The child of God has three enemies with which he must fight all through his earthly life: the devil, the world and his flesh. And that flesh is to be reckoned with, if we are to understand his struggle in the midst of this world. We must not be too quick to blame the devil for the sins which we commit. And we sin so often when there is no world to tempt us or to bring pressure to bear upon us. Paul writes in his epistle to the Romans that, “The carnal (fleshly) mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” Twice here in Romans 8:7, 8 he makes mention of the flesh, for he speaks of the fleshly mind and of the flesh of man which is incapable of doing anything pleasing in God’s sight.
Abraham had such flesh as well as we do. This flesh is not something that became man’s after the cross of Christ. Paul is speaking of the flesh of men in the Old Testament dispensation as surely as he is speaking of the men of his own day. In fact, ever since the fall of Adam the flesh of man has not been subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
And that flesh of Abraham began to manifest itself after God made plain to him that his heir would be one that would come forth out of his own bowels. He at last had something definite in the way of a promise from God concerning his seed. No longer did he have to look: around at Lot or at his eldest servant, Eliezer. He had; it directly from the mouth of God that he would have a child that was his own flesh and blood.
God did not say that this child would be the flesh and blood of Sarah. This we now know to be true. And this could easily have been deduced by Abraham, for she was his only wife. For God gives a man children through his wife. Of course, there is the flesh again that may reason that Sarah may die and God may give him another wife, and hence he cannot be sure that this promise of, one that would come forth from his bowels means also that he will be Sarah’s, flesh and blood. But as things stood at the moment, the logical conclusion to draw, since Sarah is his wife, and he has been promised a child of his own flesh and blood, is that Sarah will mother this child.
Sarah was elated at this revelation of God that Abraham would have a son of his own and gave some very serious thought to the matter. She was getting older, and she had been barren all her life. Her husband was approaching his eighty-sixth birthday, and she herself was a woman of seventy-five. In her favor may be stated that she was very interested in God’s covenant promises and rejoiced to hear that Abraham would have a son of his own even at this late date in his life. But to her shame, it must be said that she became impatient and led Abraham also into a stand of fleshly impatience.
Sarah tried to help God, and the very thought of doing so is loathsome to one who knows the truth concerning God. He needs no help from man. He had just shown Abraham that the covenant stands because of His faithfulness. And while Abraham slept, God passed between the pieces of the beasts and swore to keep His covenant which He had established with His people in Christ.
Without making it a matter of prayer, without walking by faith with the matter, Sarah suggests to Abraham that he take Hagar, her maid, and raise up this promised child through her. Hagar was given no voice in the matter, although she readily agreed and was likewise moved by the flesh. And Abraham likewise without making it a matter of prayer and without walking by faith took Hagar and sought this promised son through her. He, too, was moved by fleshly impatience. God was too slow. Abraham could not wait patiently for God to give him a child through his lawful wife, Sarah.
To understand a bit Abraham’s position let us bear in mind that the promise of making him a great nation—which implied a son—was now about ten years old. Abraham came out of Ur of the Chaldees and into Canaan when he was seventy-five years old (Genesis 12:4); and when Ishmael was born to him and to Hagar, he was eighty-six years old (Genesis 16:16). That was a long time to wait. It is a long time for a young couple that is just married and prays to God for covenant seed. It was even a longer time for Abraham and Sarah who now have passed the prime of their lives and have waited and been unable to bring forth children. The matter is not as serious as it would be today. For in Genesis 11:26 we read that Terah, the father of Abraham, begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran after he was seventy years old. But with Sarah’s barrenness and the fact that he was older than his father when he begat his firstborn, these ten years seemed like a long time to both Abraham and to Sarah.
Sarah was the instigator. The thought of taking Hagar did not originate in the mind of Abraham, nor in the mind of Hagar. It was all the thought of Sarah. And one wonders that she would be willing to share Abraham with Hagar. That element she did not think through carefully. And it is only after Hagar conceives and Sarah is despised in her eyes that Sarah begins to realize what she had done and what a serious thing it was for her to give her husband this maid to raise up seed for her.
This much may be said in Sarah’s favor that it shows that she was covenant minded. Her interest in God’s covenant promises is commendable. It is her fleshly impatience and refusal to wait for God to work out His own plan that is to be condemned. There is even a certain element of humility and self sacrifice that Sarah was willing to undergo in order that she might see God’s covenant promise fulfilled. But her deed still is wrong and is to be branded as a deed of the flesh, and then of fleshly impatience. How correctly Paul states it when he writes to the Romans, “When I would do good, evil is present with me.”
