Abram's Fleshly Walk
Dr. Joe Temple

The Advice of Sarai to Abram

Open your Bibles, please, to chapter 16 of the book of Genesis. We will read the chapter, and then we will go back and talk about it to see what we can learn from it:

Genesis 16:

1Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.
2And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.
3And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.
4And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.
5And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the Lord judge between me and thee.
6But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face.
7And the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur.
8And he said, Hagar, Sarai's maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai.
9And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands.
10And the angel of the Lord said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.
11And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Behold, thou art with child and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the Lord hath heard thy affliction.
12And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.
13And she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me?
14Wherefore the well was called Beerlahairoi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.
15And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son's name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael.
16And Abram was fourscore and six years old, when Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram.

As we have been pointing out in our study of the book of Genesis, a major portion of the book deals with the lives of individuals. At the moment we are dealing with the life of Abram, or Abraham as he was later called.

Abram was known as the Friend of God, the man of faith. If we were to read only certain chapters we might think that Abram was an unusual individual in that he always lived a victorious life, in that he never knew failure. But as we read chapter 16 we recognize that Abram was quite a bit like most of us. There were times when he walked in the flesh. You will remember that it is recorded in chapter 15 that Abram hearkened to the voice of God. In chapter 16, you will remember that Abram hearkened to the voice of his wife. In one chapter he walked by faith. In the other he walked according to the flesh.

Chapter 16 may be considered from a two-fold standpoint. I do not know whether we will have time to consider it from both standpoints, but I do want to make mention of the two-fold standpoint so that you may pursue this study on your own if you have time. It may be considered from a very practical, spiritual standpoint, and it may be considered from a doctrinal standpoint. As a matter of fact, chapter 4 of the book of Galatians is a doctrinal dissertation on chapter 16 of the book of Genesis. When we have time, we will get to that chapter in the New Testament.

However, at the moment I want us to look at this chapter from a practical standpoint, noticing all the lessons we possibly can in the chapter itself and making application of these truths to our lives.

The first thing I would like for us to consider is what this chapter says about Sarai. Will you notice verse 1:

Genesis 16:

1Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children…

If that were the only statement we had, it would not mean very much. But when we have in our minds what has gone on before, it speaks quite a bit. You will remember that some thirteen years before, God had made a promise that Abram and Sarai were to have a child. Thirteen years had gone by, and the promise had not been fulfilled. That is what is meant by the statement, “Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children.”

Sarai's Effort to “Help” God

In verse 2 we read:

Genesis 16:

2And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing…

What does that mean? It means that Sarai was doing considerable thinking. “After all,” she said, “God said Abram would have a son. However, He did not say pointedly that I would be the child's mother. Perhaps we are going about this the wrong way. Perhaps I am not intended to be the mother of Abram's child. Perhaps God has restrained me from bearing.” Because she was anxious for Abram to have a child, and she thought perhaps she was not to be the mother of the child, she began to connive to bring about the fulfillment of God's purpose in their lives.

I do think we should not be too hard on her. I think we should keep in mind that what she suggested about her maid was not an unusual thing. It was the common custom of the day, and it was not considered immoral. She was not doing anything wrong in her own eyes. Remember that. She was only trying to help God out. We read in verse 2 that she asked Abram to take her maid and let her maid be the mother of the promised child. In verse 3 she even went a step further. She took things into her own hands and gave her maid to Abram.

As you know from the reading of the chapter, conception came about, and when Hagar knew she was to be the mother of Abram's child, she despised her mistress. “Her mistress was despised in her eyes” means that she became insolent. She refused to obey any orders, and she said in so many words, “I am more important than you are.”

A Culpable Abram

That was more than Sarai could take, and you will notice in verse 5 that Sarai did what most of us do when we act in the flesh:

Genesis 16:

5And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the Lord judge between me and thee.

