A Sordid Tale: Abram, Sarai, & Hagar

Dear Friends,

Last night our Wednesday Night Bible Study looked at the passage from Genesis 16 about Abram, Sarai, and Hagar.  As I’ve considered the passage throughout the evening and into this morning, I wanted to take a few minutes and review it on our website.  I hope it will be a blessing to you.

Verses 1-2:  Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children.  And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.”  And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai.

In this passage Sarai is imagining a world where sexual behavior can be somehow disconnected from the spiritual reality of sexual union.  She wants Abram to take her servant, but not as a wife, only as a vessel for bearing children.  She imagines that the child from this relationship will belong to her instead of Hagar, saying, “I shall obtain children by her.”  She imagines that Hagar will remain a lowly servant even after bearing an heir to Abram’s great household.  Central to her plan is the assumption that Abram and Hagar can lay down with each other without any impact to the actual relationships the three of them have with one another.

This is madness. 

There is no such thing as casual sex.  There is no such thing as an affair that “doesn’t mean anything”.  We live in a country that has embraced the idea that sex doesn’t matter and has little moral relevance to our lives.  Having embraced no-fault divorce, illicit sexual media, and the assumption that people will have many sexual partners long before they are married, the new push of the culture is towards an embrace of polyamory – a blatant rejection of monogamy.

Sarai is not suggesting polyamory to her husband, Abram.  What she’s imagining is actually far less gracious.  Hagar will remain a servant, and her baby will belong to Sarai.  It’s not surprising that this doesn’t work out.  It’s quite surprising that Abram and Sarai imagined that it would.

Someone in this home needed the clarity and the confidence to stand up and say, “No.”  In the absence of clear, godly conviction a tragedy unfolds.

Verse 3: Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan.

Notice how the biblical writer emphasizes that “Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife…” 

This is clearly not how Sarai would have described her plan.  She did not think she was giving her husband another wife. She made it clear that she thought Hagar would remain her maidservant.  Yet, the biblical writer acknowledges the truth of the matter.  Sexual intimacy is serious, binding people together, even when human beings don’t intend for it to be taken seriously.

Verse 4: So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.

When Hagar became pregnant by Abram, she was no longer content to be the servant of his wife.  What woman would be okay with that?  She would now be the mother of the heir to Abram’s great estate.  Why should she go back to being a servant?

Verses 5-6:  Then Sarai said to Abram, “My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The LORD judge between you and me.”  So Abram said to Sarai, “Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.” And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence.

At this point, Sarai blames Abram for her diminished situation.  Having imagined that Hagar’s child would be her own, she now comes to grips with the very different situation that is unfolding before her eyes.  She has no children with her husband.  Another woman is giving him a son.  She has invited a rival into her home, and the rival has seemingly won.

It’s in the pain of this realization that she blames Abram – not for having this affair with Hagar – but for allowing Hagar to become a wife to him.  She had given Hagar as an object to be used in her place.  Abram had received her as something far more than that.

Abram’s response to Sarai is cowardly and evil.  He tells her that his new wife, Hagar, is nothing to him.  He disowns Hagar, the woman he has taken to his bed and conceived a child with.  By decree, he declares that his sexual relationship with her changed nothing and that she is still merely a slave.  Sarai than takes this opportunity to put the woman back in her place, by what means we’ll never know.  Whatever she does to Hagar, the whole situation is too much for the Egyptian woman to bear and she flees.

Only the grace of God turns her back.

When you think of how Sarai and Abram conceived this plan, you should be warned about the human difficulty of waiting on the promises of God to unfold.  This is a plan conceived by impatient people who feel as though God will not fulfill what he’s promised to do. 

God has made promises to those of us who are Christians.  Are those promises good enough for us? Or must we find a better, faster way to happiness ourselves?

We should also evaluate our own homes and the clarity of our position on sexual sin.  Have we been clear in our homes about the truth and seriousness of sexual sin, not to mention the consequences?  Is our house a place where people will stand up to sin, even each other’s sin, and say, “We cannot do this! This is wrong!”?

As we read this story, it’s clear that the consequences of their sin catch Sarai and Abram off-guard, and they both respond with cruelty to a woman caught in the middle of their own evil.  When we are confronted with the consequences of our sin, do we acknowledge it and take accountability for our actions?  How can we represent the Holy God if we don’t take responsibility for the damage our sin causes to others?

Finally, it’s not Abram or Sarai who come around and do the right thing in this chapter of the Bible, but God, Himself.  He runs down the fleeing Hagar.  He appears to her, comforts her, makes promises to her, and turns her back.  God – in the form of the mysterious “Angel of the LORD” so often described as the pre-incarnate Christ – comes to the aid of the weak and the vulnerable when everyone else sees her as merely a burden to be disowned.  Have we taken the burden to care for the weak and vulnerable on our own shoulders, at our own cost, or have we off-loaded that burden to others for the sake of convenience?  Who will be responsible for the outcasts and the lonely?  Who will be the neighbor to those wounded on the side of the road?  Who will love others with the love of Jesus?

I was very blessed by our study in this chapter last night, and I just wanted to share it with everyone as best I could in this little entry to our website.  I hope it’s a blessing to you.

Yours in Christ,