Waiting for God

16Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael. 1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.2Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” 3Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you (Genesis 16:16-17:6).

When we look at the life of Abraham, we see a man who had learned to wait. The end of Genesis chapter sixteen points out to us that Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael, but chapter seventeen tells us that nothing had happened for 14 years until God finally spoke to him again at ninety-nine years of age (Genesis 17:1). What can we learn about that time of waiting that is not written down for us?

Why do you suppose God made Abram wait so long? What work does God do in a person by making him or her wait? Some of the greatest lessons I have learned have been in times of waiting. God does His best preparation work in His servants during the waiting times. The prophet Isaiah gives us a picture of the preparation of a servant of the Lord:

Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. 2He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver (Isaiah 49:1-2).

For every servant of God called to do an important task for the Kingdom of God, there is a preparation time that is compared to the making of an arrow. There is a personal calling, before a preparation of what issues from his lips, a cleansing of his language. He or she are then drawn close to the Lord, an intimacy under God’s hand before a polishing of his character.  And lastly, there is the concealment in the quiver. During this phase of training and preparation, a man or woman of God is not allowed to do anything that is “seen” by the world, at least for a time. He or she is called to be in hidden ministry waiting until the right timing to be shot in ministry from the Lord’s bow.

Think of Moses having to wait forty years while shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep in the wilderness of Midian. God made him wait until he was eighty years of age before the Lord would use him to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt. He definitely had to endure the hiddenness and waiting of the quiver!  Imagine how hard it was for him to be trained in the best schools of Egypt, and then do nothing seemingly of value while he shepherded the sheep in the desert. Why would God do that to a man? The greater the task, the greater the training. It is hard to wait for God’s timing, but it is part of the training. Keith Thomas

“Hagar, Where Are You Going?”

7The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered. 9Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” 11The angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. 12He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”13She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me” (Genesis 16:7-13).

It is in the desert place that the Angel of the Lord speaks to Hagar. This angel is the One who has been watching and listening to all that was going on in Abraham’s household. He speaks kindly to her and asks two very pertinent questions which is good for all of us to hear, “Where have you come from, and where are you going?” (Verse 8).

Now and then as we go through life, it is good to sit down and assess where you have come from and where you are going. If you are aiming for nothing, you are bound to hit it! Did you ever experience a time in your life when you felt aimless and did not know which way to go? Was God’s direction sought?

This angel is no ordinary angel, but most scholars believe this to be an appearance of God in human form. The apostle John, in his gospel, reminds us that the Lord Jesus preexisted and that He took on human form. He wrote that Jesus was with God in the beginning, and that through Him all things were made, and that without Him nothing was made that has been made (John 1:2-3). This angel does not speak for God but as God. He said, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude” (Verse 10). This kind of language is not, “this is what the Lord says, but this is what I say!” The person speaking is God Himself. Hagar knows who it is that is speaking to her, for she names God, “You are a God of seeing,” and names the well where she encounters the Lord, “Well of the Living One who sees me” (Verse 13). Hagar is given vision and direction for her future. She is told to humble herself and submit herself to her mistress, Sarai, and raise Ishmael in Abram’s home. I’m sure her heart was encouraged to learn that she would be a mother to many descendants too numerous to count (Verse 10). These descendants today are the Arabic people.

The Lord brought Hagar into a new revelation of Himself. First of all, she found out that God (YHVH, not Allah) hears the cry of distress, and to remind her; she was told to name her son by the name of Ishmael, which means God hears. The Lord said to her that He was the One who was watching over her and saw all that went on in her life—which is a good lesson for each of us.

We all have challenging times of having to wait while our faith is tested. Even though Abram had many tests to his faith, and although he did not pass all the tests, he is still referred to as a man of faith in Scripture. We do not remember him for his mistakes, but rather for his decision to follow God’s direction and go to a new place he did not know. The legacy Abraham left is one of faith, a reminder to us of the great grace God has for us. The Lord does not hold up our mistakes before us. He takes our damaged lives and leads us home from wherever we find ourselves, even if that place is a desert of our own making.

