When We Try Things Our Own Way

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Genesis 16 | April 11 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
April 11
When We Try Things Our Own Way | Genesis 16
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Father in heaven, give us ears now to hear and eyes to see. Give us faith to believe that You are a God who hears and sees, a God we can always trust, no matter how long it may seem to take, and give me strength to preach Your Word, that I would be faithful to it, would be humble, that Your Holy Spirit would come and anoint the preaching and the hearing of Your Word. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

In 1892, Frank Lenz decided he would ride his bicycle around the whole world, and he almost made it. He started out in New York City and then he rode west through his hometown of Pittsburgh. He went through Chicago and up to Minneapolis and across the northern plains, rode his bike down to San Francisco. There he caught a boat (he was not going to ride across the water), he caught a boat to Japan. He rode his bike across Japan. He caught another boat to China, and though the roads were terrible and it was freezing cold, in six months he rode his bike across China, made his way down to Burma. Caught another boat to Calcutta and there he rode across India. He got another boat and made his way to Persia. Rode his bicycle through Persia into the Ottoman Empire, what today is Turkey. By then it was 1894 and no one ever heard from him again.

Lenz was in his early 20s. He was a fine physical specimen. He was one of America’s best cyclists, or as they were called back then, wheelmen. Sounds exciting. His bicycle weighed over 100 pounds and it was a single speed, and though it was not much by today’s standards, it got him almost around the world. The bicycle was just taking off in popularity and a magazine contracted with him and thought this would be a good stunt and he would write back travel notes. Of course, back then, you’d hardly even seen pictures of these places. And he, for the first time, would travel with a camera and would take photographs and people would be able to see these exotic, remote locations. Lenz was eager for the fame. He was eager for adventure and despite his mother’s pleading not to go (she was his only child), he went out on his world adventure to travel around the world.

It’s amazing he made it as far as he did, considering he was on a single-speed bicycle and had prepared so amazingly little for riding in and out of countries that he had never been to, he had never seen, and he had not really told them and asked for permission to do so.

Once he got to Turkey, his reports went silent. Weeks became months and people were concerned. The magazine that contracted with Lenz then sent another cyclist to go find him but he never did. There are a number of theories about what happened. The sunniest theory is that he loved the culture so much he adopted a new identity and just lived out his days, but that seems likely not to be true. Most likely one theory says he ran afoul of a local Kurdish chief, maybe in advertently insulted him, who then retaliated by killing Lenz and disposing of his body. After eight years of international intrigue and negotiations among various nations back and forth, the Turks finally sent $7500 to Lenz’ grieving mother.

We love stories about adventurers. Maybe there’s something in particular in the American psyche that we love stories about rebels who step out into any situation with great confidence and bravado, kind of American can-do spirit. Think of Frank Sinatra’s song I Did It My Way, which one author has called “America’s anthem of self-determination.” We can do it with enough hard work, ingenuity, confidence.

I remember one time years ago waiting in the airport at London, flying back to the United States, and everyone was there dutifully waiting in silence, and behind me I hear a loud booming voice, and it only took a few syllables to realize that was an American accent. I think I turned around and he may have even had a big, you know, 10-gallon hat, just right out of central casting, Americans, loud, confident, do things their own way. With enough guts and bravado we figure our way can always be the right way, if we’re determined enough, strong enough, confident enough we can find a way, even ride our bicycle around the world.

Except that sometimes our way is the wrong way. Sometimes, if you try to ride your bike around the world with very little planning, you don’t make it. Sometimes your mother is right and you should be much more careful. Sometimes Plan B is a bad idea. And sometimes the most courageous, counter-cultural thing you can do is to have the faith and the patience that God’s way is better than your own way.

That’s what this passage is about in Genesis chapter 16, as we continue our study through the first book of the Bible. Follow along as I read these 16 verses. Genesis 16.

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.”

“The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” And the angel of the Lord said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has listened to your affliction. He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.” So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.”

“And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.”

This is a story in three scenes about four names and one big idea.

