We will remember in chapter 15 Abram’s consternation at not having an heir and that God reaffirmed the promises. Despite the perceived difficulties that Abram and Sarai saw, God was working His plan to fulfill these promises.
Recall lthe promises that God made to Abram in Genesis 12: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”” Genesis 12:2-3
The promises that we are concerned with for this chapter are the promises that Abram will be made a “great nation,” and that in him “all the families of the Earth shall be blessed.” For these things to happen, Abram needs children. Abram and Sarai have been living in Canaan for ten years by this time, yet they have still not had a single child. Where would this great nation come from if Abram could not father a son?
Notwithstanding the promises, there would have been great pressure on Sarai to produce an heir for Abram. He was already the patriarch of a great clan and would need someone, preferably a son, to take up the mantle of leadership when he dies. During this age, the burden lay with the woman to produce and Sarai is looking for a way to produce an heir for Abram. Sarai says to Abram that God has prevented her from having children and she tells Abram to conceive a child with her Egyptian servant named Hagar. Living in Canaan for ten years, and being as wealthy for the time as they were, having a foreign servant is understandable.
Hagar quickly conceives a child with Abram and the result of this conception for Hagar is that she immediately feels (and shows) contempt for Sarai. The fact that Hagar conceived quickly with Abram proves that Sarai was the problem. In a society where fertility was highly valued, this opened the door for Hagar to look down on her master Sarai. Sarai notices Hagar’s changed attitude and she feels betrayed and unjustly treated because she has truly done no wrong. She says to Abram: “My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The Lord judge between you and me.”” Genesis 16:5
Sarai is seeking justice and Abram, as the patriarch, recognizes her frustration and her plight and allows her to repay Hagar as she sees fit. After Sarai is hard on Hagar (which could mean anything from strenuous work to difficult living conditions to verbal abuse), Hagar understandably flees.
Here we see evidence of God’s promise to Abram coming to fruition. An angel of the Lord finds Hagar where she fled to a spring of water in the wilderness. The angel encourages Hagar to return to Sarai and submit to her, telling her, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.” The angel also tells her that she will call her yet-to-be-born son “Ishmael”:
“He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, And every man’s hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”” Genesis 16:12
Ishmael is one of the heirs of Abram that will lead to one of the nations in the promise. It must be noted, however, that Ishmael is not the prime heir, as it were. Ishmael and his descendants will be blessed, but it is Abram’s son Isaac that will receive the lion’s share of promise fulfillment and thus the greatest amount of God’s blessings. Here is that notion by way of a preview into chapter 17: “Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.”” Genesis 17:19-21
The primary takeaway for us in this chapter is that God resolves His will in often unexpected and surprising ways. To us, the clear path to success is unmistakeable and we are disarmed and saddened when things do not work out the way we think they obviously should. Yet days, months or years later the hand of God can be seen in our lives and we see that we needed to only have a deeper faith all along.
Although neither Abram, Sarai nor Hagar were particularly well-behaved in this little drama, they all end up adhering to the will of God. The exact same thing is true for you, for me, indeed for all mankind.