And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”
And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
When my first child was born, one of my sisters had two young daughters. The first time I visited my old hometown with the baby, my nieces were fascinated by the tiny little boy and flocked around me. While visiting, I recall having to change him on a bed. My sister told her girls as they catapulted with the enthusiasm of the young onto the bed, “You can watch Aunt Heather change him, but DON’T HELP.”
A couple of years and two babies later, I understood the wisdom in these words.
It seems a child’s enthusiastic help sometimes falls a little short of the adult standard.
Take Sarai (later known as Sarah). The Scriptures do not say specifically, but I have a strong suspicion the imbroglio involving her servant, Hagar, began as an attempt to help the Almighty fulfill His promise to her husband.
Certainly by now, her beloved Abram (later known as Abraham) had shared with her the Divine Promise of descendants as numerous as the dust. The Lord had even reiterated the promise that a direct descendant of Abram/Abraham would be his heir.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the anticipated event added spice to their dinner conversation for many weeks to come. Yet when months, then years, passed and there was no child, it seems they became discouraged.
I can imagine their suppers gradually becoming less and less about dreaming of their son and more and more about fueling up for the dreary days ahead. And despite the barbed nature of her own words (see verse 16:2 above), I rather doubt Sarai thrust Hagar into the mix as an act of revenge.
Surely, she must have rationalized the choice. After all, she wasn’t getting any younger. It seemed pretty clear by now that God must have meant to use some other mode or method than her to fulfill His word. And besides, other people did it this way.
But despite what we ought to assume were the best of intentions (after all, isn’t that what we want others to assume about us?), Hagar’s pregnancy did not initiate an era of familial warmth and unity.
And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.
Oy. Not a pretty picture.
(If you want to find out how the story turns out, go ahead and read the rest of Genesis 16. Heck, while you’re at it, read the rest of the Bible. There are plenty of little lessons like this one tucked in those pages.)
You see, this story came to me recently in a very personal way. Around the same time God was chopping up a root of bitterness to bake into the humble pie He was preparing for me, He also pointed out a little corner of misplaced childish enthusiasm.
While I can’t share details, suffice to say there was an area of my life where I, with absolute sincerity, was driving forward full-tilt, eager provide an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work.
I thought I was tilling the soil but in actuality think I was just making scratches in the dust. Over time my endeavors consumed increasing amounts of energy for decreasing amounts of fruit.
And when I’d finally had enough, I cried out to my Father, begging Him to tell me what I was doing wrong. And He did.
First, He reminded me of Sarai’s story. Persistently.
And then, of course, He reminded me that if I want to see His power at work, the best thing I can do is wait on Him.
Oh yes, and DON’T HELP.