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1. Hagar, Pt. 1: When Running Away Is Not the Answer (Gen. 16:1-16)

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As you read the Bible you discover that life is not always a bed of roses - things don’t always turn out the way you expect or want. Sometimes it’s because of our own ambition or disobedience. Sometimes life just seems to take a twist in the road. What do you do when that happens? Where do you turn?

Kay Arthur tells the story of her friend’s father while he was deer hunting in the wilds of Oregon. He was following an old logging road, nearly overgrown by the encroaching forest, cradling his rifle in the crook of his arm. It was nearly evening and he was just thinking about returning to camp when a noise exploded in the brush nearby.  Before he even had a chance to lift his rifle, a small blur of brown and white came shooting up the road straight for him. It all happened so fast that he hardly had time to think. He looked down and there was a little brown cottontail rabbit, utterly spent, crowded up against his legs between his boots. It just sat there, trembling all over; it didn’t budge. This was all very strange because wild rabbits are frightened of people and it’s not often that you’d ever actually see one, let alone have one come and sit at your feet.

While he was puzzling over this, another player entered the scene. Down the road, maybe 20 yards away, a weasel burst out of the brush. When it saw the hunter, and its intended prey sitting at his feet, the predator froze in its track, its mouth panting, and its eyes glowing red. That’s when he understood that he had stepped into a little life-and-death drama in the forest. The cottontail was a fugitive on the run, exhausted by the chase, only moments from death. This hunter was its last hope of refuge. Forgetting its natural fear and caution, the little animal instinctively crowded up against him for protection from the sharp teeth of its relentless enemy.

The little creature was not disappointed. The man raised his powerful rifle and deliberately shot into the ground just underneath the weasel. The animal seemed to leap almost straight into the air a couple of feet and then rocketed back into the forest as fast as its legs could carry it. For a while, the little rabbit didn’t stir. It just sat there, huddled at the man’s feet in the gathering twilight while he spoke gently to it. Soon the fugitive hopped away from its protector into the forest.

Where does a fugitive run when the predators of trouble, worry, and fear pursue you? Where do you hide when your past pursues you like a relentless wolf, seeking your destruction? Where do you seek protection when the weasels of temptation, corruption, and evil threaten to overtake you? Where do you turn when your life is full of darkness and you can’t see the light of day (Kay Arthur, Stories for the Heart, 251).

Know this: God turns our darkness into dawn. That’s the theme of this series on the life of Abraham. We’re going to see in the story of “Hagar: The flight of a fugitive” that in the darkest experiences of life, that’s where we discover God. The lesson in this passage is that even when you act in self-will, your life is still controlled by God. Notice first that…

1. When you act in self will, your life is infiltrated by the world (1-6a).

Sarah’s frustration dominates her thinking and actions. Her frustration, combined, I suppose, with a certain fear, stems from the fact that she is childless. As she laments her barren condition, she expresses her frustration: “And Sarai said to Abram, Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children (16:2a). This was a desperate predicament for a woman of that day. To be barren was to be under the judgement of God. For a woman to be infertile was to incur the disfavor of your husband.

Sarah’s frustration produces Sarah’s folly. Without any consultation with God, she proposes a foolish plan. She says to her husband: Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her (16:2b). She decides to produce a child through her maid, Hagar. We don’t know anything about Hagar’s family background. We know that she is Egyptian, perhaps an Egyptian slave girl. Most likely Sarah had acquired her when she and Abraham went down to Egypt because of the famine, when Abraham lied about Sarah being his sister (Gen. 12:10-13). Sarah’s logic here is that, “God has promised me a child (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:5), and since I have no child, cannot bear a child, and am too old to have a child, it must be God’s will to use another woman to fulfill his promise.”

Do you see what logic can do to you? It’s so easy to justify your actions of self-will as being God’s will, based on logic, human reasoning, circumstances, feelings, self-justification. Human beings have an enormous capacity to rationalize their decisions, actions, desires, and beliefs. Be very careful when you’re tempted to take matters into your own hands without consulting God. When faced with a dilemma, God should be the first person to turn to for wisdom and direction, not to our own resources.

