Sarai Took Hagar

So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife” (Gen. 16:3).

- Genesis 16:2–3

If Abram and Sarai’s frustration over her barrenness was not apparent beforehand, today’s passage gives little doubt regarding the strain the couple felt when waiting for the Lord to provide the promised son. Facing years of infertility, Sarai tells Abram to have relations with Hagar with hopes of bearing a child (Gen. 16:2).

Sarai’s suggestion is not that surprising once we consider the culture in which she lived. In the ancient Near East, a childless man could take a slave as a wife for the sole purpose of begetting progeny. Any offspring, however, were reckoned as children of the first wife and not as the sons or daughters of the servant. Coupled with man’s responsibility to be an active part of accomplishing God’s purposes on earth (see Matt. 28:18–20, for example), we might think Sarai’s offer and Abram’s acquiescence (Gen. 16:3–4a) are borne of faith.

Yet it is immediately plain that the two are not acting according to God’s design. First, Sarai blames the Lord for her misfortune (v. 2). Now it is certainly true the Almighty is sovereign over the womb, but Sarai’s statement is more of a complaint than a humble recognition of and trust in the Creator’s promise.

Second, there are many important affinities between this episode and the fall of man recorded in Genesis 3. In both instances, the women seize the initiative wrongfully, and in both instances the men follow along (3:6; 16:2b–3). Even more telling, the exact wording of the Hebrew for “listened to” used of Abram in 16:2b is used elsewhere only in 3:17 where God chastises Adam because he “listened to” his wife. Clearly, Moses wants us to understand that these events are parallel in that both are accounts of transgression.

Matthew Henry perceptively says this story shows Satan’s policy “to tempt us by our nearest and dearest relations.” Right after a visible confirmation of the Lord’s promise (chap. 15), Abram yields to his wife’s suggestion to lay with another when his earlier sojourn in Egypt (12:10–20) should have told him that God intended to provide his heir from Sarai’s loins. May we hear the wishes of those closest to us, but may we also take care to give God’s wisdom priority.

Coram Deo

Our enemy is cunning and will often try and deceive us through those closest to us. Therefore, as John Calvin comments, “We must be on our guard against his wiles; lest by any means he should undermine us.” Consider whether you are using your relationship with another person to convince him to do something he should not be doing. Be careful not to let another close to you convince you to do something God forbids.

Passages for Further Study

Pss. 1; 40:4
Prov. 21:30
1 Peter 5:8–9
1 John 2:18–27

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