Gleanings In Genesis

21. Abraham and Hagar

Genesis 16

It is difficult to imagine a greater contrast than what is presented in our present chapter from the one reviewed in our last article. In Genesis 15 Abram is seen as the man of faith, in chapter 16 as the man of unbelief. In Genesis 15 he "believed in the Lord," in Genesis 16 he "hearkened to the voice of Sarai." There he walks after the Spirit, here he acts in the energy of the flesh. Sad inconsistency! But One could say, "I do always these things that please Him" (John 8:29).

"Now Sarai, Abram's wife, bare him no children; and she had a handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing. I pray thee, go in unto my maid, it may be that I may obtain children by her" (Gen. 16:1, 2). In this suggestion of Sarai's we witness a fresh testing of Abram. Again and again our patriarch was tried- tried, may we not say, at every point. First, his faith had to overcome the ties of nature: God's call was for him to leave his country and his kindred. Then, shortly after he had actually arrived in Canaan, his faith was tried by stress of circumstances- there was a famine in the land. Next, he had to meet a trial respecting a brother: Abram feared that the friction between his herdsmen and the herdsmen of his nephew might lead to "strife" between brethren, and how he met this by his magnanimous offer to Lot we have already seen in an earlier chapter. Later, there was a testing of Abram's courage, as well as his love for his nephew. Lot had been captured by a powerful warrior, but Abram hastens to his rescue and delivers him. Subsequently, there was a testing of his cupidity. The King of Sodom offered to "reward" him for overcoming Chedorlaomer. And now he is tested by a suggestion from his wife. Would he take matters out of the hand of God and act in the energy of the flesh with reference to the obtaining of a son and heir. Thus, at six different points (to this stage in his history) was the character of Abram tested. We might summarize them thus: There was the trying of the fervor of his faith- did he love God more than home and kindred. There was the trying of the sufficiency of his faith was he looking to the living God to supply all his need, or was he depending on propitious circumstances? There was the trying of the humility of his faith- would he assert his "rights," or yield to Lot? There was the trying of the boldness of his faith- would he dare attempt the rescue of his nephew from the hands of a powerful warrior? There was the trying of the dignity of his faith- would he demean himself by accepting honors from the King of Sodom? There was the trying of the patience of his faith- would he wait for God to fulfill His word in His own good time and way, or would he take matters into his own hand?

It is most instructive to note the setting of these various trials and temptations. Arrived in the land Abram was faced with a famine, and Egypt was at hand to lure the patriarch with its promise of relief from his anxiety. After his departure from Egypt and return to the path of God's will, the very next thing we read of is the strife between the herdsmen. Again: no sooner had Abram rescued Lot from his captors and been blessed by Melehizedek than he was tempted to dishonor God and demean himself by a reward from the King of Sodom. And, immediately after Abram had received the wonderful revelation and promise of God recorded in Genesis 15, we read of this subtle temptation emanating from his wife.

It seems to be a general principle in the ways of God with His own to first bless and enrich and then to test the recipient. Elisha ardently, desired to receive Elijah's mantle. His wish was granted; and the next thing we read of him is the facing of Jordan- the mantle had to be used at once! Solomon prayed for wisdom, and his prayer was heard, and at once his gift was called into exercise by the case of the two mothers each claiming the living child as hers. Thus it was, too, with our blessed Lord; no sooner had the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove than we read, "And immediately the Spirit driveth Him into the wilderness" (Mark 1:12), where He was tempted of the devil. It is highly necessary for us to take the lesson to heart- it is when we have received some special mark of the Lord's favor, or immediately after we have enjoyed some unusual season of communion with him, that we need most to be on our guard!

The evil suggestion that Sari made to Abram was a testing of the patience of his faith. God had said to Abram, "I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee and make thy name great" (Gen. 12:2). He had said, further, "Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them; and He said unto him, So shall thy seed be" (Gen. 15:5), yet ten years had passed since the first of these promises and still Abram was childless. When the Lord repeated His promise "Abram believed in the Lord" (Gen. 15:6), and now he was left to wait for the fulfillment of it. But waiting is just what the natural heart finds it so hard to endure. Rather than wait man prefers to take the management of his affairs into his own hands and use human expediencies to give effect to the Divine promise. It was thus with Jacob; the portion of the firstborn had been given to him and not to Esau, but instead of waiting for God to secure the inheritance for him, he sought to obtain it himself by his own dishonorable scheming. It was the same with Moses; God had declared that the descendants of Abram should be afflicted for 400 years in a strange country, and but 360 years had passed when Moses saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, and taking matters into his own hands he smote and slew the Egyptian. It is one thing to "commit'' our way unto the Lord, but it is quite another to trust also in Him," and wait till He brings it to pass.