Sarah’s folly advances to Sarah’s fulfillment. She puts her plan into action. 2cAnd Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abrams wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife (16:2c-3). She was legally entitled to do this with her servant and she was acting well within the customs and moral standards of the day. But she was acting in self-will, entirely independently of God, and wholly contrary to God’s standards for marriage and sexuality. This was entirely worldly thinking and behavior. This is what can happen when you act in self-will: your life can be infiltrated by the world’s standards, priorities, and values.

How much better it would have been if Sarah had trusted God to carry out his promise to make of Abraham a great nation. She certainly shouldn’t have considered giving a pagan, idolatrous Gentile to her husband to bear God’s promised child. This was a worldly alliance if ever there was one. The shame is that Abraham becomes an accomplice. Rather than exercise his leadership and express his trust in God, he agrees to Sarah’s plan: And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived (16:4a).

Abraham should have refused Sarah’s scheme. He should have obeyed God’s law and believed the divine promise. To attempt to produce the promised child through Hagar was lack of faith in God’s power and lack of trust in God’s word. So, be careful who you are influenced by. Abraham was influenced by Sarah, his wife, but her perspective was worldly, humanistic, self-willed. She wasn’t spiritually mature. She was concerned more with having a son than doing God’s will. She wasn’t a very good role model for Abraham to listen to.

Just when the plan seemed to be working, the plot thickens. Sarah hadn’t counted on Hagar’s reaction. Hagar had her own agenda. She used this unholy alliance to further her own interests. Nonetheless, we are somewhat sympathetic to Hagar because she appears to be the innocent victim of Sarah’s scheme. She acts as any worldly, unbeliever might act, with no regard for God’s moral standards and ready to better herself through selfish ambition. The flesh, the world, and the devil play themselves out through her but out of it all she comes to know God as her personal Saviour, her Redeemer.

Now Sarah’s plan began to unravel, because when (Hagar) saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress (16:4b). Even before she gave birth, Hagar’s attitude to Sarah changed, from subservience to scorn, from obedience to opposition. She saw that she could do what Sarah could not - i.e. conceive. This made her, in her own estimation, more valuable to Abraham than Sarah.

Hagar had been in this household now for, probably, at least 10 years. For 10 years she had worked as Sarah’s maid. Now she sees an opportunity to get ahead, to become more than just a servant. By having a child by Abraham she would become his wife! If she became his wife, she would have influence, control, freedom, power, and, more importantly, equality with Sarah. Do you see what happens when you fail to rely on God and act in self-will? 

(1) When you act in self-will, the world infiltrates your life. Abraham and Sarah had gone to Egypt 10 years before to satisfy their hunger during the famine instead of relying on God’s provision. And while they were there, the world infiltrated their life when they acquired Hagar - pagan thinking and pagan ways entered their home. Even though they had been back from Egypt for 10 years (16:3), the impact of dabbling with the world still remained.

(2) When you act in self-will, you adopt worldly thinking, like scheming, rationalizing, self-centeredness, selfish ambition.

(3) When you act in self-will, you practice worldly ways. The culture said it was alright for Abraham to have Hagar as a concubine. Everybody was doing it. But whenever a sexual relationship is established on any other basis than God’s plan for marriage, it causes irreparable harm. Abraham’s relationship with Hagar caused an immediate problem not only between Sarah and Hagar but also between Sarah and Abraham.

(4) When you act in self-will, you succumb to worldly ambition. It’s a fearful force in some people’s lives – to get ahead at any cost.

(5) When you act in self-will, you practice the works of the flesh. It’s impossible to live for God in the power of the Spirit when you’re living for self in the works of the flesh. If you act in the flesh you will probably react in the flesh as well.

Sarah certainly reacts in the flesh. She reacts in the flesh by blaming Abraham. And Sarai said to Abram, May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt (16:5a). She says: “Abraham, what were you thinking? I gave Hagar to you to produce a child – that’s all. But instead you’ve turned Hagar against me! Poor me! She hates me now.”

