Introduction: After a long time waiting, Sarai doubted God’s promises of an heir. She had not heard these promises directly. Thus, she felt the need to take matters into her own hands by having Abraham sleep with her maidservant Hagar to make Sarai a mother. This was Abraham’s fifth of ten tests of faith, a test that he failed miserably. Instead of encouraging Sarai with God’s promises, he gave into the lusts of his flesh by sleeping with Hagar. This moment of the flesh would sow endless conflict for all involved. It would also lead to conflict that the world still suffers from today. From this account, God reveals seven warnings about living by your flesh.
First, ignoring God’s many promises and blessings, Sarai blamed God for her infertility. Without praying, she acted in desperation to have Abraham sleep with her maid servant Hagar. From this, God reveals that walking by the flesh will cause you to doubt Him and act foolishly. Second, after Abraham slept with Hagar and conceived a child, Sarai became filled with jealousy and anger at both Hagar and Abraham. From this, God reveals that walking by the flesh will lead to jealousy, anger, strife, and conflict. Third, out of jealousy, Sarai acted with cruelty toward Hagar. Abraham in turn became indifferent to her plight. From this, God reveals that walking by the flesh will lead to cruelty and indifference towards others. Fourth, after being treated with cruelty, Hagar fled into the wilderness where she met the angel of the Lord. From this, God reveals that walking by the flesh will lead you to the wilderness of despair. God, however, comforted her once she found Him in the wilderness. He will also comfort you when you turn to Him in your wilderness. Fifth, the angel of the Lord prophesied that there would be future conflict between Ishmael and Isaac’s descendants. From this, God reveals that walking by the flesh will lead to conflict with your children. Sixth, Hagar learned in the wilderness that God sees all that happens. From this, God reveals that walking by the flesh will not escape His view. Finally, at 86 years old, Abraham bore Ishmael. Because of his sins, he would have to wait another 13 years to hear from God. Further, his descendants would forever be in conflict. From this, God reveals that walking by the flesh will cause you to reap the things of the flesh.
Sarai’s decision to blame God for her infertility. After God’s promises to Abraham did not quickly come to pass, Sarai first doubted His promises and then started to blame Him. Out of desperation, she then decided to take matters into her own hands by having Abraham take her female servant as a surrogate mother: “1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. 2 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.” (Gen. 16:1-2). God had promised Abraham an heir on three prior occasions (Gen. 12:3(b); 13:16; 15:2-5). These promises were, however, not enough for Sarai. She knew that she was infertile even before she left Ur (Gen. 11:30), and they had now lived in the Promised Land for years with no change in her status. Yet, if God’s promises to Abraham were not enough for her, she had still witnessed His deliverance from Pharaoh and King Chedorlaomer’s armies (Gen. 12:17; 14:13-16). Through Pharaoh, God had also blessed them with riches: “Therefore he treated Abram well for [Sarai’s] sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels.” (Gen. 12:16). This included their livestock and their servants, including Sarai’s Egyptian servant Hagar. Thus, her doubt was unjustified. Do you have any reason to doubt God’s Word?
Sara presents Hagar to Abraham1
Abraham’s failure of his fifth test of faith. Abraham had just come off a spiritual high. He passed with flying colors his fourth of ten great tests of his faith by defeating an enemy eastern coalition of four armies with only 318 armed servants and some local allies. He also had the courage to turn down riches that the King of Sodom offered him. When he feared retribution, God promised to be his shield. When he feared dying without an heir, God repeated His promises to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. When most people accomplish great victories, they feel entitled to a reward. Abraham soon saw what he thought would be his reward. Although Sarai was renowned for beauty, Hagar would have been decades younger than Sarai. Yet, it was instead a test of his faith. If Sarai doubted God’s promises because she did not hear them directly, Abraham had no such excuse. God had spoken directly to him. Instead of encouraging his wife, he took advantage of her weakened faith by giving into the temptations of his flesh. A person of faith should never take shortcuts. Do you give into the flesh when you think you can get away with it?
