God had promised Abram that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, or as plentiful as the dust of the ground. Even if you wanted to count them, you couldn’t. However, God was going to do this in the way that God wanted to do it, not the way man wanted to do it. This is God’s plan, not man’s plan, so God would carry this out in the right way.
God had made this promise to Abraham already, but Abraham began to wonder how it would come true. He didn’t have any children, so how could it be possible that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky or the dust of the earth? God clearly responds to Abram’s question and says that he will have a child who is his own flesh and blood.
Fulfilling God’s plan in man’s way
Given, though, that Sarai wasn’t able, up to this point, to have children, and now she had come to the point where she was well past her time to have children, both she and Abram were wondering how it could be possible that God’s plan would be fulfilled. They don’t really see a way forward. They don’t think it is possible.
Sarai, though, comes up with a plan. She is sure that she is the problem, and she is almost 65 years old at this point, but she had a slave named Hagar. Hagar was an Egyptian who had probably come with Abram’s family as they left Egypt.
The Lie out of Egypt
I want to take a moment and make what I think is an important point about Egypt and the time that Abram and Sarai spent there. If we remember, Abram had given away his wife Sarai in Egypt saying that she was his sister instead of saying that she was his wife. Essentially, he prostituted his wife to save his own skin, as a result of his fear that the Egyptians would kill him and that God wouldn’t protect him. As it turned out, God had protected him, and it appeared that Abram got away with this lie and wasn’t punished for it. Instead, it appeared that Pharaoh took the brunt of the punishment at the time, but I think that we might be able to reevaluate that idea as we look at how Egypt continued to follow Abram and Sarai.
First, we see that God tells Abram that his people, though they will be great in number, will be enslaved for 400 years.
Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.Genesis 15:13-14
What a way for God to fulfill his promise to Abram! Where does that happen? In Egypt! Jacob later takes his sons and they all go to Egypt to follow Joseph who was second in command and in charge of the food, but eventually they are enslaved in Egypt.
Second, where is Hagar from? Egypt. The slave girl that Sarai will give to Abram to have a child in an attempt to fulfill God’s promise in man’s way will come through a woman who is from Egypt.
Just as a side note, I’m wondering if there are lingering effects of what happened in Egypt within Sarai. Is she thinking that she is not only too old, but possibly also not worthy to be part of fulfilling God’s promise? Could it be that because Abram had given her away that she would think that she was just a pawn in Abram’s story, to be traded and given as Abram sees fit? Could it be that what happened in Egypt would follow Sarai for the rest of her life?
Sarai comes up with a plan, to allow this slave girl to take her place, to fulfill God’s promise, but then after Hagar becomes pregnant, she realizes that she has made a grave mistake.
He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.”Genesis 16:4-5
So the sins committed in Egypt continue to follow Abram. Pharaoh had given Abram many servants, animals, and other “riches”, and it looked like Abram had even profited from his lie. Now though, he has a servant girl that he has slept with, who also becomes his second wife, yet who despises his first wife Sarai, and his first wife Sarai is blaming him for the situation. Even more to the point, this first-born son, whom it appears has fulfilled God’s promise, is going to go on to be both a challenge for he and his family, but will also be the cause of division, strife, and war for centuries to come.
Consequences of sin
So often, we think that it is just a little sin. It is a little thing. Even today as we read about the story of Abram, we might be tempted to think that everything turned out OK. Sure, Abram told a lie. OK, yeah, he gave Sarai to the Pharaoh to be Pharaoh’s wife…but in the end everything worked out, so is it that bad?
Yes, it is. I think we can see from the consequences that came to Abram later that it was that bad. In fact, his sin followed him for the rest of his life, and it even shows up yet today. We should never say that we think it is OK. It isn’t. It is wrong and we must repent from our sins, leaving them behind. Otherwise, while we can’t know the future of where our sin will go, we can say that it will likely live on, affecting not only us and those around us, but also generations to come.