The Purpose of this Lesson: To give assurance that God will love us and use us even when we make bad decisions.
A major barrier to making a decision can be the fear of making the wrong choice.
On a scale of 1-10 (1 = I’m sure everything will work out; 10 = A wrong decision will destroy my entire life), how fearful are you about making a wrong decision? What experiences in your life have contributed to or relieved your fears?
Think of the worst decision you have made. Why was it wrong?
God had promised Abram and Sarai that they would have many descendants and become a great nation. On the basis of this promise, Abram had left everything familiar and had followed God to the strange land of Canaan. However, after living there for ten years, Abram and Sarai were still childless (and at eighty-five years old, well past their childbearing years). Impatient with God’s failure to act, they made a desperate decision. Read Genesis 16.
1. Which character in this story are you most like and why?
- Sarai-regretful of a decision you have made?
- Abram-wondering what went wrong?
- Hagar-blamed for someone else’s bad choice?
- Ishmael-the product of others’ dysfunction?
2. What decisions do Sarai and Abram make in this story?
Abram and Sarai “decided to resort to surrogate marriage, which was a perfectly respectable practice in the other cultures of the ancient Near East. A child born to a slave-girl could be regarded as the wife’s own child, if she had no children of her own. Many in ancient times saw nothing wrong in surrogate marriage, and surrogate motherhood is still an issue in contemporary society. Genesis, however, clearly does not agree with the practice” (G. J. Wenham, J. A. Motyer, D. A. Carson, and R. T. France, eds., New Bible Commentary [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994], p. 72).
3. Looking at these decisions from our perspective, several millennia after the fact, why were these decisions so flawed?
Abram had slipped from faith and allowed himself to be guided by reason and the voice of his wife. “Each of the three characters displays the untruth that is part of sin, in false pride (Genesis 16:4), false blame (Genesis 16:5), false neutrality (Genesis 16:6); but Sarai’s mask soon slipped (Genesis 16:6b), to show the hatred behind the talk of justice” (Derek Kidner, Genesis [Downers Grove, IlL: InterVarsity Press, 1967], p. 126).
4. Why do you think Abram and Sarai believed these decisions to be for the best?
5. What were the consequences of Abram and Sarai’s decisions for themselves? For Hagar? For the world?
“The obvious evils which resulted are. . . the fracturing of otherwise proper interpersonal relationships between Sarai and Hagar with the accompanying damage to Sarai’s dignity and the production of contempt for Sarai from Hagar. Hagar is ‘used,’ but Sarai is not truly benefitted. . . . Contempt, as well as a son who turned from Abram’s way, was Sarai’s heritage for failure to wait for Yahweh to fulfill in His way the promise of seed” (Harold Stigers, A Commentary on Genesis [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1976], pp. 161-62). Ishmael is considered to be the father of the Arabs and Abram’s subsequent son, Isaac, to be the father of the Jews-a rivalry that continues to the present day.
6. What have been the consequences of your worst decisions?
7. Where does Sarai place the blame for her troubles?
Notice that Sarai first places the blame on God when she says, “The Lord has kept me from having children” (Genesis 16:2). Then, when she gets her way, she blames both Abram and Hagar (“You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me” [Genesis 16:5]).
8. Why do you think people are reluctant to take responsibility for their decisions?
9. What good does God bring out of these bad decisions?
God’s mercy brings good out of human folly. A promise was given to Hagar that was similar to the promise given to Abram. When Ishmael is called “a wild donkey of a man (Genesis 16:12),” this is “not in the sense of a boorish, desert yokel, but in another sense. A man would not be derogated by this epithet, for the ass was a prized animal; a man so designated would be a choice person. . . . Yet he will possess something of the character of the wild ass of the desert in that he will be intractable and oppose his neighbors” (Stigers, Commentary on Genesis, p. 162).
10. Why did God intervene instead of simply letting everyone live with the mess they had made?
This passage gives evidence of the love of God who picks us up when we fail. It is also evidence of God’s determination to bring about his plans. He had made a promise to Abram that was an integral part of his greater plan of salvation. Abram’s failure would not frustrate God’s plan-and our bad decisions won’t frustrate it either.
11. After reading this report of Abram and Sarai’s mistake, what can you expect God to do with your own bad decisions?
12. What is comforting about being seen by God, even at our worst moments (Genesis 16:l3)?
Our worst moments are also our moments of greatest need. God is near to point out responsibility and offer aid in assuming it.
Confess to God the mistakes you have made and ask him to bring good from them.
Now or Later
King David seemed to make as many bad decisions as he did wise ones. He tried to hide from King Saul by living among the enemies of Israel and almost had to go to war against his own people (1 Samuel 27-29), he committed adultery and covered it up with murder (2 Samuel 11-12), he contributed to a family feud (2 Samuel 13-14), and he took a census of Israel and Judah (2 Samuel 24). Read what he has to say about finding forgiveness for our bad decisions in Psalm 32.
- According to this psalm, what should we do about our bad or sinful decisions?
- What will happen if we do not come to God with our mistakes?
