Recently, I found myself in a discussion with my sister about some of the things we used to do when we were children. I have to admit that is always fun to reminisce about those days and consider all of the simple things that brought such joy to our hearts so long ago. We recalled with fondness the many games of baseball we used to play with the neighborhood kids in the schoolyard across the street from our house. She reminded me of those many nights my father took us all out to dinner because my mother was busy conducting choir practice at our church. Of course, we could not help but think of those times when we visited our grandparents and swam twice a day at the apartment complex my grandfather managed.
I think one of the reasons why I have such fond memories of my childhood is because of who made the decisions. As is true of most people, my parents made all the really hard decisions when I was very young. From an early age I certainly was aware that my choices had repercussions, but most of these results were not really life-changing. Maybe the hardest choice I had to make for many years was to decide on which toy I was going to spend my hard-earned allowance. My parents, on the other hand, had to make all of the really consequential decisions for myself and my siblings. Decisions about which church to join, which schools we should attend, how to discipline us, and many others had ramifications that still reverberate today, for good or ill. As an adult I need to make many potentially life-changing choices, and more often realize how fortunate most children are to be sheltered from making truly important decisions.
Whether or not we always consider them, every decision we make has consequences. Perhaps they are relatively incidental, such as the need to eat healthier later in the week if we succumb to the temptation to have just one more piece of cheesecake on Monday. Maybe they are more consequential, such as that decision to move to a new town that ultimately resulted in finding a spouse. Whatever the case may be, we will have to deal with the outcome of our choices. As Paul writes in Galatians 6:7, “Whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”
This applies to Genesis 16. As we will see this month, Abram and Sarai make the decision not to wait upon the Lord, but instead look to themselves in order to produce the heir, and thus, the salvation God promised in chapter 15. Despite the various hints that Sarai must give birth to the covenant child, her impatience moved her to substitute Hagar for herself and, with Abram’s acquiescence, produce Ishmael.
The consequences of this decision would haunt the covenant community for centuries. Even though the Lord did bring good out of Joseph’s situation, it was the sons of Ishmael who took him away from the promised land (Gen. 37:28). Later, Amasa the Ishmaelite commanded the armies of David’s wicked son Absalom when his coup d’etat temporarily sent the son of Jesse into exile (2 Sam. 17:25). Moreover, Islam, the greatest religious adversary of the church today, holds Ishmael in high esteem, considering him a prophet and even a forefather of Mohammad. While the first claim is impossible and the second is debatable, we are not astonished to find Islam consciously opposing the Christian church and embracing Ishmael. This “wild donkey of a man” continues to have “his hand against everyone” and “dwell over against all his kinsmen” (Gen. 16:12).
Abram’s place in our Father’s plan to save His people is more important than ours in many ways, and, consequently, his decisions, including the fathering of Ishmael, are far more consequential. However, this does not mean our choices do not have ramifications that may reverberate for generations. Our faithfulness in the workplace, the devotions we have with our families, and the way we treat our spouses will likely be remembered and modeled by our children and friends for years to come. Without worrying and obsessing unnecessarily about every single move we make, we must nevertheless be concerned about the pattern of our decision-making. For example, it may not matter what color shirt I wear today or tomorrow, but it does matter whether my clothing overall conforms to principles of modesty and appropriateness. I may sometimes forget to remind my wife that I love her when I leave the house, but I better make sure a day never goes by when I do not speak those words at least once, for her sake and for the sake of our children.
Abram and Sarai grew impatient after years of infertility and made a poor decision at Hagar’s expense in their attempt to bring God’s promises on their own. But our Lord is eager to forgive, and He worked through their faith to make their pattern of decisions bring about wonderful consequences for His people. As the author of Hebrews tells us, Sarai would later conceive Isaac by faith (11:11), and Abram would offer up this same Isaac (vv. 17–19), thereby showing us what it means to lean wholly upon God for salvation. The ultimate consequence of these decisions was a family through which our Father would redeem the world (Luke 3:23–38).
Our decisions will not be used to bring about the incarnation of the Messiah as Abram’s choice was later used. Yet they will have dramatic influence upon our Lord’s kingdom. May we choose in faith and leave a good example for others.