Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Sometimes we try to engineer circumstances to bring God's will to pass. Abraham did that when God promised him numberless offspring.
Since his wife was past childbearing, he slept with their Egyptian maid Hagar. The result? The present Arab-Israeli conflict. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, clearly the consequences of Abraham trying to make sure he had an heir were historic. But was it God's intention for this choice to be made?
Dave, you've asked a very difficult question. Let me talk about the will of God and distinguish two ways in which it is used in Scripture. On the one hand, the revealed will of God. Clearly, Abraham violated that. He sinned. On the other hand, we discover in Scripture that the will of God encompasses everything that God intends to do.
He runs all things after the counsel of his own will. So Abraham's disobedience had long-term consequences, but even here, God's grace and his mercy is displayed in the offspring. So let's keep in mind that God is able to take our mistakes and to make them a part of his plan. That was a long explanation, but we must understand that God's purposes are oftentimes hidden, but in the midst of it all, he continues to work. I want you to know that this sermon series, Strength for the Journey, is available in permanent form. Perhaps you've missed some of the sessions. Maybe you want to listen to the messages again and again. For a gift of any amount, it can be yours. Here's what you do.
Go to rtwoffer.com or call us at 1-888-218-9337. The Apostle Peter in the New Testament, in the presence of Jesus, said these words. He said, Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief. What Peter said in those words are, first of all, it is possible for faith and doubt to coexist in the same person, even while we believe it is possible for us to doubt.
We've all been there, haven't we? Secondly, by implication, what Peter is saying is that it is possible for believers to make decisions and to act in ways that sometimes betray their doubts. Today, our message is about decisions, good decisions, bad decisions, decisions that we have made, decisions that other people have made for us that may be good or bad, and the whole business of the need to seek God in making those decisions. Abraham is our example here, chapter 15 of the book of Genesis. Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness. Chapter 16, Abraham is wondering, doubting God. The story is very interesting and instructive, and if you have your Bibles, please turn to the 16th chapter of the book of Genesis, because in order for us to understand the context, we need to paint the picture. God had said to Abraham, Abraham, I'm giving you this land, and it is for you, and it is for your offspring, eternally.
I'm giving you the land forever. Well, that was fine, but the question was, how is he going to have offspring? Abraham was getting very old, and Sarah was already beyond the point where she could really bear a child, and so he and Sarah were obsessed by this question, how is God going to do it?
We believe that we've heard him correctly, but the problem is we can't see how this can happen. So in chapter 15, Abraham says to God when they're having a discussion, he says, what about Eliezer of Damascus? He could be my heir, and that was in keeping with custom. If a couple was childless, it was possible for them to take the steward of their house, the one who had most responsibility, the one who represented them well, and to say that you're going to be my heir, but God says, no, Abraham, you're wrong.
Someone who actually comes from your own body, your own son is going to be the heir. All right, but what God did not say at this point was that the heir was going to come through Sarah. So that sets us up now for the 16th chapter of the book of Genesis where Abraham is taking another step on the interesting journey of faith, 16th chapter of Genesis. And first of all, we're going to walk through the sequence of events, and then we're going to talk about decisions and what this passage really does have to say to us today and the need that we have to listen to the lessons that it has. But let's walk through the sequence of events. First of all, in verses one to four you have what we could call a desperate decision, a desperate decision.
I'm reading the text. Now Sarah, Abraham's wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant named Hagar, and Sarah said to Abraham, behold, now the Lord has prevented me from bearing children.
Go into my servant. It may be that I shall obtain children by her. And Abraham listened to the voice of Sarah. So after Abraham had lived in the land 10 years, Sarah, Abraham's wife, took Hagar, the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abraham, her husband, as a wife.
Wow. Childlessness in those days was considered such a curse that there was a common custom, which was very accepted in that society, that if a woman couldn't bear a child, she could designate a servant and give that servant to her husband. And when that baby was born, it would be regarded as hers. What are the elements that went into this decision that Abraham made, and Sarah?
What are the elements? First of all, time. Time. Their body clocks were ticking, and it was getting too late for them to have children. Sarah apparently already had passed that point. Abraham was on the verge of no longer being able to father a child. So time was very, very important here if God was going to do something. The second was frustration. You'll notice what Sarah says, Behold the Lord, verse 2, has prevented me from bearing children.
And she was right. God does have these things under his control. But at the same time, you can almost sense the frustration. Here's God who gives us a promise, and all that we have is the promise we don't have a son. So God, where are you? I mean, if you're the God that promises, why aren't you the God that does? And so she's saying, it's God's fault.
He gives us hope, but he doesn't come through. So there was that frustration. The promise was not complete.
It was a little bit ambiguous. When God spoke to Abraham in the previous chapter, he said that this person who is going to be your heir will come from you. But God did not say that Sarah was to be the mother of the child or needed to be.
