As so often happens when we’re faced with difficulties, we get impatient and we tend to think God needs our help. When He tests our patience and obedience by sending us trials, we somehow think we need to solve the problem ourselves. After all, the old saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves,” (this is not found in the Bible). Sarai felt her help was needed.
What is “helping out” God? It’s when we go beyond doing what God wants us to do, even resorting to deception and/or manipulation to accomplish what we convince ourselves is God’s will (when it’s our own will). And this is where we now find Sarai….
Abram and Sarai had a problem. God had long ago promised to Abram a large posterity, in fact, as many as the “dust of the earth” (13:16). He also promised “I will make nations out of you and kings will come from you” (17:6). But Abram and Sarai had no children, not even one! It just didn’t make any sense. Their faith was being severely tested.
I remember waiting on God for our children. It was so hard to wait when everyone around me, it seemed, were able to have children anytime they wanted! Women who have been through this kind of waiting can identify with Sarai. But God had so much more planned for Abram and Sarai! They just needed to patiently wait on God, easier said than done! I Samuel 10:8 and 13:8-14 report the result of King Saul’s impatience. Ps 37:7 and 37:34 tell us what Christians should and should not be doing while they wait on God to answer. What does God promise to those who wait patiently on Him (Psalm 27:13 and 14; Isaiah 40:31)?
Ten years after God made the promise of Genesis 12:4 (Abram was already 75 years old when the first promise of a son was given), God again promised a son (15:4) and Sarai became impatient (wouldn’t we be as well?). So impatient that she suggested to Abram that he take Hagar, her Egyptian handmaid, as a second wife and have a son by her. Legally, the child would be Sarai’s. Surrogate parenting is nothing new!
Perhaps they questioned in their minds, “Did God promise that Abram’s son would also be the son of Sarai?” After all, most men of Abram’s stature would have married another wife or two long ago to have cildren. Abram is to be commended for not taking another wife and remaining faithful to his beloved Sarai up to this point.
Let’s consider another matter. Where did Sarai and Abram obtain an Egyptian slave? Very likely, they had obtained her when Abram and Sarai had disobediently gone down to Egypt. Hagar was probably one of the servants given to Abram in exchange for Sarai. They should never have obtained her in the first place! Notice how one sin leads to another. It did so here.
Abram listened to Sarai. Normally that’s a good thing, but not this time. It did seem a logical solution to their problem. Perhaps they reasoned they were getting older and their biological clocks were ticking.
God appeared to need their help. They again rationalized around God’s direction. We’re good at that, too. We can easily make excuses in order to disobey God’s directions. So often we make God’s Word say what we want it to, so we can do what we want. Or we take our spiritual scissors and cut out a verse or two because we don’t like what they say.
One doesn’t have to read on to suspect that only trouble would result. Abram should never have listened to Sarai’s suggestion. It didn’t take long for Hagar to become pregnant, and when she did, she began to despise her mistress. Hagar taunted Sarai, likely boasting that she was able to conceive when her mistress could not. The situation became intolerable for Sarai. She went to Abram and complained to him, even blaming him for causing the situation (16:5)! Aren’t we good at blaming others (especially our spouses) when things go wrong?
Peace-loving Abram gave Sarai permission to do with Hagar as she wished, resulting in Sarai treating her so harshly that Hagar ran away (16:6). Scripture goes on to say how God met Hagar in the desert, provided for her and her future son and directed her to return home. She obediently returned to Abram and Sarai’s tents and she gave birth to Ishmael (when Abram was 86 years old).
Thirteen years went by before God spoke again to Abram. Thirteen years of silence. Thirteen years of rejoicing in his son, Ishmael, and watching him grow from infancy to young manhood. Yet there may have been a gnawing awareness that they had conceived this son in a fleshly, carnal way.
Then God spoke again (17:1-22). Abram was 99 years old. After God reminded Abram of who He was, God changed both his and Sarai’s name. Abram (exalted father) was changed to Abraham (father of many nations). Sarai (meaning unknown) was changed to Sarah (princess). Adding detail to their new names, God restated that Abraham would have a son, and clarified that Sarah would indeed be the mother of that son and of many nations and kings. Both Abraham and Sarah laughed – his was a laugh of temporary doubt (Genesis 17:17; Romans 4:20-21); hers a laugh of disbelief and God rebuked her for it (18:12-15). There was no rebuke given Abraham.
The story goes on to relate how Sarah did indeed become pregnant (21:2)! What joy was theirs when they realized that Sarah was expecting, and at 90 years of age! Incredible! And in God’s perfect timing, not theirs. Why did God take so long to fulfill His promise? First, waiting increases the value of what we’re waiting for. Second, because as the word spread throughout the surrounding countryside, God would receive all the glory for the miraculous conception and impending birth. No one at that advanced age had ever had a baby! You see, God had been preparing the way for a miracle for the last 25 years. There was no human explanation for it! God had done this. Sarah had certainly seen God’s provision and mercy! Grace means the receiving of something totally undeserved. How did the conception of Isaac demonstrate God’s grace to Sarah and Abraham?
If we can explain everything that happens in our lives because of our own effort, God isn’t doing very much. We are missing something … rather, Someone. Sarah and Abraham certainly couldn’t have explained what had happened apart from God. They had stepped out in faith and God was rewarding them for doing so.
The big day finally arrived and Sarah delivered her baby boy. Abraham and Sarah obediently named him Isaac (laughter) as per God’s instructions (17:19). After Isaac was weaned, Abraham held a feast of celebration for all their neighbors and friends. What a celebration it would have been!
Perhaps there have never been happier parents, glowing with the blessing of God upon their lives. Truly Sarah and Abraham had been rewarded for their faith, even though that faith had not been perfect. How foolish Sarah must have felt remembering how she had tried to “help out” God many years before. It simply had not been God’s time. Often when God is going to do something special, He makes us wait. Maybe God is preparing the way for something very special in your life.