“Abram got two things down in the land of Egypt which really cause him trouble: one was wealth, and the other was this little Egyptian maid.”
This is how the late Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee introduced Hagar into the story of Abram and Sarai. In time, she became a key – but divisive – figure in the family, as did her son.
Years had passed since the initial promise and Sarai was still barren. God had even expanded on the promise when he made his covenant with Abram, declaring his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Month after disappointing month, Sarai waited. Her patience waned along with her hope until she struck upon a culturally-acceptable solution that defied the will of God.
In Abram’s time, maidservants were not only considered property, but also legal extensions of their mistresses, even in the most intimate of ways. Children born to them, then, would be considered legal heirs to the father’s estate. This, Sarai reasoned, would give Abram his long-awaited heir, and fulfill the promise made by the Lord.
But – as happens so often when we presume to act in the place of the Lord – the plan did not work out as Sarai had hoped. Abram agreed, and Hagar became pregnant. Hagar’s contempt for her mistress grew along with the child in her womb until Sarai could bear it no longer. Too late she confessed her plan had been conceived in error, and took out her anger and frustration on Hagar. The situation became so volatile that Hagar fled into the desert, expecting to die. Sarai’s plan brought unintended consequences throughout her lifetime as conflict remained between her and Hagar and her son, Ishmael.
Sarai’s scheming coupled with Abram’s willingness to acquiesce to a dubious plan reveals a lapse of faith. Sarai had enough faith to follow her husband as they left Haran without direction, but her faith was not strong enough to believe that God would deliver the child he said he would. To be specific, God wasn’t acting on Sarai’s timetable to have a child. Who can blame her? Sarai was a senior citizen, to put it kindly. The tick-tock of the biological clock was barely audible if it was happening at all. To her reasoning, the only way a child could possibly come into their lives was through her own intervention and her own planning – and it ended in disaster.
Too often, I find myself rushing ahead of God’s plan. There are times I do more planning than praying, more scheming than submitting. More often than not, the plans and schemes do not work out as I had hoped, and then I turn to prayer and submission in hopes of salvaging the mess I had made.
Though we tend to think about God’s timetable as it related to major life choices, we also must understand that God operates on his timetable every single day. Please understand I have no intention of over-spiritualizing the little annoyances of everyday life. Our God cares enough and is big enough to preside over the details of our lives and still have an abundant capacity to take care of the larger issues facing the planet – more often than not through our willing hands and spirit. Is he behind the delay at the office that caused you to miss the pile-up on the highway? I don’t know. Maybe. Or, it could just be that co-worker that waits until the last minute to spring a project on you.
What I do know is that God has prescribed rhythms for our lives to draw us closer to him. This, too, is God’s timing. In his timing, we rest for the Sabbath each week. We not only pray over someone’s needs; we also do what we can to help. We spend precious time in his word daily, seeking to know him better. Even our vacations – when we take them – can be a way of drawing closer to the Lord. Entering into the rhythm of God’s timing in the mundane prepares us to trust his timing in the extraordinary. Sarai learned this in time, as do we all.
Read the beginning of Hagar’s story in Genesis 16.
This post is part of an ongoing series, The God of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah. All of the posts in the series can be accessed here.