Genesis 16 seems to descend into a valley when compared to the previous chapter's mountain-top experience. An appropriate sub-title might be "Drama, drama, drama!" Chapter 16 finds Sarai coming to her husband and presenting her case. "Now Abram, we've been trying to have a baby ever since we left home. I know your God promised He would make you the father of a great nation, so we must be missing something. We're being to narrow minded where we need to be practical. You just need to take another wife. God must intend to keep His promise that way."
Well, Sarai's line of reasoning worked with Abram, and pretty soon Hagar was expecting, and there was baby-momma drama all over the place. Hagar, who had likely been serving Sarai since that first detour into Egypt, got on her high-horse when she found out she was pregnant. Perhaps she was emboldened, no longer a subservient "friend" figure to Sarai, but now an equal competitor. Whatever it was, pretty soon Sarai was in Abram's tent sobbing "My fault is on you! The Lord judge between us, but I'm pretty sure that this must be your fault!"
Abram basically responded, "My fault! Whatever. Do what you want." So Sarai did, and whatever she did must have been pretty extreme, because Hagar ran away. At least that's kind of what we assume, although one must take into consideration that Hagar was a bundle of pregnancy hormones and caught up in some pride. Sarai may have just put her in her place, and that was enough to send Hagar packing. I guess I just won't know until I get to heaven, but it's fun to imagine.
In the meantime, we're also forced to call Abram's true motives and feelings into question. At the beginning of the chapter, we can really understand how Abram might have been drawn in. He'd just had the promise of God renewed to him in an amazing conversion experience. What if Hagar was the way God intended to work? I think we've all gotten in trouble at one time or another, twisting God's will in our lives to fit into what WE WANT. But if Abram believed that this way was God's way with such conviction, why would he allow Sarai to send away the mother of his promised off-spring? No, there had to have been some doubt on Abram's part as he went into this situation, if he was so quick to dismiss his responsibility in dealing with the consequences.
As usual, God is the best part of this story. Hagar, an Egyptian unbeliever, is now wandering in the wilderness carrying Abram's child. God sends an angel to find her, give her instructions, and make her a promise regarding her son, Ishmael. Hagar was a servant and a woman--powerless in this situation and time period--yet God undertook for her and the son she carried. What great compassion! Not only did Hagar receive help and direction, but she was also introduced to the nature of her husband's God. She was impressed that in the middle of nowhere "God sees me!" though by her own admission, she was not looking for Him. Our God has not changed! He sees us all the time, in all circumstances; and often, when we are not looking for Him or to Him, He stoops to help us in our greatest times of need!
So, Hagar returns to her mistress, and the two must work things out (or at least manage co-existence), because in verse 15, Ishmael is born. Then chapter 17 skips forward 13 years. You have to wonder if Abram had started to doubt. Even with the great experience of chapter 15, we all know that it's human nature to forget even God's most dramatic interventions to us with time. Maybe Ishmael is God's promised son . . .
And then chapter 17. God appears to Abram in another vision and reaffirms yet again, his promise, but after all these years in which Abram has demonstrated both blind obedience and belief, a wise God knew that it was time to give this human servant a few concrete land marks to hold onto. First of all, he changes Abram's name to Abraham and Sarai's name to Sarah. How dramatic it must have been--especially at first--to be reminded of God's promise every time his name was called!
Secondly, Abraham was given the command to circumcise all the males of his company both now and always. This physical sign was to remind, not only Abraham, but also every man born in the years to come of God's promise that salvation would come to all nations through the Hebrew people!
Finally, though God assured Abram that he would bless his first son Ishmael, he also revealed that he did indeed plan to fulfill his promise through a son that Abraham and Sarah would have together--even in their old age. For the first time, God did not just promise, but he set forth a time for fulfillment. In one year's time, Abraham would hold God's promised son--Isaac--in his arms.
I think I started out my study of these couple of chapters feeling disappointed to find this great "Father" so fallible. After all, doesn't the old hymn read "Faith of our Fathers," not "Faults of our Fathers"? However, as I kept meditating on all that happened here, I found myself praising God. Abram is no different than any of us. He had strengths and weakness. Abram needed God. Abram sought God, and God was faithful to draw him near. Abram struggled with issues of the old man and of the flesh. Sometimes Abram was obedient, and sometimes he failed. God's promise and presence were consistence regardless of Abram's performance. Praise God for His reliable character--both in Abram's life and my own!