That is just another way of saying, “Abram, it is your fault. This thing never would have happened if you had done what you ought to have done.” She was right. It was her idea. There is no question about that. She was trying to help God out. All that is true, but it was Abram's fault, because if you will look at the last statement of verse 2 we read:

Genesis 16:

2…And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.

Abram was not supposed to listen to the voice of Sarai. He was supposed to listen to the voice of God. Abram had had spiritual experiences that Sarai had not had, and he should have taken the lead and accepted the spiritual responsibility in his family. If you will remember from our reading of the chapters up to this point, no less than five times had God appeared personally to Abram, and not one time had He appeared to Sarai. While Sarai was busy doing the work in the tent, Abram was busy communing with God. Abram should never have yielded. He should have been strong enough spiritually to take the place that God had given to him. We know that he was not when we read in verse 6:

Genesis 16:

6But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee…

When Abram uttered those words, Abram relinquished his right as the head of his home and as the spiritual leader of his family, and this brought the chastening hand of God upon them. He had no right to say to Sarai, “Do to that woman what you want to do.” He was the one to make the decision about what should be done. But he took the line of least resistance to keep a measure of peace in his home, as a lot of men do today…not willing to take the responsibility that is rightfully theirs, surrendering the headship of the home because it is the easiest thing to do. Trouble resulted.

Hagar, The Egyptian Handmaid

Let us notice now what this chapter has to say about Hagar. Hagar, bless her heart, was caught in the cross fire, so to speak. She was caught in the web of two people living out of the will of God. Do you know, that is one of the saddest things to me about people out of fellowship and out of God's will. It is not only they themselves who are involved. Innocent people are involved likewise. Hagar had no business being in the home of Abram and Sarai. If Abram and Sarai had not disobeyed God some thirteen years before by going down into the land of Egypt, they would never have had Hagar. They went down into the land of Egypt, and while they were there several things happened to them that developed into thorns in their sides in their spiritual experience. Hagar was one of those thorns. They got her while they were down there. If they had never disobeyed God, this would never have happened.

Hagar, through no fault of her own, was caught in the cross fire of a family dispute and in the web of two people out of the will of God. Hagar was in a sad state indeed. When she became insolent to her mistress, and Abram said for Sarai to do with her what she wanted, we read in verse 6 that Sarai dealt hardly with her. She was mean to her and mistreated her terribly. As a result, Hagar fled from the face of Sarai.

If the story stopped right there, it would be sad indeed. But now comes one of the most precious parts of this chapter. The Lord Jesus Christ appears on the scene. Notice verse 7:

Genesis 16:

7And the angel of the Lord found her…

This is the first time you find the phrase, the angel of the LORD . I try to point out to you the first time things are mentioned in the Scriptures, and this is the first time the phrase, the angel of the LORD , is used. If you follow that phrase through the Bible, you will find that the angel of the LORD is the Old Testament name for the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, the Lord Jesus Christ made a number of visits to this earth before He was born a babe in Bethlehem. In the Old Testament He always came in the form of the Angel of the LORD, not an angel of the LORD. The characteristics of these theophanies, because that is what they are called…the theology, the matter, the material, the background of these theophanies…indicate that this is the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice in verse 7:

Genesis 16:

7And the angel of the Lord found her…

Then began a very blessed experience for her which is akin to many spiritual experiences which the children of God go through even today. Notice also where He found her, because as I have pointed out a number of times, I do not think any of the words in the Word of God are there by accident. I think they are well chosen, because I believe in the verbal inspiration of the Word of God. If you will look at verse 7 you will find that Hagar was in the wilderness, and the word wilderness in the Word of God always speaks typically of desolation. She was just about as low as she could get. This particular wilderness was in the way of Shur. The word Shur means wall . The thought of the verse is that she was desolate, her back to the wall. She did not know which way to turn. She did not know what to do. She did not know what the outcome was to be. The only human feature about this is that she was by a fountain of water. A fountain of water in the Word of God always speaks of spiritual blessings that are divinely provided.

