Genesis 15:1−16:16

May 1st, 2015| Topic: aBeLOG, Genesis | 0

Genesis 15:1−16:16

Mature faith even in unfavorable circumstances enables the believer experience blessing and bring blessing to others.

Taking the patriarch outside to view the night sky, God unambiguously asserts that Abram would have innumerable seed. Yahweh who “brought forth” Abram from Ur (15:7), could surely “bring forth” a heir from Abram’s body (15:4), as he illustrated by “bringing out” Abram to view the night sky (15:5). To this Abram responds with faith (15:6). But it is surprising that on either side of the remarkable statement of Abram’s faith, we see the patriarch’s doubts. In fact, all Abram can muster in his encounter with God are questions: “What will You give me …?” and “How will I know …?” (15:2–3, 8). Those are his first recorded words to Yahweh in the entire patriarchal story, and these form his only words in this particular episode. A less-than-stellar (no pun intended!) performance by the patriarch, rather than the mature faith invited by a God who works marvelous things.

After the divine promise and the astronomy lesson and the ceremonies of cut animals and rituals with fiery objects, one expects that the next scene will have seed being born to Abram. Instead, right after the promise of descendants in Gen 15, chapter 16 begins with a reassertion of the barrenness of the matriarch! And so husband and wife resort to concubinage. This episode mirrors the earlier wife-sister substitution in Genesis 12—both exhibit great lack of faith in Yahweh. Just as Abram pushed Sarai into near-adultery with Pharaoh, now Sarai pushes him into quasi-adultery (polygamy) with Hagar.

As well, there are a number of parallels between Abram’s acquiescence to his wife and Adam’s to his in Gen 3, indicating, not so subtly, that this couple’s actions were not laudatory. Both 3:2 and 16:2 have “[woman/Sarai] said to”; both 3:6 and 16:3 have “she took”; both 3:6 and 16:3 have “she gave to her husband”; both 3:17 and 16:2 have “listened to the voice”; “seed” shows up in both (3:15 and 16:10); “good” (16:6) and “in her/your eyes” (16:5, 6) are allusions to 3:6, where Eve assesses the fruit to be “good” and a delight “to the eyes”; and when God arrives on the scene after the tragic transactions, he asks “Where?” on both occasions (3:9 and 16:8). Sarai’s scheming and Abram’s compliance are remarkably similar to the sin of Eve and Adam, a lack of faith in God’s word and an attempt to operate according to their own wisdom, outside of the will of God.

Hagar, on the other hand, is quite the sensation. She is the only woman to be addressed directly by God/angel of Yahweh and to receive a theophany (16:7–12; in fact two—the second in 21:17–18), she is the only woman to call upon Yahweh in Genesis (16:13), she receives divine promises, and she ultimately bears for Abram a son—a fact stressed three times in 16:15–16. Moreover, only God is shown as speaking to this woman in Scripture (and God alone addresses her by name, 16:8). And Hagar identifies him as the one who sees—no one else in the Old Testament actually confers a name on deity. Besides, no one else is described as speaking to her in Scripture, and she speaks to no one else but God, in the text!

In Gen 16, Hagar is a foil for the untrusting patriarch and the unscrupulous matriarch, both of whom decide to take matters into their own hands to “help” God with his promises (in the seed-production business). Hagar simply trusts God’s word!

[For more detail on this passage see the appropriate section of Genesis: A Theological Commentary for Preachers.] 

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