Friday, September 28, 2007

Laymen's Commentary: Genesis 16:6

Genesis 16:6: But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight.” So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence.”

Abram had a chance here to shine, but he doesn’t. This reminds us a bit of Adam and his failure to act as the true spiritual head of the household that God had intended him to be. Not only did he join Eve in her sin but later worked with her in the attempted cover-up. Here, Abram, who because he went along with Sarai’s interference of God’s means and timing for the fulfilling of His promise, now succumbs to her complaining and anger, and gives in to her again with respect to how Hagar should be treated. One mistake that results in sin often leads to a second mistake.

Abram tells Sarai that since Hagar is her maid, she could do with her as she would like. What surprises me in this passage is that Abram possibly expected Sarai to “do to her what is good”. But the text doesn’t end there. It goes on to say “in your sight.” There is a big difference between doing “what is right” and “doing what is right in your sight”. Man often does the latter when instead he should be checking to see what is right in more absolute terms – that is, what is right in the sight of God.

I often think of years past when I would say to each of our three children at different times, “the matter is yours to decide, but whatever you do, check with God to see that it would be pleasing to Him.” As I look back, all three, who now have families of their own, have made some pretty solid decisions in their lives. I believe that condition for making decisions that my wife and I would often remind them of, helped in that regard. And it still guides Chrysogon and I as we live our lives as husband and wife, parents, grandparents, friends, employers, and members of a Christian community. Because He is a God of creativity, surprise, and unending resources, we may not always know the exact thing He would do in any given circumstance, but we would be a lot closer to it if we simply checked our options against His principles.

With her husband’s resolve, Sarai did exactly what was good “in her sight”. The Bible says she treated Hagar harshly. So much so, that Hagar left the camp and fled from her mistress’s presence. And in so doing, left Abram as well, the father of the child she was carrying.

Whether this should or should not have been the case, given what had happened, is not for us to decide. One thing is for sure, God allowed it. The issue, however, is whether God allowed it because that is what He wanted or whether He allowed it because that was an outcome of the way someone doing what was right in her own sight, did. In addition, we’re also faced once again with the question of whether the ‘means’ justifies the ‘ends’ when it comes to our behavior. Treating someone harshly by definition (with synonyms like cruelly, unsympathetically, insensitively, callously, and ruthlessly) is never a justifiable means to any ends that a child of God should be involved in.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Laymen's Commentary: Genesis 16:5

Genesis 16:5: And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms; but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the Lord judge between you and me.”

In the previous verse we learn that Hagar, now carrying her master’s child, despises her master’s wife. Sarai, using her strong sense of “something’s up” quickly becomes aware of the situation. We cannot presume what Hagar’s behavior was really like with respect to her carrying Abram’s child, but we do know she somehow publicly exhibited her newly found dislike for Sarai, otherwise how would Sarai know and why would she have been upset? It is also possible that Hagar no longer wants to be simply a handmaiden to Sarai. After all, she was now better than Sarai in her mind as she was able to conceive with Abram, something her mistress could not do.

In that context, Sarai begins to fume and approaches her husband, Abram. In so doing, we have no record of her asking any questions or giving Abram an opportunity to correct any perceptions or misperceptions that Sarai may be having. Nor does she instruct him to go and “straighten that young lady out”. Instead, she attacks her husband as the responsible party for her injury (“may the wrong done me be upon you”) when in fact Abram was simply trying to follow his wife’s instructions in sleeping with Hagar. And if that wasn’t enough, she now appeals to God to judge between herself and Abram with respect to where the fault lies. Clearly, in her mind, he likely preferred Hagar, being younger and being able to conceive, to Sarai, and thus encouraged the handmaiden to despise his wife. She forgot that she plotted to “help God along” by encouraging others (her husband and her handmaiden) to indulge in sin for her purposes.

God has a method He sometimes uses in our lives to show us our errors that isn’t always easy to accept. Sometimes He causes us to suffer by the very people we have ‘used’ in carrying out our sins. Hollywood depicts this quite regularly when a partner in crime turns against the major bad guy. In Greek drama it was a form of ‘poetic justice’.