And then something else went into the decision, and that was opportunity. Culture said that it was OK to do it this way, and we are going to go with culture rather than God's word. We can't wait for God.
We have to help God out, and culture has found a way. So it's Sarah's idea, and she says, Abraham, do this. We don't know whether he did it eagerly, but at any rate, her husband did what she suggested. And the text tells us this, now Abraham, listen to the voice of Sarah. Last part of verse two.
How we wish that the text would read, and Abraham, listen to the voice of God. He didn't. He went with what Sarah had proposed. He was on the verge of a decision that would have implications that he could not possibly have understood.
Implications for 4,000 years a decision was being made. On Tuesday, I was sitting in a barbershop. I got a haircut. You might not have noticed, but I did. While I was waiting, I picked up a copy of the Chicago Tribune, read an article on page five or six that has to do with the Abrahamic decision found in this chapter.
Wow. The whole question of who inherits the promises, and is it the Israelis because of their heritage through Isaac, or is it the Arabs, largely Muslim, who believe that they should inherit the promises because of Ishmael. All that happening in Israel today because of the decision that Abraham is about to make, and he listens to his wife rather than God. So that's the desperate decision. What's the consequences?
Here we're talking about short-term consequences. You'll notice that the text says that they have an argument in the home because Hagar conceived, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Hagar thought that she was superior to Sarah because after all, Hagar was bearing a child and children were highly prized. So now she looks on contempt to Sarah.
You can almost hear it in the kitchen, can't you? I'm having a baby and you're not. How does Sarah react to this? She reacts with anger. You'll notice it says in verse five, Sarah said to Abraham, may the wrong done to me be on you. I gave my servant to your embrace and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt.
May the Lord judge between you and me. Wait a moment, Sarah. Not so fast.
Not so fast. Whose idea was this anyway? Isn't it interesting in human nature we want to take credit for all the things that work out that are successful and then we love to blame people for decisions that we make that turn out to be wrong decisions. Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.
When there's failure, you can't find who caused it, but if you are successful, we've got all kinds of people lined up to take the credit. So that's Sarah. She's frustrated.
She's angry. She's the one who made the decision, but she's blaming Abraham for the results. Now Abraham doesn't come off too well here either because you'll notice he says in verse six, behold your servant is in your power due to her as you please.
Wait a moment, Abraham. I know that what he's trying to say is that Hagar is your servant and you have a responsibility for her, but I think there's something else going on here in the text. I think he's abdicating his responsibility as the head of his home. He should have stepped in and said now I know that we have a problem, but this is what we should do to bring peace to this situation. We think that Abraham would step to the plate, but he's simply saying do to her whatever you want to do. She said all right since you're giving me that permission. The text says that she dealt harshly with her.
That was a bad response. There is a different way to take care of Hagar than to deal harshly, but Sarah is angry and frustrated and she made it very, very hard for this maid. And the Bible says that Hagar then fled from her and went into the desert. I've often thought what was Hagar thinking anyway?
What was going through her mind? Did she think that she could survive in the desert? The desert is relentless. The desert is cruel. There's very little water in the desert.
There's very little food in the desert. How in the world does she expect to live? Maybe she went into the desert hoping she could return to Egypt.
Silly decision, impossible decision because she would be the prey for animals as well as marauders and men and there's no way that she'd have made it to Egypt on her own. Maybe it was even an attempt to commit suicide. I'm going to go into the desert. I'm going to be there and I'm going to die.
I'm rejected by this couple even though the husband is the father of my child and what I'm going to do is to simply end it all because I can't take it anymore. Well those are the immediate consequences but now in the midst of this there is God's intervention. God comes on the scene and we read these words in verse 7. The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to shore. The angel of the Lord Jesus. We've learned before and if we had time today I'd prove it again that whenever you have a reference to the angel of the Lord, not an angel of the Lord but the angel of the Lord, we're talking about the second person of the Trinity because the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament is spoken of as both being the Lord as well as being distinct from the Lord God and the only person who could possibly be God and yet not be the Father is Jesus and so Jesus made many appearances on this earth. He was a guest on this earth before he came in flesh in Bethlehem.
So what does he do? He asks this woman, he finds her. Don't you like the way in which the Bible puts it? It's not because he was looking for her and she was lost but the angel of the Lord shows up and says, Hagar, servant of Sarah, where have you come from and where are you going? Once again, doesn't ask the question in order to learn new information but the angel wants Hagar to do the speaking, to let him know and she can say it on her own. It's something like in the Old Testament where God says, Adam, where are you?
It's not because God says, look, you know, you're hiding among the trees and I can't find you. What God wants Adam to do is to tell me where you are, admit where you are, admit your need, tell me what's going on in your life and then we can dialogue. So the angel says, where have you come from? Where are you going? And may I say, maybe that's what Jesus is asking you to do. I don't know who you are today, visitor, somebody who's attended for a while, somebody's trying to find their way in life and life gets very harsh. Jesus comes to us today and says, where have you come from and where do you think you're going?