"And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai" (v. 2). The father of mankind sinned by hearkening to his wife, and here the father of the faithful follows his example. These things are recorded for our learning. How often it is that a man's foes are those of his own household! How often those who are nearest to us by nature are snares and hindrances in the spiritual life! Hence, how deeply important to heed the Divine admonition and "Be not unequally yoked together."

"And Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife" (v. 3). Galatians 4:22-26 is the inspired commentary upon the doctrinal principles involved in this act and in Abram's response to it. The dispensational significance of Abram's fall has often been expounded by others so that it is unnecessary for us to dwell upon it here at any length. In refusing to wait upon the Lord, and in summoning to his aid this Egyptian maid for the fulfilling of the Divine promise, Abram took a step which only "gendered to bondage," just as now the believer does, if having begun in the Spirit he seeks to be made perfect by the flesh.

The outcome of Abram's yielding to the specious temptation from his wife was quickly evidenced. "And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes" (v. 4). The consequence was just what might have been expected. The Egyptian maid was elated at the honor (?) conferred upon her, and Sarai falls in her estimation. And now, when it is too late, Sarai repents and complains to her husband- "And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee. I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes; the Lord judge between me and thee" (v. 5). How true to human nature (fallen human nature)- to throw the blame of wrong-doing upon another! Man ever seeks to shelve his responsibility and charge either God or Satan with what he terms his "misfortunes."

"But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee" (v. 6). Abram refuses to accept the responsibility of Sarai's "wrong" and leaves her to deal with the evil which was the fruitage of her own sowing. But observe how one evil leads to another; in wronging his wife, Abram now surrenders to her his position as head of the household.

"And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face" (v. 6). Was it to this Solomon had reference when he said, "It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman" (Proverbs 21:19)? Hagar, too, had to learn that the way of the transgressor is hard. "And the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur" (v. 7). What grace was this, Divine grace, for we need not stop to prove that the "Angel of the Lord" (mentioned here for the first time) was God Himself in theophanic manifestation. The place where He found this poor Egyptian maid attracts our attention. It was "by a fountain of water in the wilderness," termed in verse 14 "the well." This is the first time we read of the "well" in Scripture. We pause to look at several other passages in the Old Testament where the "well" is mentioned, for the purpose of noting how beautifully they pointed to the One Who giveth the living water, "that water of which those who drink shall never thirst" and which is in them a well of water springing up into "everlasting life" (John 4).

Ere turning to a few of those Scriptures, where the "well" is mentioned we pause to note first what is said of it here in Genesis 16. Three things are to be observed concerning this "well." First, it was located in the "wilderness." Second, the well itself was "by the fountain"- mark the repetition of these words in verse 7. Third, it was at this well that God revealed Himself to Hagar. Surely the symbols are easily interpreted. It is not amid the gaieties or the luxuries of the world that Christ is to be found. It is not while the soul is enjoying "the pleasures of sin for a season" that the Savior is met with. It is in the wilderness, that is, it is as we withdraw from the attractions of earth and are in that state of soul which answers to the "wilderness" that the Lord meets with the sinner, and where is it that the needy one finds the Savior? Where, but "by the fountain of water"- type of the written Word! Should these lines catch the eye of some sin-sick and troubled heart that is earnestly seeking the Lord Jesus, turn, we beseech thee, away from man, and "search the Scriptures," for they are they which testify of Him. Finally, note that it was here at the "well" that God was revealed- "and she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me; for she said, Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me? Wherefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi - the well of Him that liveth and seeth me" (vv. 13, 14). So Christ- of whom the "well" speaks- "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." It is in Him that God is fully revealed.

The next Scripture in which the "well" is found is Genesis 21:19, again in connection with Hagar. "And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water." How plain is the type! "No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him" (John 6:44). And not only so, but none can see Christ with the eyes of the heart until they are opened by God. "And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee (i.e., that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God), but My Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 16:17). As it was here with Hagar- "God opened her eyes, and she saw a well"- so also was it with Lydia, "whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul" (Acts 16:14), and as it was with Lydia so is it with all who believe.

"Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people of the East. And he looked, and behold a well in the field, and, lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks" (Gen. 29:1, 2). Comment here is needless. The "well" is the place where the sheep were watered and refreshed. So, again, with the antitype. Not only does our Lord give life- His own life- but He refreshes our parched souls day by day.

"And from thence they went to Beer: that is the well whereof the Lord spake unto Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water. Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well: sing ye unto it" (Numbers 21:16, 17). What a word is this! It reminds us of Genesis 22:8 compared with Isaiah 53:7. In the former passage the promise is that "God will provide Himself a lamb," and in the latter, the Lamb is definitely identified "He was led as a lamb to the slaughter." And so here. The "well" is personified- "Sing ye unto it"! Note, too, that the well was here made the gathering center of Israel. O, may we, as we gather around our blessed Lord, "sing" unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood.

"Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz stayed by En-rogel, for they might not be seen to come into the city; and a wench went and told them; and they went and told King David. Nevertheless, a lad saw them, and told Absalom; but they went both of them away quickly, and came to a man's house in Bahurim, which had a well in his court; whither they went down. And the woman took and spread a covering over the well's mouth, and spread ground corn thereon; and the thing was not known" (2 Sam. 17:17-19). Thus the "well" was a place of protection for Jonathan and his servant. They were securely hidden in the well. How this reminds us of that word, "Your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3).

Summarizing the typical teaching of the Scriptures we have little more than glanced at, we learn: First, that the "well" is to be found "by the fountain of water," which, to interpret, signifies, that Christ is to be found in the written Word. Second, that it is at the well God revealed Himself, just as in Christ God is now fully told out. Third, it was not until God opened the eyes of Hagar, that she "saw" the well. So it is not until the eyes of our heart are opened by God the Spirit that we are enabled to see Christ as the One we need and as the Fairest among ten thousand. Fourth, that it is at the well the "sheep" are "watered." So it is in communion with Christ our souls are refreshed. Fifth, that the well was the place where Israel were gathered together by the Word of Jehovah through Moses. So Christ is now the appointed Gathering-Center when we come together for worship. Sixth, unto the well Israel were bidden to "sing." So throughout time and eternity our adorable Lord will be the Object and Subject of our praises. Seventh, the well was the place where Jonathan and his servant found protection from their enemies. So in Christ we find shelter from every foe and refuge from every storm.

"And the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur. And he said, Hagar, Sarai's maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai. And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands" (vv. 7-9). "Grace reigns through righteousness.'' It was grace that sought her, it was righteousness that thus counseled her. Grace is never exercised at the expense of righteousness. Grace upholds rather than ignores our responsibilities toward God and toward our neighbor. The grace of God that bringeth salvation, teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world (Titus 2:12). Note two things here in connection with Hagar. First, the angel of the Lord addresses her as "Sarai's maid," thus disallowing her marriage (?) with Abram; and second, she is bidden to "return" to her mistress. The day would come when God Himself would open the door, and send Hagar out of Abram's house (Gen. 21:12-14), but till then she must "submit" herself to the authority of Sarai. For another thirteen years she must patiently endure her lot and perform her duty. In the meantime, the Lord cheers Hagar's heart with a promise (see Gen. 5:10). Is there a word here for any of our readers? Is there one who has fled from the post of duty? Then to such the Lord's word is, "Return. . . . submit." If we have done wrong, no matter what the temptation or provocation may have been, the only way to Divine blessing, to peace and happiness, is to retrace our footsteps (as far as this is possible), in repentance and submission.

"And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the Lord hath heard thy affliction. And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him" (vv. 11, 12). This prophecy seems to have had reference more to his posterity than to Ishmael himself. It is well known how accurately its terms have been fulfilled in the Arabs who, in all ages, have been a wild and warlike people, and who, though surrounded by nations that have each been conquered in turn, yet have themselves been unsubdued by the great Powers unto this day.

"And she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me; for she said, Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me. Wherefore, the well was called, The well of Him that liveth and seeth me" (vv. 13, 14). May the Lord Himself find us at the "well" as He did Hagar of old, and may it be ours as it was hers to hear and see Him.

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