Hagar’s Plight

Hagar and an angel

by Bruce Okkema

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had
an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to
Abram, “Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing
children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children
through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
– Genesis 16:1-2

Hagar and an angelThe story of Hagar does not seem so strange to those who live in cultures where polygamy is common. In fact, our friends in Africa have explained the dynamics of this account because they still see it occuring within their present surroundings.

God had promised to make Abram into a great nation, but it wasn’t happening. He had already asked Abram once to do the cultural equivalent of giving up his inheritance by moving away from his country, his relatives, and his father’s house as we read in Genesis 12:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; … ” Genesis 12:1-2

There was no greater desire than to have children, yet it had been more than ten years since they had left Abram’s father and Sarai had not become pregnant. She desperately wanted to resolve this situation so she did something which was common, offering her maidservant to her husband for the purpose of bearing children. Abram did not see this as irregular and went ahead with the suggestion.

We could discuss at some length the implications of what can result when we lose our patience with the Lord and take things into our own hands, but you can read the story in the rest of chapter 16. Our friends tell us that there is always inequity, fighting, mistreatment, or at least tension within families with more than one wife, and the children are usually put at odds.

Within our story, this began occurring already when Hagar became pregnant (verse 4). Sadly, the result was Hagar’s banishment to death in the wilderness. Can you imagine how she must have felt? She was a foreigner in a strange land, she had been faithful to Abram, faithful to Sarai, faithful to her yet unborn son, she had been used as a piece of property, and now she had been discarded like a piece of unwanted refuse.

The Lord had not been ignoring her abusive treatment and he sent his angel to her at her lowest moment. Not only did he bring comfort and deliverance, he promised her the greatest blessing she could imagine … that she would become the mother of a great nation as well!

Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” The angel of the LORD said to her further, “Behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son; and you shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has given heed to your affliction. – Genesis 16:10-11

We must never give up hope! Oh what a faithful, righteous, blessing God we serve!

Photocred: Rama

Protection in Spite of Ourselves

Abraham and Sarah

by Bruce Okkema

There was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are.” If the Egyptians see you, and think, `She is his wife,’ they will kill me and let you live. Please say that you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may remain alive thanks to you.
– Genesis 12:10-13

There are some passages in the Bible that we find hard to deal with, and this would certainly qualify. What good can we learn from a story in which a man asks his wife to sacrifice herself to save himself? Perhaps you are tempted to skip over such stories and jump to the next one, as I was in this case. But when we think about why certain things might be included in the biblical narrative, we have to conclude they are there for a purpose and we should study them too.

Let’s take a look at some of the details of this story to see what conclusions we might draw from it. The reality is that Abraham, like all of us, failed sometimes; he was not always “faithful.” Neither do we read that he prayed about the problem of the famine or his decision to go to Egypt for food. Also, we see the foretelling of another story in which much trouble results when God’s people go to Egypt for food without consulting Him first.

Abraham and SarahAbraham definitely knew of the danger of going there with his beautiful wife because of the licentious culture. In the pagan lands around Canaan, men let their lusts drive their actions and tried to take anything that looked desireable to them. His fears were soon realized when Pharaoh took Sarah into his house as his wife. There are other similar stories in the book of Genesis; one involves Abraham and Sarah again (Genesis 20:1-7), another, their son Isaac and his wife Rebekah (Genesis 26:1-11), and also the theme is repeated in the story from Sodom with Lot (Genesis 19:4-8).

In all of these stories we can see the wonderful hand of God’s blessing in spite of ourselves. Abraham is given much wealth, the potential innocent victims are spared, and God afflicts the guilty parties – Pharaoh, Abimelech, the people of Sodom, with serious plagues.

God is so faithful, even when we are not, Bless His Holy Name!

Photocred: http://www.thejewishmuseum.org/onlinecollection/object_collection.php?objectid=26685&artistlist=1&an=James

Abraham, Our Father

Bosom of Abraham

by Bruce Okkema

“The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Matthew 1:1-2

Bosom of AbrahamAbraham is mentioned more than 200 times in the scriptures throughout both the Old and New Testaments. There are a full thirteen chapters dedicated to the story of Abraham in the book of Genesis alone, which make it one of the largest segments of the Biblical narrative. All this should tell us that the story of Abraham is very important to interpreting God’s plan for history as it applies to us. In the very first verse of the New Testament, the Gospel writer, Matthew, begins the lineage of Jesus with Abraham, and he is the first person in the Bible to be called a Hebrew (Genesis 14:13). And the prophet Isaiah tells us,

Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the LORD. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many. (Isaiah 51:1-2)

What was it about this man that was so important for us to study? It will be a fascinating journey as we walk through the life of this great man. Certainly we will see his trust, his faithfulness, his chutzpah, and his courage. We will also see that he was human, he had shortcomings, and he failed on some occasions.

