Theologians define synergism as, “to attempt to independently help God accomplish his purpose.” [Waltke, Genesis, A Commentary, 256]
Synergy has the basic meaning of “working together, teamwork, and harmony.” The opposite of synergy is “discord, divorce, and separation.”
“Sin comes when we take a perfectly natural desire or longing or ambition and try desperately to fulfill it without God. Not only is it sin, it is a perverse distortion of the image of the Creator in us. All these good things, and all our security, are rightly found only and completely in him.”
Source: Saint Augustine in The Confessions of Saint Augustine. Christianity Today, Vol. 37, no. 12.
I know that I have tried to “help” God out with His plans, whether in my own life or the life of my children
How many of us have tried to help God out with His plan and purpose?
Perhaps it was something in our own lives
Sometimes it’s in our children’s lives
Other times it’s in our friend’s or coworker’s lives
It could even be in our neighbor’s lives
Maybe it’s in the life of a student we’re teaching
What was the result?
In our own lives, we may have experienced frustration, anxiety, anger, depression, fear, etc.
When we try to help others out, we may experience broken relationships, hurt feelings, anger, frustration, fear, and many more things
God has promised Abram that he will be the father of a great nation. God promised him that an heir would come from his own body. It has been ten years since the last time God made that promise, and still Abram and Sarai have not been able to have children. Maybe God needed some help, so Sarai comes up with a plan to “help” God accomplish His promise. What we will learn today from this passage of Scripture is that . . .
BIG IDEA – God’s plan is best for us.
This was true for Abram and Sarai and for Hagar.
GOD (Genesis 16:1-16)
Introduction (v. 1)
This verse introduces us to the three people who are part of this narrative
Sarai, the wife of Abram
Hagar, the Egyptian maidservant of Sarai
The titles used are important and significant
Sarai is always identified as Abram’s wife
“This designation of Sarah emphasizes her rightful standing. The promised son should come from her.” [Waltke, 251]
That was God’s plan for Abram and Sarai
God’s plan was going to be best for them as it is for us
Hagar is primarily identified as the maidservant or servant to Sarai
The fact that she is identified as an Egyptian is also important
She came to be part of Abram’s family either by Abram obtaining her while he was in Egypt or as part of the dowry that Pharaoh had given Abram when he took Sarai as his wife
It is likely that Hagar was the personal maidservant to Sarai – she took care of Sarai’s every need
She was not a slave, but probably had a very important position within Abram’s family
Eliezer was perhaps Abram’s personal manservant, which is why Abram had chosen him as his heir
Abram and Sarai would have had close relationships with Eliezer and Hagar
This sets the stage for the rest of the narrative
Sarai’s plan (vv. 2-6)
In verses 2-6 we have a parallel chiastic structure [Mathews, The New American Commentary, Volume 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 182]
We’ll see in verses 2a and 5 that Sarai complains about her state
Then in verses 2b and 6a, we’ll see how Abram complies with Sarai’s interests
Finally, in verses 3-4 and 6b, we’ll see how Sarai tries to resolve her complaints
Barren (vv. 2-4)
Sarai complains about the fact that the Lord has kept her from having children (complaint)
Sarai and Abram have been in Canaan for 10 years (Sarai is now about 75 years old)
She recognizes that God is the Creator of life, but she is probably struggling with the cultural stigma of being barren
“That barrenness was grounds for divorce after a ten-year period is a rabbinic explanation for Sarai’s actions (Gen. Rab. 45.3).” [Mathews, 185]
Although, Sarai and Abram have been married for much longer than 10 years, it has been ten years since the Lord reaffirmed His promise that Abram would be a great nation and that an heir would come from his own body
Van der Toorn summarizes well what Sarai was probably feeling, “The woman who remained childless not only ran the risk of being disdained, or worse, repudiated by her husband and in-laws, she also incurred the suspicion of indecent behavior. The gods surely had to have their reasons for withholding children. Consequently, we may safely assume that newly-wed who, as time elapsed perceived no signs pointing to pregnancy, was overcome by panic. Her fear undoubtedly doubled her piety.” [Walton, The NIV Application Commentary, Genesis, 447]
Sarai is probably dealing with fear that Abram will divorce her, so she, proactively, offers to have Abram sleep with her maidservant, Hagar
This was a common, culturally acceptable, practice in the Ancient Near East
In Genesis 30:3-12, we see Rachel and Leah giving their maidservants to Jacob as wives, so that they could build their families through them
This practice was also written about in multiple extra-Biblical texts (Code of Hammurabi [ca. 1700 B.C.]; Nuzi text [ca. 1500 B.C.]; Old Assyrian marriage contract [nineteenth century B.C.]; Neo-Assyrian text) [Waltke, 252]
