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Q. Based on Genesis 16:6 are we to blame Sarah for Hagar’s running away?

Based on Genesis 16:6 are we to blame Sarah for Hagar’s running away? If Sarah acted like a loving Christian could there have been a good solution?


Dear Brother,

Your question is a good one, because it should help us greatly as we read the Old Testament. To put it plainly, the Old Testament saints – men and women – were not “saintly,” they were rascals. All too often we read the Old Testament in such a way as to paint these saints as pious saints, thereby overlooking their flaws, even their sins. What you have asked about Sarah, also applies to Abraham, who as a matter of policy, presented his wife, the future mother of the Messianic seed, as his sister, a woman eligible for marriage (see Genesis 12:10-20; chapter 20, especially verse 13). David acquired Bathsheba as his wife through horribly sinful means, and yet she, too, would produce the Messianic seed (Matthew 1:6). Jonah preached the most successful revival in his ministry, but with all the wrong motives. Even Moses lost his temper and thereby showed irreverence toward God, and thus was not allowed to enter the land (Numbers 20:1-12).

All of this is entirely consistent with the message of the Bible, Old Testament and New, and that is that God has chosen to deal with us (particularly believers) in grace, not as a result of our good works, but as a manifestation of His mercy and grace. This theme is highlighted in Exodus 32-34, and especially in 34:6-7:

Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 34:6-7, NAU).

The grace of God is the consistent basis for man’s appeal for mercy and grace throughout the Old Testament (see, for example, Numbers 14, see especially verses 10-24).

The fact is that God’s gracious acts are always the overflow of His mercy and grace. God does not need our good deeds in order to bless. Indeed, God’s gracious purposes often are the result of His grace in spite of our sins. Joseph’s betrayal by his brothers is but one example:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, 17 ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. 21 So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:15-21).

So, now, back to Sarah. Sarah was wrong to seek an offspring through Hagar, for God was going to produce the Messianic seed through Abraham and Sarah, not Abraham and Hagar. Both Abraham and Sarah were wrong in this matter (see Genesis 15:1-6; 16:1-2; 17:10-22). We should note that while Hagar fled, this first time, from Sarah, God instructed her to return to Sarah’s abuse, promising to bless her son, Ishmael. In the end, God used Sarah’s hatred of Hagar and her son, Ishmael, to get them away, so that Isaac, yet to be born, would be the sole heir of Abraham. Sarah’s hatred toward Hagar and her son was used of God to overcome Abraham’s affection for Ishmael, and his reluctance to send him away.

Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. 10 Therefore she said to Abraham, “Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.” 11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named. 13 “And of the son of the maid I will make a nation also, because he is your descendant.” 14 So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba (Genesis 21:9-14).

Now, Abraham had no “backup son,” who would become the father of the promised Messianic seed when God instructed him to go up on the mountain and sacrifice his son (Genesis 22).

The underlying truths which make this possible are that God is both gracious, and sovereign, and thus man’s sin cannot prevent Him from fulfilling His purposes. Because God’s mercy is bestowed out of His grace, our good performance is not the essential element which is the basis for His blessings. In the end, it is God who rightly gets the glory.


Related Topics: Character of God, Christian Life, Hamartiology (Sin), Suffering, Trials, Persecution

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