Key verse: Genesis 16:2
Big idea: In the beginning, Abram tried to walk in his own wisdom.
After at least ten years of waiting with no children, Sarai thought of what was clearly an anti-climactic solution. Abram would have a son to be his heir, but it would be the child of her servant, not of her. It seems strange that God would make such bold promises that would be brought about by the ordinary process of childbearing, but ten years was clearly a long time to wait on God. Sarai wanted to see God's promises fulfilled, He just obviously needed her help to do it.
The whole thing seems disgusting to us. What could be more obviously immoral than giving a slave to your husband to bear a child? But in the ancient world, it was apparently common practice. In the code of Hammurabi, a Nuzi text, and a surviving Assyrian marriage contract (among others), we have the expectation that if a woman were unable to have children, she would arrange a surrogate. Back in Genesis 2, God revealed His intention for marriage: the union of one man and one woman for life. But social pressures and the needs of the moment have a way of warping our thinking. She needed a child, and everything around her said that adultery was the way to get one. She felt like she did not have any options because, after ten long years of waiting, it seemed like God had abandoned her. The truth is that we never have to sin - God always provides a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Could we possibly doubt how this works out? Apparently, we can, since we often try to convince ourselves that the ends can justify the means in our own lives. How many people lie on their taxes, fail to give as they should, leave their spouses for a new "soulmate," or tell a "white lie?" Can God's people ever use evil to accomplish good? The disaster of Hagar means that we should know better. It is slander to claim that we should do evil so good will come (Romans 3:8). When we add up two situations and decide that sin will work out better than righteousness, it is only because we have neglected to factor the favor of God into our calculations.
God would later give Sarai a son of her own; His promises were not canceled by her sin. But it bears consequences to this day. Hagar, Sarai's slave, did get pregnant. She bore a son, Ishmael. He was not to be Abram's heir, but he was blessed by God to be a powerful man, though a wild one. They were sometimes called Ishmaelites and sometimes Kedarites (after one of his sons) and survived to serve God as Judah's punishment during the time of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 49:28-33), after centuries of conflict. Eventually, they apparently fused with another nomadic tribe (the Nabataeans) and are known today as Arabs. Sarai and Abram's actions did not accelerate God's promises, but they did bring lasting consequences.
Discussion idea: Why are we tempted to "help" God fulfill His Word? What is an area in your life where you try to strike your own path?
Prayer focus: Ask God to help you trust Him, and walk in obedience, even when you feel like you are between a rock and a hard place.