Tell me. And then very graciously, this angel gives a command and also some consolation. He gives a promise. Speaking to her, he says, first of all, the command, return to your mistress and submit to her. You stay out here, you're going to die in this wilderness. There's no hope that you're going to survive. Life is tough back there, but if you go back and if you act differently, I'm sure that that's implied and you begin to submit yourself.
In fact, that's what the text says. Submit to Sarah. She's going to treat you better. It's time for you to knuckle under. You can't run from your problems. You can't think to yourself that you can make it on your own and the way to get out of this is to escape. No, no, no. Go back and live differently. Tell Sarah, Sarah, I'm going to be submissive to you.
The arguments are going to end. That's his first command. Then notice what he also does is he gives this promise. He says, behold, you are pregnant and you shall bear a son and you shall call his name Ishmael. Ishmael means the Lord hears. The Lord hears has essentially the same meaning as the word Samuel. The Lord hears. God heard you in the midst of your misery.
God heard you there in the desert. And so you name this boy that you're going to have. Call him Ishmael. And then you'll notice also, and I happen to skip it not intentionally but unintentionally, in verse 10, the angel of the Lord has said to her, I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.
Wow. She's going to have the same promises as Abraham. God says, Abraham, you won't be able to number your seed.
God says to Hagar, as a result of bearing Ishmael, you will not be able to number your seed. And the promises superficially appear alike. And at this point they are alike. Of course they are going to have major differences.
But that's another story. So he says you're going to be blessed. And then you'll notice it says that this child, verse 12, will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone's hand against him and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen. Probably a reference to the nomads, the difficult life that is going to be lived in the desert and also the restlessness of the Ishmaelites. And the Ishmaelites will be in conflict.
There is going to be disagreement with their kinsmen, particularly with their cousins, with their brothers. And so God says, this is the kind of people that there will be. And in the midst of the experience, you'll notice it says that Hagar, verse 13, called the name of the Lord who spoke to her. You are a God of seeing. For she said, truly I have seen him who looks after me. Therefore the well was called Beer Lihiroi.
It lies between Kadesh and Barad. She says, God, you see me. You heard me.
That's Ishmael, meaning of the word. You heard me. And now it's very clear that you are actually seeing me in my need and in my distress. My friend, this is Pastor Luther and my heart goes out to you, especially to those of you who feel rejected, neglected. Perhaps you were conceived out of marriage and you feel therefore that you should not even be alive. Keep this story in mind.
Hagar was cast out of the house. She had a baby, but God was there seeing her. And God sees you too. Have you been blessed as a result of this series of messages? If you have, we are making it available in permanent form. Here's what you can do for a gift of any amount. It can be yours.
You can play them again and again. Go to rtwoffer.com or call us at 1-888-218-9337. The series of messages is called Strength for the Journey. And as you heard just a moment ago, as we talked about Abraham and Hagar and Sarah, it's a series of messages intended to help you, to inform you and to encourage you. Go to the phone right now.
Call 1-888-218-9337. It's time again for you to ask Pastor Lutzer a question about the Bible or the Christian life. Becoming a Christian can pose some real dilemmas, such as what to do with your old life. Mike wrote to us with this story and this question. I have a brother who just became a Christian. He's a professional gambler and makes his living by betting on sports. He has a wife and two kids. He doesn't have any other training and just started tithing his earnings. Is my brother living a life of sin by being a professional sports bettor? Well, Mike, I think the answer to your very last question is yes, because I don't think betting on professional sports is legal. And I would say that even if it was legal, I still think it's wrong.
You know, there are many things that are legal but are still not right. But at the same time, I have to smile because it's clear that your brother seems to have received the Lord because he is now tithing on his earnings. And that is a very, very good sign. I think what you need to do is to give him some advice, but also give him some time because you say that he is a new Christian. Give him some time to process what happened. And I believe that the Lord is going to show him that to be totally dedicated to the Lord, he needs to find a different vocation. And I hope that he does. And I hope that you are there with him. I know that you say that he doesn't have any other training, but never underestimate God's ability to help those who want to do the right thing.
Pray for him, help him, and I'm optimistic that he's going to make some good and wise decisions on his journey all the way home. On behalf of your brother, Mike, thank you for your question. If you'd like to hear your question answered, you can. Just go to our website at rtwoffer.com and click on Ask Pastor Lutzer. Or, call us at 1-888-218-9337.
That's 1-888-218-9337. You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois, 60614. Sarah's idea for Abraham to father a promised heir through her maid has backfired. Hagar runs away to escape the torment, only to find comfort from an unexpected place. Next time on Running to Win, we'll see how God shows his grace even when his servants go their own way. Thanks for listening. For Dr. Erwin Lutzer, this is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
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