- What will happen if we do?
- In what ways have you acted like a horse or a mule (Psalm 32:9)?
Warren Wiersbe Outline:
Family adventure and vacations may often include detours, the same was for Abraham and Sarah. The conflict in their home brought conflict into the world, the affects we see to this day. The Arab-Israeli conflict begins right here.
This is also a great lesson on God’s people walking by faith, making decisions about the future and how they respond to adversity, detours and setbacks. We often must wait to see God’s promises fulfilled; while we tend to rush ahead of God’s timing.
Waiting (Genesis 16:1a) Abraham is now 85 years old. Abraham had been walking with the LORD for 10 years. God’s promise a child and descendants. There is a period of waiting and people don’t like to wait. It is through faith and patience that we inherit the promises (Hebrews 6:12). Why did God wait so long? Perhaps for the couple to be “as good as dead” (Hebrews 11:12) because God needed to get all the credit. Abraham could still father a child (remember Hagar & Ishmael?) so the time for the miracle baby had not yet arrived.
- The first evidence of faith is that whatever is done by faith is done for the glory of God (Romans 4:20).
- A second evidence of faith is a willingness to wait on the Lord. “He who believes does not walk in haste” (Isaiah 28:16). When we stop trusting, we make haste.
- A third evidence of faith is acting on the authority of God’s Word, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). Hebrews 11 record the “Hall of Faith” filled with examples of people waiting to receive the promise.
- Finally, when we act in faith, God give peace and joy in life, “the God of hope will fill you with joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13).
Scheming (Genesis 1b-4a) Sarah knew that she could not bear a child, but Abraham was still capable. God identified the father of many nations but not the mother. Logically it would be Sarah, or maybe God had other plans. Now comes the “second-guessing,” which is dangerous. True faith is based on God’s Word (Romans 4:20) and not man’s wisdom (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Sarah was not concerned with the glory of God; her goal was to get a child (Genesis 16:2). Perhaps there was disappointment with God or even blaming. Delays are not necessarily denials. Maybe Sarah felt that God was holding out on her, which sounds familiar (Genesis 3:1-6).
While multiple wives was legal, it does go against God’s original design (Genesis 2:24). Hagar and Ismael are not declared Abraham’s wife and son, but Sarah’s main, or bondwoman, and her son (Genesis 16:8, 21:10). Hey, whatever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23). So, this couple does not faith the tests or evidences of faith.
Fighting (Genesis 16:4b-6) When you follow the world’s wisdom, you end up fighting like the world (James 3:13-18). Family fights are likely the most painful of all. Had Hagar maintained the attitude of a servant, things may have been different, but she became proud (Proverbs 30:21-23). This family turned from faith to the flesh (Galatians 3:3) and the flesh behaves in a certain way (Galatians 5:19-21). They were at war with selfishness in their hearts (James 4:1-10).
Sarah became, or grew, “little” in Hagar’s eyes. Then Sarai said to Abram, “This is all your fault! I put my servant into your arms, but now that she’s pregnant she treats me with contempt. The LORD will show who’s wrong—you or me!”
That last phrase was as close to cursing that believers do in the Bible: harm, contempt, despise: the Hebrew word chamas (related to the Arabic word ḥamas) also occurs in Genesis 6:11 (“the earth was filled with violence [chamas]”). The word elsewhere describes deceit and general disregard for law and human life (Deuteronomy 19:16; Psalm 11:5; Isaiah 60:18; Ezekiel 7:23). Here, it refers to injustice.
- Sarah’s solution was to blame her husband and mistreat her servant (Genesis 16:5-6).
- Abraham’s solution was to abdicate his spiritual leadership (Genesis 16:6a).
- Hagar’s solution was to run away from the problem (Genesis 16:6b) a tactic she learned from Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8). When Abraham fled to Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20) there was peace for a time, then trouble.
Submitting (Genesis 16:7-16)
Hagar had to submit to God: (Genesis 16:7-14) After the confrontation with the angel of the LORD (Genesis 16:11), Hagar called him GOD (Genesis 16:13). The angel called her “Sarah’s maid” (Genesis 16:8) so evidently GOD did not accept the “marriage” of these two. “The God who sees me” indicates that he is personal, concerned about abused people and unborn babies. When we submit to God, he helps us to do the tough things that we know need to be done, like returning to Sarah and apologizing for her behavior.
Sarah had to submit to God: How did Sarah feel when Hagar came back and reported that God had talked to her? This poor servant-girl? God concerned with this slave-girl’s baby? The Bible doesn’t say, but we know Hagar came back into the family and was not mistreated again.
Abraham had to submit to God: Throughout this event, he played a very passive role. He let Sarah talk him into marrying Hagar, allowed Sarah to mistreat Hagar, and let Sarah drive her out of the camp. Things went well until Isaac was born. In Genesis 21:9-10, the problems continued. Abraham did not offer any help, but later GOD made up for that (Genesis 21:13), because he was going to make Ishmael a great nation, too.
There is a great theme of life right here: Return and Submit (Genesis 16:9)