Three scenes. Scene one we can call Plan B is hatched, or Plan B is devised. You see at the very beginning of chapter 16, Sarai still has borne no children. After all the drama that took place in Genesis 15, when Abram began Genesis 15 saying “I am yet childless, shall Eliezer of Damascus be my heir?” And the Lord said, “No, you will have your very own son” and Abraham believed and it was counted to righteousness. After that tremendous promise and then the dramatic covenant cutting ceremony where the Lord walked between the torn animals, putting upon Himself the oath of malediction. After all of that, here we are, still no baby for Abram and Sarai.

The promise after Genesis 12 was threatened, and now the promise seems to be interminably delayed. Delayed, it seems, beyond the point of being rescued. And let’s just be honest, Abram was 75 years old when he got the promise, Sarai was 65 years old, and then 10 years later when this happens, now Abram is 85, by the time Ishmael is born 86, Sarai is 75 years old, and we figure 76. Yeah, the promise seems far-fetched, even though they’re going to live longer lives than we live today, still this is not when you think you are entering your child-bearing years. And any of you who are 75 will hope that that’s the case.

But for Abram and Sarai, when she gets the word at 65 she probably thinks this is a real long shot, but at each passing interval of weeks and months and years and decades, it seems more and more impossible.

She says in verse 2, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children.” It’s actually a true statement, theologically. It’s hard to consider the Lord’s bitter providences. Think of Job; the Lord has given, the Lord has taken away. Don’t know the reasons why God gives to us these hard providences, so there’s a theological truth in what she’s saying. This was sovereignly by the Lord’s hand.

And yet you can’t help but sense more than a tinge of anger: “God, this is Your fault. You play with my emotions like this. You promised to us a child and I was waiting, and I’m ten years in now, Lord. What are you doing? You’ve prevented me from having a child.” But the wheels are turning in Sarai’s head. “There is,” she thinks, “my Egyptian servant girl.”

You notice at the end of chapter 15, the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying “to your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt.” The Egypt was the very first place mentioned. “All the way down to the river, I will give you this land.” Ahh, what about this Egyptian? This Egyptian servant is probably one of the things, people they acquired from Pharaoh when they went down there during the famine and they left with great wealth and with manservants and maidservants. This is likely how they got Hagar.

So even though they left from Egypt in chapter 12 with great blessing, we’ve seen how these blessings have complicated their lives. God turned their sinful folly into blessing, but yet there are consequences. The possessions that they received were the reason that they had to split with Lot, and here Hagar, whom they likely received from the Egyptians, now is going to be the source of family complications for generations and generations.

Plan A does not seem to be working, so what about Plan B? Now this seems mind-bogglingly stupid to us. I hope it does. Foolish and sinful. How could they have thought that this would go well? “Abram, I’ve a servant girl, I want you to have sex with her, maybe you can have a child by her.”

Now as utterly foolish and sinful, and I hope that’s how it lands on you, you have to keep in mind that this was absolutely not out of the ordinary in the ancient world. It was accepted according to the social customs of the day. Just like you’re having trouble conceiving, you might think let’s go to the doctor, and often that’s very good and doctors are very helpful and we can be thankful for some of the things doctors can do, well it was probably just as ordinary to them. We have our technology; they have theirs.

We can see stipulations for this sort of arrangement in Hammurabi’s Code, in old Assyrian contracts, in Neo-Assyrian texts. Provisions that an infertile wife could procure another woman, usually a servant or a slave, to be another wife for her husband and then a surrogate mother for her. We see the practice of surrogate motherhood attested over two millennia in the ancient near east, from Babylon to Egypt.

So just like couples today, they were very eager to have children. And God had promised that they would.

Now this was not God’s way, but it was not unusual. And it’s actual a reminder for us that we need to step out of our own age. It’s one of the reasons that you should read from dead people and listen to those who have gone before. It’s very easy to go back to people and see how other people were guilty of chauvinism or racism or sexism. We can spot those things easily in generations gone by. But they also would speak to us and see the sins that seem so normal in our day.

This seemed absolutely normal, especially if you’re a rich family like Abram and Sarai, and you have a servant girl. This is what people did.