When Hagar first arrived there, the only thing she noticed was the wilderness. The only thing she realized was that she was utterly desolate. But because she was in a place where God could bless her, the angel of the Lord appeared to her for that purpose.

Why do I say she was in a place where God could bless her? Because she had come to the end of the way. Her back was against the wall. If you have not learned this, you will learn it. This may be your opportunity to learn the spiritual truth that when you come to the end of yourself, that is when God can bless you. That is when God can enter in. That is when God can begin to lead and begin to bless. The thing that God says is not always the pleasant thing. When I speak of the blessing of God, I am not always speaking of those things that are pleasant. I am thinking of those things that are best. We all need to learn that.

You know, we go through a meeting, a revival, a camp meeting, a spiritual feast, and we say, “Oh, how the Lord blessed me!” We feel lifted up, and as if we had such a good time. When we are brought to the end of ourselves through providential dealings, we are not as apt to think of it as a blessing from the Lord, yet it is. Remember that it is not always the pleasant things that we have in mind when we talk about the blessings of the Lord. Look at verse 8:

Genesis 16:

8And he [the angel of the LORD]said, Hagar, Sarai's maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go?…

I do not have the ability to ask those questions in the forceful manner in which the angel of the Lord asked them, but they are all pointed. “Hagar, Sarai's maid…” That is the thing she wanted to forget. She thought that since she was going to be the mother of Abram's child, Sarai should be displaced, and she should be the first wife. The angel of the Lord looked upon things differently, because this thing that had happened to Hagar was not according to God's plan. Remember that…it was Sarai's planning, not God's. God refused to recognize it. I trust you will learn in passing that what God does not order, God does not recognize.

If you will permit this personal illustration, I think it will be a case in point. Most of you know that I give testimony to the fact that I live by faith. There is a sense in which everyone lives by faith. When I say I live by faith, I do not sit in criticism of anyone else. This is simply what God has called me to do. God has taught me a number of lessons. One of these lessons is that God never pays any bills that He does not make. God has been very gracious to me and my family in meeting our needs. I never cease to marvel at how He does it, although occasionally I get impatient. Rarely, but once or twice in the course of the years, I have gotten impatient and decided to take things into my own hands. Every time I have, God has refused to recognize or honor the thing that I did. To be very pointed, we had at the ice plant a locker that the Lord provided for us. The Lord also provided the meat that was in it. For a number of years we had no idea who provided the meat. The locker was there, we would go down, and there was always meat there. One time I went down to get some meat, and the plant had just changed hands. I guess I was tired and weary. I guess I was not as nice as I might have been. The man in charge said to me, “Your key is going to cost you more than it has been costing.” It seemed very unfair to me, very unreasonable, and I did not hesitate to say so. I am ashamed of it, but I expressed exactly what I felt. He said, “I do not know that there is anything you can do about it.” I said, “There certainly is.” He said, “All right, what will you do about it?” I said, “I will take my meat out of this place. I don't have to keep it down here. He just smiled one of those smiles that makes you want to wipe it off his face. I left, and then I found that there was no other place in town that had lockers. This was some years back. No one else had any lockers, and that is why he was smiling.

I was acting in the flesh and not in the spirit. I said that there was one thing about it. I was not going to keep the meat down there after what I had said. I decided I would buy a freezer. I did. I bought a freezer on credit. The Lord did not have anything to do with it. It was all in the flesh. The payments on that freezer were only $8.50 per month. That is all. (It is paid for now, so don't worry about it.) Every time I asked the Lord for the $8.50 to pay for that freezer, the Lord would say to me in so many words, “You pay it. I didn't make the bill. You contracted the bill. You pay it.” I say this humbly, because the Lord dealt with me about it: Every payment that was made on that freezer I had to pay. I had no freedom in praying about it. The hardest bit of money I ever had to get together in my life was the payment on that freezer…all because I acted in the flesh instead of in the Spirit.

