I woke up the other morning with this portion of a scripture in my head: nothing is impossible for God. I wasn’t sure why it was on my mind. I was in the midst of full-blown garage sale prep (like all crazies find themselves at one time or another), so I wondered if maybe that verse was God’s way of easing my sense of being overwhelmed by the mounds of junk I’d somehow managed to hoard over the years. Praise God for a large attic, am I right?! A couple of days later this scriptural truth was still floating around inside my brain when the story of Sarai (you know, Abram’s wife before he came Abraham and she became Sarah) and her maid Hagar joined it. I couldn’t understand how these two things fit together. One was about a frustrating, unhealthy relationship between a woman and her maid-servant, the other was a simple phrase boasting the power of God. Typically, when things get really confusing, I go to my Bible, so that’s what I did here. I spent some time reading the story of Sarai and Hagar, and after a couple of read-throughs, things clicked (which is quite the achievement for this ole brain because I’m 99.9% certain a LARGE part of it got washed down the drain in the labor and delivery room at Baptist Hospital a few years ago).
The story of Sarai and Hagar can be found in Genesis 16. To avoid simply retyping the first several verses with an additional recap of background info, let me do some mediocre paraphrasing: if you remember, God had spoken to both Abram and Sarai, who were unable to conceive, and promised that He would provide for them a child. That all happened in earlier chapters of Genesis, and when we get to chapter 16, we see that several years have passed and Sarai still hasn’t borne any children. While once a believer, Sarai has decided that God obviously is no longer planning to fulfill His promise, because where the heck is He? It’s been years with no babies, and Sarai is over it. In today’s terms, Sarai “cannot even” with all this waiting around for a baby as promised. So, our impatient friend decided that she would fix this herself since God was obviously busy elsewhere and had forgotten about her circumstances. (Her impatience and need for control remind me of someone….pretty sure it’s the person I see when I look in any mirror…)
So basically here’s what happens. Sarai decides that God’s forgotten her and that if she’s going to be a mother, she’s going to have to orchestrate this mess herself. Therefore, she goes to Abram and says, “Look, I’ve got this servant Hagar, and I think chances are good that she’d get pregnant easily and we could keep the baby. So, I need you to go spend some “quality time” with Hagar (wink, wink).” Abram apparently does not argue against this idea (enormously shocking), and after one thing leads to another, Hagar finds her womb occupied. ENTER IMMEDIATE DISCORD! Friends, I know this might come as a great surprise, but did you know that if you send your husband to impregnate another woman and it succeeds, afterward you might not feel so great about that? Do what?! I know! It’s like God knew this wasn’t the best way for all of this baby-making to go down.
Upon getting EXACTLY what she’d planned, Sarai is ticked. She’s mad at Abram. She’s mad at Hagar. (I’m guessing she’s probably projecting some of that anger that’s really directed internally, but we’ll save that topic for another post.) You see, Sarai believed that Hagar felt superior because of her pregnancy…or as those of us in the South like to say, Hagar got too big for her britches. Sarai was having none of it. Now the relationship between these two women is incredibly contentious and strained, and because she cannot take any more of Sarai’s poor treatment against her, Hagar flees.
Friends, God is talking to us big time here. He is showing us the folly of our own “wisdom” and our own ways. He tells us His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and His ways are greater than our ways, but for some reason we feel like that’s not always true. Sarai did nothing more than what you and I do all the time; she decided that it was taking God too long to bring to fruition what He’d promised her, so she had to intervene. She decided that God obviously had forgotten about her, that He had moved on to more pressing issues and, therefore, needed her help. Guess what–He did not. Guess what else–He does not my help or your help either. God brings about solutions to our problems. God answers us with love and goodness and abundant blessing. When we get involved and we try to control our outcomes, we get headaches, we get snowballed problems, we get delayed blessings. Trust me, I FULLY understand the temptation to play God when He’s taking too long to visibly move. It’s a legit struggle, but it’s one that God promises to help us overcome.
While this Bible story is certainly about these two women and the problems created by Sarai’s impatience and doubt, it’s so very, very clearly about the love of our God as well. To see just how incredibly patient and forgiving God is, we only have to look as far as the last few verses of this story. How exactly does God handle this mess that Sarai’s created?
1.The Lord found Hagar; He met her right where she was, in the middle of the hurt and upset and division that came forth because of her circumstances. In verse 7, it says, “But the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness…” God didn’t sit around waiting for Hagar to get herself together, to call out to Him, to pray the exact right words so that He could then help her. No, He did just the opposite. He showed Himself to Hagar right there in her wilderness, while her way was unclear and her heart was hurting and her head was jumbled. This “nobody,” this maid who got caught up in her masters’ crazy scheme with a baby in her belly and nowhere to go, was important enough to God that He didn’t sit twiddling His thumbs until she learned her lesson. Instead, He found Hagar before she’d even sorted things out enough to call out to Him.