And what things might we consider just normal, utterly conventional, everybody does it. And if we could really step out and judge our lives by Scripture, and let other people speak, we might realize what folly and what sin it is.

But Abram and Sarai didn’t see it, and Sarai gives Hagar to Abram as a wife. Later Old Testament language will stipulate between a wife and a concubine; here in Genesis the terms may be interchangeable. May not even make a difference, but the ESV says “a wife.” And things are not going to go well.

If you have your ears attuned to what we’ve already seen in Genesis, you should be tipped off that this is not going to go well, because there are a couple of indications that this is just like the Garden of Eden and the Fall all over again.

You notice in verse 2, the end of the verse, “And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai,” Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. That Hebrew construction is only found in one other place, in Genesis 3:17, when the Lord says to Adam, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife.”

Now, men, this is not an absolute statement that to listen to your wife is how you always get into trouble. That’s usually a wise thing. But here in particular, in the garden, Adam had received a command and he knew better, but he was passive and he listened to his wife. And here Abram had received the promise, and yet he’s passive and he listened to his wife.

In both cases, when they should have exerted the sort of God-given leadership and insight, rather instead they were passive and went along with the foolish schemes of Eve and now of Sarai.

And then there’s another connection with the Garden of Eden. The same verbs are used. Look at in verse 3, “Sarai took Hagar, gave her to Abram.” Same two words used in the garden where Eve took the fruit and gave it to her husband. We’re seeing a repeat of the Garden of Eden. Take, give to your husbands. Husband stands by passively, says, “Okay, if that’s what you want to do, we’ll do it.” And in both cases, it results in great harm to God’s people and to his family.

They are repeating not only the mistake of Eden, they are repeating the mistake Abram made in Egypt. Remember when he went down to Pharaoh, the whole scheme. We’re not told the psychological state. What was Sarah thinking in Genesis 12 when Abram says, “You’re too beautiful,” and she says, “Oh, thank you,” “You’re going to have to lie,” and then she ends up in Pharaoh’s harem. Did she do so reluctantly? Did she do so willingly? Did the whole episode cause a great rift in their relationship? Did they see that coming?

Well, we don’t know, and we don’t know here. Did Abram say, “Honey, that’s a, this is a terrible idea.” Did he do so willingly? Reluctantly? What happened at the end of it?

Well, we’ll see in a moment that things did not go well.

Chapter 15 is the great chapter of faith. Abram believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now chapter 16 is about a great lapse of faith.

And don’t we see with Abram and Sarai the ups and downs of human life. One moment they’re coming through with absolute flying colors, believing God, acting courageously, humbly, and then in the next moment they’re falling flat on their face.

Plan B is hatched. Here’s scene 2. Plan B goes south. Literally, it goes south. To no one’s surprise, or at least it shouldn’t have been a surprise, a plan which involved sending your husband to have sex with your servant girl does not go well. Hagar is proud, Sarai is jealous, and Abram is passive.

You see Hagar is proud. As far as we can tell, now we don’t know for sure, but it sure seems this way, that Abram was intimate with Hagar one time. We don’t get the indication that this was repeated. Verse 4, “he went in to Hagar and she conceived.” Think about the pain for Sarah, we’ll come to that in a moment, and think about the pride for Hagar.

They probably had their own primitive ways of trying to determine when a woman might be ovulating, able to get pregnant, and so there they go and the first time it works. After Abram and Sarai for, I don’t know, 50 years and nothing, so Hagar, when she finds out that she’s pregnant, she’s more than a little pleased with herself.

You notice the language here in verse 4: “She looked with contempt on her mistress.” Now what you can’t tell is the Hebrew translated “looked with contempt” is the same word used in chapter 12, verse 3, “Whomever curses you, I will curse.” Whoever despises you, whoever looks on contempt, I will curse. She’s doing what God said don’t do. You’re going to run afoul of the blessing because now you are looking with derision upon the promised couple, and so things are not going to go your way, Hagar, in your pride.