The seven sins that come from doubt. Sarai’s doubt mirrored Eve’s doubt in God’s Word in the Garden of Eden. Satan also seeks to sow doubt in your mind. Like yeast or a virus, doubt is a sin that grows into more deadly sins when left unchecked. First, doubt separates you from the fellowship with God that He created you for: “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.” (Heb. 3:12; Jo. 3:36). Second, doubt can cause you to despise God’s promises as worthless: “Then they despised the pleasant land; they did not believe in His word,” (Ps. 106:24). Third, like Sarai, doubt can cause you to ultimately despise God by blaming Him for your troubles: “The LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?”’ (Nu. 14:11). Fourth, once separated from God, doubt also hinders your prayers: “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (Jam. 1:6-8). Fifth, without God’s protection, doubt can cause you to fear your enemies or you battles, just as the Jews did at the edge of the Promised Land (Nu. 13:32). Sixth, once you are separated from God, doubt will ultimately lead you into rebellion against God’s Word and harden your heart against His attempts to reach you: “In spite of all this they still sinned and did not believe in His wonderful works.” (Ps. 78:32; Ezek. 20:13). Finally, doubt can bar a person from heaven who has not fully accepted Jesus: “So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.” (Heb. 3:19). “And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” (Ro. 11:23). Do you doubt any of God’s promises? If not, do you help to reassure others trapped in doubt?
Trust God and lean not your own understanding. Like Sarai, believers frequently face the problem of doubt. Yet, unlike Sarai, believers must face these challenges by trusting God and not relying upon their own understanding: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5; 28:26). “Trust in the LORD forever, for in GOD the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock.” (Is. 26:4). When you are facing a doubt, do you trust in God with faith? Or, do you take matters in to your own hands?
Also, do not lean on human traditions and opinions for questions of morality. Abraham had God’s Law written on his heart. (Ro. 2:15). God’s leaders, including the father of the faith, need to be beyond reproach with only one wife: “namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion.” (Titus 1:6). Yet, at that time, Abraham could look to the laws of the world around him and find many societies and laws that permitted a man to sleep with a servant as a surrogate mother. Under the laws at that time, the child would be deemed the child of the infertile mother and not the biological mother. These laws have been found in ancient Assrian marriage contracts, Nuzi tablets, and the Code of Hammurabi. But God warns believers not to rely upon humans laws, traditions, and public opinion about matters of morality over His Word: “Then the Lord said, ‘Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,” (Is. 29:13). Jesus later repeated this warning (Matt. 15:8-9; Mk. 7:6-7; Col. 2:22). Society now accepts premarital sex, abortion, adultery, and same sex marriages. Do you look to public opinion or the Word for your morality?
Wait on God’s timing. Both Sarai and Abraham failed to wait upon God’s timing for Him to fulfill His promise. They instead took matters into their own hands. The first generation of Jews to return to the edge of the Promised Land also failed to wait on God’s timing. God banished that generation to wander in the wilderness for 40 years after they failed to trust God. When faced with their punishment in the desert, they were afraid (Nu. 14:41). They then wanted to invade the Promised Land. Yet, Moses warned them that if they tried to enter Israel at that point they would be directly disobeying God (Nu. 14:41). Moses warned that if they went up to invade, God would not be amongst them (Nu. 14:42-43). The Jews again ignored this warning, and many were slaughtered because God had lifted His protection. (Nu. 14:45). Every believer is called upon to wait on God’s timing to fulfill His promises: “In every relation and situation in life there is some cross for us to bear: much of the exercise of faith consists in patiently submitting, in waiting the Lord's time, and using only those means which he appoints for the removal of the cross. Foul temptations may have very fair pretenses, and be colored with that which is very plausible. Fleshly wisdom puts us out of God's way. This would not be the case, if we would ask counsel of God by his word and by prayer, before we attempt that which is doubtful.” (Matthew Henry on Genesis 16).2 If you fail to wait for His calling before you act, you may face your enemies without His hedge of protection. Do you pray for His guidance before making major decisions in your life?
