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.
Key verse: “Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Matthew 13:8 (NLT)
Big Idea: The Kingdom of Jesus changes lives at different times and in different ways, but the life it brings is unstoppable.
Here in Houston, it is the end of the tomato season. Last week, with the first real freeze, my precious plants died. It seems like a lifetime ago that I went through this last, when the heat has withered the plants and did its best on the gardener. There is a lot of dirt, water, sunshine, and time between golden seed and juicy red tomato. The end result bears no resemblance to the initial input, but there is continuity. My seeds held a tiny spark of life in them, which grew and spread throughout. My bell peppers have grown differently than my tomatoes, my figs in another way, and my cucumbers in yet a different way, but the principle is the same in each. If the seed is able to take root, it will provide fruit after its kind.
Some of Jesus’ best-known parables come from the world of agriculture, and the parable which begins today’s chapter is probably the best known of all. The Parable of the Sower, or Parable of the Soils, is one of the only parables explicitly interpreted by Jesus. The seed is the good news of the Kingdom of God and the various soils represent the kinds of hearts in which it might land. Verse 23 refers to those who understand the message as the good soil and to those who “produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When the seed takes root in receptive soil, it bears fruit. Not always the same quantity or in the same time, but that seed of life is always growing and multiplying.
The next parable in this chapter, the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds, gives an important warning. Like tares are hard to distinguish from wheat before the harvest, we cannot always tell whether a person’s faith is genuine until they stand before God. Sometimes what seems strong has no root. Sometimes what seems weak is just a late bloomer, but will eventually bring a great harvest. This requires a certain humility on our part since we cannot judge what kind of harvest someone else ought to bear or when they should produce it. I could not plant more tomatoes now because the season is wrong. Fighting the weather would only frustrate me and leave me with nothing to show for it. What is obvious in the physical world seems hard to remember in ministry! God works with His people on His timetable and in His way, and no amount of scolding or work from me will turn July to March. But when we make it our business to support what God is already doing, weeding and watering alongside His plants, we nurture life and support the harvest of more life for His glory.
Discussion Idea: For a seed to become a new plant, it has to die. How does bearing fruit for Jesus require our “death”?
Prayer Focus: Pray that we will have the kind of patient love for late bloomers and small harvests as God has for us.