It had finally come to this. As she sat in the dust watching him lick away the final drops of water from the skein, Hagar began to despair. Great heaving sobs shook her body as she realized the disparity of their situation. She looked up to Heaven and wept bitterly. “Haven’t I also served you well, Lord?”
Hagar’s life was a tragedy, by all accounts. At the end of the day, you can rightly surmise she had been used and then rejected. By becoming the surrogate in place of Sarah’s barren womb, she had only done her duty. It was a common practice for the women of that time to give their slaves to bear children in their place, and Hagar had submitted out of reverence in her lowly position. But it wasn’t long before hearts became bitter. As she recognized the silent rejection of her son, she began to hate Sarah more and more, and resent Abraham. There was talk of a promise and she had not missed the fact that Ishmael’s part in the inheritance of Abraham had been in question since his conception. As the firstborn, he had a right to it, but she had overheard the whispers of hesitation mingling with whispers of downright refusal. After all this time, Sarah still expected to bear a son, and it was said he would inherit all.
Hagar thought back to the prophecy given before Ishmael’s birth, that he would be a wild man and he would be against all people. Glancing over at him, hunched up against the brutal heat and desert wind, she wondered if even now, his hatred was surpassing her own. Abandoned, rejected since birth, Ishmael seemed to never have had a prayer. Again, she wept bitterly at the man her son was destined to become.
Hagar is a symbol to us today, of the far-reaching affects of what we do in the waiting. God had given Abraham and Sarah a promise, then He tested them in the waiting. We see through Hagar that they failed. Sarah failed to believe wholeheartedly, and Abraham failed to take authority in standing on the promise. As a result, they took matters into their own hand and really messed up some people. Hagar was used to fill in a God-sized gap, gave birth to a forsaken son, and literally changed the course of Abraham’s destiny. Instead of walking into God’s promise in freedom, Abraham walked into it with a little bit of baggage and a whole lot of bondage. He couldn’t control the women in his life, and he ultimately had to abandon his son because of it.
As the ripple widened, Ishmael became a nation that forever after opposed the nation born of Abraham’s covenant. While Abraham’s through Isaac begat the Israelite nation, Abraham through Ishmael begat the Arab nations that have since opposed Israel, even up to this very day. A war that began between Sarah and Hagar as a result of jealousy and pain hasn’t stopped since. All because two people struggled to receive a promise with a wholly devoted faith.
It behooves me to say God does not need our help in fulfilling His promises. He needs our cooperation, our obedience, but not our limited understanding getting in the way of His unlimited ability. If you’ve ever seen a toddler help make cookies, you know what it looks like when we help God out with our mistaken efforts. He’s working to make something delicious to bless us with, and our hands are in the way and we are quickly creating a mess. The problem increases when we involve the hearts of others. Their lives become fragmented as we use a piece here and a piece there to fill in the gaps where we feel God is not sufficient, and our enemy is standing by to sow those fragments back together with threads of anger, resentment and deep distress. And like a stone thrown into a pond, the ripples widen and widen, touching more and more people and wreaking havoc beyond imaginings. Let me say again, God does not need this kind of help.
There’s almost always a waiting period when it comes to the promises of God. God is very gracious in revealing things to His children. But like children, once we’ve heard it, we wait impatiently, with much longing and making plans the entire time. And then we start figuring out how we’re going to get there. And then we start moving in only the directions that make sense to us. And we screw things up. Anxiety in the promises long coming is detrimental to the beauty of God’s reality for us. If we could only be at peace and look with anticipation, yet move with surety at His commands, we’d eventually get there without problems. But who of us can do that? The results of our human efforts getting there will always be Hagar’s broken heart and Ishmael’s fury. And there will be war between what God intends and finally brings about, and the busyness of our own hands in the waiting. For Heaven’s sake, be still and know.