard of your misery.” Though Hagar wasn’t a believer at this point God still heard her cry and came to her rescue. He told her to name her child Ishmael, which means, “God hears” and she later named the well, “You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees” as she realized she had encountered God. God hears our cries and sees our need and sees to our need. It seems she came to faith in this encounter with the angel of the Lord (possibly the Pre-incarnate Christ).
“So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne.” Obviously Hagar told Abraham the whole story, as he names his son per God’s instructions. The message from God to Abraham and Sarah was in the name of his son – Ishmael – “God hears” and in a sense this was a rebuke to their lack of faith to pray to a God who hears, and to wait on His ways and timing. They moved ahead without seeking Him and brought great pain on themselves, Hagar and Ishmael with the worst yet to come.
In the flesh we want to live by rules, traditions and human logic versus faith, but “without faith it is impossible to please God,” (Heb. 11:6) so we must ask ourselves, “What requires more faith?” Paul used this historical account here in Genesis 16 to contrast the flesh versus the Spirit, and law versus grace in Galatians
law (by works) grace (through faith)
flesh (our efforts apart from God) Spirit
born of the flesh John 1:13; 3:6 born of the Spirit John 3:3, 6
persecutes God’s true children persecuted by the legalists
no spiritual inheritance spiritual inheritance
Mount Sinai (the law) Mount Zion (heaven)
Jerusalem/Judaism Heavenly Jerusalem/all believers
no assurance of salvation assurance of God’s salvation
An allegory is a narrative in which people and events teach a lesson and Paul uses this passage to illustrate our freedom in Christ. Yet Paul’s teaching here is a combination of allegory and typology, where persons and events are taken as prototypes of present persons or events which are explained as their fulfillment. Note the comparisons and contrasts: Hagar was Abraham’s “second wife” and never married again. Likewise, the law was added (was second – God began with grace in the garden) and was temporary and was not given to any other nation (never married again). It was a “servant” (slave) to serve as a mirror (to reveal our sin), a monitor (to control our sin and lead us to Christ) but not a “mother”. The law cannot bring forth 1) eternal life, 2) spiritual growth, 3) the fruit or gifts of the Spirit, or 4) give us a spiritual inheritance (law-based works have no eternal value – 1 Cor. 3:10-15; 13:1-3).
Even as true believers are persecuted by legalists and unbelievers (as we proclaim Jesus is the only way to God and heaven) our flesh (the unsanctified part of our lives) can persecute our spirit-man. It says, “try harder, do better, earn your self-worth through your own self-righteousness.” So if we make the law our “mother” we will experience bondage – the treadmill of guilt and insecurity as we strive to earn acceptance with God and the approval of man. Everyone is always seeking acceptance, consciously or unconsciously, and if we don’t receive it from God (the gospel) we will try to manufacture it through our performance. Performance based acceptance says, “I want to please you, God, to earn your love.” Whereas gospel-based Christians say, “I want to please you God because you love me so much.” This is a response to God and all He has done for us and continues to do for us in Christ.
Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” (John 6:63) Our own fleshly efforts, plans and actions always produce “Ishmaels” that have no spiritual or eternal value for others or ourselves. In fact they produce temporal and eternal consequences and loss. (1 Cor. 3:10-15)
Questions for reflection/application
What are some of the things Abraham did wrong by taking Sarah's advice, and what can we learn from it?
Note the conflict that resulted between Sarah and Hagar and then between Sarah and Abraham. See the list of what the flesh produces in Gal. 5:19-21 and note some of them seen in this account.
What was the clear message the angel of the Lord (possibly the Pre-incarnate Christ) sent to Abraham and Sarah through the name of Abraham's son – Ishmael, which means – "God hears"? What is the message to us as we get impatient with the Lord's timing like Abraham and Sarah did? See Psalm 40:1
Paul used this historical account as an allegory to contrast the flesh and the Spirit, to keep us from producing our own Ishmaels. (See Gal. 4:21-5:1) Where may you be making plans and carrying them out in your own efforts without dependence on the Lord?
Until He comes,
Len and Kristen