Maybe you can relate to one of the characters in this part of the story. Are you like Abram, being worn down and weary in the waiting process? Are you like Hagar, finding that you are at a point where you need God’s assurance and His direction? Wherever you are in your journey of faith today, and whatever difficulties you are facing, God has the next step for you, even if that step is to continue to wait. He has a plan and direction for you, to lead you on from the place that you find yourself right now. Keith Thomas

 

The God Who Sees and Hears Us

4He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5Then 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.”6“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her. 7The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur (Genesis 21:4-7).

When Hagar, Sarai’s slave girl, becomes pregnant, there were changes in the household and relationships. Things got messy! Hagar became proud and began to look down upon her mistress. We don’t know what is said or the behavior of Hagar, but whatever the attitude of the younger Hagar to the seventy-five-year-old Sarai, it is one of suffering for Sarai:

5Then 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” (Verse 5).

Sarai now blames Abram for his lack of leadership in allowing this shortcut to go ahead, and she is right. Abram was the leader of the home, the one who got direction from God and led the family, yet his leadership is reactionary to go with the flow, rather than seeking God for His guidance as to the strife that he had now brought upon his family and into his home. When Sarai brought the situation up with Abram, he should have been the one to sort it out, but instead, he throws it all back into Sarai’s lap:

6“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her (Verse 6).

Abram should have dealt kindly with Hagar and counseled Sarai to do the same. After all, they were the ones who came up with the plan in the first place! Unfortunately, Abram does not bear responsibility for Hagar. Notice that in his response to Sarai, he does not even call Hagar by her name, but calls her ‘Sarai’s slave’ (Verse 6). It is as if he is distancing himself from the whole situation, and from Hagar and the child that Abraham had brought into the world. It is complete abdication. There seems to be little care taken for the soul of Hagar. Having been used as a commodity, this young woman was pushed outside of the family. Surely she must be, at this point, a visible reminder of the failure of Abram and Sarai in trying to take a shortcut to God’s purposes. How many unwanted feelings did this situation breed for all three involved? I’m sure Hagar was left feeling that this baby she is carrying will be unwanted by the family of Abraham. Hagar must have felt very insecure at a time in life that a woman needs even more security with a baby on the way. Can you imagine her grief and state of mind as she ran away from home? Hagar went to a deserted place and sat down by a spring of water all by herself. It is possible she did not feel safe, having been poorly treated by Sarai and not sure of their intentions toward her and the child she was carrying. She is retreating, licking her emotional wounds, so to speak, and seeking solitude when the Angel of the Lord came to her. Thank God that whenever we are in a dry and desert place, there is always a well of salvation, and our God is still watching over us.

If you have not yet entrusted your life to the God of all comfort, it is time to cast your soul upon Him, for He cares for you. Keith Thomas

Sarai and Abram’s Shortcut

1Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress (Genesis 16:1-4).

Have you ever been tempted to take a shortcut to what you believe to be God’s will? The Lord had promised Abraham that he would be the father of a multitude, but there was a problem, Sarah was way past the age of having children. But how does one get to have many descendants if his wife cannot bear children? Abraham’s vision of being a father of a multitude was now impossible for it to happen through his wife, Sarah. Sometimes we get desperate and look for a logical way around a situation. Sarah thought about her handmaid—Abraham could have a child through Hagar, their maid, and it could be called Sarah’s. The shortcut was at the initiation of Sarai. Maybe God’s way was for their family to be built around Hagar, their servant girl, who had been added to their household while in Egypt.

Sarai’s motive was probably a good one, but a good motivation does not make a wrong decision right. Sarai loved her husband and trusted him implicitly and was willing to sacrifice even their intimacy with one another for the sake of his vision and dream to be fulfilled. This kind of commitment to the vision God gave Abraham says a lot about Sarai’s godly character. There is no evidence, though, that Abram and Sarai stopped to think about the consequences of what they were about to do. This act of going outside their intimacy together was a life-changing decision, and they did not ask the Lord about it. Having sex outside of their marriage is a low point in Abram’s faith walk. For him to go ahead with this shortcut even when he knew in his heart that this was not God’s way was resorting to man’s way of doing things.

