A triangle has three sides. But it derives its name from the fact that it has three angles. And at least two of these angles are sharp, sharper than those of a square, rectangle, pentagon, hexagon or octagon, all of which have more sides and more angles than the triangle.
When, therefore, one introduces a living triangle into a family circle, somebody is going to get hurt by the sharp points of that triangle. And this comes to such clear manifestation in the life of Abram.
In fleshly impatience he, at the suggestion of and with the help of his wife, Sarai, took Hagar, the handmaid of Sarai, into their family circle in the hope of bringing forth the promised covenant son. All three got hurt, and so did the son who was born of Abram and Hagar.
In Genesis 16:5 we read, “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.” She speaks of being hurt by Hagar not only in that she plainly showed that she despised Sarai, but also in that there is a wrong for which she calls God to be judge between her and Abram. Sarai was injured, and she certainly asked for it. She, not Abram, authored this whole procedure. She suggested it to Abram and gave Hagar unto him. Abram did not concoct the whole scheme and ask Sarai’s permission. She elevated Hagar above her position of servant by giving her to Abram. Indeed, Sarai meant it to be a form of service. With no concern for Hagar’s well-being, she was simply going to use Hagar’s body for her own advantage as she saw it. Yet it was an act which elevated her above that position of servant and brought her right into the family circle instead of leaving her outside serving that family circle. She saw it too late, but her deed elevated Hagar to the position of being one flesh with Abram, while she, Sarai, was already one flesh with him. It was not a mere case of allowing a servant to live in the same house, to eat at the same table with the master; but it was erasing that distinction of master and servant to make Hagar one flesh with Abram. And having done so, Sarai should have no complaint when the angle of the triangle which she brought into the family circle began to stab her and bring her anguish and grief.
And Sarai did not hesitate, as one of the angles of that triangle, to jab into the flesh of Abram and with her tongue to injure him. She had already treated Hagar cruelly and would do so more intensely to the point that Hagar has to flee from it. When we read that Sarah “dealt hardly with her,” this is more than a just punishment of a mistress upon a disobedient servant. We get to see another side of her who otherwise revealed a very meek and gentle spirit. The depravity of her nature shone through, and that she also needed the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit is displayed before our eyes.
Note also that Sarai makes a very vicious and unjust attack upon Abram and lets him feel very keenly a point of the triangle that is within his family circle. My wrong, she says, be upon thee. That is, the wrong treatment I am suffering from Hagar, the harm, the injury I now bear is your fault! The guilt of it be upon your head, Abram! So unjustly did she speak to her husband who had done all this at her suggestion and to please her. By “my wrong” Sarai does not mean to confess that she did wrong. Not at all! Everyone has done wrong, she thinks, but Sarai herself. She fails to see her own sin while she has such clear vision of Abram’s “wrong” and Hagar’s “haughtiness”. Nor is Sarai the only one who has behaved that way. It is in all of us. And this is exactly what led Jesus to warn us to cast out the beam that is in our own eye before we try to cast out the mote that is in the brother’s eye.
Hagar became a thorn in Sarai’s flesh and as one angle of the triangle she made life miserable for Sarai. She became proud as soon as she saw that she had conceived, and showed great disrespect for her mistress. She did not have God in all her thoughts and did not behave as one who in humility before Him acknowledges that we have nothing that we did not receive from Him. She acted as though she conceived by her own strength and viewed herself as being of superior strength above Sarai. This of course was not so at all. It is not so today either. It is God Who decides who shall and who shall not conceive. He it is Who gives us children and Who keeps us from having children.
There are two or three matters that we may note in connection with Hagar and her pride. God did not approve of it, as can be expected. No, the end does not justify’ the means. It was not an act of faith that moved Sarai to suggest this plan to Abram. It was not faith on Abram’s part to follow through on this plan. Nor was it faith on the part of Hagar to submit, or, if you will, agree to this arrangement. The desire to have the promised covenant seed was due to a true and living faith in God. Abram and Sarai are to be commended for that. And this, too, was a gift of God unto them. There is nothing in the account that even faintly suggests that Hagar’s consent, or perhaps it is better to say her willingness to play the part Sarai had designed for her (she did not have to consent, for she was a servant) was due to a desire to see this covenant seed born to Abram. But, limiting ourselves for the moment to Abram and Sarai, it becomes plain that our best works are polluted with sin. The desire may be, and in this case was good and out of true faith, but the execution became corrupt, and was exceedingly evil in God’s sight. He Who designed the geometric triangle also instituted the family circle in such a way that any triangle introduced into it would bring grief and misery.