Just because it was culturally acceptable did not make it morally right or according to God’s plan
Mathews reminds us that, “multiple wives were wrong according to God’s will (2:24) and posed a threat to the stability of a family (29:30-31; 30:8; 35:22; Exod 21:7-11; Deut 21:15-17; cf. Deut 17:17; 1 Kgs 11:3-8), which is sadly illustrated by the strife in Abram’s house (16:4, 6; 21:9-10).” [Mathews, 185]
Genesis 2:24, For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
1 Timothy 3:2-3, Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
Titus 1:6 says the same thing about being the husband of but one wife
The same is true in our culture today
We have to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of doing something that is culturally acceptable, but not approved by God
Just because our culture has legalized certain things (abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.) or has made certain practices acceptable (premarital sex, drunkenness, smoking marijuana, etc.) does not make them Biblically and morally acceptable by God
Sarai was trying to “help” God out, but it wasn’t according to His plan
God’s plan is best for us
Just as Sarai was struggling with the cultural stigma of being barren, we sometimes struggle with the cultural stigmas of our day
She came up with a plan that she shared with her husband, Abram
Abram agrees to her plan (compliance)
Notice that Abram did not consult the Lord at this point and neither had Sarai
This is reminiscent of Adam passively eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil at Eve’s prompting
As head of the household and the spiritual leader, Abram should have consulted the Lord, before blindly agreeing to Sarai’s suggestion and offer
God’s plan is always best for us
We see the result of not consulting the Lord and His plan
Sarai gives Hagar to Abram (conduct)
Abram slept with Hagar, and she conceived
Hagar’s attitude toward Sarai changed when she realized she was pregnant
Sarai and Hagar’s relationship changed
What was once a close relationship between the wife of Abram and her maidservant, was now strained
Hagar was taking pride in her pregnancy and perhaps throwing it in Sarai’s face
We can imagine, with the attitude change, that perhaps Hagar was verbally abusive towards Sarai “Hey, Sarai, I didn’t have any trouble getting pregnant by Abram, so the problem is with you!”
A rivalry has replaced relationship
Hagar does not realize that her attitude has placed her on thin ice – she is alienated from Abram and Sarai and God’s blessing on them
Proverbs 30:21-23, “Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up: a servant who becomes king, a fool who is full of food, an unloved woman who is married, and a maidservant who displaces her mistress.
How sad to see what happens when we try to “help” God accomplish His plans
PRINCIPLE #1 – Getting ahead of God and His plan causes problems
I want you to think for a moment about a time when you tried to “help” God accomplish His plan
How did that work out?
What complications happened because of getting ahead of God?
Was there strain on a relationship (spouse, family member, friend, neighbor, coworker, etc.)?
Was there a big mess that had to be cleaned up?
Perhaps you’re still trying to clean up the mess and restore relationships
Are you still waiting for God’s plan to be accomplished in the situation?
The great thing about God is that He is gracious, compassionate, forgiving, slow to become angry, loving, and always there for us
Nehemiah 9:17b-18, “But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies.”
God is able to clean up the mess that we’ve made when we get ahead of Him
He’s able to get His plan back on track
#1 – My Next Step Today Is To: Confess to the Lord that I have tried to “help” Him accomplish His plan and failed.
#2 – My Next Step Today Is To: Admit to the Lord that His plan is best for me and patiently wait for His timing.
Those two steps will help you get back on track with God’s plan
We’ve seen Sarai’s first complaint, but now she has a second complaint, because of the plan she suggested, to solve the first complaint
Her plan did not bring the fulfillment and satisfaction that she envisioned – it only brought heartache and strife
Begrudging (vv. 5-6)
Sarai complains that Abram is responsible for the suffering she is experiencing because of the success of her plan (complaint)
“Sarai’s accusation against Abram is that, apparently in his delight at becoming a father, he has neglected the necessary steps that would keep Hagar remembering her appropriate place within the household.” [Walton, 447]
Sarai is upset that Abram is not confronting Hagar about her attitude and how she has been treating Sarai as the primary wife
Hagar was to be the surrogate through which Sarai could build a family
She was not supposed to replace Sarai as the primary wife
Sarai appeals to the highest court available
She asks the Lord to be the judge
When everything didn’t go as she planned, then she appeals to the Lord
That’s true for us also
That seems to fall on deaf ears
Abram tells Sarai to handle the problem however she thinks best (compliance)
Again, Abram is delegating his responsibility as the head of the household to Sarai
We have all heard the phrase, “happy wife, happy life.”
