Do not be wise in your own eyes
- Galatians 4:21-5:6
- Genesis 16:1-7
Dear fellow believers,
Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England, had his portrait done by Sir Peter Lely. Lely had the skill of painting away the not so flattering features of the royals, but when commissioned to do Cromwell’s painting, the instruction of Oliver was clear:
“Mr Lely, I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts and everything as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it.”
If the Bible was my book and I had a say in what should be in it, it would be thinner and it would focus on the beauty of the glory of God only. I would omit chapter 16 of Genesis. Chapter 15 is good, because is records God’s grace to Abraham and his offspring. But chapter 16 exposes the ugliness of what happens when a hero in faith relies on his own understanding.
But the path of faith is not walked by perfect feet. Certainly, it tells about the glory and grace of the omnipotent and all-wise God who shows compassion towards fallen sinners; but, it includes the stories of fallen man like us. Now I can understand how the holy God, through Jesus Christ, reaches out to me and make me his child: and all of that by grace!
Up to this point in Genesis, the Bible does not record any spoken word of Sarai. The account of God’s dealing with Abraham excludes any direct dialogue between God and Sarai, and Sarai with Abraham. It seems as if she was, included in the words and actions of Abraham, was the silent, believing partner. Even in the story of what happened in Egypt where she was given into the house of the pharaoh, not a word of Sarai was recorded.
Then, after the mountain-top experience of her husband where God revealed his unilateral agreement of grace to Abraham and his offspring to make him the father of all believers, Sarai speaks.
Surely her husband had shared with her all the things God communicated with him. She was included in the deal. She thought about it. But she had a few of her own ideas about it.
She was barren
This was the first thing she spoke about: “The Lord has kept me from having children.” Or, “The Lord restrained me.”
She thought about what God said to Abraham, she looked at her own inability, and she understood (for a human point of view) that God would exclude her from what is going to happen to Abraham. She, at this stage, did not protest her barrenness; she took it as something which God allowed to happen. One could say that she, in all humility before the will of God, submitted to the idea that she will never have any children.
It seems a natural thing to look at your circumstances, weigh up the impossibilities, and then look at all other possibilities. That’s how human nature works.
Perfectly acceptable custom
In those days it was perfectly okay and acceptable to give your personal slave girl to your husband as a surrogate to bear children if your proved to be barren. Any child born out of that union would be regarded as the child of the first wife.
Sarai looked at this option. She might even have thought that it was by the providence of God that she and Abraham had to go to Egypt so she could get Hagar as a slave: she was Gods hand-picked choice to bear the child of the promise. There would be no shame in this arrangement; as a matter of fact this was an arrangement that would take away the shame from both Abraham and Sarai, because in those days there was a stigma to barren women.
Willing to stand back
In perfect submission to her husband and all which God promised to him, Sarai was quite willing to play second fiddle, stand back and disappear on the background. If this was God’s will for her life, so be it. What as picture of submission and humility.
God’s kingdom be built
She said to Abraham:
The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” (Genesis 16:2, NIV)
In these words Sarai thought in some way she would be included, although not directly. “I could built my family through her.” It was the second option, but rather this than nothing!
It as surely the desire of Abraham too that Sarai would be included into God’s plan for all who would believe. Just imagine, God called this man and his wife, she agreed to be with him wherever he goes, whatever the circumstance, whatever the cost. But in the end she was not part of it, God had to launch “Plan B”: get Hagar into his plan, because He overlooked one small bit of detail: Sarai was barren.
Did God really intended Sarai to have direct part?
Maybe, at this point of time, Abraham went through all the encounters he had with God. “To your descendants I give this land.” “Your descendants will be be as many as the the stars and the sand of the seashore.” It’s about Abraham’s seed; Sarai is not explicitly mentioned here. The more he thought about it, the more it became clear to him: “I’m the father; Sarai is barren; there’s another women in the house. God allowed her to part of the family. She is an Egyptian, and did God not say all the nations of the earth will be blessed through me? This is from God. I’s my second choice, but it could be God’s first choice!”
“Abraham agreed to what Sarai said.” Abraham was an honourable man; what he did was not without the consent of his lawfully wedded wife. I suppose they talked about it, weighed up the pros and cons, and in the end a day was set for Abraham to formally take Hagar as his secondary wife.
This happened “ten years after they arrived in Canaan” (verse 3), still waiting for the promises of God to come true. I don’t think the inclusion of this line is in the Bible for nothing. It is almost as if Moses wrote it there for us to understand that all possible human recourses were exhausted.
Sarai gave away her rights to Hagar, and Abraham did what he did for one thing, and one thing only: they wanted to be obedient to the Lord to see his promises come true.
Hagar fell pregnant. What a relief! It worked! It would still be better if this was a boy.
Sarai’s actions seemed plausible and laudable. But her actions speak of unbelief. Her answer to her barrenness did not keep in mind the power of God. Further, it seems as if Hagar had no say in the whole scheme. She was treated the way you would expect of unbelievers. It might have been politically correct to do pass on your maidservant to your husband as secondary wife, but it was not according to the plan of God. Sarai’s polygamous solution was conventional and proper in the eyes of everyone, but God.
