When my brother and I were in high school, some friends invited us to travel with them from Los Angeles, CA, to Tucson, AZ, to visit mutual friends. Since my brother had his driver’s license, he was able to drive part of the trip. We had driven through the night and my brother was at the wheel during sunrise. As our friend who put the excursion together gradually woke up, he looked outside and said, “Why is the sun on the wrong side of the car?” It seems my brother came to a freeway interchange and not knowing which road to take while everyone else was asleep, he took the wrong one. We were headed in the opposite direction! It would take a few hours to catch up to where we got off course and get back on track.
When we take matters into our own hands and run ahead of God, we can create chaos for our lives and get far off track. As Vance Havner once said, “The detour is always worse than the main road.” We need to be reminded that God sees and knows our needs. Consequently, we should wait patiently for him to fulfill his promises rather than take matters into our own hands.
Genesis 15-16 describes a scenario where Abraham ran ahead of God and got off course. In 15:1-8, Abram was concerned how God would fulfill his promise to Abram about having descendents. He wondered if he could simply adopt his servant, Eliezer, as his heir. God assured Abram that he would have a son. But Abram wondered how he could know for certain.
In 15:9-21, God tells Abram, “I will make a covenant with you.” Normally, two people would kill several animals, divide them in two, and then walk between them. The implication was that if one person broke their promise, they would receive the same fate as the animals. When God made his covenant with Abram, he alone walked between the sacrificial animals. God demonstrated his covenant with Abram was unilateral and unconditional. His promises were sure and could be trusted.
God also explained they would not be fulfilled quickly. It would be 500-600 years in the future before Abram’s descendents conquered the Promised Land. But delay does not mean denial. Abram simply needed to be patient as he waited for God to keep his word.
In 16:1-6, Abram and Sarai forgot the lesson about patient endurance and took matters into their own hands. They decided to use their own methods to accomplish God’s plan. Sarai concluded that since God had kept her childless, he needed her help in producing descendents. Following a custom of the day, Sarai gave Abram her servant, Hagar, as a second wife. But once Hagar got pregnant and looked down on her mistress, Sarai concluded it was all Abram’s fault. As often happens, disappointment leads to doubt, doubt leads to compromise, and compromise leads to blame, chaos, and tension.
Perhaps no tension is worse than family tension. Hagar runs away since she decides she can no longer endure the abuse (16:7-16). Though she may feel alone, she has not been abandoned. God meets her where she is. In so doing, he demonstrates that he sees our needs and hears our cries for help. Surprisingly, God instructs Hagar to return and submit to Sarai. He also demonstrates that he can turn our mistakes into blessings. Hagar will bear a son, Ishmael, and she will have countless descendents.
While Genesis 15-16 gives us several lessons, there are four that stand out to me:
- We should wait patiently for God to accomplish his plans rather than take matters into our own hands.
- We should consider the long-term consequences of our choices.
- We should base our decisions on the clear teaching of Scripture, not the cultural values of today.
- We should stay faithful in the trial and learn the lessons God has for us.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 21, 2013. It is part of series on the life of Abraham. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.