Fleshly Effort Cannot Produce Spiritual Results
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes. Then Sarai said to Abram, “My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The LORD judge between you and me.” So Abram said to Sarai, “Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.” And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence. (Genesis 16:1-6)
What does one do when God has promised something that seems like its completion is either an improbability (at best) or an impossibility (at worst)?
It would seem that in such a case, there are only a few options:
- Do not believe God’s promise, and go forward trying to create your own blessings and fulfill your own purposes without His involvement.
- Take God’s promise literally, and believe that it is true and will indeed happen. Then wait for Him to perform His promise, in His timing (Habakkuk 2:3). While waiting, pray according to the specific promise and ask God to fulfill it, and confirm to Him in prayer that you are waiting for Him.
- Believe God’s promise, but instead of waiting only for Him, take matters into your own hands and attempt to help Him fulfill it.
In the story of Genesis 16, Abram and Sarai received that kind of promise. Abram was about 85 years old at the time, Sarai about 75. They had no children, and Sarai was not pregnant … apparently she had not been able to conceive. In the light of these circumstances, Sarai suggested to Abram that he bring about the promised son through her handmaiden, an Egyptian girl by the name of Hagar.
This was an accepted practice according to the Code of Hammurabi and the culture of the Canaanites. It could even be regarded noble for a mistress (Sarai) to offer this. Handmaidens were considered the personal property of their mistresses, and if they were asked to do such a thing it was not thought of as a shameful act. The child to be born would be the property of the mistress.
We may attribute godly motives to Abram and Sarah, and we may even suggest that they believed God’s promise. But their method of fulfillment was not of God.
The child born to Hagar would be named Ishmael, who became the father of the Arab peoples. Many centuries of conflict between his descendants and the Jewish people are evidence that Abram and Sarah’s plan was not the plan God had in mind for the fulfillment of His promise to them.
For Further Review
1. Think of a promise God has made to you. Which of the three options for responding to that promise did you choose?
2. What was the outcome of the option you chose? How did things work out? Jot down anything in the results that will help you see that doing it God’s way is the best way.
3. Take time to confess past areas of failure in waiting upon God and His promises. Allow Him to cleanse you (1 John 1:9) and renew you by His Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).