Abram was not experiencing that reality, because He had not consulted the Lord before following Sarai’s plan
Instead of accepting his role as head of the household and confronting Hagar, he once again passively passes the buck
Men, we must embrace our God-given responsibility as head of our household
We are the spiritual leaders in our household
That requires us to seek the Lord’s face when conflict arrives
It means that we are the ones who lead by example (praying together, reading God’s Word, attending church, pursuing holiness, resolving conflict in a Biblical way, and so much more)
We don’t delegate that responsibility to anyone else
#3 – My Next Step Today Is To: Embrace my God-given responsibility to lead my family, biblically.
When Abram told Sarai to do with Hagar whatever she thought best, he meant to treat her in a way that was good for her
We see that Sarai did not follow those instructions
Sarai mistreated Hagar, so Hagar fled (conduct)
Sarai was wrong for mistreating Hagar
Here’s the reality: hurt people, hurt people
Those who are feeling hurt by others will inevitably lash out at others
Most times they hurt the ones closest to them – the ones they love
As we will see, Hagar was wrong for fleeing
“Instead of facing their sins honestly, each of the persons involved took a different course; and this only made things worse.” [Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Old Testament, Genesis-Deuteronomy, 85]
“Sarah’s solution was to blame her husband and mistreat her servant as she gave vent to her anger.” [Wiersbe, 85]
“Abraham’s solution was to give in to his wife and abdicate spiritual headship in his home.” [Wiersbe, 85]
“Hagar’s solution was to run away from the problem, a tactic we all learned from Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:8).” [Wiersbe, 85]
PRINCIPLE #2 – The first step toward reconciliation with others is getting right with God.
We see Hagar’s solution in verses 7-14
Hagar’s plan (vv. 7-14)
At the end of verse 6, Hagar has fled from Sarai and her abuse
Sought (vv. 7-8)
The angel of the Lord was looking for Hagar, seeking her out
PRINCIPLE #3 – God is concerned about abused people and unborn children.
If you are experiencing abuse right now, please know that God is concerned about you
He has not forsaken you
He has not forgotten about you
He is looking for you, seeking you out
He knows all about the abuse
He wants to help you through the process of recovery
Turn to Him and seek His face, His comfort, His protection, His love, His provision, His healing
Maybe you’re currently dealing with a unexpected pregnancy
This pregnancy did not come as a surprise to God
He is aware of it
He knows all the feelings you are having about it (fear, anger, anxiety, depression, etc.)
He is concerned about you and your baby
He knows the future of that baby and who they will become
#4 – My Next Step Today Is To: Turn to God and trust Him to protect me and/or my unborn child.
The angel finds Hagar in the desert
If Abram is still camped around Hebron, then Hagar was already 70 miles southwest, which would have taken her about a week’s worth of walking
She is near a spring in the desert that is beside the road to Shur (shoor) [show map]
The angel’s interaction with Hagar
The angel addresses Hagar as the servant of Sarai
This is pretty important
The angel does not call Hagar the wife of Abram
“God never accepted Hagar as Abraham’s wife; the Angel of the Lord called her “Sarah’s maid” (16:8). Later she was called “this bondwoman and her son” (21:10), not “Abraham’s wife and son.” Why? Because “whatever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).” [Wiersbe, 85]
The angel of the Lord asks her two questions that he probably already knew the answer to
“Where have you come from?” (Canaan)
“Where are you going?” (Egypt)
We see Hagar’s response to one of the questions
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai.”
She does not mention where she is going, but it’s most likely that she is returning home to Egypt – that’s the direction she seems to be heading (southwest)
The angel of the Lord encourages her to make a 180 degree turn
Submit (vv. 9-10)
Command with a promise
The angel tells her to go back to Sarai and submit to her
“Wait, what are your saying? You want me to go back to an abusive mistress?”
That was certainly what the angel of the Lord was telling her to do, but it was going to be different
The Lord was going to be with her and protect her and her unborn child
We know that to be true, because Ishmael is born and grows up and becomes the father of the Arab nations
God’s plan for Hagar and her baby were going to be best
That plan included returning to Sarai and Abram’s household
The promise for obedience and submission is that Hagar will have so many descendants that they will be too numerous to count
While God’s plan was for Abram’s heir to come from he and Sarai, God was promising to bless Hagar’s child also
God’s blessing on Abram, because of his faith (which was counted to him as righteousness), was going to be imparted to he and Hagar’s child
What a powerful commentary on Abram’s faith
The angel of the Lord has some information for Hagar about her child
Share (vv. 11-12)
The angel tells her that she is pregnant
That wasn’t news to her
Her pregnancy and the abuse that followed were why she was by the spring in the desert
The angel tells her the sex of the baby
She is going to have son
This would be welcome news for Abram – an heir!
