By Douglas K. Wilson, Ph.D.
Professor of Biblical Studies, University of Mobile
Genesis 15:1–6; 16:1–6
When God makes promises, He keeps them. God’s timing, however, does not always align with our timing or expectations. In this week’s study, we learn that faith includes both taking God at His Word and trusting that God will accomplish His purposes in His timing.
Abram was 75 years old when God sent him to an unfamiliar land where God would make of his seed a great nation (12:2–7). Sarai, his wife, was 65 and unable to bear children.
As time passed and Abram considered this stark reality of their advanced years, he reasoned that God had plans to make his servant Eliezer of Damascus to be his heir since he was considered to be part of Abram’s extended household. Our passage begins with this consideration.
God responds to Abram while he wonders aloud about the promised seed that has not been given. First, Eliezer will not be the heir because he was not born in the land. Second, Abram’s heir will be from his seed, as God previously promised. Third, God specifically states that Abram’s heir will be from his own body. Abram was going to father a son, not adopt a son.
Abram takes God at His Word. He believes what God says, and God accounts him as righteous. Both Paul and James refer to Verse 6 as a demonstration of Abram’s saving faith (Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23). The writer of Hebrews indicates like-minded faith in Sarah (11:11).
Though Sarah believes God eventually, she grows impatient and devises a shortcut. After 10 years of waiting, then-named Sarai offers her Egyptian handmaid, Hagar, to Abram as a surrogate wife, one who would bear him a son. This practice was not uncommon in the ancient world and is recorded in the narratives regarding Rachel (Gen. 30:3), Leah (Gen. 30:9) and Hannah (1 Sam. 1:4–6).
As with the other women listed here, Sarai discovers that plans to speed up the fulfillment of God’s promise leads to jealousy and rivalry.
How often are we impatient with God? How presumptuous we must be when we assume that God needs our help to accomplish His purposes. And what heartache we must endure because of our presumptions. How often do we as congregations presume that our timing is God’s timing?
Sarai’s impatience with God’s provision leads to unforeseen problems. Instead of family unity and celebration, the birth of Ishmael results in jealousy and aggravation. Once Hagar discovers she is pregnant, she treats Sarai with contempt. Sarai then blames Abram, calling on God to judge between them.
Abram demonstrates restraint and wisdom, having been married long enough to answer with an affirmative “yes, dear.”
Actually, he responds by saying that Sarai will have to determine the best course of action here. After all, this surrogate wife plan was her idea.
In Hebrews 11, both Abraham and Sarah are listed among the Old Testament saints who lived by faith, looking forward to the promised Redeemer. This passage in Genesis is a helpful reminder that their faith was incomplete. Like many of us, they failed to recognize that God is able to do the impossible.
In the fullness of time, God gives the promised seed in Isaac. Ultimately, that Seed is Christ (Gal. 3:16).