And then Sarai is jealous. Can only imagine, and some of you maybe don’t have to imagine, the sort of pain, not for the last time would there be this kind of female rivalry, particularly over your family or your kids or your fertility. It’s just excruciating. And so she responds to Hagar’s pride with jealousy and anger.

You look at verse 5. You don’t know to laugh or to cry. She says, “Abram, this is your fault. I gave you her to your embrace, and it worked, and now she looks on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me.”

Proverbs 30: “Under three things the earth trembles; under four it cannot bear up: A slave when he becomes king, and a fool when he is filled with food; an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.”

And then Abram is passive. Now he would have the opportunity to maybe step in and try to make this right, but he says, “No, she’s your servant.” And he’s right. In the ancient world, there was a provision for a rich woman to have her own maidservant. That’s what Hagar is. Hagar is not a part of whatever sort of authority Abram has. No, she belongs to Sarai and Sarai can do what she wants, and Abram is saying something true, but not something very helpful, “Do what you want with her.” “And Sarai dealt harshly with her,” verse 6.

We don’t know exactly what that meant. Physical? Emotional? Verbal? Was it as simple as a cold shoulder or sarcasm? We don’t know what it was, but it was harsh.

As so often happens in life, the victimized becomes the victimizer. This is true in life, it’s true in counseling, it’s true in relationships: Hurting people very often go on to hurt people. And one doesn’t negate the other.

I mean, Sarah must have been hurting so deeply. She wants nothing more than to have a child, and she devises this scheme and then it works and then it backfires, and there’s her lowly maidservant who’s pregnant with her husband. What could be going worse than this? And out of this deep pain and hurt, she becomes the one who hurts. And so she deals harshly with Hagar, and Hagar runs away.

If you know your geography of Israel, Hagar is heading south. Kadesh, mentioned in verse 14, is on the northeast of Sinai, south of the wilderness of Zin. Where’s Hagar going? She’s running back home. Where else would she have to go? She’s running back to this dangerous path by herself, pregnant, go get back to Egypt. Maybe she can start a new life there.

There is a profound disturbing irony for God’s people in this story. Here we have an Egyptian slave fleeing an oppressive master, running through the wilderness of Sinai, where she will be met by the angel of the Lord who will lead and protect her. In a few generations’ time, the shoe will be on the other foot. And you think as Moses was writing this down, did God’s people, did a lightbulb go off and they saw, “oh, my, before Egypt did this to us, we did this to Hagar.” Now not for centuries, not on the same scale, but they were the oppressors, there the Egyptian fled and there the Lord provided, just as they would be slaves later by the Egyptians and have to flee for the Lord’s mercy.

Plan B goes south.

The third scene, the Plan B is salvaged, in part. It’s salvaged in part because we are introduced for the first time in the Bible to this figure in verse 7, the angel of the Lord.

Fifty-eight times in the Old Testament we have “the angel of the Lord,” another 11 times the “angel of God.” There’s all sorts of speculation about who or what the angel of the Lord is. I think this is not so much a representative of Yahweh as it is a representation of Yahweh. The angel of the Lord seems to be the angel that is the Lord.

You notice in verse 10, “the angel of the Lord said to her.” Verse 11, “the angel of the Lord said to her,” but look at what he says at the end of verse 11, “because the Lord has listened.” Or verse 13, “So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her.”

In other words, it’s at first called the “angel of the Lord” but then just “the Lord.” There is an identification. This is, in other words, a visible manifestation of Yahweh. We don’t know if He appeared as an angel like they’re described in Isaiah with eyes and wings, or if simply as a man or a man I bright colors as often happens in the Bible, or as a fiery form. However, this is a visible manifestation of Yahweh, the angel that is Yahweh.

And once again, God turns human foolishness into an occasion for blessing. You notice the blessing that He gives to Hagar in verse 10 and verse 12. It’s not identical to the Abrahamic promise, and you notice Ishmael, this new line, this new offshoot from Abraham, he’s going to have a complicated history. He’ll be a wild donkey of a man and he’ll be against everyone, everyone against him. It’s foretelling the great difficulty that there will be in the family.