Hagar is to be rebuked for her part in the whole matter. It is true that she was a maid and under orders. She was Sarah’s possession. But we ought to obey God rather than man. And there is no evidence that Hagar had any interest in the covenant. She did not submit to this arrangement of Sarah because she too was impatient for God to fulfill His covenant promise to Abraham. It was on her part a carnal matter. And perhaps also a very appealing and flattering thing to be given to the master of her mistress, and thus to elevate her above the position of a maid and servant. She became impudent and showed her pride as soon as it became plain that she had conceived by Abraham and would bring forth a child for him.
Sarah, in spite of her carefully laid plans cannot, of course, be sure that God will give a son. It could be that Hagar would only bring forth and continue to bring forth daughters to Abraham. And Abraham cannot be sure either that he will receive a son through Hagar anymore than he could through Sarah. All in all it was failing to figure with the God Who gave the covenant promise.
Abraham, though the plan did not originate with him, also revealed fleshly impatience and perhaps was motivated by much more than the desire to receive covenant seed. The thought of receiving Hagar, and of Hagar being given to him by his lawful wife, appealed to him; and his flesh readily accepted such an arrangement. We can only say that Abraham, too, deserves a severe rebuke for his deed and part in the whole transaction.
And God showed His disapproval. When He sends an angel to Hagar, who had been driven away by Sarah, He instructs that angel exactly to call her, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid.” There you have it. God did not for one minute consider Hagar to be another wife of Abraham. Let it not be stated or held that God approved of bigamy in the Old Testament times. Had He done so, Hagar would have been called Abraham’s wife.
Hagar suffered for her part in the whole transaction. She was driven away by Sarah, and even allowed to be driven away by Abraham. To placate Sarah, who now became furious after she saw the implications and results of her plan, Abraham told Sarah to do with Hagar as she pleased. She dealt hard with Hagar so that she fled from her cruel hand. The abuse she received was like a whip to drive her into the wilderness where the angel of God meets her and sends her back. But Hagar suffered for her part in the transaction.
Sarah suffered, and she above all deserved to suffer. For the whole transaction was her way of trying to help God. Hagar did not raise up children for Sarah. Sarah had said to Abraham, “Go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her.” But that was not to be. That child became Hagar’s. And that child became Abraham’s. And this hurt Sarah more than she wished to confess. She had by her fleshly impatience created an impossible condition in her family. And again, let no one say that God approved of bigamy in the Old Testament. He shows clearly by the troubles and strained relationships that result from it that He visits such breaking of His law with evidences of His displeasure and strong disapproval. Things will never be the same again in Sarah’s family and life after this bit of fleshly impatience.
And although a man can take these matters in stride more easily than a woman, Abraham suffered also because of his part in the fleshly impatience. A strained relationship developed between him and Sarah. He asked for it by readily accepting the suggestion of Sarah. He did not behave as a man of understanding, nor surely as a man of faith; and he got himself into an impossible situation in his family life. Sarah was unjust in blaming Abraham and saying, “My wrong be upon thee.” But this is part of the punishment. that Abraham must now bear for not taking the matter to God in prayer, and for not waiting patiently for Him to fulfill His own covenant promises. But as we said at the beginning, that flesh has to be considered and with it we must reckon, because it is there and must be curbed.
Well may we take heed and watch our own flesh. We may not be, and most likely are not in Abraham’s and Sarah’s position. But there are a host of other circumstances under which we become impatient. God’s ways very seldom are our ways; and He is so often much too slow for us. We must guard against running ahead of Him and do wisely when patiently we wait for Him to unfold His counsel. Lest we think foolishly, as Asaph did, that clean hands are worthless and pure hearts are vain, we had better let the Word of God be our guide and go to Him in prayer.
In sickness and affliction it is so easy to become impatient and to question God’s love. Recovery is so slow, and we would like to have Him hurry it up. And when it is terminal and the pains are there every day, we sometimes hear a child of God ask why the Lord does not take him and bring an end to the miseries. The family seeing the pain and misery also wonders that God keeps His child in such pain for so long. But here, too, rather than to be impatient, go to the Word of God and be assured that all things work together for good to those that love God. And go to Him in prayer seeking the patience of His grace, lest we walk after the flesh and be displeasing in His sight.