Hagar: The Human Solution is a Defective Solution. Genesis 16
As has been mentioned before the story of Abraham's life is developed along the lines of several tests. When we think of Abraham we need to think of the Abrahamic covenant, we need to think in terms of God's election of Israel, and it is a picture of God's election and selection in human history. We need to recognize that Abraham is used in the New Testament as a picture of justification salvation, phase one justification salvation. Abraham is also a picture of the mature believer who reaches spiritual maturity and his faith is demonstrated or validated before mankind and the angels, according to James 2:14-21. In that passage it is not talking about phase one, but phase two and his maturity. Hebrews chapter eleven talks about Abraham moves from phase one justification to spiritual maturity, and that was his walk by means of faith and his advance from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity was step by step as he went through these various tests.
At the root of every test that we face in life it is a faith-rest drill. That is why the faith-rest comes, in terms of spiritual skills, right after learning to walk by means of the Spirit. They are almost two sides of the same coin. The first thing we learn in the spiritual life is to confess sin so that we can recover from sin and recover the filling of the Holy Spirit. The next spiritual skill we develop is walking by the Spirit. The means of walking by the Spirit is the third step which is the faith-rest drill. Everything else is built on that.
It was while Abraham was in Egypt, after failing his second test, that he picked up an Egyptian slave girl by the name of Hagar. The principle that we learn from that is that when we are out of fellowship and we are not trusting God we end up making other decisions that aren't related to the primary failure, and which carry with them unintended consequences that frequently come back to kick us in the rear later on down the road.
The third test Abraham faced was in chapter 13 after returning back to the land, indicating he was back in fellowship, trusting God, and now God causes the land not to produce enough to take care of Abraham and Lot. So Abraham demonstrated grace orientation and generosity, and passes the test. Lot takes the land, the most beautiful part, in the area now known as the Dead Sea.
Then the fourth test, in chapter 14, was when the land was invaded. Abraham now has to function in relation to the blessing mandate of Genesis 12:2, and so he goes out to defend, protect and to rescue. The point of that whole test was to set him up for the next test which had to do with his response to God's grace in giving him the victory over the invading army. And he passes that test as well. He gives of the spoils to Melchizedek and that is a sign of his gratitude to God.
Then there is another test in chapter fifteen after his victory he succumbs to worry, fear, and concern, and God comes to him and tells him not to be afraid. God reiterates the land promise at that time and so Abraham trusts God. There is a continuation of the narrative in 16:1 where we read, "Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children." The point of the text is to remind us of where the narrative has been going since the beginning of chapter 15. There is a break in the narrative here and we are being reminded that Sarai his wife was still barren. Why is this an issue? One reason it is an issue is the immediate circumstance with Abraham. God had promised descendants, a multitude of descendants, innumerable like the stars in the sky and the sand of the sea. However, there is something even more troubling at this time. Abraham still operates within a biblical world view in relationship to children. It was an extremely serious matter in the ancient world for a woman who could not or did not have children. It was a major stigma. Furthermore, it had social consequences and immediate legal consequences because it left the family without an heir. In the pagan world when the propagation of the race failed, when there was barrenness in the wife, the solution was polygamy. That is how polygamy developed. In the ancient Near East this became a standard practice. Polygamy was not God's original intent.
Barrenness has a spiritual significance in the Scripture; not today, but in the Old Testament because of certain things that God was teaching in the ancient world.
The doctrine of the barren woman
1) The significance of barrenness is not some sin on the part of the woman. None of the women in the Old Testament were barren because of sin in their life, it was because of something that God was teaching through their barrenness.
2) These were the women that are said to be barren in Scripture: Sarai, the wife of Abram; Rebecca, the wife of Isaac; Rachel, the wife of Jacob—it is interesting that the wives of the three patriarchs of Israel are all barren women. That should be the first clue that there is something going on here related to God's development of the nation Israel—; the mother of Samson; Hannah; Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist in Luke chapter one.
3) Exodus 23:26 gives an insight. The absence of barren women would indicate that Israel was spiritual, indicating Israel's positive spirituality and divine blessing. But the presence of barren women in Israel indicated Israel's carnality and divine judgment. It was a sign. "There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren, in thy land: the number of thy days I will fulfil."
4) Thus we see that the barren womb in these women picture the emptiness and lifelessness of mankind apart from God and apart from Jesus Christ. The fact that they were barren was a picture of spiritual barrenness. It was also a picture of spiritual death. What is it that distinguishes Abram from the culture around him? He is a Gentile, like everybody else, from Ur of the Chaldees but he is a believer in the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ and is regenerate. He is going to have a couple of boys, Ishmael and Isaac, and what distinguishes them is regeneration. God is illustrating this life from death in the womb of the matriarchs of Israel. That is what sets them apart, that the foundation of this nation of people is miraculous. There is a 90-year-old woman who is going to give birth. It is a picture of how God gives life where there is no life.
5) In each case God miraculously brings forth life where there is death or there is no life. This is a picture of regeneration. The point is that only God can solve the problem of spiritual death by providing spiritual birth. And all of the six women are foreshadowing one individual: the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.
6) The barren womb is type of the virgin womb of Mary, and there the solution to the barren womb is the new life in the incarnation of the God-Man, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The situation in Genesis 16:1, "Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar." God's grace is what underlies this whole episode. Two things: the failure on the part of Abraham and Sarah to exercise the faith-rest drill and the resulting consequences that reverberate on the evening news; and secondly, God's tremendous grace towards Hagar as she is caught up into the matrix of their carnality.
If we set this up like a drama we have the introduction giving us this reminder of Sarah's barrenness in verse 1. We are introduced to all three of the characters. Then we get into scene one starting in verse 2 and going down to verse 6. It goes back and forth between Abraham and Sarah, and then we have the response of Sarah and Hagar together.
In scene one Sarah presents a solution. If we pay attention to what is going on here we see an intentional parallel between what is going on in these verses and what took place in Genesis chapter three in the fall. The writer is showing that this is as much a fall for Abraham as Adam's failure in the garden was a fall for mankind.
Genesis 16:2, "And 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." There is no sense of misplaced blame there, she recognized that this is the Lord's providential direction in her life. She is not blaming Him. But what is going on here is, God has prevented me from having children but I am going to come up with a solution. That is what causes the real problem here. We have to recognize in life that the human solution is a defective solution and a self-destructive solution. There are only two solutions in life, the divine solution and a human viewpoint solution. Even though we might come up with 50 or 60 different options for human viewpoint they are still basically a human solution, that man is depending upon himself to solve his problems. So we have Sarah's proposal here. She tried to precipitate the will of God by seizing the initiative from God, the same thing that happened back in the garden. She has put herself in the place of God; she is going to resolve the problem on her own. What do we call that? Arrogance! As soon as we get involved in arrogance and self-sufficiency instead of God-dependency everything starts breaking down rapidly, and arrogance always creates its own crisis and sets up an equal and opposite reaction on the other side that polarizes everybody. The only solution is to wait on the Lord.