The angel tells her the name of the baby
I don’t remember Judy and I having a hard time choosing baby names
For the first two pregnancies we had a boy name and a girl name ready
We didn’t want to know the sex of the baby prior to birth
With Levi, we found out his sex prior to his birth
I know that some couples struggle to come up with a name for their baby
They have multiple names they like, but just can’t decide
Many times they want to see the baby first, before choosing the name
How was it with you and your spouse when it came to naming your children?
We have some friends, who decided before they started having children, that depending on the sex, either the father or the mother would name the baby
It turned out that their first three children were boys and the father got to name them
They finally adopted a little girl and the mother was able to name her
Hagar didn’t have to worry about that
The angel of the Lord told her what to name her son
The name was significant, because it spoke to Hagar’s situation
She was to name him Ishmael (yish-maw-ale’)
Ishmael means “God hears”
God had heard of Hagar’s misery
PRINCIPLE #4 – God sees and hears our cries when we hurt.
This is a truth that everyone of us can hold on to today
No matter what hurt you are currently experiencing, God sees and hears your cries
Your hurt may be emotional, physical, or relational
It may be in your family, at school or work, in your neighborhood, or at church
God is not distant
I just want to encourage you to claim, embrace, and acknowledge this truth today
He is there for you!
The angel of the Lord also tells Hagar about Ishmael’s temperament
He will be a free spirit, extremely independent, and quarrelsome
How many of us would have welcomed some divine foreknowledge about our child(ren)’s temperament, before they were born?
With that kind of knowledge, we would have bought all of the books, watched all the videos, and talked to all of the experts about how to raise a child with that particular temperament
Even with that foreknowledge, Hagar and perhaps Abram were not able to change Ishmael’s temperament or future
We know that the Arab nations came from Ishmael’s line
The modern hostility between Israel and the Arab nations in the Middle East was foretold all the way back in Genesis, during the time when Moses wrote it
Imagine for a moment what our modern day would look like, had Abram and Sarai continued to follow God’s plan, instead of trying to “help” Him out
As the angel of the Lord finishes sharing with Hagar, she recognizes that she was talking to the Lord
Seen (vv. 13-14)
From her child’s name, Hagar knows that the Lord has heard her
From her name for the Lord, Hagar recognizes that the Lord also sees her
She has seen the back of the One who sees her
The well was named to commemorate what had happened to Hagar
Beer Lahai Roi (be-ayr’ lakh-ah’ee roee’/ba-hair’ lock-high’ row-e’)
The name of the well means, “well of the Living One who sees me.”
The well was between Kadesh (kaw-dashe’) and Bered (beh’red)
Kadesh is referring to Kadesh-Barnea
Bered is unknown in our modern day
We know that Hagar obeys the command of the angel of the Lord through the final two verses
Conclusion (vv. 15-16)
Hagar had the baby
Abram named him Ishmael
Abram was 86 years old when Ishmael was born
Do you need to confess to the Lord that you have tried to “help” Him out and failed?
Do you need to wait patiently for God’s perfect plan to be fulfilled?
Men, do you need to embrace your God-given role as spiritual head of your household?
Do you need to turn to God and trust Him to protect you?
Some of these things we need to do corporately as a body of believers (confess, wait patiently, and trust Him).
“Kevin Martin was a minister at a massive church—but one of those churches where it got too burdensome. The administrative machine ate him up, and his world was blackened with depression. At one point he was so depressed, so crushed, that he hastily wrote a letter to his board, immediately resigning from office, and then wrote a letter to his wife and his children saying he would never see them again.
Kevin got in his Buick and drove up to Newfoundland, Canada, without anybody knowing where he was. He got a job as a logger. It was winter. He lived in a small metal trailer, heated at night by a small metal heater. One night, when it was 20 below, the heater stopped working. In a rage, Kevin went over to the heater, picked it up with both his hands, and chucked it out the window—then realizing that was a stupid thing to do, for it was 20 below.
He throws himself on the ground and starts pounding the floor of this small metal trailer. As he’s pounding on the floor, he is yelling out to heaven, ‘I hate you! I hate you! Get out of my life! I am done with this Christian game. It is over!’ He went into a fetal position.
Kevin writes, I couldn’t even cry. I was too exhausted to cry. As I laid there, I heard crying, and heaving breaths, but they were not coming from me. Instead, in the bright darkness of faith, I heard Christ crying, and heaving away on the Cross. And then I knew, the blood was for me: for the Kevin who was the abandoner, the reckless wanderer, the blasphemer of heaven. And then the words rose up all around me: ‘Kevin, I am with you, and I am for you, and you will get through this. I promise you.’
Kevin rose to his feet, got into his car, sped back home, and reconciled with his family and his church. And then went on to lead that church in a healthy way.”
Source: Ethan Magness, “Lamb DNA – An All Saints Homily – Rev 7,” Grace Anglican Online (11-1-20).