Abram is not a picture of a godly husband at this time of his life. His first response to Sarai’s idea should have been a courageous, “absolutely not!” There was also no seeking after permission of Hagar’s father in Egypt that we are told about. Did Hagar have any say in the matter? I’m sure they asked her, but she would have thought to herself that if she didn’t go ahead, it would have meant her job, and another of the slave girls would be chosen over her. Hagar became a second wife to Abram and, as far as we know, God was not brought into the picture (Verse 3). Of course, the Lord had already revealed His will that a man would leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). The Lord had not changed His mind and allowed for a threesome!

Things are about to get complicated for Abram and Sarai. It does not take a lot of imagination to see how this affected their relationship, their home life, and even their faith. Culture and traditions may change, but there are at least two things that do not; the Word of God, and fundamental human nature. When we try to take shortcuts to our faith walk, it never works out. It honors the worldly way of doing things rather than the way of honoring the Lord and walking by faith. There are no shortcuts to faith and walking in the ways of the Lord. Live your life by being utterly devoted to God and His ways, not the ways of this world. Keith Thomas

Abraham Believes the Lord

I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted (Genesis 13:16).

5And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:5-6 Emphasis mine).

It is a possibility that Abram’s vision of the stars and the dust of the earth represent the heavenly seed as well as the natural seed. The dust of the earth could be a picture of the natural seed of Abraham, the Jewish people, and the vision of the stars of the sky represented the heavenly seed, those who are born again of the Holy Spirit, the Church of the Living God. In this sense, we see an earthly and a heavenly seed. God often speaks to us in a natural and spiritual sense, first He illustrates it in a natural way through an Old Testament story, and then later reveals a spiritual truth related to the natural.

Something happens within Abram’s heart when he saw the grand vision of the stars of the sky. He was told that his offspring would be like the stars in number. Notice Abram’s response to the vision: “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Verse 6). This faith in God was expressed before circumcision, and more than four hundred years before the Law and the Ten Commandments were given. The Lord sees that inside Abram’s heart, there was a deep-seated trust and inner rest of belief applied to his heart, his inner being. On account of his faith, the Lord imparted to Abram the gift of righteousness—it was credited to his spiritual bank account. W.H. Griffith Thomas, in his commentary on Genesis, writes:

“The original Hebrew for ‘believed’ comes from a root whence we derive our ‘Amen,’ and we might paraphrase it by saying that ‘Abraham said Amen to the Lord.’ ‘Amen’ in Scripture never means a petition (‘May it be so’), but is always a strong assertion of faith (‘It shall be so,’ or ‘It is so’).[1]

In the world we live in, God still operates in the same way. When we hear the gospel of the finished work of Christ in paying our debt of sin upon the cross, and we believe in our heart that God raised Christ from the dead, the gift of righteousness is credited to our spiritual bank account, as it was to Abraham. No longer do we work at trying to please God by empty works, but we rest our souls on the finished work of God at the cross. The gospel (the good news) is that Christ has wholly restored the relationship between God and man through His substitutionary work in dying for us and as us on the cross. If you will place your life into His hands and merely believe (trust), just as Abram did, then you too will have credited to your spiritual bank account the righteousness of God. God gives us faith to reach out to Him and receive the gift of eternal life in Christ.

God gives the gift of righteousness to Abram upon his trust and belief in God’s Word to his heart. This righteousness credited to Abraham came to him as a gift given to him and us apart from adherence to the law.

20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. 21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:20-22).

There is nothing that you can do to earn this gift, otherwise, it would not be a gift! A gift is so easy to receive—God has made it so. It is man’s way to try to complicate things. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17). Go to the Lord today and ask Him for the gift of righteousness. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and what He accomplished for you on the cross and you shall receive the gift of eternal life. Do it today! Keith Thomas.

[1]W.H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1946) p. 138.