Turn to God in prayer when you face doubt. Unlike Sarai and Abraham, Isaac later turned to prayer when Rebekah was infertile. God heard those prayers and opened her womb (Gen. 25:21). If you are struggling with a burden, have you given it to God in prayer?
Take joy in your trials. Sarai was long past her natural childbearing years. Thus, her doubt is understandable, even if unjustified. Like Abraham, this was also a test for Sarai. This was a test of faith that she also failed. Yet, God did not test her to condemn her. Instead, He tested her to show her where her faith was lacking. Like Abraham, He wanted to build her faith in Him. When God tests you, He wants you to find joy in knowing that He is also building you up in your faith. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (Jam. 1:2-3, 12). When you go through trials, do you praise God for molding your faith to become a better believer?
Sarai’s jealousy and anger after she permitted Abraham to sleep with Hagar. Having allowed their flesh to guide their decisions, Sarai and Abraham reaped the fruits of their actions. Sarai felt jealousy and anger against first Hagar and then her husband: “3 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. 4 He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight. 5 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.’” (Gen. 16:3-5). Jealousy is not a rational emotion. It is believed that Sarai misinterpreted Hagar’s looks of joy at having a child to believe that Hagar saw herself as either equal to or superior to Sarai. Her uncontrolled jealousy then caused her to lash out at Abraham for her belief that he allowed Hagar to feel equal to her. Sarai’s jealousy and her anger at Hagar and Abraham provides a warning to all believers.
Don’t take more than one spouse. Critics of the Bible often imagine that God must condone polygamy because so many men in the Old Testament had more than one wife. This view, however, is rooted in ignorance. Without exception, every single man who acted out of the flesh to take on a second wife suffered long-term negative consequences. Abraham suffered from conflict between his wife and him, his wife and her servant and his descendants. Jacob likewise suffered when he married two sisters and had children through their servants as well. His children and the 12 tribes of Israel also suffered from jealousy and conflict. The many wives of Solomon also turned his heart from God. David also suffered endless conflict after he took another man’s wife out of lust. According to Paul, “outbursts of anger, disputes [and] dissensions,” like the one Abraham and Sarai experienced, are the results of walking by “the deeds of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:19-21). If you feel tempted to go down the road of having an affair, stop and think about how that road turned out for others in the Bible.
Don’t be jealous. Jealousy is a deadly sin. It is prohibited under the Tenth Commandment against coveting (Ex. 20:17; Dt. 5:21). It is also one of “the deeds of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:19-21). It is an anger that comes from someone else having something that you want or feel entitled to. Cain’s jealousy of Abel led him to kill him in an act of rage (Gen. 4:8). Solomon warns: “For jealousy enrages a man, and he will not spare in the day of vengeance.” (Prov. 6:34). It is a more deadly emotion than wrath: “Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Prov. 27:4). “For jealousy enrages a man, and he will not spare in the day of vengeance.” (Prov. 6:34). James also warns: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” (Jam. 3:16). Paul further warns that jealousy is the sign of someone walking according to the flesh and not the Spirit: “for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (1 Cor. 3:3; Ro. 13:13). At work, in family, or in social settings, are you jealous of the things that other people have?
Sarai’s cruelty to Hagar, and Abraham’s indifference to her plight. To protect himself from conflict with his wife, Abraham turned his back as Sarai punished Hagar with jealous cruelty: “ 6 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.” (Gen. 16:6). Because Abraham was walking by the flesh, it was easy for him to turn his back on Sarai’s cruel rage that she inflicted upon Hagar. You must also avoid these mistakes.
