The following reflection on Genesis 16:2 comes from handwritten notes in my ESV Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition.
And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
16:2: “The Lord has prevented me”: Sarai’s view of God’s sovereignty is correct: her inability to have children is a purposeful part of God’s plan for her life. What she should have said, however, is not “the Lord has prevented me,” but “the Lord has prevented me so far.” After all, on what basis can she presume to believe that too much time had passed for God to keep his promise and fulfill his plan? It will take a miracle, regardless—whether Sarai conceives a child today or ten years from now.
Nevertheless, instead of waiting on the Lord, she takes matters into her own hands.
And here’s the problem: Up to this point in the story, God has made his will known to Abram by speaking directly to him. Surely if God wanted Abram to take Hagar as a secondary wife by whom God would fulfill his promises, God would have revealed that to him. Besides, since when is it our job to “help God out,” or “improve God’s plan,” or “speed up God’s timing”—especially when doing so masks a lack of trust in God?
Not that I’m one to judge. I’m the biggest hypocrite! I like taking matters into my own hands. I like feeling in control. I like depending on myself.
By contrast, waiting on God, surrendering to God, depending on God alone—it makes me feel deeply insecure.
I would much rather know, regardless what God does or doesn’t do for me, that I have options. Like Sarai: “I’ll wait on God to help me for a certain amount of time, but if he doesn’t come through in the way that I expect, I’ll always have a ‘Plan B’ to fall back on.” How comforting! Hagar was Sarai’s Plan B.
What about me? Do I have a Plan B?
At this moment, for instance, for reasons of which you may be aware, the future looks far less secure than it used to look for United Methodist pastors. “Will I still have a career if this or that other ‘worst case scenario’ happens?” One anxious family member said, “At least you have that engineering degree to fall back on.”
Ugh! No! Don’t tell me that!
I know he meant well. And I’d be lying if I said the thought didn’t cross my mind, too—along with this troubling thought: “I’ve forgotten all engineering knowledge. I have nothing and no one to fall back on if this career doesn’t work out. I have no Plan B.”
But that’s beside the point: Following Jesus means that I shouldn’t have a Plan B! Either I’m all in for Jesus or I’m not!
Either Jesus is going to be my rock, my fortress, and my refuge (Psalm 31:3-4), or he’s not. He’s going to “supply every need of [mine] according to the riches of his glory” (Phil. 4:19), or he’s not. He’s telling the truth when he says that “all these things will be added to [me]” (Matt. 6:33), or—make no mistake—I am “of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19), and I have wasted my life.
But as his disciple, I’m supposed to be willing to bet my life that Jesus is telling the truth!
Am I betting my life? Or am I the Rich Young Ruler? “I’ll trust you, Lord, with 90 percent of my life. Ninety percent! That’s a lot! Just let me have 10 percent for myself.”
If so, be sure of this: Jesus has been and will continue disciplining me until I surrender that ten percent. Maybe that’s what “sanctification” is.
It hurts. But it’s good for me. So thank you, Jesus.
1. One of those purposes, as with the blind man in John 9:3, is likely that “the works of God might be displayed” in her. Regardless, Christians who deny God’s meticulous providence over events in the world will hardly find evidence for their view in this particular scripture.