Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my servant; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian servant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.”
“Your servant is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her. (NIV)
Episodes like this would not seem out of place in a TV soap opera. A woman tells her female slave to have sex with her husband so as to have children. The slave gets pregnant and uses this as a weapon against her mistress. The mistress of the house puts the blame on her husband who promptly washes his hands of the matter and tells his wife to do as she wishes. And she wishes to punish the slave. Which she does to such an extent that the slave leaves the household.
Not terribly edifying. No one emerges as a model of biblical virtue. In one sense, it is a reminder that the Bible records the lives of very normal, fallible people. However, in another sense this passage warns us against trying to manage God in our own way. Abram and Sarai were promised children. But they got impatient (understandably given their ages!). They took things into their own hands and in doing so made a mess of things. They figured they had to manipulate and manage things in order to make God’s promises come true.
We don’t want to wait and so hurry things along a bit. We suspect God might have forgotten or got a bit slack. We think we can do better and only make things worse. Abram and Sarai did have their child. Hagar and her child Ishmael were looked after by God. God did have his way after all. God will have his way. But when we try to do things our way that way becomes so much harder.