Satan is the master of deceit. He can disguise his deceptions so brilliantly they often appear the epitome of logic and right thinking. But faith often contradicts logic.
God’s ways are not our ways, and relying on human reason can lead us into grave error.
Thus God advises, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5–6).
When Sarai was seventy-five, she directed her own path, probably believing she was doing God’s will. She believed in the Lord, acknowledged that He had closed her womb, and even trusted Him enough to think that whoever conceived Abram’s child would give birth to a son rather than a daughter. Yet she reasoned that she was not meant to be the biological mother of Abram’s heir because she was old and had gone ten years without conceiving since God had first promised Abram a son.
From her limited vantage point, she saw no way she could give Abram a child. So she offered him the only logical, even practical, alternative that seemed perfectly in keeping with God’s will as she understood it. Moreover, God had not yet declared that Sarai would be the mother of the child, just that Abram would be the father.
So Sarai told her husband, “Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her” (Gen. 16:2). The boy would be Abram’s seed biologically and Sarai and Abram’s legally. Furthermore, using her servant to carry her husband’s child was an accepted practice in that culture.1 So Sarai gave her servant Hagar to Abram; and in so doing, she created a bigger problem than she had before.
As one writer put it, “Little did Sarai think when she persuaded Abram to take Hagar, that she was originating a rivalry which has run in the keenest animosity through the ages, and which oceans of blood have not quenched.”2
The logical way is not always God’s way. In 1985 the Lord showed me he wanted me to attend Word of Life Bible Institute in Schroon Lake, N.Y. I was a young widow with a five-year old child, a house in New Jersey, and no income other than a few investments and Social Security.
I loved the Lord, trusted Him to help me, prayed and studied my Bible daily, but could see no way to muster the necessary funds to pay my tuition, living expenses, and my daughter’s tuition in Christian school without selling my house and living off the proceeds.
So I hired a realtor and put my house on the market. Soon a lovely Christian couple homeschooling their children made an offer. I agreed to a closing date, packed my belongings, and moved to New York. It all seemed so right—so logical. And it was all so devastatingly wrong.
Not a month later the entire deal collapsed, and I was in worse shape than I had been in before. I learned the hard way that God had a different, and better, way; and I live today in the same house I was sure I had to sell.
Although her situation was different, Sarah, too, learned the hard way that God can use extraordinary means to accomplish His will. Sometimes He uses the road most traveled; sometimes He chooses the road less traveled; and sometimes He carves an entirely new road through a barren wilderness, thereby doing what only He can do: the impossible.
By taking the road most traveled, Sarai unwittingly ignited a vicious rivalry that began, not with Ishmael, but with Hagar.
When Hagar realized she had conceived, she despised Sarai (Gen. 16:4). The Hebrew word for “despised” means Hagar lost respect for Sarai and considered her inferior. And evidently, she made no bones about her feelings. Sarai complained to Abram, believing perhaps that he bore a certain amount of responsibility for Hagar’s hurtful and inappropriate attitude:
The wrong done me be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the LORD judge between me and thee (Gen. 16:5).
From her perspective, she had done the best she knew how to enable Abram to have a son—and contempt was the thanks she got.
When Abram told Sarai, “Do to her as it pleaseth thee,” Sarai “dealt hardly [harshly] with her” (16:6). The Bible does not specify what Sarai did, but it was severe enough to make Hagar run away.
The Lord, of course, always gracious, found Hagar in the wilderness; comforted her; told her she would bear a son whom she must name Ishmael; promised her a multitude of descendants; and told her to submit to Sarai (16:8–11).
So when Abram was eighty-six years old and Sarai seventy-six, Ishmael was born. Abram finally had an heir. However, neither Sarai nor Abram realized that Ishmael was not the heir God had promised.
1 Alfred Edersheim, Old Testament Bible History, bk. 1,
The World Before the Flood, and the History of the
Patriarchs (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 91.
2 Cited in Herbert Lockyer, All the Women of the Bible
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n.d.), 158.