God has proven His faithfulness to Abram, even go so far as to legally commit Himself to His promise according to Abram’s covenant-making tradition. His promise depends only on Him. In the very next passage, God proves that He will follow through.
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight. And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the Lord judge between you and me.” But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight.” So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence (Genesis 16:1-6).
Much like Adam listened to his wife and they both ate the fruit, Abram listens to his wife and they both fail to trust God to provide. Sarai takes matters into her own hands, and Abram goes along with her. Abram commits polygamy in rebellion against God’s promise–so that he might provide for himself. Hagar’s new disdain for Sarai and Sarai’s impatience causes problems in the family that stem from her newfound jealousy of a basically faithful servant, Hagar. After being persecuted by Sarai, Hagar flees their presence, escaping with her child.
There is much I could say about a complementarian view of marriage or monogamy. I believe the text highlights Sarai’s impatience most of all in this story. I think, in my own life, I have been impatient about a great many things. There have been changes I thought were taking too long to process. I was impatient in my selfish pursuit of ministerial positions. I have been impatient with the people I worked with. I have been impatient with people I have ministered to. Each time I am impatient, I notice that it causes greater problems that could have otherwise been avoided. For Sarai, impatience bread jealousy, abuse, and the flight of a new mother with her child such that they were not being provided for. When we are impatient, many problems arise. In our lives, there are many things that tempt us to be impatient. People don’t have our particular theological understanding, so we are impatient with them. We see that changes need to be made in a church, so we are impatient with others (even entire generations). People want to make changes that may cause problems, so we are impatient with them because of their unwise zeal. Children don’t obey all the time. Relationships are messy. Jobs could be better. We get impatient. Like with the sister-wife love triangle we see in this pericope, impatience always leads us into sin. God responds, but not how you would expect.
Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” Then the angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.” Moreover, the angel of the Lord said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” The angel of the Lord said to her further, “Behold, you are with child, And you will bear a son; And you shall call his name Ishmael, Because the Lord has given heed to your affliction. He will be a wild donkey of a man, His hand will be against everyone, And everyone’s hand will be against him; And he will live to the east of all his brothers” (Genesis 16:7-12).
God does not chastise Sarai for her impatience. He does not discipline Abram for not leading his wife in faithfulness. He does not even bring to mind the fact that Hagar slept with an already married man. God does not preach a sermon about the rebellion of polygamy. He does not curse Abram’s illegitimate son. Instead, the Angel of the Lord, a character I believe to be the preincarnate Christ, finds Hagar and honors the promise first made to Abram. God did not have to do this. He was not bound to any illegitimate heir. But, He is good. By grace, He does far above what we can imagine and what He has promised. His graces are exceedingly plentiful. Christ instructs Hagar to return and submit to her mistress. God has given heed to her affliction.
The descendants of Ishmael (God hears) eventually become the nation of Islam (AD 610, approximately 3,000 years after Ishmael was born). Though Ishmael’s descendants are still eastern donkey’s among men and against the whole world, this passage is why I believe God still hears them. It is why I believe great revival and a turning to Jesus Christ is currently underway among Muslims and other eastern people groups. God is faithful to His promises, all of His promises.
Though we often grow impatient with God. He does not grow impatient with us. That is why we can believe in the perseverance of the saints, eternal security, real sanctification by grace through faith, and be assured of our salvation even when we sin. God is patient. He is faithful.
Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered. So 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 him (Genesis 16:13-16).
Just the fact that God hears her causes Hagar to praise Him. He listened to her; she survived and named the well in remembrance (a name meaning “the well of the living one who sees me”). Ishmael is born. He is Abram’s firstborn, but Isaac will be the son through whom God fulfills His promise to and covenant with Abram.
In our moments of impatience, God is working. Impatience is a sin. The problems that result from impatience likely cause us to sin more. God doesn’t major on that with Abram, Sarai, or Hagar. Instead, He listens and is patient with us. He is a good father. He is faithful to accomplish His good purpose in our lives even when we are impatient.