1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not given birth to any children, but she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar. 2 So Sarai said to Abram, “Since the Lord has prevented me from having children, have sexual relations with my servant. Perhaps I can have a family by her.” Abram did what Sarai told him.
4 He had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant. Once Hagar realized she was pregnant, she despised Sarai. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You have brought this wrong on me! I allowed my servant to have sexual relations with you, but when she realized that she was pregnant, she despised me. May the Lord judge between you and me!”
6 Abram said to Sarai, “Since your servant is under your authority, do to her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai treated Hagar harshly, so she ran away from Sarai.
Genesis 16:1-2, 4-6 NET (New English Translation)
When God delays in fulfilling His promises, sometimes people are inclined to try to “help” God in His work by adding a little of their own planning in the mix. People do this either because they are impatient and want results now or they do not believe the God will pull through and decide to take the initiative. In the case of Sarai in this passage, it is her doubts that cause her to act out of desperation and hopelessness.
Sarai, Abram’s wife, was still without children even though God had promised that it would be through her that His promise to Abram would be fulfilled. Yet Sarai considered her age, which made it biologically impossible for her to conceive, and doubted that it would be impossible for God to pull through with His promise. Even more, since she understood that the ability to have children was a gift from God, and that she had no child, Sarai may have thought that it was God’s will for her to live and die childless. It maybe difficult to understand in the modern culture that you and I live in, but there was a great stigma in the time of Abram for a married woman to be barren. To have children was the greatest honor bestowed upon a married woman because it gave value and prestige to her in the eyes of her husband and to society; and shows that God was with her. To have no children is to have no value and to be cursed by God. This an extreme thought, but that was the belief back then; even though it was not true.
With that in mind, out of desperation, Sarai decided to put the matter in her own hands. She gave her servant Hagar to her husband so that she would bear children through her. It is interesting that Abram went along with this plan. Never once did Abram consult God on this matter, as to whether or not it was a part of the plan. In that culture is the practical way for a barren wife to have children, to have a surrogate mother bear children for her. Perhaps Abram look at the facts and considered that this was the only practical way for God to fulfill His promise. Maybe he too doubted that God would follow through and so also acted out of desperation.
When people are desperate, it is easy to forget to seek God. Desperation causes people to have an unspoken belief that God was holding back on them and therefore wants them to help themselves with their dilemma. However desperation can often lead people into choices that they would regret later. In the case of Sarai, her initiative would cause great conflict within the family. Hagar becomes pregnant and treats her childless mistress with contempt. Jealousy ensues between the two women and results in abuse from Sarai to Hagar. This conflict would eventually pass on to Ishmael (Hagar’s child) and to Isaac (Sarai’s son, who would come according to God’s will) and would expand as a violent rivalry between Arabs (Ishmael’s children) and Jews (Sarai children, who are children of God’s promise).
So is it wrong to take the initiative when it comes to sorting out God’s will for us; certainly not. There is nothing wrong about taking the initiative. Sometimes God wants you and I to do so because it may be a part of His plan. However, if we do not consult God on our choices, then we are working outside of the plan of God. To work contrary to His will is to cause the fulfillment of God’s promises to delay and cause more heartache. Therefore, when we are impatient or are desperate, let us seek the Lord and seek Him daily in order to see what it is He will have us do or not do; and when we take action, let us put God first in all things.