I believe God has always wanted to instill patience into my life. It seems that every time I get in the line at the grocery store the customer ahead of me needs a price check, or needs to speak to a manager about a coupon. When traffic slows down on the freeway please don’t get behind me unless you intend on being late for your appointment because my presence in the lane will assure it will stop or slow down to a crawl. Patience without doubt is a virtue we all need but learning the lessons of patience can be testing at best.
One of the difficult and dark chapters in the life of Abram and Sarai began with impatience and trying to take matters into their own hands. You may remember God had promised Abram as many descendants as the stars in the sky, but one huge problem stood in the way—Sarai was barren. Sarai devised a solution to their dilemma that at best stands out as a really “bad idea.” She suggested to her husband that he take to his bed Hagar, her servant, and conceive a child for Sarai using a surrogate mother.
To be frank, at first glance this already appears to be a bad idea that will have terribly bad consequences. Surely Abram knew better, but instead of standing up to his wife and suggesting they continue to trust in the LORD, he gave into her pressure took Hagar home to be his wife. As you might expect the young Egyptian woman conceived a child, and suddenly there was tension in the home. Hagar began to “despise her mistress” and Abram found himself caught in the middle.
In frustration and anger Sarai confronts her husband saying: “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.” (Genesis 16:5 NIV)
I can only imagine how Abram must have felt. Clearly Sarai came up with the bad idea, but now Abram had to deal with the bad consequences. Abram once again refused to be the leader of the household and he gave permission to his wife to do as she pleased. Sarai harshly mistreated Hagar and soon this young Egyptian woman ran for her life into the desert.
One of the interesting twists of the story comes next. Hagar stopped to rest by a spring in the desert when an angel of the LORD found her. The angel spoke to her saying, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” (Genesis 16:8 NIV) Clearly the angel knew the answer to these questions. The purpose of the questions was to open her eyes to her plight and her situation.
Hagar come clean and confessed to the angel that she was running away from her mistress. Upon her confession the angel called her to faith and obedience by saying, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” In other words, you are much safer back home, and you are a big part of your own problem. Your attitude has helped to create this mess. Go back and humble yourself at your mistress’ feet and all will be well with you.
In addition, the angel opened her eyes to her future and the future of her offspring. The angel said, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count….You are now with child, and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” (Genesis 16:10-12 NIV)
What an amazing promise to a scared girl running for her life. You see God had a plan for this child within her womb even though the child was conceived by the impatience of Abram and Sarai—outside of God’s perfect will. Every life has purpose and value in the eyes of God. My wife was conceived by a young couple caught up in the middle of an affair. Even though she was conceived and born out of wedlock, I know without a doubt God had a wonderful plan for her life in spite of the sin of her parents. Only God can take the worst of what we have done to ourselves and others and turn it into God.
The angel instructed Hagar to name her son “Ishmael”—which literally means “God hears.” God heard the cries of Hagar in her desperation. God heard and responded in grace and love.
When Hagar realized she was not alone, she gave the LORD a name saying “You are the God who sees me.” In her desperation, she came to realize God sees our plight. He knows what we go through. He loves, cares, and gets his hands dirty in our messes. She confessed to the angel, “I have now see the One who sees me.” What a wonderful realization. God opened Hagar’s eyes so she could see that He watches and cares over us.
As you probably know Hagar did return home. She bore a son. Abram named him Ishmael, and the rest is history. The Arab people are direct descendants of Ishmael and Abram. Like the angel predicted this nation of people have struggled with their neighbors and kin folk for centuries. God kept His promises. He truly stands out as the “God who hears” and the “God who sees.” Even when we make bad choices with even worse consequences our God works in the midst of the mess for good.
When you feel like running away, or taking matters into your own hands, let me strongly encourage you to put your faith and trust in your God who hears and sees and most importantly loves you enough to come down and to help.