Most of us observing this behavior that Sarai is exhibiting here would likely consider it bizarre that someone as guilty as she was, would now quarrel with someone else on a matter for which she was the primary driving force and responsible party. In her own words, she admits giving her maid to her husband, but refuses to recognize her foolishness. But why is that? Is it pride, or passion, or anger? When we act out of passion (negative or positive) we often act in the absence of reason.

Christians should remember to check their own contribution (or even sin) in any situation that has gone bad. With that fully understood and admitted, we can attempt to address the circumstances without pride, anger, or passion, but with the help of reason. When asked to act as a mediator or assessor of such circumstances, Christians would be wise to consider that not everyone who boldly appeals to God is in the right. Sarai certainly wasn’t.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Layman's Commentary: Genesis 16:4

Genesis 16:4: And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight.

So Abram at a ripe old age and at the encouragement of his wife goes and has sexual intercourse with another woman. Abram, listening to man (or in this case woman) over God, does the wrong thing to facilitate God’s plan. In my own personal life, I have discovered that the ends never justify the means, especially in Christian service. Recently I had to recommend to one of the Boards I am serving that we release certain staff-members. They were top-notch performers with excellent results – but they could not work well under the authority of others, or at least me and the Board they were serving with. Many of their friends were stunned. But we stuck with the decision and I believe God was honored.

Man (in this case Abram and Sarai) understood God’s promise as simply that there be ‘an heir’. But we know differently. God intended His promise to be a 'specific' heir not only through Abram, but also through Sarai, his legitimate wife. To God the means is just as important as the ends. We have evidence of that throughout Scripture. In our own lives, we need to be sure of what God intends and hear Him out fully. Then we need to realize that God’s ‘means’ cannot be improved on. He does not need ‘our better mousetrap’ or any other assistance. He just wants us to be available to Him and walk in His Grace.

Now here’s the interesting thing. What Sarai plotted and Abram complied with worked! The humanly understood goal was achieved. Hagar conceived a son. But the consequences of the human means, as compared to God’s way, were now starting to emerge. Hagar realizing she had conceived starts despising her mistress, Sarai. Here was the original case of a surrogate mother changing her mind. Sarai’s wish was starting to turn into a nightmare all because she interfered with God’s plan for her and Abram’s life.

Many of the circumstances that we as Christians get into are due simply to the kinds of things Sarai was involved in. First, she failed to understand God’s full intent. Second, she wasn’t willing to wait on God’s timing and method. Third, she took matters into her own hands and involved others inappropriately. As we seek God’s will for our own life (and His promises) may we not fall victim to wishes and actions like Sarai’s.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Layman's Commentary: Genesis 16:1-3

Genesis 16:1-3: Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. And after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife.

Here is Abram, patiently awaiting God’s promise and Sarai realizing Abram needed offspring in order for the promise to be fulfilled. Since she herself had not been able to produce any children for Abram, she offered her Egyptian maid as a surrogate mother for Abram’s heir. Whether Sarai did this out of her love and care for her husband or out of her eagerness to see and be part of the promise is not directly specified in Scripture. However, a careful examination of her words may imply the latter. There is a hint of indignation in her words, as she seems to be blaming God for her inability to conceive. It is in an effort to take the situation into her own hands, for her own ends (“perhaps I shall obtain children through her”), that she offers Hagar to carry his child.

The next phrase “And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” is reminiscent of Adam listening to the voice of Eve as she offered him the fruit that God had forbidden them to eat. Sarai’s act of the flesh is about to influence yet another man of God. The Scripture indicates that this occurred after they had lived in the land of Canaan for ten years and Sarai couldn’t wait any longer. She now takes Hagar and gives her to Abram as his wife. This was not to be an illegitimate extra-marital affair that Abram was to engage in. She gave him Hagar as his “wife”. In those days, polygamy was still practiced and tolerated by God but it was not His way.

How often do we choose a legitimate way, but not His way? How often do we miss the best for us? How often do we take things that are outside our realm of responsibility, into our own hands? God may have placed us into roles where He wants us to act – as parents, employers, teachers, and members of a board -- whatever it may be. In those roles, He expects us to act and make decisions within their scope and in accordance with His guidance and the Scriptures. However, oftentimes we get involved in attempting to deal with matters outside our God-given jurisdiction. Attempting to deal with issues that are not ours to solve, even if we do so seeking His leadership, is something that God does not often bless.

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