Sarah reacts in the flesh by blaming Abraham and she reacts in the flesh by passing the buck to God. Listen to her phony pious language. She says: May the Lord judge between you and me (16:5b). She says: “Let God judge whether I am at fault for suggesting the idea or whether you are at fault for heeding my advice.” Why didn’t she consider God before this? Where was her reliance on God’s judgement when she dreamed up the whole scheme to start with? Religious language is often used as a cover for thoroughly irreligious thoughts, motives, and actions.

Hagar also reacts in the flesh by scorning her mistress, despising the one whom she formerly honored and obeyed.

And Abraham reacts in the flesh by becoming callous and irresponsible. But Abram said to Sarai, Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please’” (16:6a). He says, “She’s your servant; you deal with the problem.” Whatever happened to all those 10 years of Hagar’s faithful service? Where is the relationship, the compassion and care for this servant? And what happened to taking responsibility for one’s own actions?

How easily we shirk responsibility! We take matters into our own hands and leave God out. Then we don’t like the consequences. One minute we’re acknowledging, like Sarah, that God has done such-and-such, and the next we’re acting independently in self-will. If she acknowledged that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children, why didn’t she consult God as to what to do about it? Why not wait on God for guidance? Why not recognize the providential hand of God?

When you mess up you need to repent, not blame somebody else for it, certainly not God! How often do we want to take the easy way out and let someone else deal with the consequences of our actions? How easily we cast people aside with no concern for their welfare, dispense with them like so much household waste.

Sarah’s folly could not be that easily remedied. Do you know that this one act started a rivalry between two people groups (Israelites and Arabs) that has lasted throughout history and which has caused oceans of blood to be shed ever since? All the result of Sarah’s folly.

When you act in self-will, your life is infiltrated by the world. And ...

2. When you act in self-will, your life is turned upside down (16:6b-9).

The folly of Sarah’s misguided plan precipitates Hagar’s flight. Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her (16:6b). Previously, Sarah feared being despised by Abraham for her infertility and she misused Hagar to carry out her sordid scheme. Now, Sarah is despised by Hagar and she mistreats Hagar, again. In fact, she mistreats her so badly that Hagar flees as a fugitive. Hagar’s life has gone from riches to rags, from being a maid to the wife of a wealthy man, to a single, pregnant, homeless, despondent woman on the run. All of these conditions are hard and depressing. Being single and pregnant is hard and depressing. Being homeless is hard and depressing. Being on the run is hard and depressing. Being single, pregnant, homeless, and on the run is a recipe for  disaster.

How quickly your life can be turned upside down! One minute you’re living in the lap of luxury; the next, you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. One minute you have a kind boss and good job prospects; the next, you’re cast aside, out on your ear. One minute you’re part of a loving family; the next, you’re caught in the middle of a family feud. One minute you’re single and free; the next, your pregnant and tied down. One minute everything is looking rosy; the next minute your world is dark and bleak.

How do you deal with that? Where do you turn when your life is turned upside down? One thing you don’t do is run away into the wilderness. That’s an act of self-will, taking matters into your own hands. The wilderness is no place to be when you’re in trouble, distressed, desperate; when you’re vulnerable, isolated, despondent. That’s when you need protection, care, support, community.

Hagar flees into the wilderness of Shur where the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur (16:7). There are times in our lives when we find ourselves in the wilderness, in a lonely place. Sometimes people act foolishly towards us. Sometimes we act foolishly towards God and other people. And sometimes we react by fleeing as a fugitive, only to find ourselves in the desert, abandoned and alone. When we hit rock bottom, those are the times when God steps in, assuring us of his favor and showing us that he is still in control.

And (the Lord) said, Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?’” (16:8a). She knows where she came from but she doesn’t know where she’s going. “She said, I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai’” (16:8b). Life for her was full of uncertainty; she didn’t know the future. She had started down a one-way street and now it’s turning out to be a dead-end with nowhere to turn. The only way Hagar can turn with certainty is backwards. “The angel of the Lord said to her, Return to your mistress and submit to her’” (16:9). All that Hagar had and was came from being Sarah’s maid. That was her identity, her position in life. She had left that position without notice or permission and she must return to that position. It wouldn’t be easy to return but it would be right. It was wrong to be rejected, but it was right to go back and face the music. Though Sarah had wronged her, she must not retaliate with another wrong. That’s the result of self-will and personal ambition, not God’s direction. Hagar was as ambitious as Sarah was independent and both character traits lead to trouble.