So it’s not identical, and yet it’s similar. Verse 10: “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” So even though Hagar is not going to be the line of promise, yet she’s still connected enough to the blessing of Abraham that she will be blessed. God shows here non-salvific blessing, even for those who are not ultimately of the chosen line. God will salvage this Plan B quite despite Abram and Sarai and their folly.

Three scenes. Notice four names. Now, there’s Abram and Sarai, but notice four times in this passage where a name is spoken or conferred. They say something very important about the theme of this passage that reveals something about God.

So look at the first name is in verse 8, “And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai.” This is the name the angel of the Lord speaks to Hagar.

Now you may have noticed her name has already showed up in the chapter, but did you notice Abram and Sarai never mention her name. No, to them she’s “my servant, that Egyptian girl.” They don’t even name her. But here the Lord does. It is the only known instance in ancient near eastern literature where God addresses a woman by name. Abram and Sarai will not name her, but the Lord does. Hagar. He calls her by name. Hagar, servant of Sarai.

He honors her, He dignifies her by speaking her name, and at the same time, He communicates to her, “Your blessing, your salvation, in an earthly sense, is not going to come by throwing off all social habit and custom. No, no, no. You need to return, you need to submit yourself to your mistress.”

What a hard word this must have been. The one who dealt harshly with her, the Lord says, “You need to go back. You will find relief not by discarding normal custom and boundaries and lines of authority, but by honoring them.”

And Hagar does as the Lord commands. Sure enough, by the end, she’s there, back to Abram, bearing a son, giving him the name. Here is a woman of great faith and obedience.

The second name is found in verse 11: “You shall call his name,” the name of Hagar’s son, “Ishmael.” The name means, you can see probably a footnote in your Bible, “God hears.” Just like the Shema in Deuteronomy, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God.” You hear that same Hebrew verb, Ishmael, God hears. The Lord has had mercy upon Hagar and heard her cries for help.

The third name is in verse 13: “She called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing.”” In Hebrew, “al-roi,” or “al-roi.” It means a God of seeing, or the God who sees me. It is the only time in the Bible that a man or a woman confers a new name upon God. Think about that. There are occasions where people give a God name to some place, Jehovah-Nissi, the Lord is my banner. This is Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord will provide. But those were names given to a place. This is the only time that someone confers a new name upon God. And it comes from the lowly, foreign servant Hagar: “You are al-roi.” God of seeing.

And then the fourth name is connected to that. It’s the name of the well, Beer-lahai-roi, the well of the Living One who sees me. Notice Hagar’s focus is not on her, I have seen the Lord, but upon the One who has seen her.

These names reveal something powerful about God, that He hears the cries of the destitute, that He sees the pain of those who come to Him in humility. As David will say centuries later, “a broken heart, a contrite spirit, you will not deny.” The names reveal what this passage is about, that God sees, God knows, God hears. He hears you, He sees, He listens.

And I wonder what it must have been like for Abram as he named this son, borne by the ill-fated Plan B, when Sarai and Abram thought there’s no other way to have a child, and so they took matters into their own hands instead of waiting on the Lord, and here he names this child, “God hears.” Maybe I should have cried out to Him.

Hagar names Yahweh “God sees.” It must have been a rebuke to Abram and Sarai. Why didn’t we call out to Him? Why didn’t we wait for Him? Why did we have to learn from Hagar that our God is a God who sees? That our God is a God who listens? That our God is a God who hears?

But they didn’t. They tried to take matters into their own hands.

Which leads to the final one big idea. Three scenes, four names, one big idea, and it is this: Trying to accomplish God’s ends with our ways is never a good idea. Trying to accomplish God’s ends, because this was God’s end, He promised, this was a good thing. They’re not after the slaughter of innocents. They want something good, they want a child. God has promised a child. This is God’s purpose, but they go about it their way, and that’s never a good idea.

You may think, well, what was the big deal? After all, it’s still Abraham’s son? Why couldn’t Ishmael be the promised son? It’s Abraham’s seed, it’s his DNA, it’s his genes. It won’t be any more Abraham’s DNA with another woman.

