LIVING BY FAITH
"The Scheming Of Weak Faith"
Jerry A. Collins
All of us are confronted with situations that require us to trust in God, His Word and wait patiently for Him to hear and supply. And all of us struggle to do just that while we are living in our difficulties. The tensions we live with because we have not received an answer from the Lord yet, can motivate us to calculate how we might foolishly and unwisely use worldly customs to relieve us from the tension and frustration we experience. We can be too easily tempted to adopt worldly solutions and customs to bring about conclusions that we want to have. So Christians cheat, lie, divorce, steal, insult, blame, gossip, sexually immoral, selfish using the worlds solutions to bring resolution to their problems. This is not the way we are to face our difficulties. We will learn that these sinful expedients will only complicate matters for us and bring even greater tensions into our lives. The story of Abram, Sarai and Hagar teaches us that instead of adopting the way of scheming faith we should and must trust Gods Word and patiently wait for His promises to be fulfilled.
1. Accomplishing Gods plan our own way inevitably produces complications 1-6
A The Problem we have with God (1)
Now here is the problem. God had told Abram that his own son would be his heir (15:4) which had not happened yet. With very little information from the Lord and very little time left, Abram and Sarai longed for the fulfillment of the promise made to them. Sarai was barren and so by human calculations the heir of the promises could not come through her at all. This verse reminds us of the continuing problem some eleven years since God had told Abram and Sarai about the promise of a son (vs. 3, 16).
We are beginning to see a pattern in these stories of delays in the promise and regular suggestions of alternative plans. The barren wife is incompatible with blessing and her barrenness provides a test for Abrams faith in the promise of God. Similar to the famine in Genesis 12 where it too was a test of Abrams faith in the promise from God. Abram failure of the test in Genesis 12 may have contributed to his failure here in Genesis 16 because he may have acquired Hagar, introduced to us here in verse 1, in that trip to Egypt 12:16. The problem of no children sets in motion the dubious activities of Abram and Sarai.
The barrenness motif in all of the stories of the patriarchs, Sarai, Rebekah and Rachel, barren until God opened their wombs enabling them to bear important sons, stresses the sovereignty of God in bringing into the world these famous children, showing they are Godsends. Samuel is another example (1 Samuel 1:10-11, 20). The point is that God is in control of all events and circumstances in our lives. God will fulfill His promises and accomplish His plans no matter what circumstances seem to be saying to us. We, too, will face our dilemmas and by them God will test our faith in Him and His Word. He is still in control. He is never caught off-guard or surprised by anything that happens to us. We must not let the temptation to use our human interventions get the best of us or we will not become people of faith.
B The Solution we attempt to bring (2-3)
Sarai's solution was to adopt social customs of the day as means of doing for themselves what God had promised he alone would do. This would mean that the child would become the first wife’s child. But note the frustration in Sarai's speech as she placed the blame on the Lord for her barrenness. She was correct but only from her perspective, namely that the Lord was apparently holding back just like Eve was tempted to believe about God in Genesis 3:5. Abram complied with his wife's plan and earlier God had rebuked Adam for doing the same Genesis 3:17. Here then we have a hint that the pair had overstepped a boundary, that faith should have taken them a different way.
When we face dilemmas that test our faith in God and His Word we are often tempted to adopt whatever the expedient worldly customs are to provide us with that which we believe God wants us to have, from happy marriages to successful careers to financial security. Like Sarai we want what God promises but instead of waiting on God to give it to us His way and in His time, we impatiently snatch it for ourselves by adopting common customs.
C The complications that follow (4-6)
In vs. 4 the impatient solution soured when Hagar became pregnant and despised by Sarai. This seems to be an unavoidable response giving the circumstances that surround her pregnancy and Hagar's pride in her new status. This underscores how much of a problem has been created to fulfill the blessing since a threat to it is assured to arrive. In vs. 5-6 is another speech of Sarai and another compliance by Abram. Here she casts blame for the tension on Abram apparently never considering that in both cases she was at fault, demanding something be done. In vs. 6 Abram returns Hagar to her status as Sarai's servant. She was not to be on par with Sarai. This turn of events shows that God was not permitting their plan to be the way the promise should be fulfilled. God regularly repudiates social customs for His own miraculous provision. In this case Hagar flees into the wilderness because of the harsh treatment by Sarai. The question surfaces again of what is to become of Abrams seed.
Once the way of faith is abandoned and the way of common custom and human calculation is adopted and engaged, then natural impulses and correct conduct became entangled. We can set into motion a process that leads only to greater conflict than before. In this instance the nation of Israel will be caught up in the consequences of this sin for years to come since Ishmael, Hagar's son is the ancestor of the Arabs. We have no control once we set these in motion and it will bring more conflict. What we sow, that we will reap Galatians 6:7. Instead of following our forbidden calculations we should wait patiently on the Lord.
2. God requires patient hope, fervent prayer from us to fulfill His Word 7-16
A God Graciously Intervenes (7-12)
Into the crises God brings a message. The Lord manifests Himself to Hagar (Old Testament appearances of Christ Genesis 22:15-18; Exodus 3:2-6;Josh 5:13-15; Judges 6:11-24;Zech 1:12-13). The point of the speech is the naming of her son, Ishmael. The name came because ‘the Lord has heard your affliction’ vs. 11. So his name would forever recall how the Lord responded to her cry in the wilderness. The name means "God hears" and would commemorate her having a helper in God who heard her cries of distress.
B God requires faith/obedience (13-16)
In vs. 13-14 Hagar claims that God is a God who sees all things and manifests Himself in His providence and provision.
Not only does God hear us but He also sees us. He can and will act to meet our every need. In vs. 15-16 Abram named the child and we can presume Hagar had carried instructions from the Lord to Abram when she returned. The point of the naming would remind both Abram and Sarai that they had ignored the proper source for the fulfillment of the promise. They should have known this. God knew that Sarai was barren. She knew that God knew she was barren. She should have cried out to the Lord as Hannah later did (1 Sam 1:5, 10). Instead Sarai learned the hard way from the experience of the despised slave wife who came back with the faith experience and the word from God, Ishmael. Sarai did not cry out to God but took human calculations. Hagar benefited from Gods provision instead of Sarai so that she came to know more of Gods presence in her distress than did Sarai.
The message for us is that in our distresses, both great and small, we should pray because He hears the afflicted and sees us in our need and will miraculously provide for us according to His Word. They cannot be turned by human intervention. We will not solve anything that way but only create more problems for others and ourselves. Possibly problems and consequences that are reaped for years to come. We must not be impatient with God and turn our anxieties to careless plans and common social customs but cry out to the one who sees and hears, the only one who can really help. We must trust Gods Word and wait for it, enduring patiently 'til the end. Otherwise our plans will only ensnare us and complicate matters. The problems will keep coming back. Since we are His by faith, then accomplishing anything demands living by faith.
1. Have you become impatient with God? You have if you are considering solutions to your problem that violates His Word.
2. Will you keep praying to God about your need? Gods tells us to pray not scheme (1 Thes 5:17;James 5:16;Col 4:2-4;1 Jn 5:14;Matt 7:7-11).
3. Will you patiently wait until He answers? God sees, and He hears.