Peter Paul Rubens 1577 – 1640 (Hagar Leaves the House of Abraham) (1615-17)3
Do unto others as you would have others do to you. Everything Abraham and his wife did as patriarchs impacted God’s people for generations to come. Because they treated their Egyptian servants with cruelty, their descendants would become servants of the Egyptians and also suffer cruel treatment. Bible scholar Kenneth Mathews observes that: “Hagar and Ishmael typify in reverse Israel’s experience of Egyptian hostility (16:6; Exod 1:11-12), expulsion (21:10; Exod 12:39), and flight (16:16; Exod 14:5). Hagar and Moses share in a pattern of events: oppression (Exod 2:11-15a), flight in the desert where theophany occurs (Exod 2:15b; 3:2), return and expulsion when miraculous deliverance occurs (Exod 10:11; 11:1: 15:22-27). The historical irony in Hagar’s revenge is the Egyptian enslavement of Sarai’s descendants (cp. 15:13; 16:6). Also, Hagar’s son, who taunts Isaac, foreshadows the Egyptian purge of the Hebrew children (15:13; 21:10; Exod 1:16).”4 This punishment should not be confused with Karma. Abraham and Sarai did not experience this same mistreatment that they inflicted. Instead, their future descendants experienced 400 years of oppression because of their cruelty. God warns that some sins will impact even the fourth generation of descendants (e.g., Ex. 20:5; 34:7; Dt. 5:9). To avoid having punishments for your actions carried down to your children, Jesus gives every believer a golden rule of conduct to summarize His last five of His Ten Commandments: ‘“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.’” (Matt. 7:12; Lk. 6:31). This can also be translated as a command to love your neighbor, even when, like Sarai, you think someone has taken advantage of you: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Ro. 13:10; Matt. 22:39; Jo. 13:34; Gal. 5:14; Jam. 2:8). Do you show love to those who have caused you harm? Or, are you engaging in sins that might penalize both your children and their children in the future?
Don’t be cruel to others. Jealous wrath is another sign of a person walking according to the flesh and not the Spirit. Paul warns that “enmity, strife, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, and factions” are all “the deeds of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:19-21). “For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances;” (2 Cor. 12:20). “but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.” (Ro. 2:8; Gal. 5:20). When you oppress others, you also taunt Jesus, who is tasked with protecting them: “He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him.” (Prov. 14:31). “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your countrymen or one of your aliens who is in your land in your towns.” (Dt. 24:14). Have you been cruel to others? If so, repent and restore the one you harmed. You have sinned against both that person and Jesus (Ps. 51:4; Matt. 3:2).
Don’t become indifferent to the suffering of others. God also warns believers not to exchange your God-given love for others with cold indifference when others suffer misfortune: “Thus has the LORD of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’ But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing.” (Zech. 7:9-11). Jesus spoke of these people as having “calloused” hearts (Matt. 13:15). Have you become calloused to the suffering around you? Do you help those who suffer around you?
Hagar’s decision to flee to the wilderness where she met Jesus, the angel of the Lord. After she fled from Sarai, Jesus, the angel of the Lord, met Hagar by a well in the wilderness: “7 Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. 8 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.’ 9 Then the angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.’ 10 Moreover, the angel of the Lord said to her, ‘I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.’” (Gen. 16:7-9). In Hebrew, the word “angel” can also mean “messenger.” In Sodom, the angel of the Lord was just an angel. (Gen. 19:13). Yet, here most agree that this was a pre-incarnate manifestation of Jesus Christ. Jacob later marveled after believing to have met the angel of the Lord and still surviving. There, he called the angel God: “So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, ‘I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.’” (Gen. 32:30). Neither Hagar nor Jacob could have seen God the Father and lived: “But He said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’” (Ex. 33:20). Those who thought they saw God in the Old Testament instead saw a pre-incarnate Jesus: “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (Jo. 1:18).
God sometimes brings you into the wilderness when you won’t listen. Jesus asked Hagar two questions: (1) ‘“where have you come”’ and (2) ‘”where are you going?’” Hagar could only answer the first question because she was in both a spiritual and physical wilderness. Like Hagar, God sometimes brought Israel into the wilderness when it refused to listen to Him. In the wilderness it knew where it came from. Yet, it did not always know where it was going. As with Hagar, God spoke kindly to the Jews in the wilderness once He had their attention: ‘“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness and speak kindly to her. Then I will give her her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor as a door of hope. And she will sing there as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt. It will come about in that day,’ declares the LORD, ‘That you will call Me Ishi and will no longer call Me Baali.”’ (Hos. 2:14-16). God will sometimes bring you into the wilderness when you become too distracted or busy to listen.
