Scripture: Genesis 16:1-6 (NRSV) -
“Now Sarai, Abram's wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl 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!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.”
One of the major lessons that comes out of reading and interpreting Genesis 16 is to not settle. It’s right there in our faces the whole time! And, just like our world today, it takes some understanding of what came before to really understand what is happening now and the consequences that go along with that.
Abram and Sarai are not yet Abraham and Sarah, the names we are more familiar with them having. God has already spoken to Abram in chapters previous that he and his wife Sarai, even though they are advanced in years (old!) will conceive and give birth to a child. God will make Abram a great nation through his descendants. It has now been 11 years since that promise, and Abram and Sarai are getting a little uneasy. They are suffering from impatience. If they were little kids, we would say they had ants in their pants. They are going through what many of us go through. We are sure that God has promised us the job of our dreams, a husband or a wife, a home, peace in our family, healing for our bodies, or deliverance from certain struggles (addiction, financial, etc.), but “She’s” not coming through quick enough for us. Or God is not giving you the up-to-date status of that promise like it’s a package from Amazon. It is when we get impatient with God’s timing that we then try to take shortcuts under the guise of helping God push things along, or we settle for what we think is good enough.
That is what Abram and Sarai do in Genesis 16. They tricked themselves into believing that they were fulfilling God’s will by taking Hagar, who is described as Sarai’s slave girl, and having Abram impregnate her. This girl had no voice or agency. She couldn’t say no (at least not without repercussions of some kind), so this is very much rape. Due to her status, however, they could do with and to her what they wanted. It mirrors the experience of African American women during the period of United States chattel slavery, as white slave owners would regularly rape the enslaved women who had no protections under the law against this violation and assault of their personhood.
Friends, whenever we choose to take shortcuts, we become willing to compromise our integrity, character, morals, and our status as chosen children of God. I’ll never forget the words of my older fraternity brothers when I was in the process of becoming a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., “There are no shortcuts.” This means that you can’t cheat your way to your goal, and you can’t cheat the journey of life.
Ultimately, Abram and Sarai’s plan backfires miserably. The scripture passage above just has the beginning of the story, but we then find out that God speaks directly to Hagar and blesses her and her child. Ishmael is born and cared for. Once Isaac (Sarai’s son) is born, however, Sarai is reminded by Ishmael’s very existence of the fact that she and her husband settled for a short cut rather than waiting on God to come through on “His” promise. This causes them to kick Hagar and Ishmael out of the house, so to speak. Once again God looks out for Hagar and her child, Ishmael, in providing for them, as they have nothing. The irony is that Ishmael’s descendants become the Ishmaelites, and although that made them cousins to the Israelites, there could have been beef that threatened the promise God gave Abram.
In the end, in spite of settling and taking short cuts, the promise of God is still fulfilled. All of the unnecessary trouble, heartache, and struggles, however, would have been avoided.
The message for us today and every day is to not settle for good enough.
The message for us today and every day is to not take shortcuts.
The message for us today and every day is to wait on The Lord to fulfill the promises that “He” has given to you.
When we wait on God to fulfill “Her” promises, we never come up short!
Peace and Love