Genesis 16 tells the story of Abram and Hagar, Sarai’s slave. In chapter 15, we saw God’s promise to Abram: “one who comes from your own body will be your heir” (Gen. 15:4). We don’t know how much time elapsed between the giving of the promise and the events of chapter 16. It simply opens with the words, “Abram’s wife Sarai had not borne any children for him” (Gen. 16:1).
Sarai might have felt she was unable to bear children due to some personal deficiency. She evidently felt responsible because she told Abram, “Since the LORD has prevented me from bearing children, go to my slave; perhaps through her I can build a family” (Gen. 16:2). Sarai’s words may reflect resentment toward God and justification of the action she is about to take.
The Lord hadn’t prevented Sarai from bearing children indefinitely. He had already promised Abram a child. But Sarai was frustrated by the Lord’s time-table.
Abram agreed with Sarai. He too longed for a child. It isn’t hard to imagine he was sick with waiting.
Galatians 3 identifies Christ as the seed promised to come from Abram’s own body. Galatians 3 also says we are Abram’s seed who believe. This isn’t to say each of us is a separate seed. Galatians tells us the promise wasn’t made to seeds but to one seed, who is Christ (Gal. 3:16, 27-29). So God promises that the one seed, Christ, will come from each of us–“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
Christ is God’s image (Col. 1:15). Romans 8:29 promises we are predestined to be conformed to that image. In the midst of this process we are liable to the same impatience that Abram and Sarai felt. It is in this waiting period, when we see little or no manifestation of the seed within, that we are tempted to bring forth God’s image by some other means.
We can imagine how Abram and Sarai felt as they aged–far past child-bearing years; as they watched corruption work in their bodies. Romans 4:19 says Abram considered himself and Sarai’s womb dead. Doubting God’s promise would be as easy as looking in the mirror.
It’s easy for us to doubt God’s promise of Christ in us as well. We live with ourselves every day. When sins persist for years, when we grow weaker instead of stronger, when daily pressures cause hidden flaws to burst into the open, it is easy to wonder if Jesus is in us at all.
This is where Hagar comes in. Hagar was Abram’s shortcut to God’s promise. Hagar got pregnant right away.
Galatians 4 says Hagar represents the law. It is quicker to obey commands and outwardly conform to Christ-like behavior than to wait for the seed God has promised. But only Christ, the seed, is God’s true image. The image of God cannot be attained through behavior modification.
After Hagar got pregnant, she looked down on Sarai. If we have will-power, the law gets quick results. In no time we can start looking more godly. And we look down on those who don’t clean up as well. If we could do it, why can’t they?
Unfortunately, the fact that we could do it is the problem. Changing my behavior by the law requires no promise from God, no divine action in my soul. Even if we give God credit for our changed behavior, it is our accomplishment. Pride is inevitable.
Slavery is also inevitable. Hagar was Sarai’s slave. In Galatians 4 Paul says the law is a slave’s covenant. Under the law, you are never free from your own labor. Freedom is only found when we trust God’s promise that One will come from our own body–Christ the seed and image of God. This one comes without labor, without schemes.
When Isaac was to be born, the Lord just told Abram it would happen (Gen. 17:16, 19, 21). And within a year, it did happen.
The Lord’s word to us is just as sure. Christ is being formed in us. One will come–is continually coming–from our own body. He is our wisdom, righteousness, and holiness (1 Cor. 1:30). We don’t need to do anything but wait and trust–fervently trust–that what God has promised He also has power to perform (Rom. 4:21).