When you carry out your own independent plans without consulting God, you can expect your life to be turned upside down. When you’re ambitious to improve yourself and get ahead without God’s leading, you may suddenly find yourself in a desert place - lonely, isolated, depressed, desperate. When you act in self-will, the only solution is to repent, turn back to God, and be obedient. It may not be easy but it’s right.

First, then, when you act in self-will your life is infiltrated by the world. Second, when you act in self-will your life is turned upside down. But know this…

3. When you act in self-will, your life is still controlled by God (16:10-14).

After Sarah’s folly and Hagar’s flight, then we see God’s favor. When everything looks black, God turns darkness into dawn. “10 The angel of the Lord also said to her, I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude. 11 And the angel of the Lord said to her, Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has listened to your affliction. 12 He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyones hand against him,
and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen’” (16:10-12).

God is the One who hears. That’s what “Ishmael” means. God is the One who cares for and comforts the desperate and the homeless, who pours grace into troubled hearts, who turns darkness into dawn. He pours his grace into Hagar’s heart by giving her a promise of his favor, that she would be the mother of a great nation. Her child would not be the child of the promise made to Abraham, but the child of a promise made directly to her. But there would be consequences to her actions - her son would be a “wild” man.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh; it cannot be controlled. Ishmael was the product of an utterly fleshly, worldly union. He was the product of a blatantly unequal yoke between a believer and an unbeliever. You cannot mix faith and flesh, law and grace, promise and works.

In the midst of our darkness and despair, God is “the One who hears” and God is the One who sees. 13 So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You are a God of seeing, for she said, Truly here I have seen him who looks after me. 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered (16:13-14). God had “heard” Hagar and he had “seen” her. He knew all about her. And Hagar had “seen” God, even in the desert and darkness of her life. No wonder she called the well Beer-lahai-roi, “the well of him who lives and sees me.” This idolatrous, unbelieving Gentile now knew that God was alive and active in her life. He is not the God of the Jews only but of the Gentiles also.

Concluding Remarks

In the darkest experiences of our lives, that’s where we discover God, his constant care and sovereign control. Remember: Even when you act in self-will, your life is still controlled by God. In the deepest extremities of desolation and brokenness, we come face to face with God and we find fellowship, nearness, instruction, comfort, hope, communion, acceptance, and relationship. In the places where we least expect to meet God, he manifests himself to us - he bestows his favor on us; he strengthens us, comforts us, and encourages us to face the hardest and darkest experiences of life; he hears our cry and sees our circumstances. In his presence the desert becomes an oasis where we receive refreshing, spiritual renewal that enables us to go back and face the realities of life. And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram (16:15-16).

If you’re not a Christian, you’re in the desert without God. You need God. He  knows all about you and he is in full control of your life. You need God for salvation through Christ.

If you are a Christian, you may also be in a desert place today, but you are not alone. Perhaps you’ve acted in self-will and your life has turned upside down as a result. Perhaps you’re experiencing dark circumstances in your life. You don’t know where to turn. You feel abandoned and desperate. Perhaps you’re facing a health crisis, or financial obligations you can’t meet, or sexual temptations that won’t go away. Perhaps you’re struggling spiritually with your relationship to God, with what the Christian life is about, with what God wants you to do with your life. Perhaps you’re making a heavy decision about a marriage partner or career. Whatever your situation, Christ turns darkness into dawn. He is with you to instruct you and encourage you. The barriers of darkness can be broken today. You can receive Christ’s comfort, strength, encouragement, and care.

If you need to meet with God, why don’t you take this moment to confess that sin that has caused darkness in your life, to cast yourself on the Lord for his direction and protection and provision, to repent of your self-will and neglect of God in your life, to ask God for relief from the dark circumstances of your life, or to pray for friends and family who desperately stand in need of God. Will you do that today?

Related Topics: Character Study, Failure, Faith

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