2.While He comforted her and showed her His love, God didn’t excuse Hagar and pretend like she was solely an innocent victim. He instructed her in verse 9 to “go back to your mistress and [humbly] submit to her control.” Y’all, God has zero interest in spoiling us. He’s not going to shower us with a pity party so that we can play victim and never own up to our role in our circumstances. No matter how much someone else’s actions have affected our lives, God isn’t interested in casting blame and pointing fingers. He is interested, however, in using whatever He can to help us grow and mature and become more like Jesus. Never once did Jesus play the victim. Never once did Jesus feel sorry for Himself. And never once was the Jesus the cause of His own pain. We won’t get anywhere, friends, running away from whoever makes our life tough. Sure, Hagar had many reasons why fleeing was an acceptable response. But that’s not what God allowed her to do. Despite the unpleasantness she faced living with Sarai and Abram, it was what was best for her. Making life easy/easier for us is not God’s number one motivation; it shouldn’t be ours either.
3.But of course our God is one of blessings and goodness, so for BOTH of these women, despite the mess they’d created, God blessed them. For Hagar, the first blessing came when God showed up, proving to her that she mattered, that He heard, that He acknowledged her troubles. “The Angel of the Lord said to her, ‘I will greatly multiply your offspring, and they will be too many to count…You have conceived and will have a son. You will name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard your cry of affliction” (vs 10-11). Check that out! God could so easily have made Hagar’s life miserable because of this illegitimate child she was carrying, but instead, despite her mess, God chose to bless Hagar! Not only will you have a child now, but you’ll have many, many children (the greatest blessing for a woman at that time), and on top of all of that, she got to talk to God! Just a simple Egyptian maid, pregnant and mistreated, wandering through the wilderness, and God blesses her…even puts her name in the greatest book of all time!
But you’ll notice, God didn’t stop with Hagar’s blessing. Sarai, for all her situation manipulation and doubt, didn’t get overlooked. No one knows, of course, what God’s original plan was. Maybe Sarai would’ve gotten her fulfilled promise of a baby much earlier had she not attempted to play God by infiltrating Hagar’s womb, but then again, maybe not. What we do know for sure, though, is that God didn’t revoke His promise because Sarai was disobedient and sinful. Yes, her blessing was met with delay, a 14-year delay to be exact. But that baby God promised her did come, and 14 years after the incident with Hagar, Isaac arrived. Like Hagar, Sarai, too, was blessed abundantly by God despite her behavior.
In my thinking, it all boils down to this:
No matter what mess we’ve made or have gotten caught up in, God is able to bring about so much good from it if we’ll just trust Him (Romans 8:28).
There is literally no mess God cannot fix (Luke 1:37, Ephesians 3:20).
We can hold up under ANY situation because our strength comes not from ourselves, but from God (Philippians 4:13).
And, friends, God sees you. You are not forgotten, not ignored, not unloved, not a disappointment. Hagar named God “El-roi” meaning “God sees me” after her encounter with the Angle of the Lord, and that name stands true for us, too. Say that name. Make it personal. El-roi. God sees you, and He will meet you right where you are in the middle of whatever need you’re facing.
Sarai laughed at God’s initial promise of a baby. She decided He was an unfaithful God who had forgotten His Word, and because of that, she made a foolish plan to bring about what she thought God couldn’t/wouldn’t. She roped others into this sinful scheme to get what she wanted. She was mean and mistreated someone because of her upset with her own self. AND SHE STILL GOT GOD’S PROMISED BLESSINGS.
Hagar slept with someone who was not her husband, a man who belonged to someone else. She ran away from her problems instead of seeking God and facing what she’d done. AND SHE STILL GOT GOD’S PROMISED BLESSINGS.
“For nothing is impossible with God” Luke 1:37. There is hope for us yet. 🙂
Dear Lord, thank You so very much that no matter what, I know that You see me. I know that You love me and care for me. I chose to believe that despite what my circumstances might tell me, You are working on my behalf all the time, and You have so much good planned for me. Please forgive me, Lord, for all the times I have attempted to do what only You can do. I no longer want to spend my time and energy trying to orchestrate things in my life to go how I think they should go. Help me, Father, to trust in You. Help me to set aside my selfishness and my impatience. Work in my life, God, so that I can keep my eyes on You, allowing Your will to be done and not my own. Be glorified by how I live my life, Lord. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.