But the promise wasn’t made to Abram as a single man, someday whoever you want, you’ll find a wife and have a child. No, it was made to Abram the husband of Sarai. The promise implicitly, if not explicitly, was that this couple would have a child, through you, My way, the right way, husband and wife, one man, one woman. This is the way.

And just as we saw in chapter 12, when they take matters into their own hands, things end up not any further along. Chapter 12, verse 10, there’s a famine in the land, they go down to Egypt. By chapter 13, verse 1, they go back up from Egypt. Now God blesses them despite themselves, but they haven’t solved things.

Here in chapter 16 we start, Sarai is barren. By the end of the chapter, she’s still barren, except now her rival, her maidservant, has a child and Abram gives him a name. Plan B has not gotten them any closer to God’s plan.

By human calculation, this looks like the best way. I’m sure to Sarai it seemed like the only way. But once the way of faith was abandoned, the problems started to multiply, and there will be tension between Ishmael and Isaac, there will be tensions between the line of Ishmael and the line of Isaac, between these two family lines. This was the beginning of all sorts of complications.

Listen. Stick to the problems God has given you. Don’t go out and make new ones on your own. It’s true. God is sovereign over your life, we don’t understand why He puts you in some of the predicaments He does, why you have some of the bitter providences that you do, but when God gives them to you, God has a reason. Stick to the problems He gives to you, don’t make up new problems on your own. That’s what they did.

Is there some place in your life right now? Maybe it seems just very small, little, teeny compromise, but there’s a place where you’re tempted to do things your own way, because God’s way doesn’t seem to be working. Cheat on a test? Lie to cover your tracks? Take a job that pays more money, I’m going to give more to the church, and you know deep down it’s not a job you can really be proud of. You’re going along with questionable protocol at work or school. Are you seeking numbers ahead of principles? Whether those numbers are in business, the bottom line is the bottom line, or in school, or in church? You think, well, the ends justify the means.

And God, doing things Your way just doesn’t seem to be working anymore, so we gotta find another way.

The life of Christian faith means trusting that God’s way is always the best way. No matter how far-fetched, how impractical, how delayed, how impossible it may seem.

And here’s the most important piece of application. Some of you may recall in Galatians 4 Paul kind of allegorizes Hagar and Sarah, says they’re two mountains. And at first you may think, mmm, Paul, making a little nervous, I don’t know if you can learn that interpretive skill in seminary, but when you realize what Paul’s up to, you understand. No, he’s seeing something profoundly theological in Hagar and Sarah, because he likens them to the story of Law and the story of Gospel.

And it’s not a fault of Hagar, but it’s simply the case in this story, the child from Hagar is about doing things our way. The child from Sarah is about doing things God’s way. One is the way of works, God needs our help in order to accomplish His saving purposes. And the other is the way of faith, no matter how long it takes, no matter how impossible it seems, we will wait for God to do things His way.

So Paul is absolutely right to see in Hagar and Sarah the story of Law and Gospel, faith and works. There are many applications from Genesis 16, but the most important one is this: Ask yourself the question, “Is God able to save me without my help? Or does He require just a little bit of my assistance?” Just a little bit. Is there some bit of your confidence before God that’s in how clever you are, how hardworking you are, how you’ve gotten your life just a little bit more on track than other people? That’s the way of Hagar. This is the way of faith.

Human effort has no part to play in the fulfilling of divine promise. That’s the most important lesson from Genesis 16. When it comes to salvation, there is no Plan B. God’s way, and the only way, is always the way of faith. Faith does not come to God and say God, “Look at my faith. Look at how much I believe. Look at how much I know. Look at how strong my confidence is.” The faith that God fills is the faith of an empty hand. Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling. Here, God, You promised a child, I don’t know how you’ll do it, but I’m waiting. God, You promised to save me apart from works, and I sure don’t have any works, and so I come. God, You promised to never leave me or forsake me. You promised me eternal life, and so I come with the faith of an empty hand, trusting that in Your good time, and in Your way, You’ll fill it.

Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we give thanks for Your Word and pray that You would strengthen us by it, strengthen us by the Word that has been spoken and now by the Word that we will feast upon. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.