Friday, September 28, 2007

Laymen's Commentary: Genesis 16:6

Genesis 16:6: But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight.” So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence.”

Abram had a chance here to shine, but he doesn’t. This reminds us a bit of Adam and his failure to act as the true spiritual head of the household that God had intended him to be. Not only did he join Eve in her sin but later worked with her in the attempted cover-up. Here, Abram, who because he went along with Sarai’s interference of God’s means and timing for the fulfilling of His promise, now succumbs to her complaining and anger, and gives in to her again with respect to how Hagar should be treated. One mistake that results in sin often leads to a second mistake.

Abram tells Sarai that since Hagar is her maid, she could do with her as she would like. What surprises me in this passage is that Abram possibly expected Sarai to “do to her what is good”. But the text doesn’t end there. It goes on to say “in your sight.” There is a big difference between doing “what is right” and “doing what is right in your sight”. Man often does the latter when instead he should be checking to see what is right in more absolute terms – that is, what is right in the sight of God.

I often think of years past when I would say to each of our three children at different times, “the matter is yours to decide, but whatever you do, check with God to see that it would be pleasing to Him.” As I look back, all three, who now have families of their own, have made some pretty solid decisions in their lives. I believe that condition for making decisions that my wife and I would often remind them of, helped in that regard. And it still guides Chrysogon and I as we live our lives as husband and wife, parents, grandparents, friends, employers, and members of a Christian community. Because He is a God of creativity, surprise, and unending resources, we may not always know the exact thing He would do in any given circumstance, but we would be a lot closer to it if we simply checked our options against His principles.

With her husband’s resolve, Sarai did exactly what was good “in her sight”. The Bible says she treated Hagar harshly. So much so, that Hagar left the camp and fled from her mistress’s presence. And in so doing, left Abram as well, the father of the child she was carrying.

Whether this should or should not have been the case, given what had happened, is not for us to decide. One thing is for sure, God allowed it. The issue, however, is whether God allowed it because that is what He wanted or whether He allowed it because that was an outcome of the way someone doing what was right in her own sight, did. In addition, we’re also faced once again with the question of whether the ‘means’ justifies the ‘ends’ when it comes to our behavior. Treating someone harshly by definition (with synonyms like cruelly, unsympathetically, insensitively, callously, and ruthlessly) is never a justifiable means to any ends that a child of God should be involved in.

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