Sometimes Faithfulness Requires Coloring outside the Lines

Abraham and Sarah sending Hagar into the wilderness
Abraham and Sarah sending Hagar into the wilderness

Peter told us that Sarah obeyed Abraham, not the other way around. (1 Peter 3:5-6) She respected her husband so profoundly that she even called him “Lord.” Can you imagine what kind of reception that would have in one of today’s churches? They would probably call the police on Abraham and report him for emotional abuse. Even so, Peter points to her attitude as the biblical ideal, saying, “Ladies, if you are Sarah’s daughters you should emulate her.” (See Mutual Submission in Marriage, part 1 and part 2.)

Peter painted a rosy picture of Sarah-homemaker and Patriarch Abe, but it was incomplete. Sarah and Abraham weren’t perfect. Far from it. They didn’t always believe, Abraham wasn’t always wise, and Sarah wasn’t always respectful. Consider the matter with Hagar.

Genesis 21:10-11 And she said to Abraham, Cast out this slave woman and her son. For the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son, with Isaac. (11) And the thing was very evil in Abraham’s sight, because of his son.

Sarah overstepped her bounds when she told Abraham what to do with Hagar and Ishmael. She had every right to make her wishes known and to give Abraham advice (respectfully and gently!), but this was neither a wish nor advice. It was a command. Old Abe would have been perfectly within his rights to tell her to take a hike.

Whatever we may think of polygamy and concubinage, God recognized both as legitimate–if not always wise–marriage. Abraham had a responsibility to Hagar as her husband and to Ishmael as his father. They needed him. He had put them in this position of need and, even if they weren’t faithful to him, he was determined to be faithful to them. He couldn’t just abandon them. The very idea is abhorrent to an honorable man!

Nonetheless, Abraham knew that Sarah was not normally given to such termagent outbursts. Instead of replying in anger and dismissing her words, he considered them and brought them to God who told him she was right. There was much more going on here than just a personality conflict between two women in the same house. Their lives were prophetic. Hagar and Ishmael had to go in order to set the stage for millennia of conflict that was necessary for God’s ultimate plans. They had to go in order to further establish a pattern of dividing sheep from goats.

My point is that despite Sarah’s flawed manner, if Abraham had refused to listen, doing what he thought was right instead of what God said was right, he would have rejected God’s promise too. God would have either made his life very much harder until he complied or Abraham would have become Ishmael, the cast out one. God would have chosen someone else.

Don’t be quick to anger, and don’t be so bound to propriety that you cannot hear truth through a difficult tone of voice.

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