Abram was living in Ur of the Chaldeans when God called him forth. Shortly after his very first conversation with the Creator, his father gathered the family together—Abram, Sarai, and Lot, his grandson—and started out for Canaan. When they reached Haran, however, the family settled. Sometime after his father’s death, Abram gathered his family and crossed the Euphrates River, making their way down to Canaan.
As you read about Abram and Sarai, you see lapses in their faith, and even in their obedience. Isn’t it refreshing to know that even those who are held up as examples often struggle with these issues? Old Testament men and women were as human as you and me. The truth is that God gave Abram the opportunity to learn about the benefits of submission. And he did, but not until after Abram and Sarai had been denied a child year after year…not until his nephew Lot departed and claimed the most watered area in all the land as his own…and not until Sarai grew tired of waiting on God to provide a son. Her tactics brought into the world the strife and turmoil that plagues the Middle East even today.
Sarai’s desperate anguish over her barrenness drove her to devise a plan to provide Abram with an heir. Now, this was not God’s plan. He had already promised Abram a son from whom would descend a people that numbered as many as the stars. But Sarai couldn’t wait for God to act. Now, if you’ve ever longed for a child, you know this desire can become all-consuming. Think of the story of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. So distraught was she as her prayers for a child were offered, the high priest thought she was drunk. The desire to hold a babe in her arms takes the foremost place in the thoughts of a woman who yearns for a child.
Sarai was in just such a state—to the point that she began to plot her own course, and that of Abram. It was her desperation that propelled her to offer Hagar, her Egyptian handmaiden, to Abram as a surrogate. Yet, despite Sarai’s interference, there is a lesson to be learned. In her misery, Sarai turned from faith in God, from dependence on Jehovah, to works—dependence on self. She had a plan and nothing was going to deter her from seeing it come to fruition. Hagar represents works—man or, in this instance, woman—taking matters into their own hands. Abram could have said, “No.” He could have reminded Sarai that God had made a promise to him, and he would continue to believe God. That didn’t happen.
When presented with a pretty little doe-eyed handmaiden, Abram capitulated. But, by the time Hagar was heavy with child, Sarai was consumed with jealousy, and Abram was forced to endure the contentious atmosphere he had helped create within the camp. It continued to roil within him even after the babe was born and named Ishmael. And then God fulfilled his promise to Abram and Sarai. He said to Abram (loosely translated), “It’s time for you to step up to the plate and walk uprightly before me. No more delayed obedience. I want your undivided attention.”
Soon Abraham reached the age of 99 and Sarah 89, both obviously well past normal childbearing age. Then came the day when Sarah awoke to find that she was pregnant in her old age. She who had laughed at the pronouncement that she would bear a child…she who had intervened and proposed her own plan for an heir. Sarah was now carrying Isaac, the son of promise. Not only had God taken away her barrenness, He provided the strength to carry the child to term and to bring it forth.