Understanding Genesis 16: Presumption vs. Faithfully Waiting
Read the entire chapter 16 of Genesis on your own. You can read a variety of versions, from contemporary English to literal translations. You can download bible apps, websites (blueletterbible.org or biblegateway.com) or buy one from your local bookstore. I will use King James Version because some of the nuances are missing from other translations. When you read the chapter, don’t just read it—study it with questions and try to make sense of it.
Sarah Presumes to Help God
And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. Genesis 16:2
Sarai is one of the few women mentioned in the Bible. When you think of someone from the Bible, you think of Godly people who obeyed God’s voice—but they were all ordinary men and women who developed a relationship with God through their experience. And Sarai had to walk her own spiritual journey with God.
Sarai was a beautiful woman. Her name, meaning “princess,” was a beloved woman by her husband, and much sought after by kings (Genesis 12 and 20). She shares Seth’s lineage with Abram, but growing up in a pagan country, she is worldly, as well as a Hebrew. As the years passed, her infertility became a stigma in a culture where child-bearing was thought to be a woman’s sole purpose. Maybe during the early years, they prayed and waited patiently for a child…but as the years passed, perhaps she became bitter and angry, blaming God for her inability to have a child. At 76, she’s lost all hope and knowing of God’s promise […for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir. Genesis 15:4] she decides to solve their problem in her own way.
There are many reasons why some women are infertile, while others are fertile, why some babies are born with defects, while others are born healthy—but we always question, “Why me?!!” We know that God made man/woman and it was very good. All the problems that our human bodies are going through, is the result of our sinful world and the diseases that have progressed through the ages. While God is not the cause of these frailties, He is more than willing to help us become emotionally stronger and conquer our burdens.
Sarai brings a young maid, and gives her to Abram to impregnate. This was a common practice, especially where polygamy was acceptable, and Abram gives into Sarai’s wishes. You can see this happening again in Genesis 21, when Sarai persuades Abram to send Ishmael away. Whether this took place after many marital arguments, or Abram also assumed this was how God was going to keep His promise, they both pay the price of presumption, rather than obeying in faith. Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil. Psalm 37:7,8
Presumption is when we make decisions that goes against God’s wisdom, whether it is spending money we don’t have thinking God will provide [“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Luke 16:13], or marrying someone, thinking God will change their heart [Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 2 Corinthians 6:14]—this isn’t doing God’s will, but us pleasing ourselves.
God Provides All Our Needs
And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands. Genesis 16:9
Before, when Sarai would have accepted this child as Abram’s heir, Sarai’s now jealous and angry about the positive fruition of her scheme. Sarai has brought about any woman’s nightmare into reality, by persuading her husband to commit adultery; she must now raise their child as her own. Bitter again because her maid did what she wanted, Sarai mistreats Hagar.
Nothing is said about how Hagar became part of Abram’s household. Perhaps the pharaoh gave her to Abram, as a gift (Genesis 12). But as the years pass, she learns about Abram’s God, and as a Godly man, he treats his servants Christ-like; in fact, Abram considers one of them as a son, and would have made Eliezer his heir. After Hagar becomes pregnant, she becomes bold and confident about her place in Abram’s household as the mother of the master’s child; and thinks herself equal to Abram’s wife.
When Sarai mistreats Hagar, she runs away in desperation. A journey into the desert is not like a modern-day trip into the city. Careful planning with provisions must be made, to deal with thirst and the hot sun. While rambling, she comes upon a well, and while quenching her thirst, laments the fate of her life. At her lowest point, she remembers Abram’s God and recognizes an angel of the Lord, rather than her own pagan apparition.
As he questions her, she recognizes her own wrongdoing from fleeing from her mistress. Slavery or servanthood was never part of God’s plan for humanity. Because of people’s hard-heartedness, they have enslaved their brother and sisters for monetary reparation or spoils of war. God gives life and freedom to all, but we have taken human lives as property and see others as beneath contempt. But God will meet us where we are, and while of God’s people may have slaves or servants, He tells us to treat ALL as our neighbors and our brothers/sisters. "Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?" Philemon 1:16
Waiting for an Answered Prayer
And she called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me? Genesis 16:13
God tells Hagar to return to Sarai, and to submit to her. Not because it is the duty of a slave, but so that Sarai would treat Hagar as a sister, and for Hagar to obey in her duties as a servant. God would rather we be servants than masters. Jesus said, “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:27,28 "Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you." John 15:15
Jesus’ purpose was to love and serve us, and He encourages us to treat our neighbors in that regard: lovingly and putting their needs before our own. As Hagar hears the angel’s words, she realizes that God knew her personally, and would take care of her. After all her years as a servant, feeling brow-beaten and abused of her rights, Hagar believes in God’s faith in her and returns to Sarai, trusting in God to take care of her.
Sarai and Hagar are both women who feel God does not care about them. While Sarai has the riches of husband and wealth, she feels God is withholding something good (a son) from her. While Hagar is a servant, she has no rights or wealth, and feels God is withholding something good (her freedom) from her. As both ladies struggle with their faith, Hagar realizes that while her circumstances are terrible, God still cares for her. The fountain of water is evidence that God will provide all her needs, as well as the knowledge that her son would be a comfort to her.
We often feel God is not hearing our prayers. It takes months and years before our request is answered, or it may never be answered because we won’t accept His “no.” But during that time, we shouldn’t be questioning why God isn’t answering our prayer; we should be questioning whether we are asking for something beneficial to us. "And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear." Isaiah 65:24 "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him." 1 John 5:14,15 The key is “according to His will.” Exam your heart, your prayers to see if you’re praying for something beneficial and your relationship with God; don’t prevent Him from answering your prayers because of your selfish desires, rather than God’s. Sarai, rather than waiting patiently for God to keep His promise, takes it upon herself to make her will come true…to the detriment of her marriage and her own happiness.
- Understanding Genesis 17: What Does It Mean to Be Perfect
A Bible study of Genesis 17.