Hagar’s place in the Genesis story is directly related to Abram’s failure to believe God’s promise. As an Egyptian slave in Abram’s household, Hagar likely came into Abram’s possession as one of the many gifts Pharaoh gave to him in exchange for Sarai, an event associated with Abram’s first act of unbelief in God’s promise (Gen. 12:11–16).
After waiting ten years for the promised child to be born, Abram and Sarai remained childless. Concluding that God needed their help, Sarai gave Hagar to Abram as a concubine. Although strange to us today, Sarai’s plan was quite ingenious. According to ancient customs, a female slave legally could serve as a surrogate mother for her barren mistress. Thus Sarai could count any child born from her husband and Hagar as her own. While the plan did produce a child, it was not the child God promised.
In this story we have a powerful example of how when faced with daunting circumstances, even a great man of God had a lapse of faith. In Genesis 17:18, 19, Abraham pleaded with God to accept Ishmael as his heir; the Lord, of course, rejected that offer. The only “miraculous” element in the birth of Ishmael was Sarah’s willingness to share her husband with another woman! There was nothing out of the ordinary about the birth of a child to this woman, a child born “according to the flesh.” Had Abraham trusted in what God had promised him instead of letting the circumstances overcome that trust, none of this would have happened, and a lot of grief would have been avoided.
In contrast to the birth of Ishmael, look at the circumstances surrounding Isaac’s birth. Gen. 17:15–19; 18:10–13; Heb. 11:11, 12. Why did these circumstances require so much faith of Abraham and Sarah?
In what ways has your lack of faith in God’s promises caused you some pain? How can you learn from these mistakes to take God at His word, no matter what? What choices can you make that can help strengthen your ability to trust God’s promises?