That is exactly what I am talking about here when I say that even though Hagar said, “I am the mother of Abram's child,” God did not recognize it. God had to bring her face to face with the fact that He did not recognize it, and He said, “Hagar, Sarai's maid, don't forget you are Sarai's maid, no matter what you think about it.”

The Angel of the Lord…Jesus Christ

Did you notice what He said then? “Whence camest thou?” This is the Lord Jesus talking. He knew whence she came. Why do you think He was asking her that question? He wanted to bring her face to face with her disobedience. “Whence camest thou? And where art thou going?” Don't you think He knew? Do you know why He wanted to pinpoint that?

Three years later He was going to move Hagar. She moved three years too soon. You see, He said to her in so many words, “Nobody told you to move, Hagar. Nobody told you to leave. You are three years ahead of me.” Notice verse 9 and what He said:

Genesis 16:

9And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands.

If you try to put yourself in the place of Hagar, you should surely be able to realize that that was the bitterest thing she could hear. Here she was against a wall of desolation, and the Lord appeared, and she thought, “How wonderful. Everything is going to be all right.” Instead of the Lord's patting her on the back and saying, “I know exactly how you feel. You run on down to Egypt. I understand,” He said, “You go back and submit, because you are three years ahead of schedule.”

The thing that I want you to see here is that there was not anything particularly wrong with Hagar's leaving. The thing that was wrong was that she left three years too soon. God let her leave three years later. In fact, He made it easy for her to leave. Now she was three years ahead of the Lord. “Return and submit.” I am quite sure that for some of us that would have been a very difficult thing to do. It would have been for Hagar, except that she submitted to the Lord first.

Do you know, when you learn to submit to the Lord first, it is not hard to submit to anyone else. That is why the Scripture says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord.” This is right. If children yield their lives to the Lord, it is no trouble to yield to their parents. It is when children have not yielded to the Lord that they find it difficult to yield to their parents.

The Scripture says that wives should be in subjection to their husbands. It is no trouble for a wife to take the place that God intended her to take if she has yielded to the Lord. It is when she is not yielded to the Lord that she does not want anyone ordering her about.

It is no problem for a husband to be head of the home and to take the place that God intended him to take if he has yielded to the Lord first.

We could go on, but we will not take the time. The secret of the whole matter is yieldedness to the Lord. Hagar could go back and submit to Sarai because she yielded to the Lord first.

The Lord made it a little bit easier for her to yield. You see, the Lord always does that. He makes a wound, and then He rubs in the salve. He stirs, and then He manifests His love. I sometimes wonder if that is where we as parents fail so often. We are stern, insisting on certain things being done, but we do not rub any salve on the wounds we make. We do not shroud our children with love.

Ishmael

Notice first what the angel of the LORD said in verse 11:

Genesis 16:

11And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Behold, thou art with child and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the Lord hath heard thy affliction.

Do you know what Ishmael means? It means God heareth . After Ishmael was born, every time Hagar called him, she was reminded that one time God had heard her. She was down, just about as low as she could get, but God did not forsake her. God heard her.

Then God said three things about Ishmael. You see, God had a plan for Ishmael, too. Isn't it amazing how God can overrule even our self-will? That is the thing that encourages my heart. To know that even though God cannot endure my mistakes, even though God cannot endure my self-will, God in His mercy and in His grace overrules to some extent. That is encouraging. He said three things about Ishmael.

First, in verse 12, He said he would be a wild man. That does not mean he would be insane. It means he would be a nomad. He would travel from place to place. He would never settle down in a city. He would be moving about all the time. Second, he would be a warrior. “His hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him.” The third thing He said was, “He shall dwell in the presence of his brethren.” That means that he would maintain his own individual identity in the midst of all the various descendants of Abram. That was true not only of Ishmael but of Ishmael's descendants, for the Arabs today are descendants of Ishmael.

