16 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”
6 “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
Here we are, at perhaps one of the most uncomfortable chapters of Genesis.
This chapter of Genesis can sometimes come as a stumbling block for us reading it, wondering how on earth the foundation of Israel’s future, God’s chosen people, could come from an irresponsible and faithless couple like Abraham and Sarai.
And while this story teaches us a good lesson on our own behavior, it also reassures us who have grossly mistepped, offended, and messed up that God still intends to use us despite our blunders.
If Abraham and Sarai were called AFTER this incident with Hagar, we might have written the story off as barbaric, pagan, an example of those times, and without any excuse because there existed no accountability. But Abraham’s infidelity and Sarai’s twisted and frankly toxic regard towards Hagar can still be redeemed. The two have been called to a higher standard, and the two have seriously hurt this poor girl. The two are God’s intended great nation, and they are imperfect.
Thus, what looks at first like a stumbling block is actually reassurance that even though we are called to a higher standard and continue to sin, that God still intends for us repentance and through that repentance comes greatness. We are not intended to be black-listed, shamed, untouchables for our sins. Despite how grievously we sin, there is hope that God will make something great from us.
Boundaries, Blame, and Faithfulness
The story we read here is one of responsibility, of two parties, failing to own up to their faithlessness and selfish acts.
To begin, it’s interesting that the idea of having an heir is not Abraham’s idea, but rather put forth by Sarai. All the promises we have read about thus far have been between God and Abraham. Obviously, Sarai has reason to be thrilled for her husband, yet it’s hard to imagine she would risk her own status and sense of security for the sake of Abraham achieving this promise through another woman. Perhaps a sliver of altruism might come through for Sarai to be happy for Abraham meeting this covenant through another woman. Even so, this is a stretch considering what the couple has gone through already and how faithfulness was already defended by God in Egypt.
The first mistake Sarai made in failing to live up to her responsibility was to lax the boundaries of her marriage, to give into Abraham’s anxiety–and perhaps even his lust–by allowing him to sleep with another woman. This speaks to the responsibility of not just any wife, but any spouse, that one partner keeps the other honest and the walls of that union intact. We’ve already seen how devastating a temptation envy can be, and the only way Sarai and Abraham can abate that beast is by keeping the walls of their marriage strong. Any polyamorous union is fated to perish, much like a cell wall with weakened integrity, its parts drifting off without any utility for the whole, all the while inviting parasites and wastes to dwell in the functioning organism.
But there is a much more grave mistake Sarai makes after failing to take responsibility for her marriage and her husband: she forsakes any blame or part in the fallout that occurs. Sarai notices Hagar begins to resent her, which perhaps speaks to Hagar realizing there is a power struggle emerged from this new relationship given Sarai cannot bear Abraham a son. Hagar being the hired hands of Sarai begins to change that dynamic in her behavior, and Sarai goes to Abraham…not with regret or repentance, but with blame.
Sarai becomes indignant instead of accepting responsibility for herself, and such is the case for us too often. Like Sarai, we often see mistreatment we receive from others as a crime of others to rectify rather than give any consideration as to what we contribute to the relationship or the dynamic. Perhaps by failing to reinforce boundaries or establish some respect for ourselves we allow others to walk all over us, give “yes” to things we ought not to on a pretense of being “nice”.
But Abraham is not off the hook either. Abraham may not have “worldly” evidence that God will fulfill the covenant of bringing Abraham a son to make a nation out of, but Abraham has seen God’s power more than a handful of times before through the visions and perilous adventures. Abraham receives temptation from his wife–not unlike Adam–and instead of being responsible back to Sarai and to God–the God who supports monogamy–, he allows this temptation to prey upon his anxiety and perhaps even on his lust.
Abraham suffers the same sin as Sarai in failing to be responsible in his marriage, in correcting his wife’s anxiety, and staying faithful to her. But the different sin of responsibility that Abraham commits is not being responsible back to God, forsaking all the promise and goodness he received before because one covenant is not happening on his timetable.
Our Role As The Married couple
To summarize, we all at times falter in our conviction and our boundaries when stress overcomes us. We begin to question the utility or legitimacy of promises we made with ourselves or with others, and faithfulness is tested. Abraham and Sarai suffer from infidelity on account of disappointment, on account of their expectations of “the good life” being less than perfect. This disappointment and failed expectations is the crumbling foundation of too many marriages today, resulting in infidelity and blame.
In addition, we too often cast blame without giving consideration to what we contribute to a situation ourselves. We are like Sarai who with such a short memory lashes out at Abraham for sleeping with Hagar, even though she gave her approval of this shameful deed. We ought to be mindful not just of the “yes” we give to others explicitly or implicitly, but we ought to be mindful of what behaviors we contribute to any resentment or conflict in our own relationships.
Today, consider the following
- What are some parts of my life I don’t trust God with (that I don’t go to Him in prayer with)? What are some parts of my life I don’t trust others with?
- What are some of the great ways God has protected me, been faithful to me, good to me?
- Who do I find myself blaming the most or angry the most? What might I contribute in that relationship? What might I be able to change?
- When do I find myself saying “yes” to something when I really want to say “no”? How can I keep myself honest?
- Faithful can carry a connotation of steadfastness or reliability. In what ways am I faithful? In what ways am I not so faithful? To whom am I faithful? Where is there room to grow here? How can I increase in this trait with others?