Archives for posts with tag: promise

 

Genesis 16 begins a fascinating story of Abram (later re-named and hereafter referred to as Abraham) and his descendants.  In the previous chapter, God promised Abraham he would be given an heir, a son “who will come from [his] own body” (Gen 15:4).  In Chapter 16, Abraham and his wife Sarai (later re-named and hereafter referred to as Sarah) are said to be childless.  Consequently, they concoct a plan for Abraham to be able to bear a child.  As with basically all human ambitions and endeavors in the Bible, this plan goes awry. 

The first problem with Abraham and Sarah’s plan is clearly that they had lost trust in God’s promise.  Rather than waiting patiently for the promise to be fulfilled, or even praying to God for its completion, Abraham and Sarah devise their own scheme.  The second problem is Abraham and Sarah resorted to polygamy in an effort to force God’s promise in their own time.  I will briefly expound on each of these problems below.

Regarding trust in God, remember from chapter 15 that Abraham was deemed righteous for believing in God.  In the Hebrew and Greek, the words faith/trust/belief are summed up in one word and, therefore, could be translated any of these three ways in English.  So Abraham is straying from righteousness by doubting God, as shown by his effort to speed up or force God’s promise through his own devising.  Later in Genesis, we will see how everything works out much better when God fulfills His promise in His own time.  When Isaac, the son of promise, is given to Abraham, everything falls into place.

With respect to the issue of polygamy, or Sarah giving her maidservant, Hagar, to Abraham to bear him a child, we see the disastrous results.  Before I discuss this any further, I want to dispel a notion many people have about the Old Testament.  Many people assume polygamy was OK or accepted in Old Testament times, and to a degree they are correct–it was the normal practice in the ancient Near East during these times.  However, an important distinction needs to be made.  Although things like polygamy, prostitution, and concubinage were more acceptable in those times than ours, the Bible, if ever so slightly, challenges those norms.  I plan to discuss in depth later how monogamy is upheld as the ideal since the three prime examples from Genesis–Noah, Isaac, and Joseph–are all monogamous.

But, for now, back to the main point.  The polygamous (or, perhaps more properly, simply extra-marital) relationship between Abraham and Hagar complicated the household of Abraham.  As we should expect a woman to do, even after giving her consent, Sarah becomes jealous and angry towards Hagar since Hagar was able to bear a son for Abraham.  After confronting Abraham, Sarah is allowed to expel Hagar from the household.  Genesis is quick to point out that God will continue to take care of Hagar and her son, Ishmael (multiplying his descendants also), but clearly serious, irreparable damage has already been done to the household of Abraham and to the relationship between Abraham and Sarah.

Again, these complications resulted from Abraham and Sarah forcing their own timing on God’s will.  As Genesis (and, God willing, this blog) unfolds, we will learn the proper response Abraham and Sarah should have had towards God’s promise.  Of course, these stories are related to us not to recount mere factual events, but to instruct us in the way we should behave towards God (1 Corinthians 10:11).  With that in mind, we are reminded by Genesis 16 to be patient in waiting for God to fulfill His promises and to refrain from forcing our own will on situations.

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Genesis 12 is a brilliant chapter as the story of Genesis shifts from focusing on all humanity to the story of the three great patriarchs ofIsrael, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  In Genesis 12, Abram (who was later re-named Abraham) is asked to make a great sacrifice (if you have not already, see the post on Genesis 11 to understand what a sacrifice Abraham was asked to make by leaving Ur) and receives an extraordinary promise from God.  Specifically, Abram is told to leave his great city and is assured by God he will become a great nation and be a blessing to all families of the earth.

Abram initially obeys God, but soon a famine comes upon thelandofCanaan.  Rather than trusting in God, who had told Abram to dwell in Canaan where he would become a great nation, and instead of asking God to provide for him, Abram departs thelandofCanaanforEgypt.  In other words, Abram is now acting on his own accord instead of putting his trust in the promise of God.

When Abram entersEgypt, he is concerned the Egyptians will want to kill him and take his wife Sarai (later renamed Sarah) as their own, so he concocts a lie, saying Sarai is his sister.  Abram was correct: the Egyptians think Sarai is a beautiful woman and bring this to the attention of the Egyptian ruler, the Pharaoh.  Pharaoh nearly takes Sarai as a wife, but God intervenes and stops this from happening.

Now, keep in mind just how significant this story is to an ancient Jewish reader.  Remember thatEgyptis one ofIsrael’s archenemies.  The Israelite people had been enslaved inEgyptfor 430 years.  And here, in this story, you have your great Patriarch Abraham and your first matriarch Sarah, making a huge mistake that almost makes you, the Israelite reader, a child of Pharaoh rather than a child of Abraham.  More clearly, unless God had intervened, you would be a child of your enemy rather than a child of your father.  Actually, had God not intervened, you probably would not even exist!

I’m sure most of us have thought at one time or another about our own existence and how different we might be–or, again, how we might not even exist at all–if our father had not met our mother.  Or what if our grandfather had married someone besides our grandmother?  My paternal grandfather was 18 years older than my grandmother, so I have definitely thought about this scenario a time or two!  Or what if one of my ancestors 1,000 years ago had died in a war before procreating?  We could go on and on, but thinking about this too much makes my head spin and my heart sink!  But considering it also makes me thankful I do happen to be here.

Thinking about this also helps us understand Genesis 12.  At the very beginning of the story ofIsrael, the biblical reader is confronted with this notion: had it been left to the decision of your fathers, you would not even be alive.  At best, you would be a child of your enemy.  You are only here because God intervened and saved you.  What a humbling thought!