Genesis 16:1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children.
Ten years had passed since God promised Abraham that he would become a great nation (Genesis 12:1-4), but he still did not have any children. Abraham’s wife grew impatient and suggested they have children through Hagar, Sarah’s slave. Abraham agreed, and Hagar conceived.
Unfortunately, tension developed within the family as soon as Hagar knew that she was pregnant. As the mother of Abraham’s child, Hagar felt superior to Sarah, and began to disrespect her. This made Sarah so angry that she mistreated Hagar until she ran away. What started out as a perfect plan ended in domestic strife.
Sometimes God will let us choose between two kinds of suffering: not getting what we want, and getting what we don’t want. The sorrow of not getting what they wanted convinced Abraham and Sarah to act apart from God’s will. Due to their impatience, they got what they did not want: family conflict. Not getting what we want is usually better than getting what we don’t want, so it is best to wait for God.
Genesis 16:7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert.
Hagar ran away from home, but with no place to go, she found herself in a desert, near a spring—pregnant and alone. There she encountered the angel of the Lord. Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going? (Genesis 16:8).
Hagar was partly to blame for her trouble, since she had provoked Sarah. If she had shown a little more respect, things would have been different. God could have left her to the consequences of her misbehavior, but he sought her out when she was at her lowest.
This reminds us of Jesus who came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). When we make a mess of things, Jesus comes with love and compassion. We may have put him off in the past, but our desperation reveals just how much we need him. When everyone else has rejected us, Jesus will be a friend to us.
Genesis 16:9 Then the angel of the Lord told her, Go back to your mistress and submit to her.
This may have been the last thing Hagar wanted to hear. Sarah had treated her badly, and submitting would not be easy. But submission to God often involves submitting to difficult people.
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands (Ephesians 5:22), wrote Paul. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority (1 Peter 2:13), wrote Peter. Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters (1 Peter 2:18), wrote Peter again. In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders (1 Peter 5:5), wrote Peter yet again. We show our submission to Christ by submitting to those who are over us. This brings glory to God, and is often the way to future blessing.
Genesis 16:10 I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.
God told Hagar to do a difficult thing, and promised to reward her. Large families were desirable, and Hagar’s descendants would be too many to count. When following God seems difficult we should remember his promise: the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do (Ephesians 6:8), wrote Paul.
The angel of the Lord told Hagar to name her son Ishmael (Genesis 16:11), meaning God hears. But she also had a name for God: You are the God who sees me (Genesis 16:13). When no one else can see us, God sees. And when no one else can hear us, God hears. Whenever we are hurting or in trouble, he is the God who sees and hears.
Genesis 17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.
It had been nearly twenty-five years since God promised Abraham that he would become a great nation (Genesis 12:2). But Sarah still had not conceived, so God appeared again to reinforce his promise. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations (Genesis 17:5), he said.
Abram means exalted father, and Abraham means father of many. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham because he would become the father of many nations. This was difficult for Abraham to believe, but eventually God fulfilled his word.
Biologically, Abraham became the father of the Israelites, the Edomites (Genesis 36:1-43) and the Ishmaelites (Genesis 25:12-18). To be the father of three nations is a remarkable legacy, but falls a little short of the many nations God had promised.
In addition to the biological fulfillment of God’s promise, however, there is also a spiritual fulfillment: those who have faith [in Christ] are children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7), wrote Paul. Eventually, this will include people from every nation on earth.
[T]here before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Revelation 7:9), wrote John. This will surpass anything Abraham ever imagined. God’s promises take time to be fulfilled, but they will exceed every expectation.
Genesis 17:10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.
Abraham and all his male offspring were to be circumcised in response to God’s promise. Circumcision symbolized the Abrahamic covenant as a wedding ring symbolizes the covenant of marriage. And, Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people (Genesis 17:14), said God.
Circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant for hundreds of years. It is no surprise, therefore, that a controversy developed in the early church about whether Gentile Christians should also be circumcised. Many were convinced that Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses (Acts 15:5), wrote Luke. The apostles gathered to discuss the issue, and concluded it was not necessary. We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved (Acts 15:11), said Peter.
The Apostle Paul later explained that our sinful natures are circumcised by Christ, and the sign of the new covenant is baptism. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him (Colossians 2:11-12), he wrote. Circumcision has been replaced by baptism as the sign of the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 29:19), said Jesus.
Reflection and Review
What are two kinds of suffering from which we can often choose?
Why does God require submission to others?
Why is circumcision no longer necessary?