To be noted also is the fact that God still considers Hagar to be Sarai’s handmaid. For through the angel He tells her to go back to her mistress. And that clearly indicates that God does not condemn slavery as such. He hates all cruelty and mistreatment of the slaves, but He sends Hagar back to serve again as Sarai’s handmaid. And this also reveals what God thinks of the modern denial of this relationship in the strikes which the labour unions (which men have founded and support) practice and in which the workers tell the employers that they have the say in that factory as to whether there will be work done or not and even as to who may work there and who may not.
And Abram? Let it be noted that he reveals an abiding loyalty to Sarai after this one deed of dishonoring her and sinning against her by adding Hagar’s flesh to that divinely ordained union that made him and Sarai one flesh. He added strange flesh to what was already one flesh of man and wife. And although Sarai asked for it, Abram, by adopting Sarai’s plan and as one of the angles in that triangle, injured Sarai.
It certainly was no “love affair” between Abram and Hagar. He had no interest in continuing the relationship or of having her as his second wife or concubine. But being attacked by Sarai he rises to her defense, although he must have seen Sarai’s sin. Nevertheless he writes off Hagar, completely and tells Sarai to do with her what she pleases. He will not interfere and side with Hagar. He remains loyal to his aged wife and does not fall for the younger woman who plainly will now present him with a child.
We may even wonder as to how deeply spiritual Abram was and how covenant minded he was when he went in unto Hagar. For now, even though she is carrying that child which they seemed to want so badly, he is ready to let Sarai do to Hagar what she wills. What if she wanted to sell her so that she would be sent far away? What would become of the child they were so eagerly awaiting?
It is true that one learns to love one’s child far more deeply after that child is born and has been there to work itself more deeply into one’s heart. But a sincere covenant parent will love that unborn child and wait with eager expectation for its birth. He will dedicate that unborn child already to God and plan to arrange for its spiritual as well as material growth and needs. Needless to say, a covenant parent, a believer, will not even desire abortion. He will not practice it, but he will also loathe the very thought of it in regard to his own flesh and blood that God has given him as it is in its still imperfect state. The world that is rapidly losing its natural affection will for carnal reasons get rid of what God has given. But faith and covenant interest will not allow the child of God to do such a thing. And Abram, had he been walking in the same strength of faith that later on caused him to offer up Isaac, would have had a deep interest in that child that was within Hagar. Later on, as we suggested above, when the child was there before him, he learned to love him so much that he pleaded with God before the birth of Isaac that Ishmael might live before Him. But could it be that Abram, after he had gone in unto Hagar, began more and more to realize that this was not an act of faith and that this was not only against God’s law but also wholly contrary to the covenant that God had established with him? After all, God established it with Abram, and He did not in any way leave even a suggestion that Abram had to keep that covenant from being unrealized.
To his credit it may be stated that although he, as one of the angles in that triangle, injured Hagar whom he was obliged now to protect as never before, he desired to keep the peace and unity of the family circle into which God had brought him and Sarai. He is amazingly meek and without a spirit of retaliation when Sarai jabs him with the words of her sharp tongue. He does not answer in kind and refrains from reminding her that it was all her idea and that she gave Hagar to him. And when Sarai intensified her hard treatment of Hagar, Abram not only kept his hands off the matter but kept his mouth shut and sought the peace of his former state with Sarai.
Sarai had called God to judge Abram for what he had done, and it is not impossible that by this Abram was pricked in his heart and realized somewhat more clearly that the promise of God to Shem did not run in the line of Ham; and Hagar was an Egyptian and thus a descendant of Ham. Certainly if one is going to “help” God—Who needs no help—realize His covenant promise to Shem, one ought not go outside of Shem’s descendants to seek to realize the birth of the covenant seed. At any rate Abram is quiet and meek, and exactly because a triangle had been created in his family circle, he will have to take sides and hurt either Sarai or Hagar. He chose to hurt Hagar. But the wonder of God’s grace is that the Triune God makes peace for us in His Son, the Seed to Whom the covenant promise came and Who blotted out both Abram’s and Sarai’s and our sins.