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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Goodness of God in the Harshness of Life


Hagar is a victim of Sarai’s unbelief. Sarai sees Hagar as nothing more than a servant girl and a surrogate womb. 
Perhaps Hagar thinks that having Abrams’ baby will elevate or change her position in the household. That does not happen. Hagar’s pregnancy produces more tension instead of the bliss either woman imagined. Following abusive treatment Hagar runs away. 
Alone. Distraught. Scared. Hagar encounters an angel of the Lord. Hagar is one of the only two women in the Old Testament who encounters an angel of the Lord (Samson’s mother is the other - Judges 13). He speaks to her, defines her role (Sarai’s handmaiden) and sends her back into a bad situation. That messes with my theology!
What sustains Hagar for the next 13 years? What sustains anyone in abusive situations? 
Hagar encounters God, “She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me” (Genesis 16:13). The awareness of God’s presence ministers to her in the wilderness and it sustains Hagar in the midst of hard days and lonely nights. 
The stories of the Bible demonstrate that His people often live in harsh circumstances (Joseph’s time in slavery and prison, David’s running from King Saul, Elisha’s running from Jezebel, Jeremiah’s time in the pit, Daniel’s time in the lion’s den, etc.). That is the result of sin in the heart and culture of humanity. Harsh circumstances of life do not negate the goodness of God. Rather those situations and events demonstrate sin in the heart and the need for redemption. God’s promises and presence sustain those in crazy circumstances. That is the goodness of God. 
Hagar returns to her prior service to Sarai and experiences the scandalous grace of God in the midst of an impossible situation. Sarai continues her battle with unbelief for 13 more years until God again speaks to Abraham and pencils a birth delivery on their calendar for the next year. In the end, she laughs. Who knew that an old lady would deliver a baby boy? God knew! 
“The condition for a miracle is difficulty, however the condition for a great miracle is not difficulty, but impossibility.” Angus Buchan, Faith Like Potatoes

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Further thoughts on Sarai's unbelief:


Like a playground bully the passage of time provokes a fight with those who have a promise from God―a fight of faith or a surrender in unbelief. Sarai surrenders in unbelief as ten years pass. She looks down at her aging barren stomach and comes up with a plan to secure a baby another way. Sadly, Sarai doesn’t realize that her problem isn’t God’s problem. He has no problems, only ability.

Waiting on God requires robust faith in a God who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we could imagine. Sarai got caught up in the how. Unbelief does that. It relies on the limitations of human reasoning and imagination and offers the best that man can produce. Sarai did the best that she could through Hagar and received the best of her efforts, Ishmael. 
Sadly, Abram, like Adam with Eve, concedes to his wife’s decisive action and the consequences effect succeeding generations.  
A number of truths emerge from Sarai’s act of unbelief:
  • How God will fulfill His promise is irrelevant, that He will fulfill His promise is all that matters. To have a promise from God is to have its fulfillment. 
  • Unbelief is offering to God the best that man can do. 
  • God does not need man’s help to fulfill His promises. In fact, man’s innovative solutions create more problems. 
  • Scheming, trying to work it out independently of God, is unbelief in action. 
The Bible is replete with stories of God’s intervention on behalf of those who have a promise from God and wait on Him to fulfill His promise. Feasting on these stories fuels  faith while one day, one week, one month, and one year passes to the next. 
“For since the beginning of the world men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, nor has any eye seen any God besides You, who acts for the one who waits for Him.” (Isaiah 64:4). 

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"So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived." (Genesis 16:3-4)

God isn't in a hurry, therefore impatient people with a promise from God struggle in their walk with God; they think they must do something to help God out.

Waiting one month after another, as a barren woman, is a looooong time for a woman with a promise from God that she will have a child! So, Sarah comes up with a plan. After all, "God helps those who help themselves." Right?

I can imagine Sarah's thought process: "I have waited long enough. There's gotta be another way to have a child. What about Hagar? She's a slave girl and not a very pretty one at that. Maybe I could get Abraham to sleep with her and get a baby that way."

Scheming is a symptom of unbelief. "God works on behalf of those who wait for Him" (Isaiah 64:4). God doesn't need what I can do in order to accomplish His will. In fact, human engeneering often gets us into trouble and leads to sometimes painful unintended consequences. How long must Sarai wait for God to fulfill His promise? Until the situation is utterly impossible. What great conditions for the activity of God!

God may allow you to proceed in your scheming, manipulations and human engineering and you may get what you want. You may not like the consequences. Tired of waiting on God? Learn a lesson from Sarah. God doesn't need your help. "For since the beginning of the world men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, nor has any eye seen any God besides You who acts for the one who waits for Him" (Is. 64:4). Wait, I say, upon the Lord!

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Genesis 16:1-18:33
  • Why does Sarah bring Hagar into the infertility equation?
  • What does Hagar think her pregnancy will do for her?
  • How does Sarah respond to Hagar's pregnancy?
  • What are God's instructions to Hagar after she flees her difficult/abusive situation? What does this tell you about God?
  • What does Hagar's encounter with God teach her about God?
  • How many years pass between chapters 16 & 17?
  • What does God promise Abraham He will do for him?
  • Why does God have Abraham circumcise every male in his household?
  • How does Abraham respond to the Lord's information about Sodom?
  • What does Abraham understand about God from the flood story and how does he use this understanding in his intercession for Lot and Sodom?
  • What does Abraham assume about Lot's influence in Sodom?
  • What is Abraham learning about God as God pursues a relationship with him?
Turning truth into prayer
Ask the Lord to reveal areas in your life where you are acting out of unbelief, where you scheme.