Introduction: This week we learn the truth of Sir Walter Scott’s famous saying: ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!’ The tentacles of Abram’s sin are long – but take heart: ‘Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more’ (Romans 5:20).
Monday: read Genesis 16:6-12 and James 1:13-17. Abram’s impatience leads to a union with his wife’s servant Hagar to produce Ishmael: a child of heartache not promise. Ishmael that ‘wild donkey of a man’ would raise his hand against all his brothers (Gen. 16:12) and would pass on that way of life to his descendants, the Arabs, in conflict with Israel even to this day. These ‘ripple effects’ of sin are part of its fearful deceitfulness. We think we can privately transgress without harming others – ‘Live and let live’ – but our misdeeds always have unintended consequences and hurt far more people than we can measure.
Pray and Meditate: Begin your week by worshipping God with the words of James 1:13-17. Praise Him for His untainted character of light and goodness. He never tempts; He never begins the deadly cycle of sin. Pray that, as the ‘Father of lights’ (James 1:17), He would keep you from the terrible power of sin so that it would not rule over you to the destruction of countless souls (Psalm 19:12-13).
Tuesday: read Genesis 16:7 and Exodus 3:1-10. We clearly see the destructive power of sin as Abram and Sarah use their maidservant for their own selfish ambitions. But today let us focus on the faithfulness of the Lord towards the weakest victim of Abram and Sarah’s plot: Hagar herself. What a contrast with Abraham and Sarah. They drive the slave woman away either by direct cruelty (Sarah) or abdication of responsibility (Abram), but the Lord seeks her out in the person of His ‘Angel’. This word ‘Angel’ could also be translated ‘Messenger,’ and in Exodus 3:2 is none other than the ‘Lord’ who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, sent with the good news of redemption out of Egypt.
Ponder and Meditate: You can and should worship this ‘Angel’, for He is none other than God Himself, sent by the Father to personally meet the needs of His people. “God sent by God” – can there be a better definition of the Son’s saving work? Thank the Father that throughout Bible history He sends His Son down to the aid of His distressed people. How much more should we heed this message of the ‘Angel’ in our day when, after His coming to be born at Bethlehem, He declares to us in our need: “I have indeed seen the misery of my people…I have heard them crying out…and I am concerned about their suffering’ (Exodus 3:7).
Wednesday: read Genesis 16:7-9. This ‘Angel’ is the Son of God – and just as in the future He would appear to another burdened, sinful woman and tell her “all that she ever did” (John 4:29), so here He gently exposes the sinful wandering of Hagar, addressing her omnisciently by her name and status as “Hagar, Sarah’s maid” in Genesis 16:8. He then tells her to go back home in Genesis 16:9, omnisciently putting his finger precisely on Hagar’s problem of sin: “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.”
Pray and Meditate: Thank Jesus that, in the pages of the Bible, He always comes as a concerned doctor, doing surgery on the cancer of our sin. Ask God for the courage each day to invite ‘the Good Physician’ Jesus to do the ‘surgery’ needed in your life to rid you more and more from sin’s deadly effects. This is why the Son of God sent His Spirit to live in you, so that ‘by the Spirit’ you might put to death the misdeeds of the body (Romans 8:13), even as Hagar was commanded by our Lord to put to death her rebellion and return to Sarah’s tent.
Thursday: read Genesis 16:9-13 and 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. Does the Angel’s command to Hagar to return to her position of slavery under Sarah seem harsh to our ears? Well then, notice that He does not leave her with a bare command or expect her to submit to Sarah without hope. In verses 10-11, He grants Hagar promises of blessing and grace. He reassures her that He has “heard her affliction” in verse 11, thereby moving Hagar in Genesis 16:13 to respond with thankful recognition of God’s knowledge of her plight. For Hagar in her loneliness and despair the Angel of the Lord was “the God who sees.”
Ponder and Meditate: In times of distress, when we feel that no other person on the face of the earth understands what we are going through; when we are called upon to ‘submit’ to what in many ways is an unjust position in which we have been wronged before, like Hagar under Sarah, how will we find the grace to persevere in such difficult service? Part of the answer is that God sees all that we suffer, and will call to account those who hurt us. But even more, God’s grace is sufficient for us in whatever position of weakness we find ourselves: ‘for His strength is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Friday: read Genesis 16:13-16. What exactly does the title ‘The God who sees’ mean and what does it tell us about Hagar’s attitude to the Lord? First, Hagar’s words are the words of wonder which occur when God breaks into the lives of His people – much like Jacob’s words of wonder in Genesis 32:30: “I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved.” Hagar is amazed that she has ‘seen Him who sees me’ and survived. Second, we could perhaps say that Hagar’s words are a confession of her faith, despite the violent nature of her son to be born in Genesis 16:12. She obeys God’s will in returning to Abram and Sarah – in this way demonstrating obedience and repentance.
Pray and Meditate: In the same way, let us ask God, when we face difficult commands for obedience and returning to difficult duties, that He would give us a spirit of tough, persevering faith, much like expressed in this old Scottish hymn:
O for a faith that will not shrink
Tho pressed by many a foe,
That will not tremble on the brink
Of any earthly woe;
That will not murmur nor complain
Beneath the chast’ning rod,
But in the hour of grief or pain
Will lean upon its God;
A faith that shines more bright and clear
When tempests rage without,
That, when in danger, knows no fear,
In darkness feels no doubt.
Lord, give me such a faith as this,
And then, whate’er may come,
I’ll taste e’en now the hallowed bliss
Of an eternal home.
William H. Bathurst