Genesis 16 • Less Than Ideal Circumstances


Jacob works for seven years for whom he thinks he’ll receive as his wife only to be given her sister, and has to work another seven for the one he thought he was getting in the first place. Joseph does the “right thing” and refuses to commit adultery with his master’s wife and because of her lies gets sent to prison. Daniel’s enemies trick the king that favors Daniel into having to execute Daniel. There are many instances provided throughout Scripture that aren’t “fair” by most of our standards, but God uses and works through them just the same. The promises of God for this life do not advertise that every obstacle will be removed, every unfair situation averted, nor that there will never be “rough waters”; only that we can trust Him to keep and protect us through everything and be used by Him in every circumstance, both as a personal and public witness of His power, glory and sovereignty. Our walk has to endure less than ideal circumstances in order that HE may be exalted.

Read verses 1-2

Q: Knowing what we know about God’s promises to Abram, what is wrong with Sarai’s assertion about bearing children?

A: It would be more accurate if she’d stated, “To this point, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children.” She’s making it sound like it’s never going to happen based on the fact it hasn’t happened yet. In fact, that’s most likely her belief, and therefore she’s actually encouraging a form of unbelief to take root.

Q: Why might this statement sway Abram to go along?

A: Because it’s couched in terminology that makes it sound like Sarai is seeking to fulfill God’s will. It sounds like a request that might be in line with what they know to be the will of God for their lives, instead of transparent despair and lack of faith.

Q: So what is Abram’s basic mistake?

A: He “listened to the voice of Sarai” instead of to the voice of the Lord.

Application: Have you every postulated to someone—or someone postulated to you—that God might be providing a way to fulfill His will in an unconventional or alternative method? What should we do to verify the truth of such a possibility? Do we ever believe God might be speaking through someone without asking God Himself if it is so?

Read verses 3-6

Q: Is what Abram did “wrong”, “illegal”, or breaking the law in any way?

A: Actually it was not just “accepted” but legal at this time. This was still a time of concubines, multiple marriages and practices such as these that ensured the all-important security of passing one’s lands and legacy to an heir. This is why there is no record in Scripture of either Abram or Sarai being reprimanded for doing this.

Q: Why would Hagar begin to despise Sarai just because she became pregnant?

A: At this time Abram had no direct heir, therefore Hagar had become the mother of Abram’s only heir. This would have been quite a huge thing going from a servant to the potential mother of someone in line to inherit a very rich man’s estate. In terms of human laws and customs at the time, Hagar would have become much more important and powerful than Sarai as time progressed and the child grew.

Q: Is Abram’s response “wrong”?

A: No, he is reinforcing the “chain of command”, so to speak, that Hagar is under Sarai’s direction. It may be a polite way of saying, “You got yourself into this, so you can get yourself out.”

Read verses 7-14

Q: To where was Hagar most likely fleeing?

A: Since the wilderness of Shur is the northern Sinai wilderness between Israel and Egypt, and since Hagar was an Egyptian, it’s pretty clear that she was intent on returning to her home country of Egypt.

Q: But what is revealing about Hagar’s answer as to why she’s fleeing?

A: She isn’t so much intent on the destination as much as getting away from the source of her problem, “the presence of my mistress Sarai”.

Q: How does the angel of the Lord promise to remedy the problem with Sarai?

A: He doesn’t. He addresses the issue only as far as Hagar in concerned, telling her to “submit yourself to her authority”. The angel of the Lord confirms Abram’s initial assessment that Hagar is a subordinate to Sarai and subject to Sarai’s authority.

Q: Why wouldn’t the angel of the Lord MAKE Sarai treat Hagar better, even ultra-nicely?

A: Sarai is to be judged by God for her own decisions and how she handles the things entrusted to her by God, just as Hagar is to do the same. The issue is doing what YOU’RE responsible to do regardless of the circumstances or the choices of others. It’s Hagar’s faithfulness and behavior that’s in question, not Sarai’s; that’s between Sarai and God.

Application: Do we ever pray, “Lord, make my boss/husband/pastor treat me better” rather than, “Lord, help me submit to the authorities You’ve placed over me?” Do we ever consider that although we are mistreated that the entire situation is still under God’s control and that He is using it to address issues with the OTHER person?

Q: What is the similarity between the things Hagar names and the things God names?

A: “Beer-lahai-roi”, named by Hagar, means “the well of the living one who sees me”; “Ishmael”, named by God, means “God hears”. It’s an indication that Hagar has learned that regardless of the circumstances, God sees and hears and is therefore in control.

Application: Do we ever think that because of the difficulty of circumstances or a particular relationship, that God does not “see” or “hear” and therefore care to respond as we’d like? What is the viewpoint we need to arrive at in terms of God’s working when circumstances are hard or far from ideal? Does it mean that we’re on our own or that God is not responding?

Read verses 15-16

Q: Do we know if Sarai treated Hagar any better upon her return?

A: No. We only know that Hagar returned and submitted to the situation.

Q: What will eventually happen to Hagar?

A: According to Genesis 21:10, after Sarah bears Isaac, she will force Hagar to be driven from Abraham’s presence forever. God will personally respond and take care of them and fulfill His promises to Hagar.

Overall Application