Abraham-Sarah Overcome Temptation of Hagar
Abraham and Sarah sought to have a child through their maid Hagar because of anxiety about God’s promise regarding their offspring. They were old and losing hope of child bearing. Hagar conceived but tried to use the pregnancy to disrupt their relationship. They resisted her successfully, choosing their union over the possibility that the child of Hagar might be the key to their promised offspring expansion.
God promised Abraham and Sarah a great expansion of their offspring and blessing for them and all humanity through their offspring. As we discuss in a previous bible study under Husband-Wife Leadership from Abraham-Sarah, God spoke to Abraham alone but the promise was for Abraham-Sarah union. They were anxious about the promise because they did not have a child and were old and losing hope of child bearing. They explored the possibility of having a child through Sarah’s maid, Hagar, in accordance with their custom. Abraham impregnated Hagar as permitted under agreement with Sarah.
Hagar was to remain subservient to Sarah and bear the child for her according to their custom. But she displayed a different aspiration as she sought to displace Sarah from her husband’s love. However, Abraham and Sarah valued their union more than the possibility that Hagar was carrying the child of their promise. They resisted Hagar and sought to impose Sarah’s authority over her. But Hagar would not submit. She instead fled from the household.
The attempt to have a child through Hagar was a temptation that potentially could have disrupted the Abraham-Sarah union and maybe fulfillment of God’s promise to the union. They overcame the temptation because of their belief in the supremacy of their union. In this bible study, we discuss: (1) their initial succumb to the temptation because of anxiety to receive fulfillment of God’s promise; (2) their recovery to overcome the temptation because nothing mattered enough to them to disrupt their relationship; and (3) aspects of their history to understand they built their marital bond through longevity of several decades of respecting, honoring, and caring for each other.
Abraham-Sarah Temptation through Hagar
God promised Abraham and Sarah a great offspring expansion, prosperity for their offspring, and blessing for them and all humanity through their offspring [Genesis 12:2–3]: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Also, he promised they will have a child to begin the offspring expansion: “And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir’” [Genesis 15:4].
However, Abraham and Sarah were old and beginning to lose hope of bearing a child. Therefore, they wondered how the promise would be fulfilled. They agreed to explore having a child through Sarah’s Egyptian maid, Hagar. Sarah proposed to Abraham to take Hagar as wife (as maid-servant wife) so they could have a child through Hagar: “Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan” [Genesis 16:3]. Abraham accepted. Thereafter, Hagar became pregnant with Abraham’s child.
This interaction with Hagar actually was a temptation, an attempt by the devil to lure Abraham-Sarah away from their mission by maybe disrupting their union. They had taken the first step toward falling for the temptation by getting Hagar pregnant. However, they didn’t see the interaction as a temptation. Instead, they appeared to accept Hagar’s pregnancy as a first step toward fulfillment of God’s promise. God had told Abraham that “one who will come from your own body shall be your heir” [Genesis 15:4]. If they had understood the promise to mean “one who will come from Abraham-Sarah,” they would have waited for God to fulfill the promise in his way and at his time.
However, they did what they thought was necessary to position themselves to receive fulfillment of God’s promise. In their anxiety, they sought to “help” God more than he needed from them.
Recovery to Overcome Temptation
Hagar’s aspiration to displace Sarah from her husband’s love became an opportunity for Abraham and Sarah to re-evaluate their interactions with her.
Hagar was not satisfied with being a maid-servant wife (wife to Abraham through Sarah). Instead, she began to nurse a sense of rivalry against Sarah, maybe thinking she could compete against her for Abraham’s love: “…And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes” [Genesis 16:4].
Sarah protested to Abraham and even showed anger toward him [Genesis 16:5, NIV]: “Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.’” Abraham and Sarah expected Hagar to remain subservient to Sarah as her maid servant. She was to stay under Sarah’s authority, notwithstanding she now was a maid-servant wife with “precious” pregnancy. Her pregnancy was precious to them because they apparently believed she was carrying the seed of fulfillment of God’s promise.
However, Abraham and Sarah would resist anything that threatened their union. Preserving their marital union was more important to them than Hagar’s pregnancy. Abraham surrendered every authority over Hagar to Sarah and declared his support for whatever she wanted to do about Hagar: “Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please” [Genesis 16:6]. Sarah imposed her authority but Hagar did not submit. Instead, she fled from the household.
Thus, Abraham and Sarah remained strong in their union. They had overcome the temptation that came through Hagar. Later, God clarified his promise to them: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him” [Genesis 17:19].
The strength of marital bond between Abraham and Sarah helped them overcome the temptation of Hagar. We discuss an aspect of their history to understand they built the foundation for their marital bond through longevity of several decades of respecting, honoring, and caring for each other. Abraham was 85 years old and Sarah 75 at about the time Hagar got pregnant from Abraham. We know Abraham was 85 because the event occurred after their 10th year in Canaan and he was 75 when they left Haran [Genesis 12:4 and 16:3]. We know Sarah was 75 because Genesis 17:17 says Abraham was 10 years older than Sarah.
Abraham had been with Sarah through the 75 years, as we know from Genesis 20:12 that Sarah was Abraham’s baby sister. We don’t how long they lived as husband and wife because we don’t know when they got married. However, because Sarah was his baby sister before she became his wife, we can surmise that he had cared for her for 75 years prior to their interaction with Hagar. Sarah grew up with Abraham caring for her, first as her big brother and later as her husband. She most likely cared for him in return. They had respected, honored, and cared for each other all their life except for the 10 years before Sarah was born. Their relationship was nurtured through several decades.
The longevity of their relationship definitely contributed to the strength of their marital bond. We learn from their experience that a relationship built over an extended time of respecting, honoring, and caring for each other will likely outlive most challenges. Abraham and Sarah overcame the temptation of Hagar because of the strength of their marital bond.
Summary of What We Learned
Abraham and Sarah overcame the temptation of Hagar, choosing to preserve their union over a possibility that Hagar’s child might be the key to fulfillment of God’s promise regarding their offspring.
They initially succumbed to the temptation because they were old, losing hope of bearing a child, and anxious to begin the offspring expansion that God promised them.
The strength of their marital bond helped them overcome the temptation and was built over several decades of respecting, honoring, and caring for each other.