Abraham did not have the benefit of hindsight as he obediently followed God’s leading; he did not know when he was being tested. But we can see how the Lord fulfilled every promise that He had made. It is almost as if God is saying to us, “Do you see how I tested this man, how he obeyed me in blind faith, and how I was faithful to him?” “Why would it be any different for you?”

James writes of Abraham, “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend (chapter 2:22-23).

I hope that one day, when my time is over, I too can be called God’s friend.

Photocred: Herrad von Landsberg

Faithful Abram


by Lois Tverberg

The LORD said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
– Genesis 12:1-3

StarsGod chose Abram to begin His great plan to redeem the world. His fame comes from his faith in God, which we will see most strongly when he is asked to sacrifice his son Isaac and willingly does everything God asks until God tells him not to follow through.

If we read the story of Abram’s call knowing its cultural context, we see his faithfulness even in the beginning of his story. God’s first words to him were to leave his country, his people and his family. In that day, that would have been almost as difficult of a test as the sacrifice of Isaac. In his time, every kind of security that a person had was bound up in their clan and their land. There were no such thing as police, so if a person was robbed or assaulted, the only protection they had was in their clan. Without children, Abram also would have no security in old age that anyone would take care of him. Abram’s extended family would have been his only place to go for help. So God was asking Abram a huge thing in asking him to leave his people, because his identity in that culture, his family, his protection and his future security would all be left behind.

On the other hand, God’s promise to Abram would have meant much more in ancient times than it did today. We think of success as becoming very wealthy, or having power in government. But in Abram’s time success was tied to family– the greatest hope a person could have would be that he or she would become the mother or father of many descendants. By offering to make of him a great nation, God promises him a huge prize in return for th huge risk that he is taking.

Old Jewish ManAbraham and Sarai and their little group were taking a huge risk when they left all for the Lord. The fact that they were childless at 75 when they heard the call may have made them wonder if a God who didn’t wouldn’t give them children up until now would do so now. And then 25 more years of childlessness didn’t do anything to make them feel more confident that God would fufill His promises.

Through all the doubts, Abram remained faithful. And because of his faithfulness, he is not only father of all the Jews, but all the faithful who come to believe in his descendant, Jesus. Because of his faithfulness, he became the father of a family that numbers more than the sands of the sea.

Photocred: Michael J. Bennett and Movieevery

The Land Between

by Rev. Ed Visser

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. – Genesis 12:1

“Israel was sandwiched between the superpowers to the north and south, and very often they were lunch.” That cleverly-phrased statement by Wink Thompson, one of our teacher-guides in Israel this summer, sums up a crucial truth about the land and history of Israel. The land in which God placed his people was, and still is, a land between.


Israel is a land betwen the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the Arabian Desert to the east. Both proved difficult for travel. Early ships were not made to survive the raging sea, and people were not made to bear the intense heat and dryness of the forbidding desert. Israel, then, served as a narrow land bridge between these areas.

But a land bridge for whom? Most of the dominant nations grew up around rivers. Around the Tigris and Euphrates to the north, Assyria, Babylon and Persia became powers. To the south, the Nile River became the source of life for Egyptians. North and south needed each other’s products to survive. So Israel became the land bridge for trade between the main nations of the world.

Kings soon realized that if you control world trade, you could rule the world. And to do that, you had to rule Israel. For most of its history, Israel has been a land under occupation. Today, for one of the few times in history, Israel is actually an independent nation. Yet Israel remains a land between. In the northern Golan region, we traveled right near the Syrian border (watch out for mine fields from the 1967 war!). At Dan we could look into Lebanon. From Masada the hills of Jordan were very clear across the Dead Sea. To the south, Egypt looms large.

So why did God lead Abraham and Moses to this land? Two divine reasons stand out:

  • The land between tests your faith and reliance on God.
  • The land between gives you an opportunity to influence the world by your faith as they pass by.

God still places us in a land between as we confront our culture and its influences. And he gives us the challenge of complete reliance on him, as we seek to witness to our culture about the true God who rules the world.