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Jul 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 30, 2013 – Genesis Chapter 16

Desperate Decisions

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.

So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar had bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him. Genesis 16:1-2, 15-16

INTRO: Reading the first and last sentences of chapter 16 could give us the wrong idea about this story

It begins, “problem stated” and ends, “problem solved”
– but the brilliance of the story is what goes on in between
• brewing within is the tension that drives plot — otherwise, there is no story, only details
• the tension erupts between the two women who are associated with Abram

Vv. 1-3, The storyteller provides no moral commentary regarding their actions

Whether what they did was right or wrong, sinful or righteous, there’s no clue

“Pious” commentators can’t stand this
– so they provide titles for this type of story like, “Abram and Sarai’s Sin” or “Abram’s Lapse of Faith”
• they feel it’s necessary for them to tell Bible readers, “This is not how we solve our problems”
○ as if anyone reading this story would draw that conclusion
○ it’s obvious, this was a different time and culture, and these were unusual circumstances
• the storyteller has no problem adding moral commentary when it is called for
○ Adam and Eve, Cain, Tower of Babel, etc.
○ but there’s none given in this instance and we don’t need to insert any

Here we simply have normal people trying to understand God’s will
• trying to figure out what their part is in all of this and what they’re supposed to do
• they’re trying to fill-in a gap in God’s promise

Vv. 4-5, Their simple solution malfunctioned

This where the tension starts
– Hagar’s attitude toward Sarai changed – she treated Sarai as if she were inferior
• as if getting pregnant reversed their roles, so Hagar was now mistress and Sarai the maid
• Sarai found this new attitude intolerable
– in verse 5, “the wrong” she referred to was not Abram conceiving a child with Hagar
• but Hagar’s attitude and behavior
• Sarai held Abram responsible to resolve it

If we were to narrow the tension to one sharp point, it would be vision (or sight)
– “when she saw . . . despised in her sight” – two times
• “sight” literally translated is, “eyes”
○ I want us to think of Egyptian eyes
○ we’ve all seen them, depicted in hieroglyphs, almond-shaped with thick, dark, and long-drawn lines
– the conflict begins with sight (the eyes) and builds over that

V. 6, Notice how this visual tension is carried forward

“Behold,” “Look” – it calls attention to what is visible
– it indicates a particular perspective
• sometimes it shifts a person’s point of view
○ notice “Behold” again in verses 2, 11, & 14 — “Look at this . . . Look at this . . . Look at this”
– “Here is how you look to Hagar, but open your eyes and see how she looks to you”
• what did Abram want Sarai to see?
“your maid is in your power; do to her what is good [appropriate, just] in your sight”
• again, sight is literally, “eyes”

Two other expressions here need to be explored: literally, the Hebrew for “power” is hand, for “presence” is face
– what eyes are to sight, the hand is to power, and the face is to a person’s presence
– in Hebrew thought, parts of the body are generally connected to the functions they perform
• any exercise of power was an extension of a person’s body, their hand
• to be within sight of a person, was to be “before” their face
– these details will soon become important

Vv. 7-12, Hagar’s encounter with God

This is the first time we meet the Angel of Yahweh
– he is a special character in the OT
• he is so identified with God, at times he speaks with God’s voice
(or, God speaks directly through him)
– a theophany–i.e., a visible manifestation of God’s presence among humans
• like the divine thunderstorm (Ex.19:10-17)

The angel met Hagar in the desert
– her route indicates she may have been trying to make the punishing journey home (Egypt)
• pregnant and alone
– “where have you come from and where are you going?
• she only answers the first question, “fleeing from
○ notice, it’s from Sarai’s “face” that she has attempted to escape
• at this point, Hagar probably has no idea where she’s going
○ the reality of the journey has hit her

The angel then tells her where she’s going – back to Sarai
– and she’s going to submit herself to Sarai’s authority (lit. “hands”)
• but she can also take with her a promise – as big as the promise to Abram

Now we’re ready to understand the angel’s poem, which could be confusing otherwise
– v. 11, Ishmael means “God hears” and he was so named because Yahweh has heard Hagar in her affliction
– v. 12, Abram put Hagar in Sarai’s hand and now she has been told to return “under” her hands
• but Ishmael’s will not be under anyone’s hand
○ instead, he will resist everyone with his hand
• “to the east” is an odd translation – the Hebrew reads, “he will dwell in the faces of all his brothers”
○ again, unlike his mother who fled from Sarai’s face, Ishmael would not back down from anyone
○ settling “in their faces” implies defiance – “In your face!”

So this is God’s promise to Hagar
– “Don’t worry, Hagar. Ishmael’s life will not turn out like yours”
• he’ll never be a slave and will never have to submit to anyone

Vv. 13-14, Hagar’s response to God

Notice, again, it’s all about sight
– I see the One who has been watching me
• seen by God, how she appears in Sarai’s eyes or how Sarai looks in her eyes is irrelevant

First sight caused the tension in the story, and now sight resolves the tension
– this is Hagar’s new perspective and it heals the relational fracture
○ it energizes Hagar and enables her to return with a new attitude

Running from Sarai, Hagar ran into God

CONC: I hope you already have something from this story to take with you

There are three things I hoope to remember:
1. All the drama in the story was created by two desperate women
– Sarai’s desperation to provide Abram with a son and fulfill God’s promise
• then there was Sarai’s desperation when she felt despised
– out of desperation, Hagar decided she had to escape
• but to where and to what?

Desperation tells us,

“There’s a problem and it is right now. No obvious solution can be seen in the naturally occurring events of the future. Therefore it is up to us to solve this problem right now!

• we don’t always analyze this logic — and advertisers exploit it to their advantage
○ many things can wait — and many things resolve themselves
○ there are some things I should not try to fix!
– it used to be, only doctors or volunteer firefighters wore “beepers” – they were always on call
• now we all feel that we have to immediately respond to every call or text
○ and we always have our cell phones with us and they are always turned on
○ this has added more contacts, more interrupts, more things to worry about, and more stress to life
○ and it is when we are under stress and desperate that we make our worst decisions
• it is wisdom to avoid anything that impairs our judgment or thinking

2. Strangely, it was the tension that made these events a story (rather than a mere “report”)
– the tension that drove Hagar to desperation and poor decisions resulted in a personal encounter with God
• from him she received a new perspective and her life took on a new meaning
– So God can use even our desperation and faulty decisions to make something good happen
• of course, that’s “the hard way”
• but if we have surrendered our life to God and trust him, he will use everything to achieve his purpose

3. There is never a moment that God is remote
– never an event in our lives that he does not see
• we don’t have to make decisions out of desperation
• he’s always watching us and we can learn to return his gaze
○ to look into the face of the One who is looking at us
– God may ask for all the strength we have
• but he doesn’t ask us to be omnipotent
• he is responsible to make his promises reality

Peace – contentment – a calm spirit – a quiet mind – a settled heart
– we do not achieve these by getting everything we want
• or everything we think we’re supposed to have
• that would mean we put off these things until we have everything else
○ which is exactly what most of us do and that is why we live in desperation
○ trying to build that perfect life creates bigger problems
– instead, we can begin each morning with the prayer:
“Father, show me Your glory today”
• then, if we look for it, we’ll find it — without fail

We are more likely to find rest for our souls if we let go of our desperation and sit in trust

Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
From this time forth and forever. (Ps. 131:2-3)

Don’t fear that God doesn’t know, doesn’t see or doesn’t care
– his love does not allow him to ever lose sight of you

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