God can also use the wilderness for judgment if you refuse to listen. God’s goal with any believer caught in sin is to have them repent, rehabilitate them, and draw them back to Him. Yet, when a believer in the wilderness refuses to listen to Him, He can also use judgment to get the believer’s attention: “and I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you," declares the Lord GOD.” (Ezek. 20:35-6). Are you refusing to listen to God’s warnings?
Jesus’ prophecy of the future conflict between Ishmael and Isaac’s descendants. At the well of life, Jesus comforted Hagar with the promise of a son. Yet, because Ishmael was sown from the flesh, Jesus prophesied that he and his descendants would be wild and in conflict with everyone else: “11 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. 12 ‘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.’” (Gen. 16:11-12). Jesus later confirmed His promise to Ishmael: “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.” (Gen. 17:20). He later fulfilled His promise to Ishmael by making him the father of many nations (Gen. 25:12-17). He also blessed Ishmael with a long life, living until he was 137 (Gen. 25:17). Today, the Arabs call him their father. They believe that he was the rightful heir as Abraham’s firstborn. Yet, just as Jesus prophesied, the Arabs and Jews have forever been in conflict. The Arabs have also been in conflict with their non-Arab neighbors, including the Persians, the Turks, the Kurds, the Hindus, and the Europeans.
Some of God’s blessings are conditional upon your faith. You cannot earn your salvation by doing good deeds. Yet, many blessings on Earth turn upon your actions and your faith. An “unbelieving heart” may cause you to fall away from God (Heb. 3:12). God warned Moses to obey His angel if he wanted His protection: “Be on your guard before him [God’s angel] and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him and obey his voice . . But if you obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.” (Ex. 23:21-22; Lev. 26:7-8; Nu 10:9, 35; Isa. 54:17). This was a conditional promise. The Jews had to obey to receive the blessing. God warns that a nation also faces defeat when it rejects Him: “also, you will sow your seed uselessly, for your enemies will eat it up. 17 I will set My face against you so that you will be struck down before your enemies; and those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee when no one is pursuing you.” (Lev. 26:16(b)-17). “The Lord shall cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you will go out one way against them, but you will flee seven ways before them, and you will be an example of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” (Dt. 28:25). If you are living a carnal life, should it be any mystery why you live without peace or His blessings?
Jesus is the well of life in the wilderness. The well where Hagar met Jesus also symbolized the living water that only Jesus can provide: “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14; Zec. 13:1). Isaac, Jacob, and Moses all also met their future brides by a well. While at the well, Jesus also cared for these people. He can also be the well of your life and care for you in the wilderness if you let Him.
To find your life, you must lose it. Like Hagar, you must lose your worldly life to find your spiritual one: “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 10:39; 16:25). “‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’” (Luke 9:23; Mark 8:34). Paul later realized that his prior accomplishments were nothing compared to the value of his relationship with Christ: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” (Phil. 3:7; Heb. 13:13). Do you value Jesus over the world?
God’s blessings are available to both Jews and Muslims and sinners and saints. Even though Ishmael was born out of the flesh, Jesus’ door of salvation would be offered to Ishmael’s descendants. He symbolized the judgment that comes under the Law: “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children (Gal. 4:22-25). Yet, although condemned under the Law, Muslims are still eligible to receive eternal life. Most Muslims, however, only see Jesus as a mere prophet. They also need to accept Jesus as their Lord and their only Savior.
Hagar learns in the wilderness that God sees all that happens. While in the wilderness, Hagar learned that there is nothing that God does not see: “13 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?’ 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.” (Gen. 16:13-14). The well called “Beer-lahai-roi” means the “well of the one who sees me and who lives.” This also foreshadows Jesus.
God also sees your every action. Like Hagar, you cannot hide your actions from God. He sees all things: “Would not God find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart.” (Ps. 44:21). “O God, it is You who knows my folly, and my wrongs are not hidden from You.” (Ps. 69:5). “O LORD, You have searched me and known me.” (Ps. 139:1(b)). “For His eyes are upon the ways of a man, and He sees all his steps.” (Job 34:21). “For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the LORD, and He watches all his paths.” (Prov. 5:21). “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, watching the evil and the good.” (Prov. 15:3). “For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity concealed from My eyes.” (Jer. 16:17). “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Heb. 4:13). Do you sin believing that you can conceal your actions from His eyes?