Hagar's Obedience to God

You see, after God said what He did to Hagar, then He said this kind thing about her son, and you find in verse 13 her submission to the Lord:

Genesis 16:

13And she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me…

That is how we know this was the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, these people, as we have learned already in our study pf the book of Genesis, have names for God. God was His name, but they always added something else that characterized the particular experience in which God appeared to them. This time she said, “I am going to call God the One who sees.” Then she was overwhelmed by what had happened, and she said in the last part of verse 13:

Genesis 16:

13…Have I also here looked after him that seeth me?

Those words were not written by accident. If we would go deeper into the subject, we would notice that no person in the Old Testament ever looked face to face with God, never stared right at Him. The Old Testament says Moses spake to God face to face, but that means he spoke without a mediator. The Bible, the Old Testament, makes numerous references to the fact that when anyone saw God he always saw hindmost parts, because nobody could look upon the face of God and live. Moses wanted to see God one day. Do you remember how he begged to see Him? God said, “I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and I will hold my hand over the rock. After I get by I will take away my hand, and you can look. That is the only way you can see Me.”

This is what she is talking about here. She said, “Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me?” She was amazed at the grace of God that would permit her, an Eygyptian maid, to look on the One who was constantly seeing her. Notice verse 14:

Genesis 16:

14Wherefore the well was called Beerlahairoi…

This means that the place where God met her that day was given the name that forever after indicated what happened there. The first syllable of this word, Beer , means well . Lahai means the one who lives . The word roi means the one who sees . This is the well of the One who lives and the One who sees.

She came to know God in a way she would never have known Him had it not been for this particular experience. She came to know the Lord as One who sees all we do and hears all we say. We are never alone. His eyes are always on us.

I would like to review a practical lesson or two that I hope you have gained from this chapter. First of all, let me suggest that we should learn to wait always for God's time. What was Sarai's trouble? She got tired of waiting for God's time. God had said, “Abram shall have a son.” He did not say when. Abram believed it, but oh, it was so hard to wait. Have you asked God for something? Have you believed that God was going to do it because He gave the assurance that He was. He has not done it yet, has He? It has been weeks, hasn't it? It has been months, and He hasn't done it. Perhaps it has been years, and if it hasn't, it will be. Have you ever thought how you would feel if you believed without any doubt at all that God was going to do something, and then God would let ten years pass before He did it? Can't you see why Sarai got impatient? Learn that lesson. Wait God's time! Sarai should have learned it. Hagar should have learned it. Hagar, as we pointed out to you, left the place of God's appointment for her, at least by permission if not by direction, three years before she should have.

Another lesson from this chapter is that never, never must we do wrong in order to get a chance to do right. Will you remember that? It is never right to do wrong in order to get a chance to do right. The end never justifies the means.

Remember, in the thinking of Sarai, the end was to bring an heir to Abram. That was her thinking. That was what she had in mind. But she had no right to do in the flesh what should have been done in the Spirit.

The last thing I want to suggest to you, not intimating that these are the only things you should have learned, but they do somewhat sum up what we have been talking about. I think we need to keep this thing in mind, because I think the Devil can delude us if we do not. Results may be gotten without God's help, but when that occurs, it always means trouble. Sarai wanted Abram to have a son. He did. Ishmael was born. She got the results, but oh, the trouble. There was trouble for Hagar, trouble for Sarai, trouble for Abram, trouble for Isaac, trouble for the Jews, trouble for the Arabs.

If you have been reading your newspapers you see that that trouble is still going on. If Sarai had never stepped out of the will of God, the trouble in the middle East would not be in the newspapers today. You see? You do get results, but you get trouble, too. Don't let the Devil delude you into thinking that results are necessarily a sign of the blessing of God. The flesh can get results, but if the results are not gotten in the way that God afforded, there can be nothing but trouble.


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