The birth of Ishmael – Genesis 16

The events recorded in Genesis 16 is another example of how our decisions affect those around us. This one event changed the course of history and set the stage for the conflicts that we see in our day. With the birth of Ishmael, we have the birth of the birth of the arch enemy of Israel. From Ishmael we have the Palestinians and the rise of Islam. All of the wars in the middle east, the rise of terrorism, and the war on terrorism that we are dealing with today can be traced back to this one moment in history when Abram made a very poor decision. One can debate that this was all a part of God’s plan. God is not the author of evil. However, He does use our mistakes as a means to carry out His ultimate plan and purpose in the world. Therefore, though Abram sinned, in the overall scheme of things, the birth of Ishmael was not a mistake.

As we continue in the narrative of Abram, there are four basic things that we learn from this particular event.

Abram’s Mistake (v. 2). Both Abram and Sarai were troubled over the fact that they had no children. Abram knew God promised to make him a great nation. However, his faith in God’s way being the best way was waning. Sarai approaches Abram and tells him to take her handmaid, Hagar, and bare a child through her. There seems to be no hesitation on Abram’s part and he ‘hearkens unto the voice of Sarai.’ Ancient Near Eastern custom provided for the substitution of a slave for the purpose of bearing a child in the case of a barren mistress. If the wife could not produce children, the husband might marry another; perhaps the offer of a substitute circumvented the acquisition of a second wife. That barrenness was grounds for a divorce after a ten-year period is a rabbinic explanation for Sarai’s actions. [1] No matter what Sarai was thinking, Abram made the mistake of not trusting in the Lord. Abram knew the promise of God, but instead of trusting in that promise, Abram takes matters into his own hands. How often have we done the same thing? We know what God’s Word says, we know what is right; but, instead of trusting God’s Word we do things our own way. My friend, it is a sad thing when we forsake the clear teaching of scripture and we hearken to the voices of the world rather than the voice of God. Abram hearkened to the voice of his wife. He hearkened to the voice of his culture. He hearkened to the voice of reason and worldly wisdom. However, he did not hearken to the voice of God. Just because the culture of Abram’s day allowed for such actions, it did not make it right in the eyes of God. Sadly, the church today has compromised on many issues because we have hearkened to our culture rather than ‘thus says the Lord.’ There are things we used to call sin, and now we sweep it under the rug and shrug our shoulders. Let me tell you something: just because something is culturally acceptable, does not make it right. The culture says that homosexuality is acceptable, but the Bible says it is an abomination. The culture says that having sexual relations with someone you are not married to is no big deal, the Bible calls it fornication. The culture says that lying and deceiving people is the way to get to the top, the Bible says that all liars shall have their place in the lack of fire. The culture says that pornography is a form of art, the Bible calls it lust and adultery. The culture says that there is no difference between women and men, the Bible teaches that men and women are equal in worth but have distinctly different God-given roles and responsibilities. The culture says to let children express themselves however they please, the Bible says if you spare the rod you spoil the child. The culture says to do what is right in your own eyes, the Bible says there is only one way and that is God’s way. The culture says that all religions are good, the Bible says straight is the gate and narrow is the way. My friend, don’t make the same mistake as Abram by hearkening to the voice of today’s culture; stand firm on the truth of ‘thus says the Lord.’

Sarai’s Misconception (v. 3-6). Following the cultural norm will always come back to bite us. Sarai’s decision to give her handmaid to Abram in order to have a child was a decision that she quickly regretted. Jealousy set in. It was not only a jealousy over the relations Abram had with Hagar, but also over the fact that Hagar became pregnant. The thing Sarai thought she wanted became something that she despised. Isn’t that just like sin? It looks good, it seems enjoyable, but then it becomes detestable. Sin has a way of dangling shiny bait in front of our eyes. It looks good and is enjoyable for a season, but it has a hook in it. It will come back to bite you. This is exactly what happened with Sarai.

Hagar’s Misery (v. 6-8). Hagar finds herself in a tough spot. She did what was asked of her. She was obedient to her master, but yet, she finds herself outcast. Hagar was not completely innocent, however. She flaunted the fact that she was pregnant and irritated Sarai. This whole thing was a complete mess. Warren Weirsbe writes, “Instead of facing their sins honestly, each of the persons involved took a different course; and this only made things worse. Sarah’s solution was to blame her husband and mistreat her servant as she gave vent to her anger. She seems to have forgotten that she was the one who had made the marriage suggestion in the first place. Abraham’s solution was to give in to his wife and abdicate spiritual headship in the home. He should have had pity for a helpless servant who was pregnant, but he allowed Sarah to mistreat her. He should have summoned them all to the altar, but he did not. Hagar’s solution was to run away from the problem, a tactic we all learned from Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:8). However, you soon discover that you cannot solve problems by running away. Abraham learned that when he fled to Egypt (12:10ff). There was peace in the home for a short time, but it was not the “peace of God.” It was only a brittle, temporary truce that soon would fail.”[2] Everyone deals with sin differently. Hagar ran away. This added to her misery. The lesson here is that sin affects everyone around you. It makes life miserable and it builds and builds to the point of being unbearable.

God’s Ministry (v. 9-16). The Lord appears to Hagar and encourages her. He promises to bless her and her son. He promises to make her descendants exceedingly great. Even though the results would be hundreds and even thousands of years of turmoil and conflict, God cared for Hagar and promises to bless her. The point here is that no matter how bad we mess things up, God still cares. Whether we are the victim or the culprit, He still cares. His grace is bestowed upon all who will receive it.

Sin is a very serious problem. Disobedience leads to great strife. The disobedience of Abram and his lack of trust in the promise of God led to many years of conflict that still rages today. Yet, through it all, God never gives up on Abram. His love and His grace is greater than all our sin.

[1] Mathews, K. A. (2005). Genesis 11:27–50:26 (Vol. 1B, pp. 184–185). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (pp. 57–58). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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