The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.Abram's Domestic Life
Genesis 15 and Genesis 16
I take these two chapters together, as completing one view of Abram's domestic life. It may be well to take notice that, up to this point, everything has gone on in regular order, with the exception of one great and solemn event. We have found just what we might have looked for: the growth of the population, the spreading out of families and tribes into distant places, a little invention, and the beginnings of discovery and progress. There has been nothing unnatural in the history. As we might have expected, domestic life has been carefully and vividly brought under notice. We have had family lists and registers in abundance, for, in truth, there was little else to talk about in those early days. The talk was of the children. To have the quiver full of such arrows was to be blessed of God in the most acceptable way; not to have children was to have great disappointment and distress. Abram had many children in promise, but not one in reality; a joy which he himself could bear, but his wife did not accept the position with so glad a readiness. And out of this want of faith came grief, grief of her own making, but not wholly limited to herself. Want of faith always brings grief. It leads to meddlesomeness, and suspicion, and jealousy; and jealousy is a precipice over which men topple into the pit. Jealousy is as cruel as the grave. Its root is in suspicion. It suspects motives; it suspects actions; it suspects innocence itself: then it grows; it sees things that have no existence; it looks out under the eyebrows stealthily; it listens for unusual noises; it mistakes and misinterprets the ordinary signs and movements of life; and all the while it is killing the heart that nurses it. Have pity upon people that are afflicted with jealousy. They make you suffer, but they suffer more themselves. Oh, the dreams they have! The nightmare, terrible as hell, when the serpent rears itself at the bedside and shoots out its empoisoned fang, and coils its infinite length around their resting-place so that they cannot escape. It was so that Sarai dreamed by night, and in the daytime her heart was cruel towards Hagar. It all came from want of faith. She had no deep trust in God. And, observe, if it be not true for ever, that as the religious life goes down the evil powers set themselves up in awful mastery in the heart. O, my friend, keep fast hold of God, for when thy trust goes there is no more peace for thy poor life.
Sarai was so cruel that Hagar fled away from her. Sarai imagined that Hagar despised her. It was all fancy. How fancy tortures us! It turns the green branches of spring into serpents; it curdles and rots the milk of human kindness; it turns the child's sweet laugh into a mocking noise; it finds hell everywhere! Beware of thine imaginings, my friend, my brother, my sister—beware! One wrong turn, and there is nothing for thee but cloud and storm, and weary aching of heart.
The angel of the Lord sent Hagar back again, knowing that "what cannot be cured must be endured." Besides, submission itself, though so hard, may be so accepted as to become useful in the mellowing and strengthening of character. The angel did not say, "Fight it out and let the strong one win." He advised submission, and this is the first instance in which such advice is given in the Scriptures. It is a great Christian law, we know, but it is early to find it in Genesis! "Submit yourselves one to another for the Lord's sake," is a lesson which reads well in church; but Hagar heard it not under a Gothic roof, half-chanted by surpliced priest, but "by a fountain of water in the wilderness, in the way to Shur,"—she the only hearer, the angel the priest of God! A good church, too, in which to learn the lesson of submission. I see Hagar taking a draught of the fountain, and trudging home again on weary feet; going back to work among the sharp thorns, and to have words keen as stings thrown at her all the day long. A sorry fate, you say, to be pointed out by an angel! But wait. You do not know all. Who could bear all the ills of any one human life without having some help, some light, some hope? A wonderful word was spoken to the woman—"I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude." As if he had said—"If thou didst know thy destiny, thou wouldst think little of Sarai's mocking; it is but a momentary pain; bear it with the heroism of silent patience." And, truly, this same angel speaks to us all. He says, "If you walk in the way of the Lord you shall have blessing after sorrow, as the flowers bloom after the rain; persecution you cannot escape, nor slander, nor cruel words; but your light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh out for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. One hour in heaven will banish every sad thought of earth; submit, be patient, and return not evil for evil." Oh, listen to the angel; it is God's angel; it is God himself!
And now Hagar's days went with a new speed. Sarai mocked as before, but Hagar heard the angel's voice. The words of the angel became a kind of refrain in the melancholy music of her outer life: "I will multiply thy seed exceedingly; the Lord hath heard thy affliction"; these words never cease, and, under their influence, all taunts and sneers and bitter maledictions lost their effect. We, too, might have refrains still tenderer, the recurrence of which would refine and ennoble all coarse and cruel words. Thus: "Fear thou not, for I am with thee"; "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee"; "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper"; "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Ten thousand such promises are to be found in the Holy Word. Choose your own; take the one that fits your woe best, and if you be in Christ fear not to use it when the bitter wind blows fiercely. Hagar left her house in overwhelming distress; she went back to her sufferings with a new hope Our sufferings are so different when we take them at the Lord's hand, and endure them because he tells us to do so. We cannot triumph and rejoice in suffering merely on its own account. It is impossible to like pain simply because it is pain. But take the suffering at God's bidding; say, This is the cup of the Lord and I must drink it for his sake; it is a burden chosen for me by my Father in heaven; then you will sing with a new and tenderer emphasis,
In the seventeenth chapter we read the renewal of the covenant which the Almighty made with Abram, with a clear statement of the terms upon which the covenant was based. Thirteen years at least had come and gone since the promise was given the first time. Thirteen years of waiting! Thirteen years of mortification for Sarai! Thirteen years of discipline for Abram and Hagar and Ishmael! They would have killed some of us: thirteen days are to us eternity. The name Abram which signifies "Exalted father," now becomes Abraham, father of a multitude, and the limited name Sarai (my princess) becomes Sarah, princess; the limited becoming the unlimited. Mark how this renewal of the covenant turns upon the consecration of children. Hitherto we have to do with grown-up people, but now we are brought face to face with little ones. We have hardly had a child at all as yet in this long history. One wonders what notice God will take of young life; will he say, "Suffer the little children to come unto me," or will he shut them out of his view until they become great men? Is a child beneath God's notice?
"Is it much
Beautiful, too, is Christian baptism when regarded as the expansion of the idea of circumcision. It well befits a tenderer law; circumcision was severe; baptism is gentle: circumcision was limited to men-children; baptism is administered to all: circumcision was established in one tribe, or family, or line of descent; baptism is the universal rite,—Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. So we go from law to grace; from Moses to the Lamb; from the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, to the quiet and holy Zion.