Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Laymen's Commentary: Genesis 16:5

Genesis 16:5: And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms; but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the Lord judge between you and me.”

In the previous verse we learn that Hagar, now carrying her master’s child, despises her master’s wife. Sarai, using her strong sense of “something’s up” quickly becomes aware of the situation. We cannot presume what Hagar’s behavior was really like with respect to her carrying Abram’s child, but we do know she somehow publicly exhibited her newly found dislike for Sarai, otherwise how would Sarai know and why would she have been upset? It is also possible that Hagar no longer wants to be simply a handmaiden to Sarai. After all, she was now better than Sarai in her mind as she was able to conceive with Abram, something her mistress could not do.

In that context, Sarai begins to fume and approaches her husband, Abram. In so doing, we have no record of her asking any questions or giving Abram an opportunity to correct any perceptions or misperceptions that Sarai may be having. Nor does she instruct him to go and “straighten that young lady out”. Instead, she attacks her husband as the responsible party for her injury (“may the wrong done me be upon you”) when in fact Abram was simply trying to follow his wife’s instructions in sleeping with Hagar. And if that wasn’t enough, she now appeals to God to judge between herself and Abram with respect to where the fault lies. Clearly, in her mind, he likely preferred Hagar, being younger and being able to conceive, to Sarai, and thus encouraged the handmaiden to despise his wife. She forgot that she plotted to “help God along” by encouraging others (her husband and her handmaiden) to indulge in sin for her purposes.

God has a method He sometimes uses in our lives to show us our errors that isn’t always easy to accept. Sometimes He causes us to suffer by the very people we have ‘used’ in carrying out our sins. Hollywood depicts this quite regularly when a partner in crime turns against the major bad guy. In Greek drama it was a form of ‘poetic justice’.

Most of us observing this behavior that Sarai is exhibiting here would likely consider it bizarre that someone as guilty as she was, would now quarrel with someone else on a matter for which she was the primary driving force and responsible party. In her own words, she admits giving her maid to her husband, but refuses to recognize her foolishness. But why is that? Is it pride, or passion, or anger? When we act out of passion (negative or positive) we often act in the absence of reason.

Christians should remember to check their own contribution (or even sin) in any situation that has gone bad. With that fully understood and admitted, we can attempt to address the circumstances without pride, anger, or passion, but with the help of reason. When asked to act as a mediator or assessor of such circumstances, Christians would be wise to consider that not everyone who boldly appeals to God is in the right. Sarai certainly wasn’t.

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