God also hears your cries from the wilderness. Knowing that nothing escapes God’s eyes is not a bad thing. It holds you accountable. It also means that He hears the cries of affliction of His people. He later heard the cries of His people’s affliction in Egypt (Ex. 2:23-24; 3:7-9). He can hear your cries for help as well: “O LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear.” (Ps. 10:17). “The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry.” (Ps. 34:15). If you are in a wilderness of despair, have you cried out to Jesus for help?
Ishmael’s birth. When Abraham was 86 years old, Sarai gave birth to Ishmael: “15 So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him.” (Gen. 16:15-16). Ten years earlier, God called Abraham and promised to make a great nation. (Gen. 12:4).
Sin can hinder your prayers. Abraham was 86 when he slept with Hagar (Gen. 16:16). God did not speak again to him until he was 99 years old (Gen. 17:1-2). Thus, as a result of his sins, Abraham was forced to live 13 years without hearing from God. In the Old Testament, God warned that the consequence of separation is caused by sin, He would not hear a sinner’s prayers: “So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.” (Is. 1:15; 59:2-3(b)). “We know that God doesn't listen to sinners, but he does listen to anyone who worships him and does his will.” (Jo. 9:31; Prov. 15:29; 8:9 Ps. 66:18). In the New Testament, God also warns that sin can “hinder” a believer’s prayers (1 Pet. 3:7). Are you hindering your prayers through open sin? If so, repent and renounce your sin.
Those who reap the flesh sow the whirlwind. Paul warns that “one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption . . .” (Gal. 6:8). “They have sown wheat and have reaped thorns, they have strained themselves to no profit.” (Jer. 12:13(a)). “For they sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind . . .” (Hos. 8:7(a)). Abraham reaped a whirlwind of chaos for both his family and his descendants. Likewise, when Jacob deceived his father Isaac to obtain God’s blessing, he was forced to spend 25 years living in exile. As another example, Moses had to spend 40 years in the wilderness after he killed an Egyptian. If you openly embrace sin, you and your family may also reap the whirlwind of chaos.
Isaac’s failure to teach his descendants about Abraham’s mistakes. Abraham’s grandson Jacob would face a similar dilemma with his infertile wife Rachael. Instead of turning to God, Rachael gave him her maidservant Bilhah to be a surrogate mother: “Then Jacob's anger burned against Rachel, and he said, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?’ She said, ‘Here is my maid Bilhah, go into her that she may bear on my knees, that through her I too may have children.’ So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her.” (Gen. 30:2-4). Like Abraham, Jacob gave into the temptations of Bilhah’s flesh. Like Abraham’s children, Jacob’s marriage and his children would also suffer from his actions. Out of jealousy, they first tried to kill Joseph. They then sold him into slavery. Isaac’s mistake was in failing to teach Jacob from his parents’ mistakes. Do you use your mistakes as a testimony to your children and others?
Give thanks for God’s mercy and grace in your life. Abraham had now failed three tests of faith. He left the Promised Land when he encountered a drought. He lied to Pharaoh that Sarai was his wife. He also slept with Hagar. If Abraham had a human “three strikes” test, he would have failed and never have become the father of the faith. Yet, God shows us Abraham’s many failures to show that He is filled with both mercy and grace. If you have sinned and repented, your sins are forgiven (1 Jo. 1:9). Have you thanked Jesus for His mercy and grace for your many chances? If you continue to sin, how thankful are you?
Kenneth Mathews, The New American Commentary, Gen. 11:27-50:26, Vol. 1B (B & H Publishing Group Nashville, TN 2005) p. 179; citing T.B. Dozeman, “The Wilderness and Salvation History in the Hagar Story,” JBL 117 (1998) p. 23-43.↩︎