‘I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you; …
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.’
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 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.
Sometimes the waiting can be so long. Abram was 75 when God first said he would make him a great nation. Presumably he and Sarai had been hoping for children, and here they were promised at last.
So they waited.
After eleven years, Sarai came up with a plan. God hadn’t actually said she would be the mother of Abram’s children, so why not try something that was totally acceptable in the culture of the time, and have children by her servant, Hagar?
We don’t know Sarai’s motivation here for sure, but given that Abram hadn’t been sleeping with Hagar up to this point, it seems very much as though Sarai was tired of waiting for God to come through and decided to help him out.
Although God did make the resulting son, Ishmael, into a great nation, he was not the child of the promise, who was born to Sarai 14 years later.
What are we to learn from this? God has given us brains, abilities and resources to be able to help ourselves, and we don’t expect to sit back and wait for everything to drop into our laps. How do we know when taking initiative – signing up with a head-hunter, moving house to increase your kids’ chances of getting into your preferred school, sitting outside someone’s door until they give you the break you need – is the responsible thing to do, and when it’s giving up on God’s plan?
I think the key is in knowing what God has said to you. Abram and Sarai had heard clearly from God. Their promise was repeated several times (Genesis 12:7; 13:15-16; 15:4-5) – they knew they hadn’t imagined it, and that God hadn’t forgotten, or said it on a passing whim. They knew, but they lost hope.
God still speaks to us today, through Scripture, through prophecies, and through that ‘still, small voice’. If he’s made you a promise and you’re not sure if you need to take action, ask. Speak to a godly friend and pray with them about it. We can trust that we’ll recognise when God says ‘Yes’, when he says ‘No’, and when he says ‘You can if you want, but my plan will be better’ (he actually said that to me once. I’m waiting).
‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful’
For Further Reflection
- What has God said to you in the past about the thing you’re hoping for? What is he saying to you now?
- If you know this story, you’ll remember that Hagar’s pregnancy caused a huge rift between her and Sarai. How can stories like this help us when we’re tempted to give up waiting and take matters into our own hands?