Summary: Having faith is not enough. The patriarchs inherited God's promises by faith and patience. This discussion of Ishmael's birth highlights the necessity of not trying to make things happen but of patiently waiting on God to fullfill his promises in our lives.
Lessons from the life of Abraham
Faith and Patience: The Birth of Ishmael
When we come to chapter 16 of Genesis, we find that Abram’s faith begins to waver - he begins to lose his simple, happy confidence in what God had promised him.
God had said that he would have a son through whom would come a great nation but, after all, Abram was now 86 years old. And Sarai was only ten years younger and still barren –is the word we’d use today.
Gen.16: 1-2 begins the story:
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her”.
Isn’t this a familiar scenario? The impatience that unbelief produces?
God had promised Abram and Sarai children and yet nothing was happening! As the years passed by, their confidence faded and the thing that God promised just didn’t seem possible any more.
Sarai now doesn’t really believe that God is going to do what He promised – either she believes that He can’t or she believes that He won’t – it doesn’t really matter which: it's still the sin of unbelief!
So what does Sarai do?
She searches around for a way to ‘help God out’.
She looks for a natural, humanly reasonable way to bring about what God promised that He would do! And Abram should have seen this for what it was. He should have sat Sarai down and had a long talk with her. He should have explained that both of them needed to wait patiently on the Lord to accomplish His promise.
People prefer anything to the attitude of waiting. It’s one thing to believe a promise in God’s word – maybe a promise that we believe with all our heart that God has given to us; it’s one thing to believe it at first – but it's quite another thing to wait quietly for God to fulfil that promise - in His time and in His way.
When things don’t seem to be working out – even when we’re in God’s will, we’ll often try anything – any scheme – any program - to make sure we bring about what God has promised, whether in our personal lives or in our churches.
But you see, what God wants is faith because only faith can please God.
Faith, according to, Hebrews 11:1, is: being sure what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
“Without faith it is impossible to please God because they that come to God must believe that He is:
Do we understand the significance of this? Much of the time we plan and strategize and worry as if God doesn’t really exist! We read of something He’s promised to do and then we try to do it ourselves!
The verse goes on: and that he rewards them that diligently seek him.
But you see, spiritual immaturity results in Sarai’s attitude – restlessness and impatience.
With God we’re often like children on a family outing – say a longish journey into the country. The family sets out, full of Weeties and good cheer, but, because the children aren’t old enough to understand the nature and the length of the journey, and how much time is required to finish it, they soon start to whinge and grumble.
“When are we there?” ……. “Are we there yet?”
The child doesn’t doubt the parent! The child believes that the family will arrive at the destination. What immaturity produces, is a child who is restless and impatient.
This is the problem in our spiritual lives. The writer to the Hebrews tackles it head-on. In chapter 6:12 he urges the believers:
We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
You see, God makes a promise, faith believes it, hope anticipates it and patience waits quietly for it!
In Genesis 15, Sarai and Abram showed faith in God but in Chapter 16, both of them failed in patience. What Sarai had effectively said was this: ‘The Lord has failed me. Maybe Hagar can do the job for me!’
If we lose the sense of God’s nearness; if we lose sight of His faithfulness and if we lose confidence in His ability and sufficiency, then we tend to try everything and anything to reach the desired end. We, of course, call this an intelligent and logical use of resources. The Bible calls it unbelief!
Often the hardest thing in life to do, is to: Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.
If Sarai had said: ‘Nature has failed me; but God can do the job for me,’ how differently everything would have turned out. And this was the right attitude to take in any case. I mean, nature really had failed Sarai: her husband was in his late eighties and she was sterile!