Further, her words, “I can build my family through her” (verse 3) completely kept God out of the picture. God could not do it, now I will have to step up and do it! Faith flew out the backdoor.
It was wrong against God, Whose word had been given and Whose time should have been waited. It was wrong against Abraham, leading him out of the pathway of patient waiting for God’s will. It was wrong against Hagar, and did not recognize her individuality and rights in the matter. It was wrong against Sarah herself, robbing her of a high privilege as well as leading to disobedience
Like Adam in the Garden, listened to his wife. Although already legally married to one wife, Abraham here acted like the unbelievers in the country they came to live. God’s calling for them was to be holy and different from the nations and their customs, but here he used the customs of heathen nations to justify has actions to become the husband of more than one wife.
Once he had followed the voice of God in Ur and obeyed. He heard God’s promises spelled out to him over and over again. In the shadow of chapter 15, where God explicitly, in a very unambiguous way, demonstrated to him that all is in God’s hands, he still fell back on his own wisdom. There was no direction from God to take Hagar as his wife. Instead, now he listened to the voice of his wife.
The language in this chapter is almost identical to that of chapter three. There Eve said to Adam and he agreed; here Sarai said to Abraham and he agreed. There Eve took and gave to her husband; here Sarai took and gave to her husband. Both Adam and Eve partook willingly; here, both Abraham and Sari partook willingly
Up to this point Hagar was treated like a commodity, a soulless baby machine. She was dragged into this drama to solve the problems of the childless parents, and she was used for nothing else.
Little wonder then that she, after falling pregnant, despised Sarai.
This is what happens when we take things in our hands, and not wait upon God. Someone said, “He who believes should never be in a hurry.” If we are, we have to face the consequences.
One consequence is sin comes into our lives and dominate it. At first there was just Abraham and Sarai; now it was Hagar first, then Abraham and Sarai. What seemed to be background music, now became in-your-face-noise. The fruit of our schemes become unwelcome quests, but we just can’t rid of it – it’s pregnant!
Hagar was treated badly – yes she was mistreated, the same word used for cursed.
The easy-going Sarai now became an erupting volcano. Bitterness sprang up, the blame game began: “Your are responsible for my wrong.” Even the fact that Hagar despised Sarai became Abraham’s fault. She realises that what she and Abraham had done can only be judged by God, but she put it in such a way as she expected God to punish Abraham.
This is where we see that Abraham was actually no hero. Like Elijah who in one chapter saw the glory of God in victory of the Baal priests, and in the next find himself in the bush, wishing that he was never born, here we see Abraham falling from the heights of his experience with the living God falling to the depths of humiliation and weakness.
“Your servant is in your hands. Do with her whatever you think best.” (verse 6) Yes, but she is pregnant with your child! What a love triangle; what a disaster! As a strong husband he should have assured Sarai of his love and that she was first. He should have accepted the full blame and responsibility. He should have dealt kindly and firmly with Hagar. He didn’t. He should have sought the face of God in prayer, apologised to his wife and cared for the woman now carrying his baby.
It is interesting that neither Abraham nor Sarai referred to Hagar by name: she was just “the servant”!
A commentator writes:
“The thing that shouts loudest here in the story is that there was not an honorable character in the lot. All were ignoble. Abram was the worst. He was pathetic, passive, impotent, and uncaring of either woman. Neither woman had any compassion on the other. Sarai was worse, but you get the idea that Hagar would have done the same if she could. Notwithstanding, Hagar was the prime victim. And Sarai was a not-so-distant second.
All of this started when one becomes wise in one’s own eyes, not trusting God.
Before we condemn Abraham, Sarai and Hagar, we need to be honest before God here. Aren’t we just the same? One moment on the mountaintop of grace, the next we take things in our own hands, and when it blows up we blame God for it! Or we blame one another.
We learn from this to always trust God who is powerful, all-wise and perfect in his ways. Never can we do God’s work for Him. We’ll be sure to mess it up.
God honours marriage. Let’s leaner this from this story. God has never intended for marriage to be between more than just one man and one wife. The mere fact is very clear from what Paul later declared:
After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (Ephesians 5:29–31, NIV)
In matters spiritual beware of what might look like good advice, but not tested by the Word of God, even if that comes from those closest to you. Even Job’s wife enticed him to curse God and die.
We need to confess to God that our plans are not his plans. We need to submit to Him and ask Him to teach us patience, which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
If we in the process wronged anyone we need to go back and beg forgiveness in the Name of Jesus Christ.
If in the process we have set things in motion which will have consequences beyond our control, we need to beg God’s forgiveness and pray that He will somehow teach us how to best deal with it.
As church, the body of Christ, we need to ask Him to keep us within his will, love his Word, keep praying for his guidance, not embark on any program if it may in any way be against his declared will in the Scriptures.
We need to go on our knees and thank God that He did not abandon his plan of salvation even in the face of disbelief and disobedience, but that He brought it to fruition by sending Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Redeemer through the true son of the promise, honouring the marriage of Abrham ans Sarai.
Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them. (Proverbs 26:12, NIV)
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. (Isaiah 5:21, NIV)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. (Proverbs 3:5–7, NIV)
Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 7 September 2014